Sayre’s law now applies to politics

Wallace Stanley Sayre (1905–1972) was a U.S. political scientist and professor at Columbia University who came up with the following law of human nature: “In any dispute the intensity of feeling is inversely proportional to the value of the issues at stake.”

Smart fellow to notice the universality that when it doesn’t matter, we get really intense.

The law would clearly apply to ‘does my bum look big in this’ or ‘that really isn’t your colour’ or equally ‘Rooney will never be a number 10’.

Much of this is because we are more attuned to drama than the truth. The soap opera formula is the definitive expression swaying as it does from one drama to the next failing elegantly to resolve any issue. Most reality TV offers up the same basic plan.

Sayre found the proof of his law in observation of academics. He is quoted as saying “Academic politics is the most vicious and bitter form of politics, because the stakes are so low.” And having had a previous life in the hallowed halls of academia I have to agree. Create job security and it takes everyone off their toes only to channel energies at each other. It’s weird indeed. When I left the ivory towers it was because I am cursed with a copy of the entrepreneur gene, but the bickering was easy to leave behind and observed from a safe distance.

What concerns me is that Sayre’s law appears to be leaking into big P politics. There is fierce agreement over the big values such as perceived threats to security even if they are a loose excuse to justify war. Much head nodding and stoic repose on the cross-benches whenever the PM speaks of response to atrocity.

Move to question time and suddenly there is mayhem over a medicare co-payment. The shadow health minister turns red and is about to explode forcing the speaker to announce that the end of the world is near. It makes crazy posts like Fun with flags seem normal.

This should be a big worry. Am I wrong to expect parliamentarians to get fired up about the big stuff? No, I want them to debate the crucial decisions even if they end up in agreement — and it can’t get more serious than war and what to do about terrorism.

Yet we are deafened by silence. Instead the debate spills into the streets causing pain to many an innocent. This is very poor leadership.

I am left with the absence of Australian PM at the UN climate summit in New York, only for him to take the proverbial by pitching up in the big apple the very next day to address a somewhat disinterested general assembly.

Agreement mutes debate and so does avoiding the issue. It’s not good at all.

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