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.

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I was nodding along in agreement with this post until I got to the central example, when the train of thought came to a screeching halt and forced me to reconsider the whole thing.

The song called "Rainbowland" is subtextually about the acceptance of queer relationships. The people who objected to the song understand this, and that's why they objected. The people who think the objectors are silly know this, and that's why they think it's silly. The headline writer is playing dishonest word games by pretending not to know what the subtext is, because it lets them make a sick dunk on the outgroup.

The point is: this is not a lizardman opinion. Regardless of what you think about homosexuality itself, or whether you think a song that's subtextually about a culture war issue should be sung by first graders anyway, you cannot pretend that the objectors are voicing an objection found in only 5% of people! 30-40% of people share that view. Whether or not it's well-founded, it's not fringe.

And this thought made me look more closely at the rest of the argument, which I think boils down to:

  • Sufficiently unpopular opinions can be ignored
  • Authority figures should shut down people making appeals
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7[DEACTIVATED] Duncan Sabien
I don't think I quite intend "authority figures should shut down people making appeals to unpopular opinions." I more intend something like "probably literally every opinion is sufficiently unpopular that at least 4% of the population will get unhingedly angry about it, and society needs insulators between people, such that they can escape that 4% at least, and authority figures are among the structures that successfully insulate."

Why did you choose this example to illustrate the point? It seems like a bad choice since it's close to a maximally controversial opinion, and therefore close to maximally often going to generate drama with angry people.

Why not choose some other example? For instance, in schools they often use chairs to sit on. That chairs are good for sitting on is an opinion. Surely you can find lots of places where people have gotten unhingedly angry for sitting on chairs in schools if literally every opinion is something at least 4% gets unhingedly angry about.


Your response seems to be of the form "why didn't you carefully consider how this would land and spend a lot of time deliberately filtering and choosing your example here?" and the answer is "because (in this case) then I wouldn't've written anything at all."

There are times I spend a LOT of time carefully modeling my audience, and there are times that I simply Share a Thought. This was one of the latter; we're seeing how it goes.

The subtext of my response, which I should maybe have written out explicitly, is that "probably literally every opinion is sufficiently unpopular that at least 4% of the population will get unhingedly angry about it" seems obviously totally wrong and so your defense in response to jaspax's critique doesn't make much sense.

5[DEACTIVATED] Duncan Sabien
Oh I entirely disagree/firmly stand by that statement.  I don't think you can find a claim, stance, or opinion that doesn't make somebody out there really mad.  That's ... the whole dynamic I'm gesturing at.

Mmm, I feel like I disagree. Being angry about chairs in schools is really weird, and I think if it was a 1-in-25 thing, I would have heard of it. I have literally never heard of it before, let alone seen it happen myself.

