We shouldn’t be wasting time on (Issue I oppose)

Something I read a lot in political discussion is the claim “We shouldn’t be wasting time on Issue X”. Almost invariably, the writer clearly has strong views on Issue X, supports the status quo, and is aware that some change has majority support. So, their best hope is to avoid any decision at all. Of course, while statements like this logically imply that the speaker shouldn’t waste their own time on the issue, this inference is rarely drawn. The same people who tell us not to waste our time on some proposed change will spend lots of their own time fighting against it.

Feel free to point to examples or, for that matter, counterexamples.

22 thoughts on “We shouldn’t be wasting time on (Issue I oppose)

  1. Whether it’s irrational to say “let’s not waste time on issue x” depends a good deal on how long you take to say it. Imagine you and a colleague are trying to escape a burning building, when they start to describe how your situation reflects the failures of neoliberalism and its mania for deregulation, and that the left must take this historic opportunity to pursue a robust agenda of etc etc. It doesn’t appear irrational to shout “shut up, we don’t have time!”, but it would appear irrational if you in turn pulled out a powerpoint presentation entitled “Why we ought not discuss the failures of neoliberalism when we are trying to escape a burning building” (question time at the end, time permitting).

    To generalise, people sometimes say this kind of thing when they think the issue in question is of secondary importance, less urgent, or masks more systemic or fundamental issues. See, for instance, the cottage industry of articles attacking “identity politics” on the Marxist grounds that such politics distract from attacking the more fundamental problem of financial inequality.

  2. @ Jones. Strawpeople, absolutist. Binary. Tribal. Trolly problem. Got an example? Here:
    “Government expectations, industry leveraging conditions and public perceptions may drive the [foundation] to prioritise shorter term research initiatives in order to demonstrate progress and return on investment.”
    Left right sideways or marksist, this grant shows how to distort best practice. It makes the decisions “plausibly deniable”. And makes the decision go away. For a while. This really says it all; “”…including the possibility of recruiting children and Indigenous people to improve the “optics” of the policy.”” Optics as in ‘Look at the beautiful kids and indigenous people and we have NOT wasted time on this decision, don’t you worry about that!.’ Bread & circus act. smh today… /secret-papers-detail-great-barrier-reef-foundation-s-costly-pr-strategy

  3. One current example might be the PM’s ‘call’ for an ‘Indigenous recognition day’. I put that in quotes as I don’t recall exactly what ScoMo called for …or his motivation. Since the ‘call’ he’s been ‘back-tracking’.
    No he’s not suggesting a public holiday, nor that there be any change to Jan 26th as Australia Day. It’s
    been kite-flying since with a stress on no one should get too excited or seek much detail.

  4. An example, taken from a recent thread, is, paraphrasing

    “Clive Hamilton shouldn’t waste his time on the third order issue of Chinese interference in Australian universities and instead should go back to writing about climate change”.

  5. Same sex marriage and the LNP. I recall many LNP representatives publically brushing it off a few years ago by claiming the government had more important issues to deal with like jobs growth and deficit reduction (ironically many of whom subsequently voted for it as it turned out).
    Anyway, a few months later, a state gov (Qld or ACT???) tried to legislate it for their state and all hell broke loose very rapidly. It was a full scale DEFCON 1 emergency within the LNP to stop it from happening. [sigh]

  6. These are often issues that have little personal effect on the writer one way or the other. Usually social or environment issues, particularly when there are live economic or political issues that are percieved as more important.

  7. To be clear, there’s no problem saying this if you actually are not interested in the issue under discussion, and want to talk about something else. My objection is to cases like that mentioned by Troy Prideaux, which was one of the examples I had in mind.

  8. There’s been any number of opinion pieces in the Guardian in the past year or so saying, in effect, “we shouldn’t waste our time talking about African crime in Melbourne, because x is more important.”

    Does that count?

  9. Go on, Smith9. Find me one such piece. Reference it.

    The ‘African crime’ rubbish is based on a tiny share of Melbourne’s youth crime, most of which is certainly by many-generation Australian youth. There are no ‘African’ (or ‘Sudanese’) gangs in any meaningful sense. And the ‘overrepresentation’ of youth of Sudanese extraction is only an artifact of their small numbers, like the corresponding ‘underrepresentation’ of youth of Sudanese extraction in Sydney crime statistics. (The ‘overrepresentation’ figures are not adjusted for the proportion of teen to mid 20s in the Sudanese extraction population in Melbourne, as they would need to be; and the numbers are so small that statistical significance requires much bigger differences than we see.)

    What’s the x that has been said to require a disregard for the ‘African crime’ scare? Is it, perhaps, the advice of the police that the scare is unjustified? Is it, perhaps, the scale of youth crime generally? Is it, perhaps, the long period of decline in crime from which we are now bumping around the bottom?

