The Overton Window and Modern Human Tribalism

Since the dawn of Man, humans have organized themselves into groups based on genetic similarity.  These groups cohere around shared customs – language, dress, food, and most critically (for our purposes here) beliefs.  We call these groups tribes.

In the modern world, a lot of these trappings of traditional tribal formation – language, dress, etc. – have become homogenized by mass culture in most of the West.  Top 40 radio, movies, fast food restaurants. All in the name of the almighty dollar, we have corporatized and standardized those things, making them more efficient, more scalable.  With one exception (at least so far) … that of belief.

Thus the one manifestation of tribal cohesion that still persists is that of shared belief. A way to distinguish between us and them.  Our in-group vs. the outgroupWho the “enemy” is.  Who we can exclude. Who we can hate.  Beliefs, and the virtue signaling that goes along with them, are a way to signal tribal identity.

We call this modern version of shared belief the Overton Window.

As per the technical definition, the Overton Window represents the range of acceptable topics for public discourse at any given time, stretching from “popular” to “reprehensible”.  Critically, this window shifts over time, so that ideas that were once perhaps acceptable become reviled or even censored, and vice versa. There are things that can and cannot be said out loud …

Even the mere act of suggesting something – such as the fact that there might be differences between women and men – can get you fired from your job as president of Harvard.  Or, once upon a time, arguing that the Earth revolves around the Sun could get you similarly ostracized.

These bounds of public discourse bear a very real impact on the behavior of individuals within a society.  A simple example is the notion of a woman being a housewife.  Something that was once socially valued (being a good mother, raising children, etc.) is now scorned as oppressive, or a “poor life choice” in contrast to materialistic pursuits of career/money.  Whereas previous generations would have seen the pursuit of worldly desires over one’s own family as gross selfishness.

History of America is rife with such examples.  From racial relations to gender dynamics to religion and everything in between.  Hell, there was a time in the United States when Irish people were openly discriminated against. Or if you go back to ancient Rome and Greece, pedophilia was perfectly legal and considered socially acceptable.  It is funny to realize that there was a time when Christians were considered rebels and outlaws, and yet another period where they were the dominant cultural narrative of European society.

The point is that what is and is not considered socially acceptable or “politically correct” shifts over time.  And those boundaries limit public discourse, and individual choices.  Moreover, they delineate those who stay within the bounds from those who do not, essentially two tribes.  This is the Overton Window in action.

It would seem that there is a primal need in humans for such tribal affiliation, even in modern times.  The Overton Window is simply how modern humans form tribes in the modern world, in this era of mass culture.

Given the above, there is a fundamental question one must ask: Is the Overton Window compatible with the principles of Classical Liberalism?

If the Overton Window, and the tribal mechanics that go along with it, limit the free exchange of ideas – and moreover the choices individuals can make within those bounds – is it compatible with the Doctrine of Individualism? With the notion of rational self-interest?  With the vibrant discourse that is the lifeblood of a free society?

Given the examples in the first section, I would argue it is not compatible.

I was just reading an excellent article last week discussing Jordan Peterson and his televised interview with Cathy Newman, and how their conversation was representative of the way white left-wing intellectuals have essentially become the “new bourgeoisie” over the last half century with the rise of Cultural Marxism.  How their values – equality, tolerance, diversity – are now thought of as universally acceptable values, as the one-and-only “good” values that one might have.  And that no one can even question that.

Political Tribalism at its worst.

It is a very clear example of the Overton Window in action, and its effects.  To shut down public discourse, limit individual choices, and stifle diversity of thought. It is in direct contrast to classical liberalism.

The question of course then becomes what we should do about the Overton Window?  Given its roots in the primal human need for tribal affiliation we’re not going to get rid of it.  I would suggest a couple things.  One is simply that any liberal society that wishes to remain so should be cognizant of the Overton Window, and the dangers inherent in it. Public awareness goes a long way.  Secondly, I would argue that cognizance of the Overton Window as a force shaping public discourse should become a core component of journalistic ethics, and the principle explicitly taught to journalism students.  Too many journalists seem oblivious to the concept, or the unconscious bias it can introduce to their reporting.  And yet journalists serve a critical role in a liberal society … we should hold them to a higher standard.  The same could be argued for tech companies like Google and Facebook, and the filter bubbles they inadvertently produce.

In the end, we may have come a good distance as humans, but in some ways we are not so different from our ancestors.  We may always long to be part of a tribe.

