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How To Smash the Overton Window
Why staying within set manufactured parameters of cultural and sociopolitical conversation goes against your best interests... and what you can do about it
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The Overton window is the range of policies politically acceptable to the mainstream population at a given time. It is also known as the “window of discourse.”
The Overton window is a model for understanding how ideas spread and become politically viable over time. It posits that there is a range of acceptable policy options that politicians can support and still be considered mainstream. Ideas inside this "window" are politically tolerable, while ideas outside of it are considered too radical for serious consideration.
How does the Overton window supposedly influence politics?
According to the Mackinac Center for Public Policy, the Overton window is “a model for understanding how ideas in society change over time and influence politics. The core concept is that politicians are limited in what policy ideas they can support — they generally only pursue policies that are widely accepted throughout society as legitimate policy options. These policies lie inside the Overton Window. Other policy ideas exist, but politicians risk losing popular support if they champion these ideas. These policies lie outside the Overton Window.”
The Overton window is named after Joseph P. Overton, a political analyst who stated that “an idea's political viability depends mainly on whether it falls within this range, rather than on politicians' individual preferences.” After Overton's death, Overton’s colleague Joseph Lehman at the Mackinac Center for Public Policy further developed the idea and named it after Overton.
The Core Premise of the Overton Window
The core premise of the Overton window is that politicians are constrained in what policies they can advocate. They want to put forth ideas that are popular and seen as legitimate, so they tend to only champion policies within the mainstream consensus. Controversial or unorthodox ideas are avoided. The range of allowable ideas shifts over time as societal values evolve.
This Premise Has Severe Limitations, Even By Mainstream Standards
While the Overton window offers some useful insights, it has significant limitations:
The model oversimplifies how political change happens. The spread of new ideas and policies depends on many complex factors. Public opinion is not the only force at play. Interest groups, think tanks, media narratives, economic conditions, and institutional constraints all shape what ideas are viable.
It downplays politicians' agency. The Overton window can create a deterministic view that politicians are passive and beholden to public opinion. But political leaders also actively try to shift the window through framing, persuasion, and agenda-setting. They are not just reactive followers of the mainstream.
The boundaries of the "window" are not clearly delineated. There is no objective way to determine what is inside or outside acceptable discourse at any moment. These boundaries can be fuzzy and contested.
Radical ideas can still spread quickly under the right conditions. Public opinion is malleable, not fixed. Seemingly fringe ideas can gain traction rapidly if economic, social or technological changes create an opening. The Overton window can shift abruptly due to major focusing events.
Big policy changes often happen outside the mainstream. Many important reforms start as marginal ideas that are not widely supported. Change is often driven by social movements willing to advocate radical ideas from outside the corridors of power.
I disagree with Lehman and Overton’s assertions. Here’s why.
The Overton window is a manufactured construct. In a world where all media is owned and controlled by the same people and social media is heavily censored to silence opposing viewpoints, how are certain ideas gaining popularity over others - and how can we be sure that those ideas are really the popular ones and not just the ideas we are told are popular?
Think about it: Why control half of the message when you can control the entire conversation?
As a manufactured construct, the Overton window can be used to corral people into only having opinions and arguments within the parameters of this narrowly defined window. This tactic can be used to make people believe that their opinions are within the majority and are the only “acceptable,” “sensible,” or “popular” opinions one may have on a given subject, lest one’s opinions be considered “radical” or “unthinkable.”
But “radical” or “unthinkable” according to whom? And guided in this way in order to serve what purpose?
The conversation parameters in each topic of interest are kept in check according to point/counterpoint. These points and counterpoints are so far away from the truth that you could never get to the truth at all by having the sanctioned argument - which is the exact purpose of the sanctioned argument - to keep your opinions and thoughts “safely” contained elsewhere, where they cannot create an impact not desired by The Powers That Be.
So, while Lehman and Overton assert that politicians are unable to move toward ideas that are “radical” or “unthinkable” because they would lose their support, the opposite is true: The media controls public opinion to control the discourse in order to manufacture consent for the policies the media and the politicians’ bosses - the central bankers - would like to adopt. And most people stay within this window of discourse, parroting the opinions presented in the media in order to remain thought of as “intelligent,” to be well-liked, and to maintain their employment, which, in the majority of cases, is also sponsored by the central bankers.