    That isn’t an argument of the form Prof Q discussed. That isn’t an argument that says ‘these things are far more important than African crime’: it’s an argument that says the African crime scare stories are political hot air and mostly rubbish.

  10. I’m making assumptions about what articles you have been reading but it seems to me that the argument goes: we shouldn’t be talking about African crime in Melbourne because the talking about it exaggerates the negative assessment that people make, because it is based on misrepresentation of the problem.

  11. Julie Thomas

    That’s more or less correct. It’s changing the subject, or at least changing the particulars of the subject. So in the gay marriage debate we had ‘we shouldn’t be wasting our time discussing gay marriage, unless we discuss what’s really important in the debate, which is freedom of religion.’

  12. ‘We can only have marriage equality if we protect freedom of religion’ is not an argument of the form ‘we shouldn’t talk about x [marriage equality] because y [freedom of religion] is more important’. It’s an argument about x: marriage equality and what it entails. As it happens I think the ‘freedom of religion’ line is humbug, but it isn’t an argument that we have only enough attention to spare for freedom of religion and so shouldn’t discuss marriage equality.

    ‘We are being fed politicised rubbish about ‘African crime’ and should not believe it’ is not an argument of the form ‘we shouldn’t talk about x [‘African crime’] because y [politicised rubbish] is more important’. It’s an argument about ‘African crime’. As it happens I think we are fed a lot of politicised rubbish on other subjects too, but that isn’t an argument that we have only enough attention to spare for discussing politicised rubbish and so shouldn’t discuss ‘African crime’.

    Engaging with other people’s distortions is not trying to slide away from the argument at hand. It’s an attempt to advance discussion. I still hear nothing from Smith9 about what it was that was said to be so important that ‘African crime’ couldn’t be a subject of discussion. That is, I think, because there was no such topic and no attempt to exclude discussion of ‘African crime’. A direct challenge to the pretended facts on which assertions about ‘African crime’ were based is not an attempt to change the subject; it’s an attempt to deal with it. No-one can complain that they are unable to confine discussion of any subject to their own claims, however false they are.

    Similarly, no opponent of marriage equality had any grounds for complaint when supporters pointed out that it was their homes that were being vandalised, or when supporters argued that claims ‘all homosexuals are child molesters’, and ‘all homosexuals are morally disordered’, were baseless propaganda. Challenging tendentious claims made in a debate is not sliding away from the debate, or changing the subject.

  13. I’m sorry but as the token christian here I never heard those arguments raised I’m glad I did not as there were plenty of heterosexual child molesters. As I have constantly pointed out there are far more heterosexual who are morally disordered e.g. adultery or much more common fornication than homosexuals who engage in sex. Far far more

    Tendentious claims indeed..

  14. Nottrampis: “As I have constantly pointed out there are far more heterosexual who are morally disordered e.g. adultery or much more common fornication than homosexuals who engage in sex. “

    Huh? Are you saying homosexuals who have sex are morally disordered? Why don’t you apply grammar to your sentences? Is grammar a mortal sin?

  15. Along with “We shouldn’t be wasting time on (Issue I oppose,)”, there is also “Now is not the time to talk about (Issue I oppose,) This latter is often applied to climate change and gun control (in the US). When an event occurs potentially attributable to climate change (in terms of probability and /or intensity of the occurrence) or potentially attributable to lax gun laws, then “now is not the time to talk about this during recovery and grieving.” After the event and aftermath are over it’s back to “we shouldn’t be wasting time on this.”

    Of course, we never see the “now is not the time to talk about this” line applied to road deaths. After a spate of road deaths “now” is the time to talk about it and the authorities and PTB do talk about it.

  16. oh dear.
    prying into other (adult) peoples personal connections and calling it “morality”.


    my something that is really important and being studiously ignored, is the amount of domestic,municiple and agricultural poisons indiscriminately spread that we cannot avoid.
    and the right for anyone to spread poisons in our close vicinity that cannot be legally prevented or
    personally avoided.
    insidious, long lasting deleterious effects on our health are ignored or shouted down.

    let’s face it ,when the “nothing to see here,don’t you worry about that,other things are more important”
    flag goes up it is time to have a closer look. ay?

  17. Nottrampis: your post is not coherent enough for me to tell whether it is offensive or not. Please
    1. Consult the comments policy page and adhere to it
    2. Write your comments in a word processor, check for grammar then paste them into the comment box.

  18. I find it strange that (what I took to be) a fairly abstract post about a particular type of disingenuous debating tactic should generate so much heat.

    I also find it odd that some people want to deny that this tactic is used, and others want to engage in “whataboutery”*, even to the extent of manufacturing bogus examples (e.g. the ‘African gangs’ example) for this reason. And still others want to be offended by these attempts. What is it about this tactic, or Prof Q’s discussion of it, that gets people’s backs up? It’s a mystery to me.

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