Subtitle: Sex & the Evolution of Human Nature. What’s more interesting than that? Ridley’s The Red Queen is about how much of our evolutionary development was an attempt to beat the burden of parasites. Sex is the secret weapon for all sexually reproducing organisms. Sex allowed us to create an unpredictable environment that parasites could not easily adapt to. When I take my genes and shuffle them up with my wife’s genes, we create a creature sufficiently different from both of us to stump the parasites’ ability to profit from our energy. Parasites have been a part of nature forever, and so early animals and plants gained an advantage in defending against them over the creatures who simply split in two, providing parasites the same playing field as past generations. This is the beginning of sex in evolution.
Ridley takes it all farther by showing how the sex drive in all animals shapes how they behave. In Quanology, I’ve called this The Sexual Landscape. It is a set of circumstances that shape who we want to mate with and how we compete for mates. Ultimately, we see that the desire for good mates and the things we do to get them have been the forces shaping our modern society. These are fundamental, universal characteristics of humans. Men like pretty women, and women like wealthy, powerful men. Ridley argues against the behaviorists who believe that these things are taught by society.
The Red Queen, as a concept, is there to explain the pendulum of evolution – that whenever an advantage is found, it creates a “hole in the market” that will soon be filled by a competing force (be it another species or another member of the same species). When this hole is filled, we are essentially right back where we started with both sides being equal, until another advantage is found, exploited, and it’s hole filled up again. This plays out everywhere on all levels of life. It’s a great book, pick it up.