A Shift in the Overton Window

A Shift in the Overton Window
Photo by Jose Pablo Garcia / Unsplash

I have always said that the most important thing to understand in the realm of politics is something called the Overton Window.

Understanding the Overton Window
The foundation of politics

See, on the whole politicians aren't stupid. They understand that the game they're playing is based upon the opinions of the voting bloc. They can't get shit done without the support of their base.

Nobody wants to be voted out because they tried to swim against the tide.

There's a reason the opinions of politicians seem to change with the wind; Republicans in the States went from hating gay people to talking about going to their friends' gay weddings over the span of just a few years. Public opinion had made homophobia problematic, so they had to change tactics.

You can see this happening in real time. As an example, look at the case of mayor Dean Sawyer out in Newport, Oregon. In public, for the sake of appearances, the mayor presented a supportive facade towards the LGBTQ+ community.

In a private Facebook group populated by police officers, he shared horrifically racist, homophobic and transphobic memes for his friends to chuckle at. His personal opinions were obfuscated for the sake of his political career.

Unfortunately for him, his posts were recently exposed to the media.

That's what happens when you accidentally jump before the Overton Window has safely shifted within your reach. Unfortunately, these days the Window seems to be moving in that direction.

There's this group called Gallup, Inc. that's based in the United States. They're famous internationally for their thorough and in-depth public opinion polling.

They track all kinds of statistics, from income levels to political, moral and religion-based opinions. Recently they did a check on LGBTQ+ acceptance in America.

The results don't look good.

Gallup poll shows dip in GOP acceptance of same-sex relationships
Sixty-four percent of Americans call same-sex relationships “morally acceptable,” including almost 80% of Democrats but about 40% of Republicans.

Previously, acceptance of same-sex relationships and marriages had been at a high point. Unfortunately, the internet has a way of messing things up for everybody.

Discourse and rhetoric used to be pretty regional, given the insular nature of politics within boundaries on a district map. With the advent of social media however, you don't need to live close to somebody to influence how they think.

Talking points in one country can now spread across the globe. All it takes is one hateful meme, one hit-piece full of misinformation and propaganda. If it goes viral, it skips over borders like chalk on the sidewalk.

The Overton Window can swing, worldwide, based on a Facebook post.

This is why it seems like the whole world is starting to inch in a far-right direction these past few years. Public opinion is a killer, and it can be swayed pretty easily by determined propagandists with access to sites like YouTube and Twitter.

The way social media algorithms work, if you watch something that features far-right content, it's going to feed you more far-right content. If you listen to a Joe Rogan podcast episode all the way through, the platform will give you more Rogan episodes.

If you watch Rogan religiously on YouTube, there's a good chance YouTube will feed you more content featuring his guest speakers. You can wind up jumping from Joe Rogan to Ben Shapiro, to Matt Walsh, to...well, you get the idea. Leave 'auto play' on and watch your feed get saturated.

While this algorithm isn't malicious, it's just giving you the content you seem to enjoy, it's important to understand that this can be hijacked. There's a nickname for this tactic- the Alt-Right Pipeline.

Extremism is bred in an echo chamber, and this is the method that's responsible for a lot of this Overton shift. It's how social media sites become the proverbial Nazi Bar.

For more information on this, check out this video by Innuendo Studios: How to Radicalize a Normie.

This Pipeline is not confined to North America. It spreads. And the results are turning out to be pretty catastrophic.

The important thing to understand is that this can be countered. Social media and internet content started this mess; it can also be used to help prevent further harm.

Combat disinformation with truth.

Promoting solid content creators with good platforms and helping marginalized voices speak up more is a great way to help. The more popular and normalized the villainized minority becomes, the less power the Pipeline has to demonize them.

Creators like Abigail Thorn, a YouTube creator with an award-winning play under her belt. She teaches philosophy and a little bit of political history in her long-form videos, and each episode is well-written and performed by a fancy lady with a background in theater and a degree. Well worth watching.

Philosophy Tube
I’m giving away a philosophy degree for free! Subscribe to learn and boost your brain power!

There are also writers like Sharon Hurley Hall, who maintains a newsletter on the topic of anti-racism. Sharon's skills lie in diversity and equality in the workplace, and her focus lies in sharing stories from people of color and how racism plays a role in their daily lives. She provides a perspective that many white people like myself don't normally get to see.

Sharon’s Anti-Racism Newsletter | Sharon Hurley Hall | Substack
The must-read newsletter for anyone committed to anti-racism looking to get insights, resources, and tools to help you do the work and make an impact. Brought to you by anti-racism activist, writer, and educator Sharon Hurley Hall. Click to read Sharon’s Anti-Racism Newsletter, by Sharon Hurley Hal…

That's just two examples off the top of my head. I could dedicate an entire newsletter just to highlighting people like this and the work they do- and honestly, at some point I really should.

For now, let me just leave you with this: Elevating each other's voices, drowning out hate, that's the way we win. Bigotry only survives when it's publicly accepted. The second we turn the glare of a spotlight on it, it scuttles back into the darkness.

It's about time we do that.

Solidarity wins.