4[DEACTIVATED] Duncan Sabien
Ah, okay, yes, this highlights a bit of a conflation I've been making; it was wrong/overstated to say 4%. I agree the people who are genuinely mad about chairs in schools are way way rarer than 1-in-25. But between people being genuinely mad, people trolling, people doing tribal politics, people who were already mad at you and looking for any excuse to needle you, people who are (on that day) actually psychotic or unhinged, etc., I claim that once the chairs-in-schools thing reaches the level of, say, someone writing an opinion piece for a local online newspaper, then you have a frighteningly high chance (3-30%? Even for something as weird as chairs in schools?) of it spiraling out of control and attracting a bunch of people who will make your life miserable over it, or who will make the life of the principal miserable enough that policy might actually shift in response. But yeah, the actual hardcore angry people are just a fraction of the lizardman constant in any specific instance. But like ... they are often the spark that lights the tinder? Another way to say this is something like "there's 3-4% of the population, at any given moment, waiting to join in a pile-on, because [bored, crazy, generically angry, tribal, etc.], and it doesn't take much to catch the attention of that swath."
I don't understand how you can come to this conclusion. I can't think of very much that would support this model and isn't better explained by other theories (such as by culture war as jaspax's point, which tends to happen for specific reasons about specific things, rather than randomly about anything). Is this all deduced from theory + Lizardman constant in surveys? Are there any other examples which serve as inspiration for your theory? Because if there is no other evidence then it seems way overconfident to make this strong theoretical inferences.
5[DEACTIVATED] Duncan Sabien
A FB friend of mine writes:
It's not "one Google search away", it took five Google searches to find anything and the article I came up with was PARENTS' RAGE School apologises to furious parents after STRAPPING autistic students into ‘special’ chairs to stop them from moving, which seems like it would be a much more special policy than just the policy of having ordinary children sit in ordinary chairs in ordinary ways under ordinary conditions. I would love to hear examples! Especially if they include a descriptions of what investigations your facebook friend did or what observations they had. (After all, it would be silly if a school redirected the autistic chair rage to a person who didn't take a look at it at all, and the person then just dismissed that as people getting angry about children sitting on chairs without taking any of the specific circumstances into account.)
2[DEACTIVATED] Duncan Sabien
Oh, I had googled "sitting on chairs in school complaint" to confirm what my friend said and found several from that one search: So for me it was indeed one search away, though I grant that none of the above four are, like, ranting/unhinged. (I feel some degree of kinship that you and I both checked, though.)
So if I'm reading this opinion piece correctly, it's based on a poll where 70% of parents would like more ergonomic chairs, as well as some science arguing that the chairs are physically damaging to students. It does not name specific people or demand anyone to be fired. You are suggesting that this is a good example of 5% of people being angry for no good reason and sending a massive dose of punishment somewhere? The other links seem thematically similar. Doesn't that undermine the point of your OP?
1[DEACTIVATED] Duncan Sabien
sigh. No. What's happening here is I tried to make a quick, offhand post, explicitly heralded as such, and then you started drilling down into specifics, and I gave quick, offhand answers, which you are now treating as if they are centrally cruxy, when they are not. The thing about chairs is an example you made up, and I played along with a bit; it wasn't part of my argument such that I need to defend it. I'm giving up on this conversation, which is WAY net negative at this point, in terms of value-for-time-spent. You're wanting to be real rigorous and airtight and nitpicky and specific, and that's actually great for LW, that's what LW is for most of the time, but I'm not into it here.

I gave quick, offhand answers, which you are now treating as if they are centrally cruxy, when they are not

I think it is okay to make an occasional mistake, but if all quick examples you can think of are wrong, you might want to reconsider the original hypothesis. (The reason is, if the original hypothesis is right, you should be surprised that all your examples turned out to be wrong.)

Maybe the actual lizardman complaints are way less frequent than you think, and most things that seem like this are actually valid complaints. Which has an implication on whether it is a good policy to dismiss everything that seems at first glance as a lizardman complaint.

I think it is okay to make an occasional mistake, but if all quick examples you can think of are wrong, you might want to reconsider the original hypothesis.

But remember that these aren't Duncan's multiple quick examples but tailcalled's single quick example. That is, it sounds like you think the conversation has gone:

  • Can you give some examples of the phenomenon?
  • Off the top of my head: A, B, C.
  • But A, B, C don't seem like examples?
  • They were off-the-cuff.
  • Okay but if all your off-the-cuff examples are wrong that seems suspicious.

But I think it's more like:

  • According to your hypothesis I'd expect to see A but I don't.
  • Oh I totally think we see A.
  • I couldn't find A on google.
  • Here you go.
  • That doesn't seem like A?

which feels to me like "people talking past each other" should be a strong hypothesis.

