Monday 8 June 2015

The 'Overton Window' metaphor misrepresents the nature of Leftism

The conservative/ reactionary blogosphere has adopted the tern Overton Window to express the range of 'acceptable' (i.e. non-crazy, non-evil) political opinion enforced by the mass media; along with the idea that this window moves ever-Leftward.

This is a useful shorthand in some ways, but misleading in others. The Left is not fundamentally about a different set of opinions (through its history, the Left has picked-up and discarded 'causes' with extraordinary and increasing rapidity); the Left is about destruction of The Good - it is about subversion, inversion of truth, beauty and virtue; propaganda and enforcement of untruth, ugliness and vice.

Insofar as there is a 'window' - it is therefore defining the scope for acceptable attack on The Good.

Insofar as the window changes, it does not really slide to the Left, but enlarges.

So the change Leftwards should be seen as a greater and greater scope for 'acceptably' critiqueing, problematizing, and in multiple ways attacking The Good.

The window has enlarged recently to allow attacks on various new themes - attack on marriage via the recognition and encouragement of non-marriage; attacks on the family by promotion of everything-but; attacks on sanity by the legal enforcement of individual person's delusions; attacks on health by the encouragement of behavioural/ psychiatric/ sexual diseases (disease being here biologically defined as a condition which damages probable functionality, lifespan or reproductive success).

And so on.

In sum -  if we use the Overton Window metaphor - we should regard the 'window' as enlarging the scope for 'acceptable' attacks on The Good and the 'acceptable' scope for active promotion of evil.


Note added: Consider the 1960s sexual revolution. This reveals clearly the expanding range of behaviour it was acceptable to first accept, then approve, then advocate and finally (recently) actively promote and enforce. Divorce, sex outside marriage, promiscuous sex, non-reproductive and anti-reproductive behaviours and orientations. Indeed, most of the heavy-lifting against Good was done in the late sixties and early seventies with legal decriminalizations and elimination of negative moral status in the mass media. Recent expansion of the Overton window have been mostly about the escalation from illegal to officially-promoted; not-disapproval to approval, not-forbidden to actively-encouraged.


Anonymous said...

I'd contend that the destruction of the good is simply a byproduct of an optimisation process that isn't willing to consider the hard choices necessary to preserve the sustainability of a culture/people.

It is all simply about what is pleasurable right now, and what is pleasurable right now does not include the good. Nor even the necessary.

Bruce Charlton said...

@nc - You have to consider the history of the Left. The Old Left - such as English socialism (e.g. Trades Union based) has a strong Nonconformist teetotal, anti-gambling, plain-/ strict living element, and certainly was not about being pleasurable. The same would apply to many strands of communism.

Neither is the left about equality of anything in particular - it used to claim to be in favour of equal opportunity, more recently equality of outcome - however, the revealed preference was the inequalities in one direction were bad, in another direction were good.

The only reasonable conclusion is that the Left is not strategically pro- anything specific or stable (except evil - more obvious and extreme in some times and places than others); its only stable feature a series of tactical anti-goods (which vary in dominance according to time and place - attacking one good, then another; in rotation).

Jonathan C said...

I have to disagree--not with your larger points, but with what you imply about how the Overton Window metaphor is used. The majority of references I've seen to the "Overton Window" emphasize the side of the window that's contracting, not the side that's expanding.

So as the Overton Window moved left, it became socially unacceptable to so much as note that segregation has some real advantages for black people; then it became socially unacceptable to say that women should take some common-sense precautions against being raped; then it became socially unacceptable for bakers or florists to refuse to support marrying gay couples in carrying out evil.

This is the effect I usually see emphasized when someone says "Overton Window". Presumably, it will eventually be a career-ending move to suggest that people who commit microaggressions should not be sent to a gulag and tortured to death with their families.

I won't go so far as to say that the shrinking side of the window is more interesting than the expanding side, but somehow the new liberties aren't nearly as shocking as the recognition that there are almost no true facts you can state about race or sex today without risking losing your job, or that most leftists would see their own great grandparents' commonsense beliefs as proof that their great grandparents are racist, sexist, evil menaces for whom eternity in hell wouldn't be punishment enough.

Bruce Charlton said...

@Jonathan - Well, it is exactly my point that the way you describe the metaphor being used, i.e. a window shrinking (or sliding) to define new things that cannot be said in the public domain, is an error - it mistakes the true nature of Leftism. Leftism is *not* primarily about the taboos. They are merely a means to the end of destroying The Good.

Leo said...


I quite agree with you about the Left. But we must also consider dangers from the Right. The Left may worship Moloch, but the Right can be devoted to Mars and Mammon. The Left and Moloch may be the greater present danger, and the Left might promote Mars and Mammon as well, but the Christian can't afford to give place to any false gods.

bbrown said...

I think that, at a deeper level, lies the question of how "The Good" is defined. I believe that many of those advocating for transgressive behaviours and agendas might truly think that they are doing good. Without an objective moral compass 'The Good' will at times conform to Christian virtues but most of the time be very much the opposite. That said, I do suspect that many in the world (non-Christian) know full well what they are doing as they spit at God. There's probably a spectrum of awareness, with much of it subconscious.

Bruce Charlton said...

@William - I agree. There is a small minority of actively evil leaders (including some supernatural entities, no doubt), a larger number of corrupted selfish, exploitative, sadistic, hate-filled types who make the most of the situation; and a great mass of more-or-less-obedient servants to evil - with all sorts of 'normal' type motivations and sins - incapacity, idleness, cowardice, greed, and so on - really no worse, as people and in terms of behaviour, than anybody else - except (and this makes all the difference) that they will not fully repent.

bbrown said...

I thought Jeff Culbreath's post at "New Sherwood", which I read right after Bruce's blog post, relevant to this conversation.....

Bruce Charlton said...

@WB - I would agree that any elected leader is not going to change anything. On the other hand, if a leader of genius arose by some other route, and attracted the right amount of the right kind of support, almost anything might happen.

bbrown said...

Amen. Things can turn in the most unexpected ways. In any event I plan to go down fighting.