The Overton Window concept overstates the barriers to change. In reality, political possibility is shaped by many factors interacting in complex ways. Ideas deemed unthinkable can become policy reality quite rapidly under the right circumstances. The window metaphor is too simplistic to capture this dynamism. We must look beyond it to understand how societal progress truly unfolds.
Why credentialism is “problematic.” (I hate that word.)
Credentialism, the over-reliance on credentials such as degrees and certifications as the primary measure of a person's knowledge and abilities, is a deeply “problematic” and limiting mindset in our society. Though credentials can serve as useful signaling mechanisms and guides, taking them as the dominant factor in evaluating talent or merit unfairly discounts many capable people and leads to significant inefficiencies.
A major issue with credentialism is that it narrow-mindedly fixates on formalized education as the primary or exclusive path to expertise. While schooling is valuable, many extremely talented entrepreneurs, artists, tradespeople, and autodidacts develop world-class skills and knowledge through self-study, work experience, and apprenticeships. Dismissing non-degreed people out of hand loses out on huge pools of human talent. Credentialism also often discounts the immense variability in educational quality and rigor across institutions, programs, and individuals. Degrees measure completion, not learning.
Relatedly, credentialism propagates the flawed idea that achievement can be encapsulated in a diploma or certificate. In truth, degrees reflect a small slice of a person's multidimensional abilities. Interpersonal skills, grit, creativity, leadership qualities, communication abilities, and real-world problem-solving skills are just some of the talents that degrees fail to measure well. Credentialism causes society to devalue these critical attributes.
The inherent subjectivity and bias in hiring and admissions processes exacerbates the problems of credentialism. Evaluators frequently give excessive weight to degrees from brand-name institutions, ignoring substantial contravening evidence about candidates’ capabilities.
Credentialism also incentivizes education signaling over learning, encouraging students to pursue degrees for economic reasons rather than intrinsic interest. This commodification of learning warps academic institutions’ priorities toward signaling value for students rather than educational quality, deprioritizing the development of real world skill sets. It also channels young people away from potentially fulfilling non-college paths.
Credentialism produces large economic inefficiencies. Talented people end up misallocated to fields simply because they could not obtain the right credentials, rather than aptitude. The debt and time investments of unnecessary education impose major deadweight losses, costing the economy billions in lost productivity annually.
Certain fields like law and medicine certainly require advanced training to ensure public safety. But with that kind of control over curriculum, professionals are often taught to rote memorize information without questioning it so that control over the industry can be maintained. Compartmentalization and protection of classified knowledge, in addition to both a dishonest publish-or-perish culture and the heavy influence of lobby interests, are largely why we have a reproducibility crisis in the sciences.
Outside of specialized technical skills, the excessive focus on credentials over competence in hiring and admissions has gone too far. While credentials serve a useful signaling function, society must stop regarding them as the dominant measure of human potential. A culture that values diverse paths to knowledge and evaluates people holistically will unlock much hidden talent.
To counter credentialism, employers should emphasize skills-based hiring focused on demonstrated abilities over pedigrees. Workers can highlight competencies gained from diverse experiences like online courses, previous employment, and volunteering. On an individual level, we must all try to look beyond degrees and objectively evaluate the multidimensional talents people bring to the table.
Educational reforms like competency-based programs and credentialing of skill-building outside college will also help shift emphasis to learning rather than signaling. Policy ideas like increasing high school career and technical education, easing occupational licensing burdens, and funding non-degree training programs could provide alternative development paths.
Attenuating credentialism's grip will create a more meritocratic society that judges people by what they can do, not the letters next to their name. It will boost economic dynamism and personal freedom by dismantling unfair degree-based barriers to opportunity. Judgement by competence also aligns with ethical principles of evaluating people based on their abilities and the content of their character.
Credentialism reflects understandable but misguided thinking. While credentials have useful signaling value, judging human potential primarily through academic pedigrees is neither accurate nor just. Society should elevate substance over form - skills and qualities over credentials. Valuing diverse paths to knowledge and judging people holistically will benefit us all.
