Why are there so Many Lizard People–and how do we GET RID OF THEM?

Cabrini Green, circa 1960

I’ve finally come up with a good definition for the Lizard People:

People who prioritize order above human utility–including their own.

It’s easy to understand why people harm others if they benefit personally in the process. We might not like it, but at least we understand it, and self-interested people can be reasoned with.

Lizard people look like people, but they seem to lack the ability to reason like people. They make other people’s lives worse, but for no discernible personal benefit. They use words like “progress” or “improvement,” “rational” or “modern,” “rules” or “policies,” to justify their policies, while ignoring complaints from the people involved that the new policies actually break more than they fix.

Pruitt-Igoe housing project in St. Louis, Missouri

Or to put it another way: lizard people are the folks who thought Cabrini Green looked nice and built it that way on purpose.

After all, housing projects don’t simply appear out of thin air. Hundreds if not thousands of people were substantially involved in the process of creating some of the ugliest monuments to poverty the nation has ever bulldozed.

And as Slate Star Codex recently discussed in his review of James Scott’s Seeing Like a State, this didn’t happen by accident or because ugly buildings were somehow cheaper than regular ones. It happened because there was a whole school of thought, the Modernists, who thought it would be grand to redesign whole cities to be “modern” and “rational”. As Scott Alexander notes:

The worst of the worst was Le Corbusier, the French artist/intellectual/architect. The Soviets asked him to come up with a plan to redesign Moscow. He came up with one: kick out everyone, bulldoze the entire city, and redesign it from scratch upon rational principles….

The Soviets decided to pass: the plan was too extreme and destructive of existing institutions even for Stalin. Undeterred, Le Corbusier changed the word “Moscow” on the diagram to “Paris”, then presented it to the French government (who also passed). Some aspects of his design eventually ended up as Chandigarh, India. …

the Modernists rarely got their hands on entire cities at once. They did build a number of suburbs, neighborhoods, and apartment buildings. There was, however, a disconnect. Most people did not want to buy a High Modernist house or live in a High Modernist neighborhood. Most governments did want to fund High Modernist houses and neighborhoods, because the academics influencing them said it was the modern scientific rational thing to do. So in the end, one of High Modernists’ main contributions to the United States was the projects – ie government-funded public housing for poor people who didn’t get to choose where to live.

I recommend Alexander’s entire post, because by the end you will have a much better idea of what I mean by “Lizard People” than I can possibly explain myself.

Or to give a much more mundane, local example:

After a couple of the local teenagers got drivers’ licenses and a large family moved in down the block, our neighborhood developed a parking problem: more cars than spaces. Residents complained, so the HOA handed down a ruling: no one can park in the spare spaces. Problem solved!

My personal experience with HOAs is that they are run by lizard people, overly concerned with having a “rule” and a “policy” for everything, and rarely with actually maximizing the property values of the HOAs members.

It’s kind of odd that people don’t discuss HOAs more often, because they’re a level of government that millions of people are exposed to, voting is restricted to property owners, and they’re small enough that individuals could have an effect on them.

To be clear, it’s not that order is itself inherently bad. For example, Alexander posted a map of Chicago (laid out in a grid) next to a map of a traditional, twisty-windy-street city. But Chicago’s sewers are a true engineering marvel:

During the 1850s and 1860s engineers carried out a piecemeal raising of the level of central Chicago. Streets, sidewalks and buildings were physically raised on hydraulic jacks or jackscrews. The work was funded by private property owners and public funds. …

During the 19th century, the elevation of the Chicago area was not much higher than the shorelines of Lake Michigan, so for many years there was little or no naturally occurring drainage from the city surface. The lack of drainage caused unpleasant living conditions, and standing water harbored pathogens that caused numerous epidemics. Epidemics including typhoid fever and dysentery blighted Chicago six years in a row culminating in the 1854 outbreak of cholera that killed six percent of the city’s population.[2][3][4][5]

In January 1858, the first masonry building in Chicago to be thus raised—a four story, 70-foot (21 m) long, 750-ton brick structure situated at the north-east corner of Randolph Street and Dearborn Street—was lifted on two hundred jackscrews to its new grade, which was 6 feet 2 inches (1.88 m) higher than the old one, “without the slightest injury to the building.”[8] It was the first of more than fifty comparably large masonry buildings to be raised that year.[9]

