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Douglas Adams on democracy: Vote for the less wrong lizard!

I was surprised to discover today (unless I have been more than usually let down by my internet searching “skills”) that this, by Douglas Adams, has never been mentioned here at Samizdata before:

“On its world, the people are people. The leaders are lizards. The people hate the lizards and the lizards rule the people.”

“Odd,” said Arthur, “I thought you said it was a democracy.”

“I did,” said Ford. “It is.”

“So,” said Arthur, hoping he wasn’t sounding ridiculously obtuse, “why don’t the people get rid of the lizards?”

“It honestly doesn’t occur to them,” said Ford. “They’ve all got the vote, so they all pretty much assume that the government they’ve voted in more or less approximates to the government they want.”

“You mean they actually vote for the lizards?”

“Oh yes,” said Ford with a shrug, “of course.”

“But,” said Arthur, going for the big one again, “why?”

“Because if they didn’t vote for a lizard,” said Ford, “the wrong lizard might get in.”

That’s from So Long And Thanks For All The Fish. In the place I found it on the www (see the link above), it does not say on what page.

I was reminded about this snatch of dialogue by a recent episode of the BBC Radio 4 show Quote Unquote. A lady participant said she thought Douglas Adams very wise and very funny, this quote in particular. I post it here as a corrective to today’s SQotD, below, in which Paul Ryan says something good, thereby proving himself to be a more likeable lizard than nasty lizard Obama and his lizard gang.

But, alert readers will note that this is a classic example of a piece of writing that will have everyone nodding, but each thinking his own thing. It’s like if you say you favour “common sense”, “principled government”, or “democracy“. Each person listening to you agrees. Each has his own distinct idea about what each phrase means, in ways that often wildly contradict the ideas in the heads of his nodding neighbours. All agree, that these are fine things. Far fewer actually do agree about anything of substance.

For some, reading the Adams quote above, the lizards in charge of us are too capitalist inclined, for others they are insufficiently capitalist inclined. Some want the lizards to be keener on policy X, others curse the lizards for being insufficiently opposed to policy X. All agree only in being unsatisfied with the rule of the lizards, and that the lizards are indeed lizards.

Which is one reason why the lizards usually survive and thrive. We, their victims, can so very rarely agree amongst ourselves about what species, or indeed if any species, ought to replace them.

19 comments to Douglas Adams on democracy: Vote for the less wrong lizard!

  • Laird

    The Bonzo Dog Doo Dah Band had a slightly different take on this same issue. No matter who you vote for, the government always gets in.

  • Jaded Voluntaryist

    Democracy is that little weedy kid who liked to pretend he was in the bully’s gang.

    “Give me your lunch money!”

    “Yeah, give us your lunch money!!”

    He likes to kid himself that the bully listens to him, that he makes a difference, that the bully is in fact on his side even though he occasionally gets his head flushed down the toilet….

    So it is with people who think their opinion makes one iota of difference to the government. When they talk about consenting to the government what they really mean is the government happens to do things they personally agree with.

    But, as with the weedy kid, if they felt differently the government would continue behaving exactly the same.

  • Sam Duncan

    alert readers will note that this is a classic example of a piece of writing that will have everyone nodding, but each thinking his own thing

    David Icke, for example, got the wrong end of the stick entirely.

    (Seriously though, I wonder if he read So Long… and this bit lay in some forgotten corner of his mind, only to jump to the front when he went off his rocker. It’s too much of a coincidence, surely?)

  • 'Nuke' Gray

    Douglas Adams was not a comedy writer, but a mystical genius! I have finally worked out how you can have 6×6=42! I had been anthropocentrically using base 10! If you use base 8+1/2, then it all makes sense! (4X(8+1/2))=34, 34+2=36! Master Adept Adams was telling us that the universe has 8+1/2 dimensions!
    I wonder what other secrets are in those ‘comedy’ books?

  • Roue le Jour

    “The wrong lizards might get in.”

    Sounds familiar to me. Are you sure it hasn’t be mentioned here before?

  • CaptDMO

    “Hi I’m conducting a poll.
    I’m going to present you with a few “select” statements, then ask you a question.
    Here are the only responses you’ll be allowed to give.”

    Are you familiar with the expression “I beg the question.”?


    Alrighty then. Hear ye, hear ye….This poll has PROVED….
    According to latest latest (studies/poll) of self described(likely/registered) voters….the opposition’s “party” lizard will (further) personally take away your “rights” to “free stuff”, or let eeeeevil people keep more of their ill-gotten “national” treasure.

  • Sorry to disapoint Brian, but I posted the same thing here last November.


  • Richard Thomas

    Nuke, where do you get “6×6” from?

  • 'Nuke' Gray

    From one of the Master’s earlier scriptures, disguised as a comedy work called “The hitchhikers guide to the Galaxy”. An intelligent supercomputer tells its’ alien creators that the Ultimate answer to Everything is 42. Then it comments- “You should have first asked- What is the question?”. Millions of years later, a human discovers that the Ultimate question is ‘What is 6 x 6?”. The show ends with him saying, “I always thought there was something wrong with the universe.”
    Are you enlightened now?

  • RickC

    Don’t have my copy to hand but one iron law I follow from Hitchiker’s Guide and it’s one I think we should all follow is that no one who wants to be president of the universe should ever, under any circumstances, be allowed to be president of the universe.

  • Okay, the squirrels got me.

    Given the references to Hitchhiker, don’t you mean “Okay, the mice got me”? or lizards.

  • Simon Jester


    The question (or a version of it, found by “randomly” pulling Scrabble tiles out of a bag) was “What do you get if you multiply six by nine?” – not 6×6.

    This works if you use base 13, but Adams himself shrugged it off when this was pointed out to him, while he was still alive.

  • In my edition it starts around page 536/537 or so. It is also the basis for the name of my own blog.

  • Richard Thomas

    Are you enlightened now?

    Sorry, that was pretty evil of me 🙂

  • Bruce

    “I always thought there was something wrong with the universe.”

    The universe is not curved; it’s BENT!

  • veryretired

    Anyone waiting for perfection to appear in this world is just waiting for a train that doesn’t ever arrive.

  • Waiting for perfection??? Hell I would be fucking ecstatic if there was a single viable candidate who was just 51% not-my-enemy, even if he was 49% pure evil.

  • veryretired

    We’ve had variations of this conversation before. I also wish that there were viable candidates who were less immersed in all the statist tenets of the conventional wisdom, but finding and nurturing them is a long, slow, and gritty process which will not be assisted by the chaos inherent in the kind of economic and social collapse you sometimes seem to desire.

    The panic that would be engendered would be conducive to more radically statist demagogery, not less.

    The American political process is built to be incremental, and, just as it has been incrementally more statist over the past century, it will be a long and complex process to move in a less statist direction by steps that are understood and supported by the voting public.

    I rarely find anything to get enthusiatic about when it comes to establishment pols, but some are marginally better than others, for all their faults. This election is no exception.

  • Ben

    The problem is not that any particular class is not fit to rule. The problem is that no class is fit to rule. – Acton