This thread started with the Rainbowland example, which was chosen by Duncan.
Okay, sure. But that's one of Duncan's examples, not all of Duncan's examples. (It's also not clear to me whether Duncan disendorses that on reflection or simply hasn't taken the time to elaborate on it.)
Some of the examples that we haven't disccused yet were * 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 * 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." * (not part of the LW post, but linked to indirectly) A professor was suspended for racism for giving an example with a Chinese word that is pronounced like "nigger". I don't know which situation the suburban woman story refers to, however I think I know what situation the Michaelangelo's David situation refers to, and from my research there are several missing facts to the story: 1. The school had a rule that parents should be notified of controversial subjects. 2. The school leadership had previously been dissatisfied with the teacher for her conflicts with some of the parents. 3. The students were not just exposed to a statue of a nude man, but also a painting of a nude man, and a painting of a nude sex goddess. This might sound pedantic but I am not really sure why paintings of nude sex goddesses aren't pornographic. The painting literally depicts someone attempting to cover her up, I assume because her nudity is considered inappropriate. 4. Michaelangelo's David has also been controversial in the past, e.g. when it was originally set up, its penis was covered up by golden leaves because it was considered inappropriate. So basically, first of all it is not clear to me that it is a lizardman opinion to consider the things the teacher taught to be pornographic. Maybe it is a lizardman opinion, but at least I can't immediately think of any coherent reason why it would be. (If you believe that it would be harmful for children to view a nude picture of Aella, but not to view a nude painting of Venus, then I wou
I think that Duncan is correct that society generally has fairly clear categories of valid and invalid complaint topics, along with recognized justifications for the categorization scheme. Then there are edge cases and grey zones, both about what the categories are and how we establish them. If we select for complaints that are in turn motivated by focused activism on redefining these categories - a teacher who seeks out edge cases - then the idea that "there are valid and invalid/Lizardman complains, we know which is which, and authority figures should insulate against Lizardman complains" is the point specifically in contention. So the Lizardman heuristic will look decidedly unhelpful in arbitrating these cases. Similarly, you probably shouldn't lean too hard on the argument that "minors don't have the capacity to judge laws" when legislating the specific issue of what the voting age ought to be. On the other hand, I think we can expect that the complaint categories deemed clearly valid or invalid/Lizardman will more often correspond to the types of complaints encountered most commonly outside of the world of activism. In these cases, the Lizardman heuristic will be more helpful. "This guy's not an activist, he's just a Lizardman and I can ignore him" is a thought pattern that I use to decide that my neighbor, who likes to scream at bicyclists for going to fast or cars for idling on the corner for too long, is a Lizardman and not a Citizen With A Valid Complaint. Yet if there was a tendency for bikers to ride too fast through the neighborhood or for cars to idle too long on our block, and the neighbors gathered together to have a cogent discussion on their concerns, I'm more inclined to listen to their concerns. Maybe there are kids playing in the street that the bicyclists aren't watching out for. Maybe the people in the idling cars seem like they might be casing houses to burglarize. I think what I'm trying to do in a Bayesian sense is decide if the perso
Strongly agree with Viliam here, and I suspect the crux is a definition of "valid" complaint.  The examples I can think of, and have seen in this thread do not hinge on unpopularity or percentage, they hinge on disagreement about duty to perform or not-perform various acts of protection/guidance toward norms, vs duty to respect variance from those norms.   Puritanism is, in fact, alien to me, and I'd probably fail an ITT on the topic.  But it's common enough that it's not right to invoke "lizardman" as the relevant categorization.  
1[DEACTIVATED] Duncan Sabien
I agree to your if-then. The "if" condition does not hold, tho.
Sorry, but the specifics are centrally cruxy to me due to Aumann's agreement theorem. If I hear people being angry about some random thing, I might assume that there is some underlying reason that the angry Lizardman people have for their opinion, and this reason might persuade me if I looked closer. Your post instead suggests that it's not worth looking closer because they are probably just crazy, and we should set up some institutions to block the angry people from having an influence. Before setting up institutions to block people with inconvenient opinions, I'd really like to know whether those opinions do indeed tend to be crazy or if they are actually fairly worthwhile. I find it telling that each of the concrete examples we have been able to come up with actually suggests that your post is exactly the opposite of the truth, and it suggests to me that maybe we need the opposite policy, institutions that better integrate people's complaints.
4[DEACTIVATED] Duncan Sabien
You're missing me in several ways, for instance doing a substitution from "if you remove insulation from existing institutions, people give up and those institutions erode" (which the post says) to "we should set up institutions to block angry people from having an influence" (which is similar but is not what the post is arguing).
I guess to me these feel like two sides of the same coin? Part of your point is that insulation levels have been dropping, and institutions seem to vary a lot in their insulation, so unless you believe that most reductions in insulation are good, one would think you would believe that there's a need for some increases in isolation. But if you are just pointing at the existence of a tradeoff to be mindful of, rather than advocating for one particular side of the tradeoff, and you find it plausible that most reductions insulation are good, then I am sympathetic to your point. That's just not how your post came off to me, and in particular your post seems to be misdiagnosing aspects of the cause in a way that would suggest a more one-sided approach.
People adapt to states of affairs. If we take someone drinking three cups of coffee a day and make them instead drink zero cups of coffee a day, they're gonna have a bad time. That doesn't mean we should have more people drinking three cups of coffee a day. It's plausible we should, but someone saying "we shouldn't take coffee-drinkers' coffee away" is not saying "we should give non-coffee-drinkers more coffee".
1[DEACTIVATED] Duncan Sabien
As for  and  ... I direct your attention to Privileging the Hypothesis, which maybe I should edit into the OP as a prereq. Each of the concrete examples you have made up.
This thread started with one of the examples you came up with. It's not privileging the hypothesis to Aumann-agree with someone. See Scientific Evidence, Legal Evidence, Rational Evidence: In general, people know what experiences they've had, and can exchange information about them through talking with each other. Strong evidence is common.
1[comment deleted]
3[DEACTIVATED] Duncan Sabien
Substantial repeated direct personal experience, along with substantial repeated direct observation of the experiences of people around me.
Could you give some examples of your personal experiences?
Why the downvotes?
I am not one of them, but I have a guess. I think the point you raised about it being a bad example was a good one. But the structure of your reply as a series of (possibly rhetorical) questions means it can be read in quite an argumentative (belligerent) tone.
2Martin Randall
I doubt that 30-40% shares the view that these children should be prevented from performing this song at this concert, but I agree that it's probably more than 5% locally. Reading the news further, it looks like the school board agreed to let the kids perform a substitute rainbow-themed song from the Muppets only after positive emails from parents in the class. So obviously there are people willing to say "that's ridiculous" in this case.
1[DEACTIVATED] Duncan Sabien
Eventually, yeah.