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Google and the Rise of Asshole Liberalism

Think I might start referring to Progressives as “asshole liberals” …

I’m generally not into name-calling, so this is a more tongue-in-cheek statement than anything.  But if the recent events and lawsuit at Google tell us anything, it is how quickly we can become the very thing we despise.  The oppressed become the tyrant.

It seems to be a ubiquitous trait of those in power, of those who control the dominant Cultural Narrative.  You start out fighting for something, and once you seize the upper hand, you find yourself stifling anyone who disagrees with you in order to maintain what you’ve won.  Human nature, it lies within all of us.  Each one of us the same potential to be evil, given the opportunity.

I once had the pleasure of hearing in person a TED talk by Grammy Award winning rapper LeCrae, about the myths we tell ourselves of heroes and villains.  His point was how that shapes the way young black men view themselves.  But he unwittingly brought up a more insidious point.

There is danger in the single narrative.  And, moreover, if you can shape that narrative, you can control people.

I have written about this “enemy within” before.  And at some juncture, progressivism amongst the Millennial generation has reached that point.  Many of its adherents don’t seem to realize that convincing young people that everything is a “social construct” just makes the masses easier to control.  Tell them there is no such thing as gender – as is occurring in public schools here in Chicago (e.g. Palatine High School) – and they are like putty in your hands.  Tell them myths about gender pay disparities or the plight of housewives, and you can double your workforce, double your labor, and split the same pay amongst them (a la the middle class household income stagnation seen since the rise of feminism).  Why be shaped by biology or nature, when you can be shaped by those who seek to manipulate you?

And most importantly, let them teach you to react aggressively against anyone who might choose to think differently … any free thinker.

Chase them down. Harass them. Shame them. Shut down their speech.  The James Damore lawsuit against Google exposes what this looks like in the present day – replete with examples of this brand of Asshole Liberalism.

To be frank, all the examples and screenshots in the Damore lawsuit (linked above) are shocking, and nothing I would ever want to be associated with.  They reflect clearly how the attitudes and behavior of these modern-day “liberals” (aka Progressives) are NOT really liberal at all, not in a classical liberal sense.

More critically, a common trend that seems to be emerging is that many men don’t want to be “liberals”, at least not in the progressive sense.  We can see this in the results of the U.S. 2016 Presidential Election, with Trump holding a double digit advantage over Hillary among men (52% vs. 41%).  That includes 63% of white men (a 2:1 margin), but more men of every single ethnicity voted conservative than women.

Yet even beyond those voter demographics, we see the tell-tale signs elsewhere.  Just look at the shifting candidate platforms of the parties, the increased progressive female candidates the democrats are putting up, who mostly all favor increased taxation and more government service spending, more subsidized childcare, more tax exemptions for women … hell they even want to run Oprah for president now.  None of these female candidates are true classical liberals.  No liberal from fifty years ago or more would even recognize them as such.

And even when a female candidate says something common sense, if she is conservative, she gets lambasted and booed in many places.  For instance here in Chicago earlier this week, a female candidate for governor of Illinois was booed and berated simply for stating that “having more fathers in children’s homes could help reduce gun and gang violence.” Such a crazy idea right <sarcastic sigh>.  Her opponents even stormed off-stage.  All because she said something that, if not sensible, is at least worthy of discussion.

In the same vein, Disney (among other companies) is daring to gamble with its Star Wars franchise that emasculated men will continue to buy their product, even if it subtly seeks to denigrate them.  And perhaps that is the gamble of the larger Progressive movement.  The real reason behind the rise of Asshole Liberalism

They assume they can be assholes, and you will still fall in line. You will either be with the mob, or afraid of it.

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Outrage Culture – The New Religion

Is Progressivism, and the outrage that goes with it, a new religion?

Dave Chappelle recently released a new special on Netflix talking about Outrage Culture and #MeToo and Louis CK … and people are upset.  From twitter to the Huff Post, people are outraged about Mr. Chappelle’s criticism of Outrage Culture.  Let the irony sink in for a minute.  The Tocqueville Effect is in full effect.

Indeed, it appears that since the rise of the Baby Boomers in the West, we have replaced Christianity with a new “progressive” religion, Outrage Culture.

On closer inspection, you realize how much traditional Christianity and “outrage culture” religion share in common.  Both adhere to a strict dogma, which is if one does ascribe to they are subject to intense public shaming and scrutiny.

For the former, it is a firm belief in one male one female marriage, strong family units, chaste behavior, and a belief in god.  For the latter, it is a firm belief that men and women are the “same”, gender is a social construct, only white people are capable of bigotry or in-group bias, that equality of outcomes is the only form of equality, that enforced diversity is a form of freedom, and a belief in Scientism as the new god.

