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What shape is your Overton Window? Is it tall and narrow, or low and broad? That is, what range of ideas are you willing to tolerate in public discourse? And how high are you willing to pile the rhetoric? Joseph P Overton, who worked for the Mackinac Center for Public Policy, believed the realm of political ideas wasn’t limited so much by individuals’ interests as it was by a window of public discourse, where ideas at either end of the window were considered radical, and ideas falling outside the window (too “left” or “right”, assuming limiting ideas to a one-dimensional spectrum makes sense) were considered unthinkable, hence unmentionable. This window of discourse, usually thought of in just one dimension, was named after him — the Overton Window.
I discern two dimensions to the Overton Window, though, both width and height. It takes effort to maintain a big Overton Window, whether the window is unusually broad (breadth of ideas) or unusually tall (how high do people ratchet up the rhetoric?). Mere mortals, it seems, struggle to maintain expansiveness in both dimensions. Recently, Ricochet Member @steverosenbach wrote a post asking the Ricoverse for the names of honorable pundits on the left. One often-cited name was that of Scott Alexander, who runs the blog Slate Star Codex (SSC). Truth be told, Scott is not very far left (probably one reason so many of us find him palatable); moreover, Scott is sympathetic to much of the backlash against trends in leftist thought. Perhaps what’s most remarkable about Slate Star Codex, though, is that its Overton Window is panoramic.
Most people in the country are at their limit, emotionally. It can be seen in the comments section here at Ricochet, on TV news, on campuses, and even among friends and family. The emotions include anger, fear, disgust, distrust, and doubt. These aren’t exactly the best emotions for this time of year. The Christmas season is supposed to be a time of hope and expectation, so I’d like to share a recent experience that buoys my spirit.
I’m in graduate school in DC receiving a Masters Degree in Physiology before beginning medical school next year. Occasionally, we will have speakers who discuss relevant issues in medicine, followed by small group discussions. During a discussion of end-of-life care, one student in my group of 20 made an argument in favor of physician-assisted suicide. He said that he would happily assist a patient end his own life, if he wanted to end it. The room fell silent and awkward silences make me uncomfortable, so I decided to offer a retort.
I argued that there is a great moral line that should never be crossed by physicians. The line between removing a patient from a ventilator, and letting nature take its course versus actively killing a patient. Also, as a matter of policy I believe that “Right to Die” will easily turn into “Duty to Die.” Patients feeling pressure from administrators, physicians, and family will eventually end their own lives.