By 1860, confidence was sufficiently high that a consortium … took on one of the most impressive locations in the city and hoisted it up complete and in one go. They lifted half a city block on Lake Street, between Clark Street and LaSalle Street; a solid masonry row of shops, offices, printeries, etc., 320 feet (98 m) long, comprising brick and stone buildings, some four stories high, some five, having a footprint taking up almost one acre (4,000 m2) of space, and an estimated all in weight including hanging sidewalks of thirty five thousand tons. Businesses operating out of these premises were not closed down for the lifting; as the buildings were being raised, people came, went, shopped and worked in them as if nothing out of the ordinary were happening. In five days the entire assembly was elevated 4 feet 8 inches (1.42 m) in the air by a team consisting of six hundred men using six thousand jackscrews, ready for new foundation walls to be built underneath. The spectacle drew crowds of thousands, who were on the final day permitted to walk at the old ground level, among the jacks.[12][13][14][15] …

Many of central Chicago’s hurriedly erected wooden frame buildings were now considered wholly inappropriate to the burgeoning and increasingly wealthy city. Rather than raise them several feet, proprietors often preferred to relocate these old frame buildings, replacing them with new masonry blocks built to the latest grade. Consequently, the practice of putting the old multi-story, intact and furnished wooden buildings—sometimes entire rows of them en bloc—on rollers and moving them to the outskirts of town or to the suburbs was so common as to be considered nothing more than routine traffic. Traveller David Macrae wrote incredulously, “Never a day passed during my stay in the city that I did not meet one or more houses shifting their quarters. One day I met nine. Going out Great Madison Street in the horse cars we had to stop twice to let houses get across.” As discussed above, business did not suffer; shop owners would keep their shops open, even as people had to climb in through a moving front door.[34][35][36][37][38]

In other words, Chicago was too low and flat to drain properly, (which probably has a lot to do with it being laid out so neatly in the first place,) much less build underground sewers, and as a result, people kept getting sick. So they just used a bunch of jacks to lift the city and built the sewers at ground level, then filled in the open space with dirt and rubble.

So, yes, I am in favor of sewers, and even major, city-altering projects in order to install sewers. Sewers are good. Not dying of cholera is awesome. Nothing here should be interpreted as “let’s go die of terrible, preventable diseases in a muddy peasant hovel.”

But too often the imposition of order doesn’t prevent cholera; too often it just makes everything worse. “I have a solution!” doesn’t mean you have a good solution.

The biggest projects ever undertaken to improve human welfare, organized entirely along scientific, “rational” principles, resulted in the deaths of over 35 million people. No one is sure exactly how many people starved to death in the process of collectivization–Wikipedia lists estimates between 5.5 and 8 million for the Soviet famine of 1932-33, 23-55 million for China’s Great Leap Forward, and goodness knows how many we should count for North Korea, Cambodia, Ethiopia, etc.

It’s one thing to raise a city, one block at a time, on hydraulic jacks. It’s quite another matter to redesign an society from the ground up. Even if people’s current systems aren’t functioning perfectly, like the parking situation in my my neighborhood, systems tend to exist as they are because they are serving some purpose and you can’t just step in and sweep them aside without understanding what that purpose was. Moreover, whatever imperfect system you have, people are used to it and most of them have already adapted their lives around it. Before the French Revolution, there were thousands of people who made their livings producing lace, candles, and other luxury goods for the French Nobility. Chop off the king’s head, and some poor hatter will be out of a job.

Or as they say, if you come across a fence in the woods that doesn’t have any obvious purpose, it’s a good idea to figure out why it’s there before you go tearing it down.

But back to the Lizard People: the Lizard People are folks who, as everyone around them is transformed into skeletal corpses, keep insisting that everything is fine and we just need to stick with the plan–maybe even stick to the plan even harder.

And the strangest thing is that these people exist at all, and moreover, that instead of being shunned by society at large, they are often promoted–to manager, overseer, or government office.

Whatever can we do?


17 thoughts on “Why are there so Many Lizard People–and how do we GET RID OF THEM?

  1. I think you’re being a bit harsh on character traits that seem fairly universal. Most people a) want a program to follow, which is b) spelled out in painstaking detail, and c) do not want to deviate. Which makes sense; we should codify success so that people who wouldn’t be successful otherwise can just walk along a path that others have tamed. The problem is that Gnon requires feedback mechanisms, and eventually my beaten path metaphor runs out of steam and becomes mixed.

