Exposure to Lizardman is Lethal

This is a short, experimentally-off-the-cuff post about one way in which social groups and institutions are effectively destroyed, in practice. It’s fairly straightforward, but I don’t try to connect all the dots (or even name all of them).

In a recent FB post, I made the following (lightly edited) claims:

I think a pretty solid heuristic is to treat 5% as 0% on things involving large numbers of people.

This is often referred to as “lizardman’s constant;” my own first exposure to the idea was the fact that there are surveys in which ~5% of Obama voters report thinking Obama is the antichrist.

What’s that 5% made of? WHO KNOWS. Human error, lulzy trolls, actual crazies, people having a really bad day, people who have complex reasons for the choices they make—the list of possible explanations goes on and on and probably all of them are in the mix, to some extent.

But like. This is always the case. If you’re dealing with substantially-more-than-Dunbar’s-number of people, I think you need to expect around 5% of your data to just be frothing insanity, total contentless noise.

If you’re studying some awful thing X, and you get your approval rating/​advocates of X down to 5% of the population, this is effectively zero. It’s not gonna go lower without some kind of filter; you’re dealing with quantum chaos at that point.

One of the things that institutions and authority do is provide insulation from this frothing madness.

e.g. you have a deranged suburban woman wanting a black man in the neighborhood to be arrested, for no discernible reason besides that he is black and she is crazy. In the best cases, the police dispatcher who takes the call recognizes that there is no real situation, and doesn’t send an officer; in the second-best cases, the officer arrives on scene, assesses the non-situation, and defuses things by informing the crazy person that they are being crazy and that Authority does not deign to take action.

(There are much worse cases, of course.)

Similarly, a deranged parent calls up a school superintendent wanting a principal to be fired because their child was exposed to Michaelangelo’s David, and the superintendent laughs and gently communicates “No, we are not doing that.”

A key feature of this kind of insulation is that the person (or group, or structure) under attack, and vulnerable to attack, is different from the person (or group, or structure) doing the defending/​dismissing. The defender/​dismisser/​insulator needs to be not vulnerable to the disapprobation of the lizardman—a superintendent who is not worried about losing his job, or a police officer who knows that his superior officer has his back. This was the original reasoning behind judges-elected-for-life—that society needed principled men and women of discernment who did not need to placate or cater to lizardman.

(Yes, there are ways that this can backfire and metastasize; I’m not saying that all such insulations are good but I am saying that all the good insulations have this property.)

Here’s what happens, absent that insulation:

There’s no intermediary here—no single sane person who feels personally unthreatened who is willing to say “what? No. We’re not banning them from performing this song; that’s ridiculous; the song is fine, the objections of lizardman notwithstanding.”

Social media has given lizardman power and reach and concentration of force; it’s harder to tune out lizardman, harder to insulate oneself from him, harder to simply close down the conversation and make a final call, the way that courts close down the conversation and make a final call in matters of justice.

(Even where the final call is wrong some non-negligible percentage of the time, it’s still vastly better, from a population perspective, to have some method of ending disputes with finality; the alternative is endless feuds.)

And, more recently, new laws and changes to explicit systems are granting lizardman precisely this kind of open-ended access. e.g. bills proposing that books will be pulled from the shelves of school libraries if a complaint is filed, pending evaluation. Lizardman doesn’t have to demonstrate that the book deserves to be banned, under such a system. Lizardman just has to assert it, and the people in charge (who are not insulated from lizardman and have no protection against him) will fold/​cave.

And there’s an evaporative cooling-esque process at work—the more lizardman can successfully inflict pain on people attempting to do Job X or participate in Group Y, the more people who don’t want that headache simply stop, or leave.

Think of how the entire landscape of social media feels free to second-guess and armchair-referee basically any professional. Our society does not currently do much to protect e.g. a doctor following basic professional standards, if a memeable disaster occurs under that doctor’s watch. There are few people who are themselves unafraid of lizardman who will intervene, and stand between lizardman and the accused/​attacked, and say “no, this person was doing what they were supposed to do, and this accusation is ridiculous, and we will not entertain it further.”

The more that people are told “if you participate in this system and do everything 100% by the book, you might still randomly attract the Eye of Sauron and receive a massive dose of punishment,” the less likely people are to sign up for [those jobs] or [those roles] or [those communities].

Lizardman doesn’t accept “you were being reasonable and doing what was expected of you” as a defense; lizardman’s ability to get really mad about something stupid is infinite.

(The linked FB post is an example of the blue tribe doing this; I used a couple of red-tribe examples above but this is by no means a thing that only one side of the US culture war does.)

If you want to destroy a system, give lizardman unfettered access, and/​or remove all of the insulation that protects compliant, well-intentioned individuals from lizardman. Expose people to the masses directly, and they lose all ability to function, because the masses always contain sufficient antipathy to destroy any one person.