The Red Queen and the New Political Order

I’m reading the Red Queen, by Matt Ridley. It’s fantastic. The Red Queen effect is an evolutionary hypothesis that, “organisms must constantly adapt, evolve, and proliferate not merely to gain reproductive advantage, but also simply to survive while pitted against ever-evolving opposing organisms in an ever-changing environment.”

That’s life. Casey Neistat has a clever video that explains the same concept.

You must constantly be moving to survive. Rest and you will perish. And you must do something truly extraordinary to succeed in a red queen game.

I was thinking about this in the context of the new political order. I think many on both the right and the left today lament that just being an American (or a citizen of any well-to-do country) doesn’t entitle us to a high quality of life anymore. In fact, many, if not the majority of Americans, now work hard at jobs they hate just to try to maintain a quality of life that is inferior to what they grew up with. This probably is a fair assessment of the current state of affairs for most people.

But this isn’t unique to American life. This is just life. And it’s been that way for about a billion years, give or take.

I am the child of two immigrants. And while Ireland is doing well now, it wasn’t 50 years ago. Every time I went to visit my grandparents in Ireland when I was a child they made it clear to me that I should never take my good fortune for granted. That food and shelter and peace were not a given. Because I was an American they made a special point to drive this home for me. And I think this is something most immigrant and first-generation Americans feel.

My grandfather and I were very close. His father was beaten to death by British soldiers on Christmas eve when he was six years old.

His wife lost her mother during her childbirth, and two of her older siblings died of tuberculosis before they ever met my grandmother.

These stories weren’t extraordinary back then. They were just life.

That this country had a period of powerful growth that everyone experienced more or less in tandem from 1939-1970 is an historical exception, not the rule. The same is true of any country or group that experiences a period of good fortune. Expectations of perpetual comfort and increasing quality of life with less effort aren’t realistic.

None of this is to say that one political philosophy is right or wrong. That we should choose to ally with those who would wish to promote our interests is perfectly natural. But if it seems like the rest of the world is gunning for our jobs and for our quality of life, it’s because they are. The fact that you have had success for a period of time just means that everyone else is going to come even harder for your share of the pie in the next iteration of the game.

And regardless of what any politician promises you, that’s not going to change.