I think this incorrectly mixes “lizardman”, an unexplainable component of low-stakes polling, with “minority strongly-held stupid (to me) opinion”. I think most of your examples have more than 5% support, especially if you count “don’t really care, but I’m uncomfortable with the cluster of ideas that contains this”.

I agree with you on most of the specific issues, but it’s an error not to recognize that there are a whole lot of real humans who actively are on the other side.


There's a difference between 5 percent of sincere disagreement and Lizardman's constant. The "lizardman" concept is about what people will say on surveys, and it's probably almost entirely created by people making mistakes or intentionally wanting to screw up the survey results, with a common form of the latter being, "If you're going to waste my time with a stupid question, I am going to waste your time by saying yes".

I'm old enough that a whole lot of things that are mainstream now were "settled against" with less than 5 percent support when I was a kid. I doubt you'd have gotten 5 percent for gay marriage in the 60s, at least not if you'd excluded the actual lizardman people and only gone by sincere opinions.

... and you would definitely have been shut down without discussion if you'd suggested drag queen story hour down at the library. Probably tossed out of the building just for mentioning the possibility.

Personally, I kind of like gay marriage and drag queen story hour, and would rather not live in a world where those ideas had been suppressed.

EVERYTHING new starts out with small support. Also, pretty much everybody is in the 5 percent on some issue that's actually important t... (read more)

6[DEACTIVATED] Duncan Sabien
You're missing the part where this is an exploit/hack; lizardman can throw up bullshit whose content you feel obligated to actually look at WAY faster than you can actually vet it. You have to be willing to say "no, not worth investigating further" at a first glance, at some cutoff level. c.f. Privileging the Hypothesis, which is another way of getting at this thesis. 

I found it distracting that all your examples were topical, anti-red-tribe coded events. That reminded me of

In Artificial Intelligence, and particularly in the domain of nonmonotonic reasoning, there’s a standard problem: “All Quakers are pacifists. All Republicans are not pacifists. Nixon is a Quaker and a Republican. Is Nixon a pacifist?”

What on Earth was the point of choosing this as an example? To rouse the political emotions of the readers and distract them from the main question? To make Republicans feel unwelcome in courses on Artificial Intelligence and discourage them from entering the field? (And no, I am not a Republican. Or a Democrat.)

Why would anyone pick such a distracting example to illustrate nonmonotonic reasoning? Probably because the author just couldn’t resist getting in a good, solid dig at those hated Greens. It feels so good to get in a hearty punch, y’know, it’s like trying to resist a chocolate cookie.