The Error of Solely Emotional Decision-Making
People in general are more apt to make emotional decisions than logical ones, understanding and acceptance of ideas hinge upon the ability of the speaker to establish credibility, which is not easy when the informational infrastructure surrounding people has been converted into a false matrix.
Which means, even now, knowing that the mainstream media on both “sides” is owned by only five companies and the dissemination process is stilted in order to propagate only the ideas within a certain spectrum of viewpoints designed to maintain control of the narrative, most people still will entertain or believe an idea only if it comes from a source that they have decided to trust due to credentialism, whether they have verified the information coming from that source or not.
And the majority of the people propping up the opposite side of the argument within that same window of accepted discourse are controlled opposition, people who are paid or otherwise incentivized to bolster the other side of a lie in order to give the appearance that any discourse outside of that dualistic, and therefore constrained, window would be “crazy,” or as the chart above calls it, “radical” or “unacceptable.”
Understanding Controlled Opposition
Controlled opposition is a tactic used by those in power to give the illusion of free speech and robust debate, while in reality tightly controlling the parameters of discourse to limit it to acceptable narratives. By planting fake dissident voices that appear to oppose the establishment, the powers that be can delegitimize actual dissent, lead critics down dead-ends, and bolster the intended propaganda.
A classic example is a controlled political debate between candidates from the two major parties in America. Though they may argue fiercely about certain hot button issues, they actually represent the same power elite and agree on fundamentals like corporate rule, militarism, and imperialism that are never up for debate. As Noam Chomsky said, "The smart way to keep people passive and obedient is to strictly limit the spectrum of acceptable opinion, but allow very lively debate within that spectrum."
In the media, controlled opposition figures often rapidly rise to prominence with establishment backing and get featured across mainstream channels. But their message only goes so far in opposing the dominant narratives. They draw people in with legitimate criticisms of the system, but stop short of deeper truths that would undermine elite power structures. Their presence frames the outer limits of allowable dissent while making the conversation feel more free and diverse than it actually is.
On the internet, paid trolls and shills often pose as organic voices to shift narratives on forums and social media. They create an illusion of grassroots support for establishment positions and policies where little may exist. Their arguments and attacks shift the manufactured Overton Window of acceptable speech to fence in dissenting views and marginalize true skeptics of the status quo. Those who control the narrative control the way the idea of “reality” expresses among the mainstream. Accepted “reality” becomes a manufactured falsehood, a stringing together of aphorisms and wives’ tales masquerading as “common sense.” And coming up against this nonsense as a free thinker is met with ridicule and threats of ostracism in order to keep competing viewpoints out of the prominent discourse.
In alternative media spheres, honeypots and limited hangouts are used to collect dissidents into controlled opposition groups that lead nowhere. Legitimate researchers and journalists gain followings with initially intriguing content, but over time begin introducing disinformation that steers audiences away from the truths which serve to threaten the manufactured status quo control narrative. Their revelations go only so deep, carefully avoiding the full implications of what they're uncovering. As revelations accumulate, the most dangerous dots are never connected.
On fringe political fronts, extreme groups can act as controlled opposition to discredit more moderate views. The most absurd theories and disturbing rhetoric is amplified by the media to characterize anyone questioning official narratives as unhinged and dangerous. This pushes regular skeptical citizens away and further isolates true dissent to the fringes. It also provides convenient strawman opponents for pundits and politicians. This bolsters the edges of the Overton Window by keeping control of what range of viewpoints are deemed “acceptable.”
When whistleblowers come forward, their revelations are kept within limits that minimize damage to the intelligence agencies and national security state. Though they unveil disturbing truths, they fail to disclose the most severely incriminating information that would actually threaten to bring down corrupt institutions. Even when appearing to oppose the establishment, they can serve its long-term interests. In many areas of discourse, voices are set up by the establishment to lead critics and skeptics down rabbit holes that go nowhere productive. Their presence keeps unrest contained within parameters that are manageable.
