Book Summaries History

Chapter 10: The Self-domesticated Ape (The Red Queen)

Mankind is a self-domesticated animal; a social ape; an ape in which the male takes the initiative in courtship and females usually leave home; an ape in which men are predators, women herbivorous foragers; an ape in which males are hierarchical, females egalitarian.

An ape in which males invest heavily in offspring by providing their families with food, protection and company; an ape in which monogamous pair bonds are the rule, but many males have affairs and some 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.

Matt Ridley, The Red Queen

Despite these factual descriptions of mankind, Ridley acknowledges that much of what is contained in the book is probably false. The history of human science shows us how often we have gotten things worse: Galton’s eugenics, Freud’s unconscious, Durkheim’s sociology, Mead’s cultural anthropology, Skinner’s behaviorism, Piaget’s early learning and Wilson’s sociobiology all contain errors and false perspectives.

The Red Queen is just another chapter in this tale, and it is likely that it will be politicized in the future. One reason we may be doomed to never understand ourselves is that part of our nature is to turn every inquiry into “expression of our own nature: ambitious, illogical, manipulative and religious.”

"Silence is the best expression of scorn" - G.B. Shaw

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