The Red Queen: Sex and the Evolution of Human Nature

The Red Queen: Sex and the Evolution of Human Nature



The Pequod Review:

Even if Matt Ridley overstates his thesis in The Red Queen — that the process of sexual selection has had significant impacts on our fundamental human nature — his book is consistently thoughtful and engaging:

There is no nature that exists devoid of nurture; there is no nurture that develops without nature. To say otherwise is like saying that the area of a field is determined by its length but not its width. Every behavior is the product of an instinct trained by experience. 

The study of human beings remained resolutely unreformed by these ideas until a few years ago. Even now, most anthropologists and social scientists are firmly committed to the view that evolution has nothing to tell them. Human bodies are products of "culture," and human culture does not reflect human nature, but the reverse. This restricts social scientists to investigation only differences between cultures and between individuals--and to exaggerating them. Yet what is most interesting to me about human beings is the things that are the same, not what is different--things like grammatical language, hierarchy, romantic love, sexual jealousy, long-term bongs between the genders ("marriage", in a sense). These are trainable instincts peculiar to out species and are just as surely the products of evolution as eyes and thumbs.

I also liked this description of mankind:

Mankind is a self-domesticated animal; a mammal; an ape; a social ape; an ape in which the male takes the iniative in courtship and females usually leave the society of their birth; an ape in which men are predators, women herbivorous foragers; an ape in which males are relatively hierarchical, females relatively egalitarian; an ape in which males contribute unusually large amounts of investment in the upbringing of their offspring by provisioning their mates and their children with food, protection, and company; an ape in which monogamous pair bonds are the rule but many males have affairs and occasional males achieve polygamy; an ape in which females mated to low-ranking males often cuckold their husbands in order to gain access to the genes of higher-ranking males; an ape that has been subject to unusually intense mutual sexual selection so that many of the features of the female body (lips, breasts, waists) and the mind of both sexes (songs, competitive ambition, status seeking) are designed for use in competition for mates; an ape that has developed an extraordinary range of new instincts to learn by association, to communicate by speech, and to pass on traditions. But still an ape.