Anytime debate seems excessively polarized between two extremes, yet somehow remains stuck within certain invisible lines and never finds resolution, you can suspect controlled opposition tactics may be at play. Powerful forces collude to keep the people divided and chasing illusions. Those who recognize this can step outside the false dichotomies being endlessly argued and see the bigger picture of what's really happening in the world. Avoiding controlled opposition manipulation is crucial for grasping the truth.
Unfortunately, the truth is often relegated to that part of the chart where those thoughts are deemed to be completely untouchable if you would like to retain your social standing and your livelihood. If your discourse is outside of the window, which is often nowhere remotely near truth adjacent, and you entertain thoughts which are closer to a truth that would impinge upon a lie The Powers That Be are attempting to sell for profit and control, you become a target for ridicule, gaslighting, ostracism, and various other types of abuse meant to make you give up your position and come back into the fold with the rest of the people believing the lies.
Sadly, the abuse most often comes from the free thinker’s loved ones and neighbors who are trying not to have the bottom of reality drop out from under them, who are more willing to criticize rational thought than to entertain it if it means having to question the world they live in and then rebuild accordingly. This feels like too much work to them. Too much thinking. It’s easier just to throw the black sheep under the bus and be done with it - and this is exactly the type of behavior society supports, telling loved ones that they are “stupid” or “crazy” and ostracizing them instead of listening to what they have to say and giving them the empathy, time, and care to entertain their ideas, to treat them as they would want to be treated if the shoe were on the other foot. So, people who believe themselves to be tolerant of ideas in general only end up being tolerant of ideas inside the window.
So much of the information being propagated in the name of exposing the truth is superfluous. It only takes this long to create movement and action if you're trying to drag people kicking and screaming out of the Overton window. Smashing the Overton Window, rejecting it outright as a tool of thought control and making our own decisions about discourse and relevance, is the way to go.
Finding Viable Solutions By Acknowledging Barriers To True Communication and Extending the Range of Allowable Discourse
"You never change things by fighting the existing reality. To change something, build a new model that makes the existing model obsolete." - Buckminster Fuller
To dare to leave the Overton Window behind, people need to have an alternative that is appealing to them as improving their lives, or they won't make the move. Most won't seek out an alternative on their own. Stepping out of a familiar and safe falsehood just to end up in an unknown vacuum is only for the bravest among us.
Everyone is so focused on unraveling puzzles that they've completely missed the point that it is necessary to create something else. A secondary infrastructure for ideas and discourse needs to be created in the background so that we are able to hear one another and give emphasis to the strongest of these ideas based upon merit, not promotional abilities or proliferation of thought based on paid advertising.
There's a danger in building something only to have it infiltrated and coopted. And most people are sunk before they start because to engage in research and development on something big, global, and robust requires funding that is usually only available from those who would seek to subvert the project. Built into that model needs to be something that keeps it from getting infiltrated and coopted.
The core insight from Fuller is that fighting existing systems directly is rarely effective for creating change. Rather, creating alternative models that make the old systems obsolete is a more promising path. This applies to many areas, but is especially relevant when looking to rebuild societal systems and structures.
Any rebuilding effort must start by setting aside notions of directly confronting or dismantling established institutions. Change happens organically when people's needs are met in better ways. So the focus should be on understanding human needs and motivations, then creating community-driven models that speak to those needs.
For instance, many feel disillusioned by government bureaucracy and corruption. But railing against this has limited impact. A better approach is building local cooperative models based on transparency, accountability and participatory decision-making. As these earn public trust, pressure grows for reforming larger institutions.
Another example is journalism. Public faith in mainstream news has declined sharply. An alternative model for rebuilding credibility is decentralized citizen journalism enabled by new technologies. This allows authentic voices to be heard and balanced narratives to emerge, restoring information diversity.
The monetary system is also ripe for alternatives, given the shortcomings of centralized fiat money. New models like blockchain-based currencies and decentralized finance speak to the human needs for freedom, fairness and financial sovereignty. As these gain adoption, pressure mounts for reforms to the dominant monetary paradigm.
