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Opinion: North Korea the office bore, while Australia bickers like a married couple…

Just as Talking Heads did in 1980, it’s easy to look around lately and ask, well, how did we get here? While at home the High Court hears submissions for and against the legality of the marriage equality survey (the expensive, divisive, and ultimately unnecessary result of internal Liberal National Party politicking), the world waits with bated breath for the next move in the rapidly unfolding crisis in North Korea. Amongst all this, I can’t help but wonder at the extent to which human emotions and behaviour seem to be reflected in our larger social structures and discourse.

Witness the frighteningly rapid development of events on the Korean Peninsula these last few weeks and months. The behaviour of North Korea has long stumped analysts: what can this relic of the Cold War possible hope to achieve with its (increasingly) bellicose actions towards far more powerful enemies? It would seem to defy accepted theories of rational action within international relations. With no clear geopolitical purpose evident to the rest of us, North Korea begins to look, simply, crazy. This is not a term one expects to apply to a country; but then, how else to explain their seemingly inexplicable actions? Where the usual descriptors of a state fail, viewing matters on a more modest scale offers an interesting perspective: North Korea is like a madman in the corner of the room, shouting out the other guests, perceived insults driving him to ever higher levels of hysteria. Cameron Munter, president of the EastWest Institute and former United States ambassador to Pakistan, suggested in the New York Times this week that the desire for international respect was driving Kim-Jong Un. Now the nation appears as some office co-worker, overly loud & rudely derisive, terrified of irrelevance and making up for it with grandiose posturing. To think that we should be vaporised by some global David Brent!

 To return closer to home, and the Marriage Equality debate (debacle). Here again we see some of the more petty human failings on a national scale. The discourse around this subject now resembles, suitably, a married couple. Speaking from experience, you occasionally need, in any coupling, to let some things go. My grandfather once told me the secret to a long relationship: “If you get into a fight, one of you better be ready to back down!”. Some fights could go on forever; there’s always a tit for their tat, and vice versa. But for the overall health of your relationship, the longer that fight persists, the more damage is being done. This is where we are with our current debate. Thanks to Tony Abbott and the Australian Christian Lobby, who wanted to ‘kick the issue into the long grass’, we have had a protracted and damaging debate, where both sides, in utter frustration, have entered into hysterics. As we all know, the matter could have been dealt with long ago, by the parliament, as is its purpose. Acknowledging the majority public support on this issue, the conservative government should have swallowed its pride and realised this fight was not to be won. By extending it, we will achieve the same result, but at what cost?

It can be a little worrying to see the worst of our petty gripes and irrational behaviour played out at national and international levels; perhaps we can take some small consolation that, in future, with hope, they can begin to reflect some of our better qualities.

— Daniel Butler

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