Most importantly, both religions share the idea that if one does not publicly profess their faith in the tenets of that religion, then they are “evil”.  In other words, it is not just the progressive, feminist, and/or social justice ideals that define this new religion, but critically the moral outrage and victim mindset that goes along with it.

Witch hunts and persecutions are common.  Hell, you can even lose your job or means of living if you don’t fall in line.  Just look at the James Damore case at Google for example, even to the point of giving monetary bonuses to employees who disparaged him and his non-politically correct views.   It is not just a set of beliefs, but a dogmatic system that can cost you your life and/or livelihood.  Not to mention that of your family’s.  Spanish Inquisition sound familiar?

And what is really ironic, is that the last few generations have spent the past half century thinking they were “tearing down” religion … no, my friends, you were just replacing it with a new one.  It seems the human brain is hard-wired to need something to believe in, something to rally around, something to bind the tribe together. To differentiate between them and us. Something to despise.

I have written before about the Tocqueville Effect (see link above).  In short, it posits that as social conditions and opportunities improve, social frustration grows faster.  Social justice and like just bring on more fervent opposition to ever slighter injustices and grievances.  We lose sight of where we came from, become entitled, and, in popular idiom, “bite the hand that feeds us”.

It’s a strange but observable phenomenon in many modern day democracies.

Such Presentism – the practice of applying myopic modern day viewpoints to past events or people – is a big component of the Tocqueville Effect, and rampant in Outrage Culture as well.  Every generation thinks: it will be different this time. That they know better.  That they are “smarter” than everyone who came before them, more enlightened. But such thinking is easily proven wrong, each generation is not so different after all.

Ryan Holiday’s excellent recent book, Ego is the Enemy, really tackles this phenomenon head on.  Because Outrage Culture really is a manifestation of ego.  Or more so, an excessive focus on ego.  A preeminence of our feelings over all else, over reasoning and logic.  If we feel aggrieved, then it must be so.

Which begs the classical philosophical question: Is God really just a manifestation of human ego?  And if it all is really about ego, then is it truly wise to replace a religion of restraint with one of excess?

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Their Best Years

So I’ve read a lot of news and opinion pieces over the last few years about how millennial women are struggling to find marriage-able men now that they are getting into their thirties.  Especially in cities, where college-educated women far outnumber college-educated men, due to gender disparities in college enrollment (~60% of undergraduates are now female).

Which got me thinking about a woman I dated this past year, and a particular interaction I had with her.  I’m a man right on the leading edge of the millennials (mid thirties), and this woman was in her early 30’s.  She was smoking hot, at least was when she was younger.  And she had definitely been living the “Sex and the City” lifestyle all through her twenties – drinking, partying, brunching, hooking up, with the occasional boyfriend dabbled in here or there.

Of course, now that she was 32, she wasn’t as hot as she was when she was younger (I saw pictures of her from back when she was mid 20s).  And at one point, I forget how it came up, but we were in bed post-coitus and she was talking about her appearance, and I said “You look good for your age”.  She asked what I meant, and I just laughed and told her I thought she was attractive but she didn’t look like she did when she was younger.

She seemed taken aback by this.  Like no one ever mentioned it to her.  But it was true.  She had little wrinkles around her eyes, and her back and derriere were a little soft and perhaps not as taut as they could be.  Of course, when she was 22 genetics took care of that.  But at 32, it required a little more effort, and even with that effort it would never be quite the same.

But was really surprising to me was her reaction.  Perhaps people don’t mention those things out loud any more.  Or perhaps the Sex and the City and/or hookup generation never realized the party would eventually end.

Either way, she didn’t seem to realize she had given away her best years to other men … the prime years of her youth, looks, and fertility.  More importantly, she seemed unaware that she was offering me a version of herself of reduced market value.  The reality is that, for any woman I am seeking sexual union with, those things matter.  And for something of reduced value, I am only willing to offer less in return.

We live in a nihilistic era.  Short term self-gratification our only God.

Of course, some would say this has all happened before.  A tale as old as time.  Sodom and Gomorrah.

And some would argue our best years belong to us, and for whatever selfish desires we may have.  Time for other things can come later.

Or in other words: our best years are not about what value we give to the world, but what we can extract from the world in return.

