One Political Argument that Makes Me Mad!

I know it is silly, but there is one argument strategy in political debates that is almost guaranteed to make me mad! It goes like this,

"Why are you wasting your time on this peripheral issue when there are so many more important issues that you should be dealing with instead?"


Here is why it usually makes me mad - it is often pure, hypercritical rhetoric. The people who employ it normally do not think that the issue is peripheral at all. In fact, they think it is very important. The strategy in deploying the argument is simply to stigmatize their opponents as people who have lost all sense of proportion.

Example abound. For instance, in the debates in the UK about banning hunting with hounds the dastardly strategy was regularly employed by the pro-hunting lobby. Anti-hunting MPs were constantly castigated for wasting time on a side-issue when big issues such as poverty, education, and health care should be at the top of the agenda.

This was a red rag to a bull for me. Grrrrrrr!!!

Did the Pro-hunting lobby really think that this was an unimportant issue? NO WAY! In fact, the reason that so much time was being 'wasted' on the issue was precisely because the pro-hunting people kept on stretching things out, opposing the bill at every turn. If the matter really was unimportant then they should have let the bill sail through unopposed so that MPs could get on with issues that matter like health care. :-)

More annoying still, the argument strategy works by setting up a false either/or choice - either MPs spend time on issues like hunting or they spend time on issues like health care. Hold on! I have a radical idea! Let's do both! Gosh - might it really be possible for MPs to spend time on more than one issue? Yes - they can and they do. Joy! And if the pro-hunting people were genuinely worried that too much time was being spent on the issue then they should have shut up and stopped opposing the bill!

Don't get me wrong. I am not opposed to hunting - in fact, I am think that there is a reasonable case to be made for not banning it. What I am opposed to is the regular and lazy deployment of an annoying, hypocritical argument.

Rant over!

So my plea is simply this - let's all stop wasting time deploying this peripheral argument strategy and focus on the important matters! (Oooops!)

Now I know that this is more of a scribble than a theological scribble but a man's gotta do what a man's gotta do (and if I told you that God told me to say it ... Nah!)


Anonymous said…
I wholeheartily agree. INterestingly enough this is often used in an attempt to diffuse theological arguments too.
Anonymous said…
I can't believe you're ranting about this, Robin, when there are so many other theological issues that merit more worthy attention. ;p
Teresita said…
I don't have a dog in this hunt.

But I can foresee this technique being used for policies concerning global warming, because evidence is piling up that global warming is on hold, and there might even be a cooling trend now. So with the time pressure of wanting to act before the observational data begins to pile up against their case, there will be a tendancy to want to set aside other issues which might delay policy change on the environment.

Liam, it doesn't work so well with theological arguments, because they deal with eternity rather than passing political fads.
David Seruyange said…
Not to be the troll but as one who uses this argument from time to time how does one develop a sense of proportion in argument?

Teresita says that this doesn't work with theological arguments because "they deal with eternity" and yet how does one proportion an argument e.g. predestination versus an argument over the authorship of a certain psalm?

Moreover the political uses of this argument tend to apply to issues that appear more in ideological form (outlaw XYZ!) versus policy issues. I might assert, for example, that a majority of the legislators sent from my area are elected based on a stance in some "values" issue but the proportion of their legislative policy making (say measured in votes) have little or nothing to do with said "values." (abortion / water projects)
The Pook said…
I can relate to what you're saying Robin, and I think it's almost certainly true that the hunting fraternity use that argument disingenuously, but as a friend of mine once said (without realising the irony) "it's like everything - you can't generalise!"

There could be occasions where the argument of proportion or priority might reasonably apply. In fact I think a good case could be made in Australian politics that politicians spend relatively far too much time thinking about how to fund sport and not enough time on how to fund hospitals and schools.

As for theology, I take Teresita's point, however, a bit like the guy in fiddler on the roof, I think David's right too. And so are you.

In what I'd loosely call applied theology, I think the argument IS sometimes used spuriously, when for example right wing conservative Christians criticise more left wing evangelicals for being too involved with social welfare, peacemaking, protecting the environment, protesting against injustices, etc on the grounds that it's more important simply to be preaching the gospel and being concerned with the soul and not the body. Such an attitude is in the end dualistic, and what you say applies - why not do both?

I'm reminded of Jesus' words to the Pharisees about tithing herbs yet neglecting "the weightier matters" of love and justice - he didn't say do only the greater things, but "these you ought to have done, without neglecting the others." (Matt 23:23 ESV)
Robin Parry said…
Liam - Yes it is.

Terry - shame upon me! I too am a fool!

Teresita - interesting! Do I detect someone who likes gas-guzzling cars and boats?

Robin Parry said…
David and the Pook

You are, of course, right. Just because the argument can be used badly that does not mean it is never appropriate. I was hoping someone would point that out (it was all a test really ... honest ... kind of).

With finite time and resources then it is possible to invest too much in a side-issue to the relative neglect of a main issue.

In the hunting case the annoying thing was that all the time and resources were being invested in the issue precisely because of the pro-hunt protests.


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