Sunday, August 12, 2012

The fallacy of diminished importance


The fallacy of diminished importance goes along the lines of "we shouldn't spend our valuable time debating trivial issues like this when the economy is in such a mess".

The first time we heard it trotted out was when Tory MPs like the odious Liam Fox adopted the line that the issue of gay marriage is not important and that the government should concentrate on the economy, rather than the contentious issue of same-sex marriage.

The next time the argument was trotted out was to justify the Tory MPs decision to scupper the democratisation of the House of Lords. Exactly the same kind of reason was presented; that at these "difficult economic times" the government should be concentrating on economic issues rather than political reforms.

After the Liberal-Democrat MP Danny Alexander criticised George Osborne over his failure to back "green policies". The Tory apologists immediately came out with the now familiar line that "No one really cares about green issues, especially at a time like this."

The genius of this fallacious debating strategy is that it is an infinitely transferable criticism that works just as well for just about any issue. here are a few examples of how it can be used:
  • No one really cares about equal rights, especially at a time like this.
  • No one really cares about political reform, especially at a time like this.
  • No one really cares about investment in sustainable technology, especially at a time like this.
  • No one really cares about financial sector criminality, especially at a time like this.
  • No one really cares about impoverished pensioners, especially at a time like this.
  • No one really cares about young people with no job prospects, especially at a time like this.
  • No one really cares about supporting the ailing manufacturing industry, especially at a time like this.
  • No one really cares about executive pay inflation, especially at a time like this.
  • No one really cares about police brutality, especially at a time like this.
  • No one really cares about the disabled, especially at a time like this.
  • No one really cares about child poverty, especially at a time like this. 
  • No one really cares about internet freedom, especially at a time like this. 
  • No one really cares about labour rights, especially at a time like this. 
  • No one really cares about liberty, especially at a time like this.
  • No one really cares about justice, especially at a time like this. 
  • No one really cares about democracy, especially at a time like this.
Returning to the original examples, there is actually a strong case for the government to invest their time in issues such as political reform, equal rights and sustainable technology given their dismal track record of driving the UK back into recession with their barmy "cut now, think later" neoliberal pseudo-economics dressed up as "austerity". Perhaps the British economy would actually benefit if the Tories stopped insanely trying to cut their way to growth and concentrated on other issues for a while?

Using the "green" issue as a specific example, the diminished importance fallacy can be even further undermined. The right-wing apologists claim that we must plough on with their economic neoliberalisation agenda at the expense of everything else because "economic issues" are the most important right now. However the development of sustainable technology can be seen as an extremely important if not vital strategic economic issue.

Considering the fact that oil prices are going to continue to rise as oil reserves are used up (check out this informative video), a sensible economic strategy might be to make investments in alternative energy sources now instead of waiting until we are actually running out of oil before we actually start to do anything about the problem. Several nations have already expressed their determination to move towards sustainable technology, including Germany and Japan, even China are beginning to slowly embrace the concept of sustainable growth. Surely the UK should be trying to position itself at the forefront of this movement towards sustainable technology and create some valuable export markets, rather than just carrying on with business as normal. Not only would intelligent investment in pioneering alternative technologies create potentially lucrative export markets to help reduce Britain's absolutely appalling trade deficit, this kind of investment would create numerous high and low skilled jobs, increase aggregate demand and much of the investment would be returned in increased tax revenues.

There are plenty of people out there that want to disparage the "green movement" as a bunch of mung bean weaving hippy lefties so that the whole sustainable development issue can be shoved aside in favour of the continuation of the status quo, however the development of sustainable technology is a long-term economic issue.

Next time you hear a Tory MP or apologist using the fallacy of diminished importance in order to talk down some issue they disagree with, remember that it is a fallacious argument that can be used against virtually anything, even against issues that have strategic importance to the future prosperity of the British economy.                
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