Douglas Adams on representative democracy

Paul Raven @ 11-05-2011

I doubt I need to explain who Douglas Adams was to many readers here, nor that he died a decade ago today. I’m not big on having heroes, but I do hold a special place in my heart for people who made me think in new ways; Adams’ Hitchhiker’s Guide books will never win prizes on their purely literary merits, but even moreso than some of the most performatively profound science fiction writers, he managed to smuggle a whole lot of philosophy into his work, and a tacit acknowledgement of (and coming to terms with) the absurdity of the universe, and the human condition as a function thereof.

Shorter version: Adams helped shape the way I look at the world, for better or for worse. What follows* is a passage I paraphrase all the time… indeed, with increasing frequency and urgency in recent years. Enjoy.

[An extraterrestrial robot and spaceship has just landed on earth. The robot steps out of the spaceship…]

“I come in peace,” it said, adding after a long moment of further grinding, “take me to your Lizard.”

Ford Prefect, of course, had an explanation for this, as he sat with Arthur and watched the nonstop frenetic news reports on television, none of which had anything to say other than to record that the thing had done this amount of damage which was valued at that amount of billions of pounds and had killed this totally other number of people, and then say it again, because the robot was doing nothing more than standing there, swaying very slightly, and emitting short incomprehensible error messages.

“It comes from a very ancient democracy, you see…”

“You mean, it comes from a world of lizards?”

“No,” said Ford, who by this time was a little more rational and coherent than he had been, having finally had the coffee forced down him, “nothing so simple. Nothing anything like to straightforward. 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. Got any gin?”

“What?”

“I said,” said Ford, with an increasing air of urgency creeping into his voice, “have you got any gin?”

“I’ll look. Tell me about the lizards.”

Ford shrugged again.

“Some people say that the lizards are the best thing that ever happened to them,” he said. “They’re completely wrong of course, completely and utterly wrong, but someone’s got to say it.”

[ * I’m reprinting this here under Fair Use terms in the understanding that copyright remains very much with the late Mister Adams himself, and that I offer it as a tribute to and reminder of a much-loved cultural icon. If a take-down is required, please drop me a line using the contact form for immediate results… though I’d point out that I’ve blatantly ganked it from the copy found here, because I’m too damned lazy to type it out, and my copy of the book is still in a box in my mother’s house in Yorkshire at the moment. ]

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3 Responses to “Douglas Adams on representative democracy”

  1. Sterling Camden says:

    Mr. Adams was indeed a master.

    The lizards certainly correspond to the candidates from the two major parties in this country, and a lot of people won’t vote for a third-party candidate here for exactly the same reason.

  2. gmoke says:

    The Simpsons’ version is of course Kang and Kodos. When Kang gets elected President and starts eating people, bumperstickers appear reading, “Don’t blame me, I voted for Kodos.”

  3. Nate says:

    Thanks for posting this. Mr Adams certainly had a way of making what could be considered the cynical perpective seem fun. I find things he wrote have become very much a part of the way I view and interact with the world. Or maybe I was always like this and he just happened to give me a funny excuse??

    One thing is certain. Most of the worlds ills and evils are protected by spontaniously occuring S.E.P fields…

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