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Red Queen's race

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A Red Queen's race is any conflict situation where any absolute advances are equal on all sides such that the relative advantages stay constant despite significant changes from the initial state. The name references Lewis Carroll's Through the Looking Glass, wherein the Red Queen comments to Alice that "it takes all the running you can do, to keep in the same place."

The Red Queen's race is a universal phenomenon, found in many cultures and many periods of history, and also in many academic disciplines and other areas of society, such as economics, media, technology, politics, psychology, history, and evolutionary biology. Some examples of Red Queen's races are:

  • Economic development during the Industrial Revolution, which saw many countries racing to out-compete each other economically.
  • Market economics generally, since staying in business requires businesses to stay roughly as efficient as competitors.
  • Arms races, in particular the Cold War nuclear arms race, during which countries built up nuclear arsenals for no other reason than that the enemy was also building up theirs. Despite huge technological advances in the destructive power of weapons the relative advantages between countries has not changed much since sticks and rocks were common instruments of war.
  • The massive uptick in spending in political campaigns, where half a billion dollars and a massive coordinated Internet campaign buys modern candidates the same vote advantages as a thousand dollars and a fast horse bought 150 years ago.
  • Increases in government spending (or promising more tax cuts) as part of a "bread and circuses"-style attempt to buy voters. Alexis de Tocqueville was misattributed as saying, "The American Republic will endure until the day Congress discovers that it can bribe the public with the public's money"; the public purse is known to have been used in that way to finance political machines in many American cities.
  • The increased incidence of bullshitting in politics; as bullshit can sound much more pleasant to many more voters' ears than a rational exposition of some political program, the first political groups to use bullshit met with success, and their opponents were forced to imitate it or be eliminated from the political sphere.
  • The technological advances in memory and processing speed are usually exploited by software with greater memory and CPU requirements, so that to the average computer user, computers do not subjectively seem to run any faster today than 20 years ago.
  • In evolutionary biology, the Red Queen's race is an important concept when explaining why some traits appear to grow exponentially even to the point of being costly to the organism. Particularly when combined with sexual selection, certain traits that appear to be deleterious to an organism can readily evolve. One of the most famous examples is the peacock's tail.
  • Bitcoin mining has a fixed payout across the entire network, but the application of more computing power can increase the size of one's slice of the pie. This has led to the equivalent of the entire electrical capacity of Ireland being used to run a distributed computing system that could effectively fit on your phone unchanged. This is considered good for Bitcoin, somehow.

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