What is the Overton window?
“Range of ideas or policies that are considered acceptable and within the mainstream”.
I’ll give you two recent blog posts that speak about the Overton window without mentioning the phrase. The first talks about geo-engineering. The second talks about us Indians.
The good news is that climate change is a solved problem. Solar, wind, nuclear and various synthetic fuels can sustain civilization and put us on a long-term neutral footing. Per capita CO2 emissions are far down in developed countries and total emissions are leveling for the world. The bad news is that 200 years of putting carbon into the atmosphere still puts us on a warming trend for a long time. To deal with the immediate problem there is probably only one realistic and cost-effective solution: geoengineering. Geoengineering remains “fiendishly simple” and “startlingly cheap” and it will almost certainly be necessary. On this score, the world is catching up to Levitt and Dubner.https://marginalrevolution.com/marginalrevolution/2023/07/superfreakonomics-on-geoengineering-revisited.html
Remember, the Overton window doesn’t say anything about whether you agree with the idea or not. Nor does it have anything to say about whether the idea is ethical or desirable. You may well disagree with the concept of geo-engineering; I personally do not. (By the way, as Alex points out in his post, carbon emissions themselves are a form of geoengineering!). Like the rest of the planet, I do not know how well it will work, what the consequences might be, and whether we should go ahead with it all guns blazing right away. But is it an idea worth exploring, is it something that should be on the table for discussion? One hundred percent yes, in my opinion.
And it is the fact that MR is talking about it, that the NYT is talking about it, that the White House is talking about it that makes it about the Overton window. Alex is making the point that this discussion would have seemed kooky to even talk about twenty (ten?) years ago – now, not so much.
Is that a good thing or a bad thing? The fact that it is now “acceptable” to talk about it? Each one of us gets to decide for ourselves, and that is how it should be.
How did we get from that to this?https://prempanicker.wordpress.com/2023/07/23/twtwtw-july-23/
How did we become a people so thoroughly inured to high crimes and misdemeanors that even a chilling, graphic video of women being stripped and paraded in public prior to their being gang-raped did not merit a single placard, a solitary candle lit in sympathy?
How did we become a people so anesthetized that our instinct in the face of heinous crime is to stand not with the victim but with the political party of our preference?
To misapply a quote: Gradually, then suddenly.
What is the idea that we’re talking about over here? The idea (or the argument, if you prefer) that we have become anesthetized to heinous crimes.
Remember, the Overton window doesn’t say anything about whether you agree with the idea or not. Nor does it have anything to say about whether the idea is ethical or desirable. You may well disagree with the concept of us having become anesthetized as a people; I personally do not. (By the way, as Prem points out in his post, the anesthetization is wide-ranging!). Like the rest of the country, I do not know how well the anesthetization will work, what the consequences might be, and whether we should go ahead with it all guns blazing right away. But is it an idea worth exploring, is it something that should be on the table for discussion? One hundred percent yes, in my opinion.
Let me be clear: the idea worth exploring is the idea that we have become numb to horrific crimes. I think we have, because I do not see the same kind of outrage in society as with the Nirbhaya case. You may disagree, which is absolutely fine.
You could argue that we as a people have always been numb to rape being used as an instrument of oppression in various contexts. You could argue about the fact that “othering” has a long and tragic history across all of humanity, let alone India. You could point out a million (to our collective shame) incidents of similar or more horrific nature from our past (recent, ancient or somewhere in the middle, take your pick).
But we as a society – and that includes everybody who is Indian within it – we have never been as numb as we are today. Our anesthetization has never been as acceptable to us as it is today. We’re openly accepting of our anesthetization – that is the shifting of the Overton window here.
That is the claim that I think Prem is making, and I am inclined to agree.
- Do you agree with the first, the second, both, or neither?
- Whatever your answer, why?
- Best of all, if you disagree with one and agree with the other, what changes in your analytical framework and for what reason(s)?
Answering these questions will help you become clearer in your own thinking, and I wish you all the very best 🙂