06 August 2018

have a guess

When I read the news, I dawdle, I skip from one site to the other until I end up with funny gifs or cat videos.  Rarely do I allow my brain to highlight connections.  And that's not because I am scared or prone to panic attacks. No, it's because so far, I am not affected, we are not affected (if you exclude climate change which is kind of obvious but not yet dramatically so in our part of the world) and even if things progress as some wish and - heavens forbid - the ignorant right wing populists gain more influence, we will remain untouched provided we stay schtumm. Because we look and act the part in our quiet middle class neighbourhood, with just a mild touch of hippie eccentricity but a clean tax bill and no illegal asylum seekers hiding in the attic. We are way down the line of suspects.  But of course, who knows, there are several dual nationalities in my family, dodgy visa stamps in our passports, strange foreign names in our lists of contacts. Enough material for a collection of short stories or a list of crimes against the state, depending on circumstance. And we can be stroppy and loud, to the point of getting evicted from a venue, when faced with a perceived injustice.
But just by looking at us, we should be safe for the time being.

Of course, I am getting carried away. And yet, metaphorically speaking, it seems that these days,  politicians do not work for the people whose house is on fire or for the firefighters who help to put the fire out, but for the angry spectators who gape from a safe distance cross the road.

If you have the time, listen to this before reading the rest of my post, while you do the dishes, while you cook a meal for someone you love, while you weed the garden, while you wait in line, a traffic jam, while you hoover the carpets, while you have a bath, while you are otherwise involved in whatever civil and somewhat boring occupation:


Apart from that magnificent (and prophetic) line from a poem by W.B. Yeats:
There lurches past, his great eyes without thought
Under the shadow of stupid straw-pale locks,
That insolent fiend
This podcast mentions the Overton window. Which sent me on a long winded search.

It is a term from political science meaning the acceptable range of political thought in a culture at a given moment, created by one Joseph Overton, a conservative think-tank intellectual from the US, now dead.

It's the idea that there is a certain amount views on every sociopolitically relevant topic that society broadly regards as acceptable which are found inside the Overton window. All views outside the Overton window are considered provocative, sensitive, radical etc. If a politician  - on the right or the left - deviates from the Overton window they may risk their chances to be elected. 

But what's inside the Overton window can shift, slowly as well as intentionally, it seems.
According to wikipedia, the Overton window theory recognises four factors that favour a shift: facts and logic, moral appeals, emotional response and events, errors or disinformation. And once a factor has been found to be particularly effective to promote a change in the desired direction, eg more to the right, politicians tend to go for the overkill.  Example, the refugee situation where in Germany, right wing populists call for firing squads at the border (aiming at women, children, "the lot") and in the US, the construction of a gigantic border wall, neither of which will be feasible or - in the German scenario - constitutional. The purpose is not to actually shoot at the German border or build that wall, but to shift the window, to change the limits to what society tolerates, to normalise the previously unutterable. 

(Disclaimer: This is not a genuine right-wing populist idea, but simply a name for a strategy that has already been used in democracies, long before it was called Overton window.)

But - to return to the podcast (which again, I urge everybody to listen to) -  it's also a gigantic diversionary tactic.  So, maybe populist right wing politicians, the insolent fiends with the straw hair (the obvious ones in the US and the UK and that one in The Netherlands), are toys thrown at us by those who really want to pull the strings, via life-time appointments of extremely conservative supreme court judges, brexit, border walls, Muslim conspiracy theories, the lot.
Who are they? Have a guess.

BTW: I seem to have a very avid reader of absolutely every single blog post incl. comments. For the past month, someone from the same US IP address/location has been - quite systematically - reading every day and throughout almost all day and night.  R thinks I am done for. I tend to have a more benign explanation. So if you read this, who are you?  Even if you are a robot.


  1. perhaps when I'm working later today. the rise of fascism so soon after the world was bent on getting rid of it is depressing. all those lives lost for what? human beings are seriously fucked up greedy little bastards. years ago I read an excellent essay of conservatism vs liberalism and how both ideologies are necessary in a culture. liberalism allows a culture to grow and change, prevent stagnation while conservatism keeps change from running out of control willy nilly, providing a solid base or something like that.

  2. I will listen to the podcast some time today. Right now I'm wondering how really awful things are going to get. Will we see a nuclear bomb detonated (here we are on the 73rd anniversary of Hiroshima)? How far will the fascists go to keep power? I never thought it would get this bad in my lifetime.

  3. Thank you for this, Sabine. Although I read the rest of your post before listening to the podcast, I then sat down to listen to it while getting close to finishing Mandala #32 and ended up listening to it twice. Along with that podcast, the 73rd anniversary of the bombing of Hiroshima is on my mind as well as a movie I just watched called "Hostiles," a dark story reflecting the United States in 1892, soon after the events at Wounded Knee, in the years following the Civil War, in the years preceding World War I, with roots of violence and revenge going far back into the history of the world as well as ancient roots of awakening to the futility of violence and revenge. Interesting that the movie was described as brutal but shallow by a writer from The Atlantic and praised by a writer from Indian Country News:


    It's brutal but not shallow. It's timely.

  4. The podcast is chilling.
    We are safe until we’re not.
    Meaning none of us is safe.
    Thank you for not looking away.

  5. Better than cooking a meal for someone you don't love. Many homicides either start or end in the kitchen. I mean, all those blades from Solingen rusting from lack of use. If you've got 'em, flaunt 'em. Me, I blot out my boring occupation by improving our kitchen blades, thereby amortising the horrendous cost of the sharpening steel. It's impregnated with diamond dust. Industrial diamonds, alas. In the final analysis I'm a cheapo.

    What's that you say? Be relevant! It isn't my day for that. Month or year.

    1. Steel does not rust. You've been conned. It's why these blades are such neat weapons even if they are used rarely for that specific purpose. You can let them sit all stainless and shiny in your kitchen until the right moment.
      ("Useful information gained from watching TV thrillers", chapter 17)

    2. carbon steel rusts but not stainless. knives used to be made of carbon steel (I still have one or two) and they are sharp! stainless knives don't rust but they don't hold an edge either. I don't think you can get carbon steel knives anymore, something about the rust and safety regulations.

  6. First they came for (insert ethnic group here), then they came for (insert gender here). Finally they came for us.

    Hello to your avid reader! :-)

    Greetings from London.

  7. Very interesting! I will listen to the podcast when I'm in a place where I can give it the proper attention -- but I do like Fintan O'Toole (following your post of his column a few weeks ago, which I reposted to Facebook). I've never heard of the Overton window but that is a very interesting idea. I think this all goes way, way back to before Trump -- back to the early days of Rush Limbaugh, who began expanding the window by encouraging people to let their inner evils out.

  8. Even stainless steel can rust. There's one knife I sharpen every diet-day (no, not to cut my throat). I have now taken to sucking on quarter-oranges. To do this requires me to remove the central pith stem. Orange flesh "gives" very easily (a bit like tomato) and surgical sharpness is essential to avoid unnecessary pressure. A minor irritation but out-of-proportion given it's been added to my life. Additions like these are as welcome as warts when you've left three-score-years-and-ten way behind.

  9. I'll listen to the podcast tomorrow. The Overton effect is fascinating. And hello to whomever is reading here.