Such a mindset may be right, or wrong … I am not here to debate that.  And certainly, from a classical liberal perspective of rational self-interest, efficient societies and economic system can be built by harnessing that inherent human selfishness.  But the rational part implies reasoning, that people have accurate information to reason with.

The problem, nowadays, comes from individuals not realizing they are in a marketplace, where the value of things rises and fallsEven the value of people – economically, sexually, etc. – fluctuates.  And the value one has to capitalize on may not be the same value they have 5 or 10 years later.  It is critical, in light of that, to maximize the long-term return.

And that is what we fail to teach our children anymore … we are not honest with them about the nature of the world.  The problem isn’t selfishness per se, but the complete ignorance on the part of young people about their selves as depreciating assets.  A time will come for all of us when we are no longer as needed.  This is particularly harsh for women, who are still valued as reproductive mates mainly based on youth and fertility.  Which, to be clear, makes sense, because if a lot of men were running around sleeping with infertile forty-something women then the human race would quickly go extinct.

We are apes, dressed in costumes, performing rituals and acts upon a stage.  Pretending to be something we’re not.  Forgetting who we are.  There is a dishonesty to it.  One in which we teach our children that their best years are ones to be irreverently consumed, rather than leveraged for future gain.

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Diversity of Thought – The Most Valuable Kind of Diversity

It is rather ironic that “diversity” in our current Progressive era generally means how someone looks.  Or perhaps what hangs between their legs.  Diversity has literally come to mean color, shape, genitalia, outward sexual behavior, appearance, etc. This even spills over into the dating world, which I will get to below …

Or in short, “diversity” is currently defined by Progressives in the shallowest terms possible.

When it comes to what lies inside, opinions or thoughts, there is no heed given to “diversity”.   There is only one “truth”, and any viewpoint that deviates from that acceptable line of thought is deemed politically incorrect, or misogyny, or racism, or Nazism, or whatever shaming language you can throw out there.

Yet is not true diversity embodied by what lies inside us, within our minds, rather than without?  Is not are outward appearance and behavior merely a reflection of what lies beneath?

Ironically, one of the defining features of the Nazis was not their treatment of the Jews, but rather their complete intolerance of beliefs and views other than their own.  Not racial intolerance, but totalitarianism.  It was that mob mentality that enabled all their later actions, and the persecution of the Jews. Indeed, their bigotry towards those who looked different was a manifestation of their hatred toward those who thought differently.

It is ironic then to see modern day “progressives” calling people Nazis for expressing differing opinions than them.  It is literally backwards.

In the Chicago Tribune this week, there is an article arguing that sexual harassment should be considered a hate crime .  You read that correctly.

Apparently, finding a woman sexually desirable is now another form of “hating a woman”.  Someone should buy that woman a dictionary cause I am not sure she knows the meaning of words!

But all kidding aside, her main point is that we should outlaw certain types of thoughts.  By labeling them as “hate crimes”.  We can see here a very clear example of how Progressives and feminists are opposed to any sort of thinking that violates their dominant cultural narrative – that men are evil, particularly white men, and as such their behavior and thoughts underlying it must also be evil.

All of this being a simple extension of their shallow definition of diversity.  You can see them working backwards here.  By identifying a group based on their appearance, then working in reverse to condemn their behavior and thoughts.  The ultimate goal being to enforce their worldview.

Why? Because there is power in being able to control the dominant cultural narrative. The power of myths, the power of controlling how others see the world.  How other behave.  It is something organized religion first figured out thousands of years ago.

The casualty, of course, is diversity of thought.

I was out on a date last week with a girl here in Chicago.  Like many “city girls” who live here, she was vehemently “liberal” (at least by her skewed definition of the term), and has a hard time conceiving how anyone could think differently.  It literally causes massive amounts of cognitive dissonance and even anger in them.

I generally avoid discussing politics in dating situations (and in life in general), but she brought up the fact that her grandfather had voted for Trump, and seeing as I wasn’t really super attracted to her, I kind of went with it.  Asking questions, poking, prodding. Slowly teasing her past out of her.

Turns out the girl had been in a sorority, then spent her mid-twenties in New York City going out 4 or 5 times a week.  Numerous “friends-with-benefits” situations and other casual dating encounters.  You know the drill.  Typical millennial woman about to turn 30.

I, of course, started, hinting at things subtly in line with traditional gender roles and other social mores. A politically incorrect comment here or there.  A few raised eyebrows at her stories.  I tend to be a pretty open-minded guy in reality, but it was interesting to watch her get flustered.  And later a little salty.  All while I gave nothing more than a smirk.  I wasn’t following the progressive/feminist “you go girl” script.