    Most people see correlation, think causation, and mimic. That’s all these folks are doing.


    • Jefferson,

      With all due respect, most people I know are not like that at all. The may want a general direction to follow, but a plan spelled out in painstaking detail, with no deviation? Not at all.

      Maybe I happen to live around a bunch of anarchist hippie/rednecks, or perhaps you happen to be in the military or academia, or some other environment that tends to attract people who desire order above all, but at the very least, I believe that your statement is an over-generalization.


      • I’ve been saying dumb things at a much higher rate than usual in the past few weeks, and you’ve got a point on this one, so I’ll try to clarify:

        Where (temporally and spatially) I grew up, it was very fashionable to be a non-conformist. It was a fairly constant drumbeat from local adults (“Be yourself!”), and I think that most kids, being at heart, goodboys and goodgirls (this being before the discovery of the other 47 genders) really did their best in this endeavor. The results were social stratification along some interesting lines. The majority of gals organized according to musical preferences and signaled their adherence to whichever group’s constantly iterating rule-set by dying their hair, adjusting their wardrobe, and piercing whichever portion of their body needed piercing. The majority of guys organized by extra-curricular activities, and had similar (often more enduring rule-sets).

        Deviation needs to be baked into any system, because people like to distinguish themselves in areas that they exceed their competition within. When kids are finding themselves, what they’re really looking for is a path towards status. That means that in H&G tribes, the boys want to learn the things that the men of the village do to be big men, and try to emulate. In agriculture, it’s learning to handle the animals and till the fields and fix the tools. In Industrialization, it’s…well, nobody dreamed of being a level puller, so it’s “get an education” so you can be management? Why did my parents tell me to go to college? Obviously there’s a range of “college,” but nobody ever suggested that I might enlist in the USMC. By rigidly following a program, I’m not trying to suggest that a program is a tightrope, but that it is a path towards status, and that on either side of it is horror.

        The list of preposterously successful high school/college dropouts is pretty long, yet the American “program” doesn’t suggest homeschooling and a garage CRISPR lab, and we don’t see significant numbers of American parents pulling their kids for that sort of thing. The program is safe, and people do not deviate beyond its borders.

        Lastly, I suspect that you live in a less dense part of the West than I do, and/or that your friends are less iconoclastic than you give them credit for, TC. Hippies and Rednecks, in wearing those labels, are slightly more idiosyncratic than the common normie, but still (in my experience) tend to follow a program. Density leads to a lot of nastiness, I have begun to suspect. It’s easy to signal idiosyncrasy in a small group, and it’s easy to signal group membership while doing it. In a dense environment both become more difficult (if not impossible). If every person that one meets in a given day is a stranger, unlikely to be seen again, signalling takes on a different dimension. One must carefully remain within the boundaries of his own program while signalling loudly enough to others that he is an exceptional member of that program. This will quickly lead to status spirals, narrowing the borders of any given program. That’s how we go from loose programs to tight, Talmudic ones.


      • Get yourself some Cas9 and some (Clustered regularly interspaced short palindromic repeats).


        The problem being that you have to have the sequence on both sides of where you split the DNA and knowing that is difficult without better than kitchen lab equipment.

        Here’s something that might interest you. Kitchen cloning through tissue culture.


        I was planning on doing some of this and trying a very crude form of gene splicing to splice totally different plants together but due to circumstances never was able too.

        I was going to use, it’s been a long time I forgot, some stuff from the kitchen culture place and then open up the cell walls and spread out the DNA with Polyethylene Glycol. The chemical supply houses sell this but I found another cheap supply. Miralax a laxative is Polyethylene Glycol 3350. The only problem is I think the stuff used in the biology labs is a smaller chain. The Miralax is 3350 repeating units I can’t remember what the labs used but I think it was somewhat smaller. I would think the longer chain would work as most of the molecule is the repeating units and I would assume that is what was the catalyst. Could be wrong. Only reason I included it was it took me a long time to stumble upon it and maybe someone, somewhere will be looking this up some day and it might help them.

        Another interesting thing that Polyethylene Glycol is used for, found this looking up the chemical, is beating drug test. They were using hydrogen peroxide to open the hairs outer cell and then using some strange hair product with Polyethylene Glycol in it to open the nucleus and unwind the DNA. After this they would wash their hair with detergent and it would was the THC right out of it.