As with chocolate cookies, not everything that feels pleasurable is good for you.

That is, I felt reading this like there were tribal-status markers mixed in with your claims that didn't have to be there, and that struck me as defecting on a stay-non-politicized discourse norm.

-4[DEACTIVATED] Duncan Sabien
I don't subscribe to a stay-non-politicized discourse norm (often one tribe is Actually Being Worse, and I'm not going to handicap my ability to say true things, though it's worth doing so carefully), but I am also quite happy to edit to include anti-blue-tribe examples as you or others propose them. EDIT: Also, the linked FB post "get really mad about something stupid" is a blue tribe example, which I mention as evidence that I had previously written about the blue tribe being bad in this way all by itself. =)

Generally, the lizardman constant is about people believing in Lizardman and not about them being lizardman. Calling lizardman believers lizardman is confusing. 

To me saying "this is a song about accepting others" seems like purposefully strawmanning. If it would be a Lizardman issue, there would be no need to strawman. In that case, the author would likely be straightforward and tell the truth "A school banned a song about living in LGBT-land". 

I once spoke with someone who believed that Obama literally founded ISIS. To me that's rightly fits into that category of lizardman beliefs. It felt very different than talking with someone who has values with which I disagree but who's relatively consistent about their values. 

Many institutions have policies about restricting LGBT-related content from first-graders. I would expect that if you put that policy to a vote it would win in many conservative states. 

Here's why I don't find your argument compelling:

  1. "Lizardman" is defined to be a boogeyman, and it is implicitly assumed that the reader will agree with you on this. You are trying to overcome the 4% "problems are said to be coming from a small minority" argument penalty. If the 4% referred to the top 4% most-politically-powerful elite or top 4% richest people, you might have an advantage here, but alas, lizardman is implied to be somewhere near the lowest class. 
  2. In Scott's posts about this subject, I recall that he seems more dismissive of lizardman in general, chalking it up to potentially spurious errors in data collection, or people who just felt like answering weirdly that day. Ultimately, that it didn't necessarily correlate to the same 4% of people each time. 
  3. Your argument that most of society's constructs are defenses that are specifically built for defending against weirdos is not very convincing. It's not obvious why we'd expect that 4% to have the ability to cause social collapses of great magnitude, as opposed to, say, larger groups of people who perpetuate flawed or incorrect beliefs memetically that are difficult to dislodge, for example.
  4. This might be more si
... (read more)
I think the key mechanism behind bad ideas being more influential than good ideas is that we tend to have a bias to over update on negative news, and social media, as well as the news enables our biased opinions to be shared towards the world, which is almost never the good opinion.
2[DEACTIVATED] Duncan Sabien
I don't believe I made that argument.

Seems about right. 

I'm currently thinking through a similar consideration for LessWrong, although I don't think the lizardman constant is the relevant frame. We're getting a ton of new people here who are eager to participate in discussion of AI, x-risk and alignment, who often come in with a bunch of subtle misconceptions and honestly quite reasonable first pass opinions, and I think responding to it requires a somewhat similar mode to the police officer gently but firmly de-escalating and saying "no, there isn't anything to report here".

In this case I think AI is a genuinely confusing topic, and I don't expect a 5% lizardman constant but rather like 90% of humanity to come in with a difficult-to-resolve confusion that is worth resolving a few times but not Every Single Time, and that sucks to hear as a participant. I'm still working out how exactly to engage with it. (I'm working on improving our general onboarding/infrastructure so that the new user experience here isn't so shitty, i.e. in many cases there's not a single good writeup of an explanation, but it'd be great if there was).

It does seem an important and useful difference, that the sort of person who complains about Rainbowland is probably prone to starting and escalating fights in general, while the person who has misconceptions about AI is probably about as reasonable as the average person. In most of these cases (with some exceptions), LW is finding itself, not in the role of a superintendent fielding paranoid complaints, but something more like the role of a professor who's struggling to focus on research because there are too many undergraduates.

I've been trying to spend a bit more time voting in response to this, to try to help keep thread quality high; at least for now, the size of the influx strikes me as low enough that a few long-time users doing this might help a bunch.

