Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Overton Window of Political Possibility

This is a concept I have written about previously.  It’s a fascinating concept in that it relates how policies on various issues can change, particularly with the introduction of new ideas.

This concept also frees one from a logical fail known as “the fallacy of the disappearing middle” where we are only “offered” a pair of widely divergent solutions with no centrist options.

It is sensible to consider that there are a wide range of viewpoints on ANY subject.  There are 7 billion people on earth, and each has their own unique viewpoint on a diverse number of topics.  With that said, the Overton concept is generally related with a half a dozen viewpoints across the spectrum of ideas generally described as:

1)      Unthinkable.
2)      Radical.
3)      Acceptable.
4)      Sensible.
5)      Popular.
6)      Policy.

Introduction of new “unthinkable” ideas into political discourse can shift the policy position in various directions. 

So, how does this relate to the subject matter of this blog?  What does it mean to various players on all sides of animal control issues?

What I’m going to do is, take a crack at relating Overton to the animal control (primarily dog) public policy viewpoints.

1)       Unthinkable.  Complete ban within the jurisdiction.  No dogs anywhere.
2)      Radical.  Dog ownership technically allowed but severely penalized via high taxes, fines, and unlimited civil liability.  Dog breeding completely controlled by the State.
3)      Acceptable.  Dog ownership tolerated, but discouraged by the community and the State.  High taxes, fines, civil and criminal liability.  Dog breeding heavily taxed and regulated. 
4)      Sensible.  Privilege freely granted, similar to automobile driver’s licenses.  Owner licensing required; Animal registration mandatory; liability insurance mandatory; ownership privileges maintained via a “point” system.  Breeding moderately regulated.
5)      Popular.  Ownership a protected civil right.  Marginal infringement in very severe cases only.
6)      Policy.  Dog owners are a legally protected class.  Empowered to remove the rights of others at whim with the backing of the State.

I can say, definitively, that the “policy” in my jurisdiction is clearly what is indicated above.   The orbit of Pluto is smaller than the legal loopholes granted dog owners in my county.   The same is true in a lot of places.

Its noteworthy that things can change, and when they do they can do so fairly quickly.  Think United States in 1776, Confederate States 1865, Soviet Union 1917, Germany 1933, Cuba 1959.  In those examples, the existing status quo’s were turned upside down and the disenfranchised took control.  And, not always for the betterment of all.  Cuba is nothing more than a large slave plantation where all are forced to work for the state, by the state, and none can leave.  Germany…. Well, I think we know how THAT came out.

Its worth saying at this point that, anyone enjoying unfair advantages would be advised to moderate their behavior and that of their colleagues before the radicals are provoked and enraged any further. 

The next neck in the noose could be yours.


  1. I think that things are already changing. And quickly.

    I'm looking back to the spring of 2005, when I was at my wit's end because of a neighbor dog's incessant barking. I was unable to sleep, so I went over to my computer, did a search on "barking dogs" and found Dr. Craig Mixon's wonderful BarkingDogs.net.

    Ahhhh, I wasn't alone.

    Through Dr. Mixon's site, I found several support groups online. Alas, none of them are active these days, but they helped a lot of peace and quiet activists find each other while blowing off steam.

    While I was involved in the barking noise support groups, I heard about the very well organized group of bloggers who I will refer to as the pitosphere. They blog about the damage caused by pit bulls in particular and dangerous dogs in general.

    At this point, I think the pitosphere is way ahead of the barkosphere in terms of organizing for social change. But we in the barkosphere have a lot of potential allies from the pitosphere. The problem we're all dealing with is irresponsible pet ownership and the difficulties it causes for society.

  2. Quiet neighbor,

    Yes, things are changing. I am contemplating another post as a follow up to this one with the title: "Live by the sword, die by it" or some such.

    The problem I have with some of these fellow "activists" is they are too hyper specialized on one aspect... i.e. barking OR the spectacular problems created by pit bulls (owners), dog at large, etc... The problem is not barking, biting, animal at large per se, the problem lies with the OWNERS and to a certain extent with the ownership community itself. The problem is that too many people have dogs who shouldn't. An ownership licensing system is the only fair way to filter them out.

    The point I am trying to make here, is the larger ownership community needs to start "self regulating" and agree to a few commonsense limits on their behavior. OK, they will have to pass a test and might wind up getting a citation every few years but they either make that small sacrifice NOW or allow the problem to get worse and face losing their priveliges in entirety or at least face punishing restrictions farther in the future. They also need to take affirmative action within their own ranks and throw ALL irresponsible and malicious colleagues under the bus. They DO NOT want non-dog owners taking the lead on that. They need to take control of this situation before someone else does.

  3. Yes, various people in various interest and regulatory groups SHOULD do this and that for the benefit of the rest of us - but they very rarely do, and after much anguished pondering I have come to understand why.

    It's simply this: every society consists of citizens with different intelligence levels. Therein lies the root cause of many of society's problems.

    Some folk are sensible and others are foolish. Some can accept responsibility for their actions and others refuse. Some care about the welfare of their fellow citizens but many others don't.

    These boneheads are wholly enveloped in the opaque cloak of their own entrenched selfishness - and they won't come out. Try to remonstrate with them, or educate them, and they simply retreat further within its heavy folds.

    I detect nothing at all in the national pipeline to change human intelligence levels, indeed the trend is downwards, and the simple cause of many social problems as I've outlined above is a taboo subject never spoken about although, when you think about it, it is obvious.

    Testing for dog owner suitability definitely seems a good idea but in practice it would be an administrative nightmare that no authority would accept without a huge fight. We have sensible road rules for human safety but these are breached by the million every day.It's the same with the dog laws.

    We could predict that dog owner tests, with high standards and the rules vigorously implemented, would certainly improve our quality of life somewhat, however I could now ask "what tests do adults undergo in compliance with a national standard to verify their suitability to have children?"

    The answer of course is "none at all" - and we know that children are generally regarded as vastly more important critters than dogs.

    We look around us and we see animal uncontrol everywhere, but we also see plenty of people uncontrol too - with the so-called regulatory authorities seemingly wilfully blind to both and absolutely determined to remain so.

    Why do they do that when we know that peace and quiet are so dependent upon social order?

    I will tell you: it's because they don't want to get involved.

    And why do they refuse to get involved?

    I will tell you. It's because of the nature of the very system we all thought we could depend upon for social order - the legal system itself.

    Your legal system in the USA, and mine in Australia, have become so unweieldy, costly, unjust, inaccessible and unpredictable that none of us, enforcers and citizens alike, want anything at all to do with it - unless we are paid by it or forced into a corner.

    In your country and mine, our legal systems have become contemptible institutions unable to cope with rising social distresses and which are therefore increasingly held in nationwide derision and contempt.

    And there you have it - system breakdown left broken.

  4. Peter, I hear what you are saying. Seems like government just doesn't work anymore. Well, much of it. Its easy to get frustrated when dealing with AC authorities as they are easily the most slothful and corrupt public agencies in existence, it seems. We productive citizens, taxpayers deserve a LOT better.

    With that said, things can change. The point of this post is, things can be changed (not always for the better). The thing to do is, present solutions that are workable and shed some political capital if you have to.

    I like the owner licensing system. It is not perfect but it offers us a few tools that we have not had in the past:
    1) An opportunity to weed out inept or malicious pet owners UP FRONT.
    2) Opportunities to nail chronic offenders. No guarantee that you will not get bitten or be barked at, but pet owners terrorizing their neighborhoods for months on end would be a thing of the past.