  2. Failing and seeing your efforts as a failure involves the virtue of humility. Seeing your efforts of a year or a decade or a lifetime as being worse than you having done nothing is a huge blow. It conjures up a hideous cognitive dissonance whose only solution is lying about what happened or actually seeing yourself as a failure. People frequently choose lying about it, especially if their self image and self worth is intrinsically tied to their project.

    I have a relative who did poorly on a real estate house flip when it could have been a solid base hit. Instead of looking inward and seeing the many ways his own behavior caused the failure, he externalized it onto the initial buy deal as being the source of the failure, when everyone around him was saying it was the unnecessary gilding of the lily during the rehab.


  3. “Why are there so Many Lizard People–and how do we GET RID OF THEM?”

    The traditional response is to have a King who isn’t a lizard person, who has the authority to keep them in check.

    This has a mixed track record.

    However, in my estimation, a mixed track record is better than our current, unmixed track record.


    • Yeah, Hans-Adam II is looking pretty good right now. The Donald is too old, and is probably temperamentally unsuited to be a “Serene Highness”, but his son might do…


  4. “systems tend to exist as they are because they are serving some purpose and you can’t just step in and sweep them aside without understanding what that purpose was. Moreover, whatever imperfect system you have, people are used to it and most of them have already adapted their lives around it.”

    Doesn’t that exactly describe Trump taking office?


  5. Half a league, half a league,
    Half a league onward,
    All in the valley of Death
    Rode the six hundred.
    “Forward, the Light Brigade!
    Charge for the guns!” he said.
    Into the valley of Death
    Rode the six hundred.

    “Forward, the Light Brigade!”
    Was there a man dismayed?
    Not though the soldier knew
    Someone had blundered.
    Theirs not to make reply,
    Theirs not to reason why,
    Theirs but to do and die.
    Into the valley of Death
    Rode the six hundred.

    Cannon to right of them,
    Cannon to left of them,
    Cannon in front of them
    Volleyed and thundered;
    Stormed at with shot and shell,
    Boldly they rode and well,
    Into the jaws of Death,
    Into the mouth of hell
    Rode the six hundred.

    Flashed all their sabres bare,
    Flashed as they turned in air
    Sabring the gunners there,
    Charging an army, while
    All the world wondered.
    Plunged in the battery-smoke
    Right through the line they broke;
    Cossack and Russian
    Reeled from the sabre stroke
    Shattered and sundered.
    Then they rode back, but not
    Not the six hundred.

    Cannon to right of them,
    Cannon to left of them,
    Cannon behind them
    Volleyed and thundered;
    Stormed at with shot and shell,
    While horse and hero fell.
    They that had fought so well
    Came through the jaws of Death,
    Back from the mouth of hell,
    All that was left of them,
    Left of six hundred.

    When can their glory fade?
    O the wild charge they made!
    All the world wondered.
    Honour the charge they made!
    Honour the Light Brigade,
    Noble six hundred!


    More direct, less literary response:

    The ability to become a giant organism all working together to one end even to the detriment of individual members can be (a) very useful to a group and (b) vastly helped by such a love of order.

    Some people indeed are well-meaning, dutiful people who attach to and act upon principles, even as it seems to be harming them personally.

    (OTOH, example of what happens to a people who have the courage without the principles. Yes, that’s a deliberate Take That–hey, you started it–but it’s also true.)

    I…shall we say, disagree with your implied goal of eliminating the future existence of this type of person. I believe a more productive response is to teach good principles.

    The question then becomes: How do we determine what are good principles? Some seem to want to create One System For Perfect Rule Forever. Not going to happen; life is change. I don’t believe in progress, but I do believe in genetic drift.

    How about setting our intellectuals to seeking out “simple rules for a complex world”?

    IOW, what Jefferson said.


  6. Ideas on why HOAs are so dysfunctional:

    (a) They’re pretty minor operations. Sure, an absolute disaster of an HOA can seriously affect your property value, but numerically most HOAs are more “annoying” than “disastrous”. Participation isn’t rationally worth too much of sane person’s time, so busybodies end up influential.

    (b) Entry and exit are pretty much random from the organization’s perspective. On creation of the HOA, it’s just a bunch of people who bought into a new development, and from there people are buying and selling for reasons usually have nothing to do with the HOA.

    An interesting innovation is that a lot of HOAs or Condo Associations just hire a professional Property Manager or equivalent. Can we just hire the Swiss to run our trains and the Singaporeans to run our healthcare?


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