In short, I dared to think differently.  Not sure what it is about these ultra-progressive city girl types, but they definitely don’t seem used to that.  It makes me wonder if the human female tendency towards “herd behavior” in order to increase group social cohesion plays some role?  But either way, one thing is clear: there is no room for diversity of thought in the modern feminist/progressive dogma. Or perhaps in any female centric society, who knows.

Yet, to maintain a liberal society, it is diversity of thought that should be our most treasured diversity.  Indeed, free thought – and the vibrant discourse that goes with it – are the lifeblood of a free society.

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A Monopoly on Violence: The 2nd Amendment and Guns

Anywhere a monopoly on violence exists, free thought will perish.

It’s an often misunderstood principle.  Indeed, one thing many Progressives these days don’t understand is that the Second Amendment in the American Constitution is not really about guns … no, it is about limiting the government’s monopoly on violence.

The recent church shooting in Texas is an intriguing, though tragic, example of this.  A mentally ill man stormed into a church in a rural area that housed some of his former in-laws.  Apparently, it was a domestic situation related to his ex.  Now let’s be clear, he should not have been able to buy guns in the first place due to dishonorable discharge, commitment to a mental institution, violent attacks on his ex-wife and children that left his infant son with a fractured skill, and making physical threats against his military superiors.  Unfortunately the Air Force who discharged him because of those things failed to notify the FBI’s background check database, as they were legally required to.

The interesting aspect of the case though were the two good Samaritans – armed Samaritans – who confronted him, wounded him during an exchange of gunfire, and then chased him down when he tried to flee in his truck.  Arguably, they probably saved lives.

Now some would argue that the police response would have been forthcoming.  And while such a response may have occurred in 5 minutes in an urban area (like Chicago where I live now), in more rural areas – like where I grew up in the South – the closest law enforcement officer may have been 30 minutes away.

But those points aside, the real argument such people are making, wittingly or not, is that in order to stifle violent crime, the government should have a monopoly on violence

They fail to see the irony in that position.  It is, in fact, the polar opposite of why the Founding Fathers put the Second Amendment in the American Constitution in the first place, or why political revolutions occurred across Europe in the 18th and 19th centuries.  How quickly we forget our past …

We often forget in modern times why the founding fathers put these rights into place.  You see, in old world Europe, kings and monarchies held a monopoly on violence … do something or even just say something they don’t like, and they could cut your head off.  Literally.  Or forcibly take all your land, property, or whatever else they saw fit.  Those in power could force you to believe things, or stifle what you were allowed to say, at the point of a sword or gun.

Over time of course in Feudal Europe, the nobility was able to mitigate that monopoly to some degree, but generally only for the noble class.  The common man had little recourse when faced with the full brunt of that monopoly.  No way to defend himself.  And like all absolute forms of power, this led to corruption and tyranny.

The framers of the constitution knew this, and enlightened as they were by the classical liberal ideals of Voltaire and Locke and Hume, they knew that the only real way to prevent such tyranny to limit the government’s Monopoly on ViolenceThey knew there was a trade-off, that of permitting more violence in society in general by making it more accessible and less centralized. But they viewed the possibility of tyranny as a much greater threat to a liberal society.

You have to remember that these people were still coming out of the era of Old Europe and kings and feudalism.  Tyranny was a very real thing, not some word bandied about during rallies and trigger warnings and safe spaces.  People could shut down your speech, your thoughts, your views… and if you complained about it, they could legally cut your head off.

And in a democratic system, such tyranny may come not only from the central government, but also the Tyranny of the Majority.  A perfect example of the latter is the Reign of Terror during the French Revolution.  Ensuring that neither the government nor any single group could monopolize violence as their “sole right” was a backstop against such dangers.

Now obviously a few farmers with guns, even if organized as a militia, is not going to stand much of chance against modern military tanks and the like.  But that is not the point.  The point lies in maintaining the principle that all people, the governed, still retain the right to possess the tools of violence, regardless of who might hold political power at the time.

Such a principle ensures that the potential exists, however unlikely, that if the government supersedes its authority or descends into tyranny in some way, that a violent resistance is a very real possibility.

And it is that principle that is the point.

We can see this line of reasoning in the Federalists papers, particularly in Federalist paper No.10 written by James Madison discussing the Tyranny of the Majority.  The second amendment and the guns that come along with it are really about ensuring a system of checks and balances in the distribution of the means of violence.

Because anywhere a monopoly on violence exists, free thought will perish.

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