… whatever issue on which I want to avoid justifying my firmly held, but indefensible, position.
One of the rhetorical tricks I’ve noticed becoming increasingly common (though I may just have been sensitized to it) is opposition to some proposal, based on the claim that “there are more important issues to discuss”. Here’s a typical example from right wing culture warrior, Kevin Donnelly, campaigning against equal marriage in the leadup to the recent postal survey. Before commencing a lengthy diatribe against gay activism, Safe Schools, alcoholic and abusive parents, surrogacy and so on that barely mentions the topic of marriage, Donnelly says
about 98 per cent of Australians identify as heterosexual and according to the 2011 census figures only 1 per cent of Australian couples are same-sex, with surveys suggesting only a minority want same-sex marriage. There are more important issues to worry about.
If Donnelly believes the issue is unimportant, why is he writing about it? Why not just leave it up to the good sense of the majority of Australians, as the rhetoric of the plebiscite suggested? Why not focus his attention on problems like protecting children from the effects of alcoholism and domestic violence.
The answer is, of course, that Donnelly has no case, or none he is able to make publicly, but nonetheless is very concerned to stop equal marriage. In the absence of a case, he must resort to diversions. So, rather than explain why gay people should be denied the right to marry, he starts off by saying the issue is too unimportant to bother with.
Of course, there are plenty of questions that are too trivial to bother with, and the sensible response is not to bother with them. If pressed, one could reasonably respond “this issue isn’t worth my time, I’ll just go with whatever the majority decides”, but this is hardly ever done.
The only case where this trope is at least possibly justified is as an admonition to political allies not to be diverted into big efforts on trivial issues, when there are more important problems to deal with. Again, though, this only makes sense for someone who is themselves indifferent regarding whether and how these issues are resolved.