I was reading various blogs and other things last night on the subject of police accreditation for Liberal Democrat Conference, and I was struck by the fact that several people I saw on the other side of the debate to me were using the ‘why get upset about it, there are more important things to worry about’ argument. I was reminded of that today, when Jennie Rigg wrote this after receiving a similar response from someone else:

Yesterday, someone I care about a lot told me that while this decision was deplorable, the other stuff I was posting about yesterday, the economic stuff, was more important, and I should “get a sense of perspective”. The fact that the adoption of this process means that people I care about will literally be risking their lives if they want to come to conference apparently needs to be put in perspective with the fact that Vince Cable said a thing…

Of course, the use of ‘there are more important things’ isn’t just limited to Lib Dem bloggers arguing about Conference. We’ve seen it being deployed recently by the Tory backbenches as though it’s a compelling argument against House of Lords reform, equal marriage or whatever else they’re in outrage about at the moment.

I’m quite sure I’ve probably used the same argument myself at some point, but I do find it a very weak argument, so I hope my uses of it have been light-hearted rather than as a sole objection. In and of itself, though, it’s a very weak argument. The main problem with it is that it’s presupposing that there’s some grand mutually-agreed list of Stuff In Order Of Importance that will prove that the person deploying the argument is right, and the person supposedly wasting their time on the things that aren’t as important will agree that they’ve been focusing their attention on the wrong subject.

Human beings really don’t work like that, and what’s high on one person’s list may rank pretty low on someone else’s. There’s also the question of the effect an individual can have. Yes, the economy’s a mess and we need to do more to create jobs, but how much effect on the economy are me, Jennie or anyone else going to have writing about it on the internet? On the other hand, as party members and activists, we can have a direct influence on the accreditation at Conference issue, so isn’t it better to quickly nod and say ‘well done Vince’ then divert your attention to something where you as an individual really can make a difference?

It also forgets that human beings are capable of paying attention to more than one issue, and that when you get a large group of them together – say, into a Government – they’re capable of doing more than one thing at the same time. It’s why the Tory backbenchers arguing against Lords reform or equal marriage just seemed rather silly to me in their belief that this would occupy all the Government’s time. I can’t quite see why anyone in the Treasury, BIS or Transport (to pick three departments that have an effect on the economy) would find themselves distracted from their job because of an entirely different part of the Government putting forward proposals that don’t affect them.

In the same manner, when one joins a political party, part of the reason for that is to spread the effort involved amongst a number of people. The fact that some of us want to use our position in the Liberal Democrats to stand up for some actual liberalism doesn’t stop anyone else from getting on with doing whatever they want to do in the party, and it’s only their urge to sneer ‘don’t you have something better to do with your time?’ that helps to reveal those who’d like to use their time to get rid of those pesky liberals who keep messing up their plans.

And I’m sure you had better things to do with your time than read this post – didn’t you know that there are people starving elsewhere in the world? That climate change could render huge swathes of land uninhabitable? That the sun will expand and destroy the entire planet in a few billion years? What are you doing about any of those, eh? – but thanks for doing it, anyway.

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2 comments untill now

  1. Whataboutery is a well-known derailing tactic

    http://markreckons.blogspot.co.uk/2011/06/whataboutery.html

    I recommend directing people who employ it to http://www.derailingfordummies.com/

    * kind of proud that I’ve got my own tag *

  2. I tend to give everyone I link to their own tag, for that future day when I get really bored and want to see who I’ve linked to the most…