Last year, Joe Carter wrote about a helpful framework for understanding how rapidly our culture is changing: The Overton Window. The idea is that possibilities for social change lie along a spectrum. The Overton Window takes in the possibilities for change that are realistic in the current environment. Social change happens when you move the Overton Window. Here’s a short explanation of the Overton Window:
Joseph Overton [a political scientist] observed that in a given public policy area, such as education, only a relatively narrow range of potential policies will be considered politically acceptable. This “window” of politically acceptable options is primarily defined not by what politicians prefer, but rather by what they believe they can support and still win re-election. In general, then, the window shifts to include different policy options not when ideas change among politicians, but when ideas change in the society that elects them.
Joe Carter says it breaks down to five easy steps:
Step #1: From Unthinkable to Radical — The first step is the easiest—provided the issue can become a fetish or the topic of an academic symposium. Since both the professoriate and the perverts have a fascination with the faux-transgressive (the truly transgressive [i.e., Christianity] tends to terrify them) all you need to do is get the attention of one of these groups. It doesn’t matter which you start with since the politics of the bedroom and the classroom inevitably overlap.
Step #2: From Radical to Acceptable — This shift requires the creation and employment of euphemism. Want to kill a child exiting the womb? Call it “dilation and extraction” and infanticide becomes a medical procedure. Want to include same-sex unions under the banner of “marriage?” Redefine the term “marriage” to mean the state-endorsed copulation of any two(?) people who want to share a bed and a tax form. Be sure to say it is about “love”—in our culture, eros excuses everything.
There will naturally be a few holdouts, of course, but those who reject the shift from Radical to Acceptable can be shamed into approving. All that is required is to deploy a stingingly suitable insult. The word “bigot”, for instance, is more effective than a billy club at beating the young into submission. For far too many Millennials, there are few core beliefs they won’t change to avoid being called a bigot. The disapproval of their Creator is unfortunate; enduring the disfavor of their peers is unimaginable.
Step #3: From Acceptable to Sensible — There is nothing more sensible than to submit to one’s god. And while Americans may profess to worship Allah, Jehovah, or Jesus, we mostly worship an American Idol—ourselves. That is why individualism has become our country’s fastest-growing cult. It has tapped into this self-idolatry by preaching a gospel of the Individual. It’s a pragmatic and accepting message. You were, as one of its chief evangelist Lady Gaga says, “born this way“: “It doesn’t matter if you love him, or capital H-I-M / Just put your paws up /’Cause you were born this way, baby.”
Step #4: From Sensible to Popular — This step merely requires personalizing the issue. Do you know someone who is LGBT? Divorced? Had an abortion? Sure you do, they are in your family, in your school, at your church. Do you hate them? If not, then how can you still disapprove of their actions? (Note: Be sure to talk fast so that no one follows the logic.)
As it says in the Good Book (or maybe in a Lady Gaga song), judge not lest God judge you for judging. You want people to like you, don’t you? Then express popular approval for what your cultural betters (e.g., people on reality TV) believe should be popularly approved. Then you’ll be popular and it won’t be necessary to call you a bigot.
Step #5: From Popular to Policy — Commission a public opinion poll. Show it to a politician. They’ll do the rest.
My guess is that we are in Step 5 on same-sex marriage, in Step 2 with regard to polygamy, and in Step 3 with regard to transgender issues.
Thought experiment for fellow conservative readers: Can you imagine anything closing the Overton Window on these issues in American society, or at least keeping it from opening further? I can’t. I hope I’m wrong. I do not think I’m wrong.