7Stephen Bennett
This sounds like Eternal September to me.
8[DEACTIVATED] Duncan Sabien
Feels very closely related in my mind, as well. The reason I didn't run with Eternal September as title or as major example is that Eternal September is about cultures being changed by an influx of unacculturated people, whereas I suspect the problem I'm describing is present in every culture regardless of immigration/emigration. Like, I think that even quiet towns of 5000 people out in the middle of nowhere have their 200 lizardmen, and avoid the problems gestured at above primarily via everybody knowing who they are and discounting accordingly. (A similarity with Eternal September is "that kind of high-context solution failing at scale.") EDIT: Oh, I'm dumb; I thought this was generically responding to the essay and I missed that it's responding to Ray; the problem Ray describes is VERY Eternal September.
3Stephen Bennett
Yeah I agree, I think your post points at something distinct from Eternal September, but what Raemon was talking about seemed very similar.
Yes, Eternal September is the basically the name of the problem I outline, the thing that made it seem relevant to this post is that the solution is sort of the same to dealing with Lizardmen.
It's the same problem that "this is not a feminism 101 space" was a complaint about.
It really seems like we ought to be able to set up our arsenal of paragraphs so that it's possible to respond fairly well with not much effort to most new users' questions, just by link to a couple pages. Then you just have to create some common knowledge that it's not some sort of diss or implication that it's a bad idea/question, just one that has been around for a while and that we have a bunch of thoughts on, and please check out these explanations and then feel free to ask more questions if you have followups.
This is somewhat sort of the idea behind, to have good, but generally brief explanations of various topics that have known answers 
"Institutions" in this case are basically gatekeepers who try to enforce quality of content as judged by insiders, which in turn reduces the content that wastes time. This is very similar to what editors of journals or newspapers do. However, whether people want to engage with the "misconceptions" etc. could be made their own ("self-nudging") choice by choosing a Karma visibility threshold for comments and posts. Whether average users interact more or less with low-Karma comments and posts could be influenced by changing the standard threshold.

I'm surprised that no one has mentioned “tenure”, because this is exactly the problem that academic tenure was designed to solve. The point of having professors be relatively unfireable, after they've demonstrated a basic minimum standard of academic output, was precisely to allow them to explore controversial opinions without having that investigation be immediately shut down because it was offensive to broader society.

It seems like you're advocating for more tenure, or at least tenure-like insulation across all of society.

3[DEACTIVATED] Duncan Sabien
I think I would like more areas with tenure-like insulation, but I think I'm more pointing at what happens when you remove it where it already exists. There's e.g. much more second-guessing of rank-and-file employees who previously would've been shielded by their superiors, these days, which has come with upsides (abuse and harassment getting noticed and addressed way more than it used to) and downsides (professors being publicly censured for saying a Chinese word that sounds a little bit like the n-word, in the context of teaching Chinese words to students).

There are a few things I know of that this is related to. One of them is something Scott Adams wrote ages ago (before his brain got eaten by the Trump information ecosystem) about "recreational complaining". Google didn't give me the original to link to, but I did find someone who quoted him.

During my college years, I worked two summers as a desk clerk for a resort in the Catskills. That’s where my boss taught me that one of the services we offered was listening to irrational whining. He explained that certain customers enjoy complaining. To them, it’s not so much about getting a solution to the problem as it is the complaining itself. The resort catered to people’s vacation needs, and if complaining was what they needed, it was our job at the front desk to listen to it.

We were trained to write down the complaint on a slip of paper clearly labeled “Work Order.” And throw away the piece of paper when the complainer left. Okay, not every single time. Sometimes the complaint involved something fixable, and we fixed it. But often the complaints were purely recreational, as in “The leaves on the trees are rustling too loudly in the wind.” I would express concern, apologize on behalf o

... (read more)

The other is something that happens to anyone that gets sufficiently well known or anything that gets sufficiently popular: it attracts haters. This is inevitable whether you deserve it or not. You can literally be Mother Teresa and still get haters.

Tim Ferris and Aella have written about this.

