The Overton window cannot be “broken”
September 28, 2015 § 84 Comments
Unprincipled exceptions to liberalism usually have to be expressed in sciency-sounding language in order for modern people not to immediately reject them by default. That’s why the term “human biodiversity” is used these days to refer to racial differences, rather than using the term “racial differences” to refer to racial differences. The sciency-soundingness of the former carries the right materialist metaphysical baggage necessary to get past the reflexive rejection by the modern mind of anything which appears to contradict liberalism. Sciency-sounding stuff is cool and hipster, so it might actually get read on the iPad at Starbucks.
The “Overton window” is a sciency-sounding way of referring to the obvious fact that, contrary to liberalism’s false conceits about itself, every society (whether healthy or unhealthy) is authoritarian and has its taboos and heresies. There are certain things which are open for respectable and respectful discussion under the conventions of a given society, and there are many things which are not. This is always the case.
Socially acceptable ideas about what is legitimately in contention are “inside” the Overton window; taboos and heresies are “outside” of the Overton window. For example in our society, mass-murdering unborn children and cannibalizing their body parts for profit in the name of science is inside the Overton window. The suggestion that possibly the female franchise is something other than an unmitigated good is outside of the Overton window.
In a thread at The Social Pathologist commenter Asher suggests:
The bottom line is that if you want to break the Overton Window you’re going to have to deal with the reality that everything will be on the table.
This idea of “breaking” the Overton window is malformed. It isn’t even wrong, as the saying goes, because it rests on an impossible premise: that the Overton window is the sort of thing which it is possible to “break.” But it isn’t possible for everything to be on the table, even in principle, let alone in practice. If everything must be on the table then one of the things that must be off the table is the view that not everything should be on the table.
So trying to “break” the Overton window is fundamentally irrational. The Overton window isn’t the sort of thing which can be “broken”. It can only be shifted to be more or less aligned with the good, the true, and the beautiful. And just because some particular person or group opposes the current configuration of the Overton window, it does not follow that that person or group is advocating better aligning it with the good, the true, and the beautiful.
With apologies to The Who, “meet the new sociopaths; same as the old sociopaths.”