Fundamentalism in Medical Politics

Fundamentalism simplifies life. It turns a messy world, full of grey, into a crisp, clean existence of peace and clarity. Even dogs and colour-blind people can see black and white.

Fundamentalism uses publicists to guide true believers.

Some news columnists, ersatz journalists, make their living as publicists. They sell words that paint the same, stark plot: Everyone is good or bad, oppressed or oppressor.

Stylites in the Main Stream Media chant their sermons, while the choir nods in unison.

Doctors are oppressors, arrogant and powerful.

Liberal members of parliament are warriors for social justice.

Not even Odysseus could sail between the publicists and warriors unscathed. Black and white makes life so simple.

Most people expect news-papers to report the news, not create it.

Now, many newspapers only write about events that support their narrative. All these ‘news’ sources need is a tweet, a quip or even a rumour. They use the tiniest tidbit to layer on pages of opinion. They craft their journalism-as-sermons by filtering:

What gets reported

What gets ignored

The timing of a story

How many times the story gets repeated

The tone

Bias and balance (or lack thereof)

Errors of fact

Errors of omission

There’s nothing wrong with opinion. We love it. That’s why we read editorials and blogs.

Responding to Fundamentalism

Doctors call fixed, false beliefs delusions. Deluded people need help, not debate. They need compassion and empathy. They cannot reason or think straight. Some of us pick up delusions from trauma.  Others get delusions the way we get wrinkles: They just happen.

The worst thing we can do, when helping someone locked in a delusion, is to reason with them. Chesterton said that insanity is supremely rational:

To the insane man his insanity is quite prosaic, because it is quite true. A man who thinks himself a chicken is to himself as ordinary as a chicken. A man who thinks he is a bit of glass is to himself as dull as a bit of glass. It is the homogeneity of his mind which makes him dull, and which makes him mad.

Fixed, false beliefs contain bits of reality. But delusions jumble our ability to scale and scope. Normal people sift evidence. They make trade offs. They do not generalize without warrant. For example, seeing one person arrested does not mean that all police officers want to arrest you, or anyone else.

Sometimes a fundamentalist will say something true. We can show cautious support. But the smartest ones are often just trying to rope us into their next rant.

Doctors crouch in the middle of a high school food-fight (or worse), in Ontario. The Wynne Liberals chose to attack us. Our patients suffer on wait lists for surgery and die with treatable cancers, while waiting for beds.

The Wynne Liberals are fighting for survival.

The OMA is fighting for survival (if it has any political insight).

The failing Toronto Star, the media arm of the Liberal party, is fighting for survival.

In the centre of this mess, doctors must keep their wits. Our moral beachhead is patient care. Patients need medical care from doctors. We cannot provide medical care when government keeps cutting fees, closing beds and cancelling surgeries.

The good thing about fundamentalists is that they stay on point. Once you know that they hate you, turn your attention to more productive work.

You will never argue people out of their insanity. Show compassion. Remember all the other people who need your help. Keep advocating for patients, even when the Stylites hit you with something ugly.

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14 Replies to “Fundamentalism in Medical Politics”

        1. Agree, Andris! I worry that someone will fund them to continue their ideological platform.

  1. In respect to any divisive issues that evoke strong emotional reactions there is fundamentalism on both sides of the issue. As humans we tend to be blind to the fundamentalist thinking on our side of the issue

    1. Good point, Dennis.

      I remember how oblivious I once was about how difficult it was to work in medical politics. I still am blind to so much.

      I take heart hearing this from you. Since all your comments and tweets have had an admonishing, pro-government tone, I can only assume that you include yourself in the advice that you offer?

      Thanks so much for taking time to share your thoughts! You always add value. I appreciate that you keep offering balance and reflection.

      Talk soon,


      1. Shawn and Dr Kendel,
        Excellent article once again Shawn.
        I know I am guilty of being blind to the fundamentalist thinking that I endorse though clearly it at odds with Dr Kendal’s. It is reassuring to hear that Dr Kendel is aware of the roots of our thinking. I presume that since he brings the topic up that this includes “self – awareness.”
        I know that Shawn is aware that I frequently am rather emotional when speaking of issues which I think will lead to the destruction of the essentials of Health Care in Canada. eg Doctor- Patient relationships. I admit this emotion is often over the top and I am working on this 🙂 Oddly in reading Dr Kendel’s comments I never detect any emotion just prosaic scolding – such as that which occurs in a Teacher -Pupil relationship.
        So I, like Shawn, would like to hear from Dr Kendel that he is taking his own advice?

        1. Thanks Helen. I worried I was the only one who felt scolded. 🙂

          By the way, please keep up your passionate advocacy! You always add value and show true courage in raising issues that others will not.

          Thanks again,


  2. Hello,

    You’ve given a cogent description of the underhanded ways in which journalists, writers, pundits etc twist facts, selectively edit and re-frame stories in order to sway public opinion. I am very disturbed by the way the media is failing in its role to deliver us the unbiased and unfiltered truth and feel strongly that in doing so it is putting all of our systems at risk. It is troublesome in the extreme when a society gets to the point where all that is necessary to discredit a person’s entire argument (and value, sometimes) is to label them as the media is fond of doing these days.

    I am interested in learning more about the truth with regards to what is happening between doctors, the province & the OMA and that is why I am here reading. I am glad that people are writing about their perspectives on this issue and I’m wondering if you’d be able to answer a couple of questions that were not approached in your blog entry.

    I am concerned by some of the things I have read in the Star’s coverage – I have been waiting to see if any doctors would answer the charges directly but so far I have not seen anything close to that. I have seen pleas to move on, I have seen anger at the media, but I have not heard either a denial of the threats made (I refer here to the coverage in the Star which showed that one health care professional implied to another that they would take their feud out on any referred patients. Is that part of The Star’s story true? My instinct is that it is the truth – journalists can only push the envelope of skewed coverage so far and this would be well beyond that line. I am curious as to why no one addresses this directly when they write in anger about being ‘unfairly characterized’ in the media.

    Other aspects of the coverage trouble me as well – can you verify whether or not a consultant was hired – and for what? Can you comment on the impersonation of an OMA officer and the setting up of a fake email account from which letters were sent to doctors encouraging them to take a certain side on an issue?

    I am aware that I am just some random person asking questions on your blog. I am not in any way expecting an answer. I write because I would like to know, and because perhaps it will help you to see what the public sees.


    1. Thanks for writing and asking questions, M.

      Unfortunately, I am not in a position to answer your questions with authority. Public allegations require a high level of proof to confirm or deny, I would think. I cannot offer first hand knowledge of any of the details you question.

      I can offer one thing: most of these things happened last year, as far as I understand. I thought they were dealt with then. Certainly, the issues were raised at a number of meetings, roadshows and at fall council last year. Why drag it out now, on the eve of restarting negotiations? Why would a past officer of the OMA write about something that happened last summer when she could have drafted policy to address it in the interim?

      It is sad that 42,000 doctors get tarred with the same, fundamentalist brush by one media source.


      1. Repeating for emphasis: “It is sad that 42,000 doctors get tarred with the same, fundamentalist brush by one media source.”

        Also the last refuge of a failed argument is ad hominem.

        1. Thanks Gerry. Failed argument indeed. Logic aside, ad hominem wears down morale. There’s only so much doctors can tolerate.

          Great to hear from you!


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