Red Queen Syndrome is running (or riding a turtle) to stand still — the first documented sufferer was the Red Queen in 1871, in Through the Looking Glass and what Alice found there (I played the White Queen once — it was my finest hour, but a long time ago). The phenomenon was recognised in 1993 by Matt Ridley — The Red Queen, Sex and the Evolution of Human Nature explored our origins and the need for constant evolution to keep one jump ahead of our competitors, our predators and, particularly, our diseases. As the Red Queen said,’Now, here, you see, it takes all the running you can do, to keep in the same place. If you want to get somewhere else you must run at least twice as fast as that!’
It’s a long time since I read Ridley’s book and at this distance I can only remember the messages that I took away from it — woven into my own narrative of life — the need for the greatest genetic variation in a population so that the maximum options are available in case of emergencies (don’t forget Darwin) — those threats which will inevitably emerge to confound us, due to the constant pursuit of organisms whose job it is to harm or out- perform us. Oh, and the need for sexual reproduction and our sexual fascination with those most different from ourselves — Jack Spratt Syndrome! It is the quest for new and useful genes — affording us the greatest possibilities to adapt or die.
This holds for almost everything — from our adaption, through natural selection, to emerging diseases and changes in our environment to our behaviours, technologies, economies, emotions and societies. Everything is evolving all the time so we have to run to keep up.
As I slow down it seems to be getting faster.
My husband and I watch the prices of oil and electricity increase so we invest in solar panels. We’ll be able to heat our water for free! But the immersion heater, which we have never used, is not responding — out with the electrical screw-driver — running to stand still — developing new skills. Bang!
My computer is poorly, a problem in its power pick-up, it cannot be repaired because things have moved on in the 4 years since I bought it — no parts available, not made any more. I have to buy a new computer — full of innovation — I have to run to stand still, change my behaviour, find all the secret clicks, do everything differently — where’s my e-dictionary — won’t open — connection broken — run troubleshooter — OMG. Passwords won’t work — ‘Have you forgotten your password?’ No I bloody haven’t. I will adapt and soon this new computer will seem second nature — I’ll probably even dream within its constraining matrix , but it will go on evolving and eventually (probably quite soon) it, or its successor, will out-run me.
People don’t get too old to do their job — the job evolves so that they no-longer recognise it. The job out-runs them!
Now I’m going to try to download a picture of the Red Queen which may well take some time.