“Between the Hammer and the Anvil” or the Technology of Manipulating Public Consciousness

In the information age, there are many technologies for manipulating public consciousness. One of the most famous and most controversial is the “Overton Window” or “discourse window,” named after Joseph Overton, an American lawyer and Vice-President of the Mackinac Center for Public Policy. The Window results from the fact that through public discussion of an idea, its status in the public consciousness can be changed. What previously seemed “unthinkable” begins, after much discussion, to be perceived as merely “radical,” and later moves through “acceptable,” “reasonable” and “standard” to becoming a universally accepted “social norm”. On the other hand, former norms and accepted dissident positions are pushed out of the range of the Window, and redefined as unthinkable.

The Overton Window (aka discourse window, or sphere of legitimate dissent) is a social institution by means of which any idea can be planted in the minds of even a highly moral society. The boundaries of acceptance of otherwise repugnant ideas, and the prohibition on dissenting from these ideas, are described by Overton’s theory and are reached by means of sequential actions consisting of quite clear algorithmic steps.

The 2014 book “Between the Hammer and the Anvil” is the first in a series of limited-access books. This book introduces the specialists of the Information Security Institute to practical methods of influencing social psychology. The book is based on a scientific and comparative analysis carried out by the Soviet academician G.S. Popov, as well as the results of research by scholar Dr. Oleg Maltsev.[1] 

The book examines in practice the operation of the Overton Window, using an empirical and heuristic modeling approach based on algorithmic investigation on a micro scale.

The book also summarizes the technological and methodological aspects of Popov’s work, situating his studies on the Overton Window within his wider research.

The book contends that the Overton Window is well-known in modern society due to its familiarity from media discourse, and its influence is therefore overestimated. Popov’s method offers an effective means to undermine the widespread misuse of the Overton Window to either lock-in or exclude particular options, allowing practitioners to shift the boundaries of the Window in practice.

The application of Popov’s method to the Overton Window is explored through a number of examples ranging from the end of the nineteenth century to the present day. The book also models several of the so-called “color revolutions” from the perspective of Popov’s work on the Overton Window.

Materials on the subject:

  1. Official website of Ph.D. Oleg Maltsev



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