These days, one can meet sentences at dinner parties which before carefully shielded themselves from view. In the West, a swing to the right. Swinging upwards – one can now claim to be rebellious when being nationalistic. Here and there migrants get attacked. Or the idea of Europe – there is a connection. Some blame the echo chamber of social media, in which a carefully posed question – just a question – how many migrants a society can take in, seems to look harmless next to a tweet that threats a veiled woman with rape. But columnists attack Muslims openly in newspapers without any violent tweets nearby. And to this day talk show hosts feel critical and proud when making oversimplified assumptions. Oh, the public discourse. Well, we always knew that neoliberal politics come hand in hand with me-and-my-group-first religion.
The discourse we inhabit has become a horror movie. People panic. Like an Instagram filter changing the tone, the bland and boring landscape we lived in has turned into a violent battleground. Falling in love on the dance floor is not enough to forget that elements which were once unacceptable, even unthinkable, have now found their place among us and are here to stay. Requested by popular demand: Brexit. Breaking the Geneva Convention. Finishing the Turkish democracy off. Police shooting black lives.
To neoliberals, experts in milking the opportunities of their time, this is known as the Overton window. The concept named after a right-wing think tank strategist works like this: Everything within the Overton window is seen as common sense, while everything outside it is seen as a strange and dangerous idea. Not just communism but also socialism and the state have fallen out of favour – the window has been shifted strongly to the right. Ideas once wacky – such as the vampire logic of an unregulated market – are now mainstream. While ideas that were once mainstream – such as the Geneva convention – have become wacky. Brexit is a very good example to track how the window works. When a British billionaire founded The Referendum Party in 1994 to get Britain out of the EU, the mainstream treated them as mad. But once the idea was planted and argued for, it got reframed and restated. It became thinkable – traveling from right wing think tanks to journalists to mainstream politicians to being voted for by a people. In just twenty-two years.
So where can we be twenty-two years from now? How to push this window and end the politics of fear? As other discourses before, this horror movie is capable of being modelled, formed. To push the Overton window means to leave your peer-group behind and create connections where none have been – smuggling a different set of sentences into a dinner party might not be enough. There is need for a new kind of solidarity breaking new grounds. Like all unhappy worlds, this one needs all the help available to get a different perspective.
[An earlier version of this text appeared first in Starship magazine – check it out!