There are more important issues than …

… 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.

31 thoughts on “There are more important issues than …

  1. @Julie Thomas

    It’s the same reaction. People react badly and emotionally what they see (what they perceive as) attacks on “their” institutions. The Left does it too (the ABC, Medicare, universities etc).

  2. @Smith

    Sure people in general on the right and the left respond in emotional ways to events or ideas that challenge their belief system or world view – whatever you want to call it. Humans are not naturally rational; it is a skill we need to learn and practise.

    I note though that there is some evidence that there are some psychological differences between people of the right and left (and of course right and left is an inadequate way of dividing people into categories so that we can examine and find out more about the different types of people there may be).

    But it seems obvious that there are rational arguments from the left about the ABC, Medicare and Universities and there are no rational arguments that support not changing the date or that show that marriage equality would bring about the destruction of western civilisation.

    My point was that the so called arguments that are being presented are increasingly emotionally based and ridiculous.

  3. @Smith We could simplify things by separating argument into two groups, opinion and knowledge. The question then becomes, which precedes the other?

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