These examples highlight the power of "creating new models that make the existing models obsolete," per Fuller. Any rebuilding effort should focus first on understanding human motivations and designing better systems to meet them. Staying grounded in real human needs while avoiding direct confrontation is key. With the right alternative models, the old systems fade as people migrate to better options. Rebuilding happens organically, from the bottom-up, as new social technologies displace the legacy models. The path forward is to dare to think beyond existing paradigms and have the courage to build anew.
The concepts of the "red pill" and "blue pill" have become metaphors for waking up to the truth versus remaining in willful ignorance. This metaphor originates from the 1999 sci-fi film The Matrix, in which the protagonist Neo is offered a choice between a red pill that reveals the true nature of reality and a blue pill that keeps him in a dream-like state.
In today's world, taking the "red pill" has come to signify freeing oneself from dominant narratives and gaining deeper understanding by exploring alternative worldviews and suppressed information. However, the "red pills" being offered do not necessarily lead to full truth and often contain their own distortions. This brings in the notion of controlled opposition, which limits the boundaries of acceptable discourse. The range of allowable discussion is known as the Overton Window.
The Overton Window model demonstrates that public opinion is flexible and policies viewed as unthinkable can become mainstream over time through exposure. Elites and influencers aim to control this window of acceptable thought through various methods of shaping narratives. This prevents certain viewpoints from gaining wider acceptance.
A common controlled opposition tactic is for establishment interests to intentionally leak an aspect of truth in order to direct people's attention and give an appearance of transparency. However, the full picture is not revealed and "red pills" are mixed with some false or misleading ideas. They grant a measure of truthful perception but not the complete freedom from manipulation that taking the actual red pill would confer.
An example is the alternative media's exposure of dark schemes perpetrated by various elite groups like the Bilderberg Group. This "red pill" knowledge brings people closer to the truth but tends to stop short of deeper understanding regarding secret societies and the occult. Much of the alternative media itself is arguably controlled opposition, as most of it refuses to confront the global coordination towards a centralized world order.
Another form of controlled opposition is the funding and platforming of extremist groups to discredit ideas and shift the Overton Window of acceptable speech. The media elevates fringe beliefs like white nationalism or radical progressivism which are then associated with any critique of establishment power or dysfunction within our systems. This has the effect of demonizing those who innocently question dominant narratives, making their views seem unreasonable to the majority.
Valid dissent is also neutralized through political division. The population's attention is directed towards quarreling over relative superficialities so the ruling power structure itself is not challenged. Issues like abortion rights, gun control and identity politics stir strong emotions and split the public into warring camps. They ignore the deeper unity of regular people and prevent them from directing energy towards systemic problems that transcend party politics.
The illusion of choice is presented through controlled spokespeople deemed proper voices for dissent. These figures such as certain politicians, journalists and activists purport to offer an alternative perspective but do not stray beyond certain boundaries. Their critiques are careful to avoid addressing anything that would actually undermine elite interests. For example, they will not delve into central banking, elite coordination or hidden agendas. Controlled opposition figures also serve as social pressure release valves, letting people feel they are effecting change through permitted channels like elections and publicity campaigns.
Escaping this matrix of deception requires continually moving outside comfort zones and transcending any rigid belief system or ideology. True freedom comes not simply from what one believes, but from how one relates to their beliefs. Developing discernment enables one to take in information without blind acceptance or denial based on conformity to a group. Moving up the spiral of understanding necessitates letting go of old paradigms and being willing to stand alone in order to know one's own intuitive inner truth. Only then can one fully assimilate, integrate and move forward with a truly expansive perspective.
The concepts of the red pill versus blue pill, controlled opposition and the Overton window highlight that we are susceptible to manipulation due to our psychological needs and social programming. By being mindful of these dynamics, we can increase awareness of how our thinking is being confined or directed. This empowers us to expand the parameters of discussion and move closer to truth unencumbered by mental constructs or limitations.
We need to bring back the true marketplace of ideas and allow solutions to emerge among us organically. The way through is to actively smash the Overton Window with a brick and keep the conversation moving by allowing true uncensored civil discourse back into our lives instead of algorithmically-stoked infighting and manufactured point/counterpoint paradigms. The transcendence of artificial boundaries is the only path to full awakening.
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