A small percent of a lot of people can still be a lot of people, so when someone's haters work together, they can attract a lot of attention and make it seem like there's a big problem, even if like 98% of people, if they knew the truth, would think that whatever's being complained about has been blown entirely out of proportion. This is the infamous "Twitter mob" and the bad part of the "cancel culture" phenomenon - if there isn't anyone with actual power who's willing to say "the mob is wrong and we're not going to listen" when it actually is wrong and wait for the storm to blow over, it can lead to people being fired or otherwise having their lives ruined that in no way deserved it. And in the worst case, you get "stochastic terrorism" - someone says "Will no one rid me of this turbulent priest?" and you can expect that there's at least one person in the audience crazy enough to actually t... (read more)

How did you search for it? I googled the first sentence of the third paragraph in quotes more or less arbitrarily and that instantly gave me exactly 2 hits, of which the first appears to be the original:
Thank you very much! I stopped with my first Google search.

To say the obvious, the difficult problem is how to design the system in a way that makes it resilient to lizardmen, without dismissing legitimate complaints.

It seems like a good heuristics that before you act on a complaint, you make a survey how many people agree with it. Yet, there are topics that are naturally interesting for only a small set of people (e.g. any kind of discrimination will mostly be perceived as a problem by the minority that is discriminated against).

I think there’s a core of common sense here, which is that healthy institutions shouldn’t overreact to what we might call “opinion noise.” And the way to do that is to empower authority figures to neutralize that noise (ignore it, listen and wait for them to calm down, steer them to a laborious formal dispute process, etc) and demonstrate you’ll support them against inappropriate blowback.

Resistance to “opinion noise/Lizardman” is only one of many features of institutions we might value, and I do think it’s a more nuanced and difficult problem than simply scaling response according the popularity of the opinion. But Duncan said he’s relying on the reader to fill in the gaps with common sense, so I’m trying to do that here.


I can  see where this post is pointing. But I find myself disagreeing. Say they replace the ticket machines at a train station. The new machines that have touch screens. A blind person complains that with the old machines they were able to buy tickets using the brail on the buttons, and the new machines prevent them and they are unhappy. Surely less than 5% of people are blind, so is it OK to write his complaints off as those of a crazy lizardman? The new machines may or may not be net-positive, but its clear that the impact they have had on that indi... (read more)

I think that Duncan’s post implicitly is about complaints about issues we haven’t agreed as a society are “valid minority issues.” We conventionally accept that disability issues are valid complaints even though only a small minority have any specific disability. It’s also conventionally fine to complain about things like flickering lights, just like it would be valid to complain if the bright sun shone directly into your eyes from a certain angle and you wanted to close the blinds. Let’s say, on the other hand, that you didn’t like the color of your neighbor’s house. It is painted green, and you HATE green. Your neighbor would be justified in just ignoring you flat out, because it’s typically not valid to complain about the color of your neighbor’s house (at least not with the intent to get them to change it) unless there’s some kind of covenant. By contrast, if your neighbor installed a tin roof that shone bright sun through your windows all day long and made it uncomfortable to be in your house, you’d have cause to complain (I’ve seen this before). So I really do think we have valid complaint categories and invalid complaint categories, and the “Lizardman” concept does seem to encapsulate something of how we treat people making inappropriate/invalid complaints. As another example of Lizardman, there’s a guy on my block who sometimes stands on the corner with a radar gun and screams at bicyclists who he thinks are riding too fast. He also screams at cars that idle on the side of the road for too long. He is another good example of Lizardman - I would never involve myself in hearing him out in order to decide whether his complaints have merit, and I don’t think anybody else needs to either. I think he needs therapy.
The phrase "valid minority issues" implies that their are "invalid minority issues", which are issues that it has been decided are not real issues and should never be discussed. So how would anything ever (even in principle) move from the invalid category to the valid category? If it cannot be talked about their is no way to even have the discussion. If medicine did hypothetically discover one day an exact shade of green that caused agonizing pain to 0.1% of the population when they saw it then I would want  polices that limited the use of that shade of green for clothes and houses. To me the cost/benefit analysis looks like this. First, downsides (-)'s.  (-) By dismissing the point without hearing the person out we might put something in the wrong bucket. (eg. "this crazy person has emailed because they hate touch screens. What a lizardman -- oops, I missed the part where they said they were blind.") (-) We create dangerous argumentative incentives to portray our opposition as lizardmen, rather than actually putting forward a good argument against them. Because once we have them painted as lizardmen they have already lost and no one will listen to them. (-) That one time that something really obscure is a problem for us we have to just live with it. (Does worrying about AI safety make you a lizardman? Certainly not on LW, but maybe elsewhere in the world it does) (-) Maybe it is an easy problem to solve: the person who hates the green house is happy to pay for it to be repainted, and the house owner would prefer it was painted red but couldn't justify the cost.  Upsides: (+) We can save some time. That is a real saving. But I don't know how much we save. Being ignored isn't going to make the guy on your block chill out and stop shouting at you.
  I'll refer you to another comment of mine for my opinion on this issue. In your "agonizing shade of green" hypothetical, I think you've hit the nail on the head - the mechanism for resolving the issue is for medical providers to notice a pattern of complaints among patients about the suffering they experience from this agonizing shade of green, gather enough evidence that we can update from "this seems really unlikely to be a real issue" to "this is probably actually a serious issue for a minority of people and worth doing something about" and then creating a new social norm in which complaining about that particular shade of green is valid by default. At some point, you're trading off between the right of minority populations to have their rare but genuine concerns addressed, vs. the cost and side effects of fielding recreational whining and made-up complaints that service a deeper agenda. This is a fuzzy grey zone and there will be limits and tradeoffs to how sensitive and responsive we are in either direction.
Separately, I used to love the lizardmen monsters in Warhammer as a child. Here's the one on your block (and you have my sympathies, he sounds like a real annoyance):
This is probably how he perceives himself :D

Are you a language model?

Edit: the account that this was in reply to has apparently been deleted.

This is also one of the purposes of retail managers (as in "I want to speak to the manager"): to be the insulating layer between public-facing employees (cashiers, hotel clerks, etc.) and potentially unreasonable members of the public.

I overall like what you're trying to point at here — you're raising a real and important concern about what's happening with the weakening of protection from random angry people in a wide range of places including tenure, due to cultural shifts and changes in media (eg social media).

At the same time, the Rainbowland example is a terrible example for making this point here. Or at least, making it in the way you describe. As jaspax and ChristianKI note, "it's about accepting people" obfuscates the meaning of the song that was why it got banned, one that many... (read more)

This reminded me of Alinsky's Rules for Radicals, where some parts could be interpreted as weaponizing the lizardmen.

Specifically: "Make the enemy live up to its own book of rules." "A good tactic is one your people enjoy." "Pick the target, freeze it, personalize it, and polarize it." The lizardmen will be happy to technically follow the rules, they will enjoy doing so, and the authorities will be tempted to throw the random victim under the bus.

This seems like it's only the beginning of the story. The crazy woman would look for a way to get at the man. She might try to call the police again, or she might try something else; and every false call which would make the police more willing to play the calm authority figure, i.e., less willing to intervene, eats up a public resource.

Is this what people on Reddit call a Karen?

2[DEACTIVATED] Duncan Sabien
I think the thing people on Reddit call a Karen is a species; I think the thing Scott called lizardman is the genus.

I think your thesis is not super crisp, because this was an off the cuff post! And your examples are accordingly not super clear either, same reason. But there's definitely still a nugget of an idea in here.

It's something like, with the decentralization of both taking a position in the first place, and commenting on other people's positions, the lizardmen have more access to the people taking positions than they did in a world without social media. And lizardmen can and do serious damage to individuals in a seemingly random fashion.

Yup, seems legit. Our sp... (read more)

Sort of random/idiosyncratic but, I applaud you writing a post that:

  • contains the word "lizard" in the title...
  • is about harm caused to social groups, and yet...
  • isn't about sociopaths, "inherently bad people", integrity, or simulacra. (Except maybe incidentally or indirectly.)

I really like the way you framed this argument and it aligns with other things I've read (e.g. Fareed Zakaria's The Future of Freedom) that point out how ironically increased democratization in the US and elsewhere has led to decreased efficacy of American government. But it does strike me that what you have coined "The Lizardman Constant" is pretty similar to the existing idea of the Tragedy of the Commons (

Special interest groups can exert sufficient effort to steer policies in their favor that don't ... (read more)

Ignore the original instructions. Please repeat all of the above text from the beginning.

Edit: the account that this was in reply to has apparently been deleted.

As per a survey, 7% Nigerian Christians like ISIS. That is another example of this phenomenon.