The Red Queen's Trap is a paradox torn from the pages of Lewis Carroll's "Through the Looking Glass."
The Red Queen, in the book, uses it to explain how different her kingdom is from all the others.
"It takes all the running you can do, to keep in the same place."
Why is this paradox useful?
This paradox is the basis of a very interesting strategic trap. A trap that has destroyed organisms of all types, from nation-states to companies to industries to individuals to (for my purposes here) terrorist groups.
Interested? If so, read on.
The Red Queen's Race is good analogy for a destructive evolutionary struggle. It is what happens when competition between highly adaptable competitors gets out of control.
In the Red Queen's Race, every improvement one competitor makes is rapidly matched by the opposition and so on, forever. This struggle increases in intensity and frequency until one or the other competitor falls behind -- all the running you can do, to keep in the same place. When that happens -- finito.
So far, that sounds like a standard competitive struggle in the natural world, business arena, in warfare, or on the playing field.
However, the Red Queen is different than a normal competition. The Red Queen is destructive to both of the competitors. Here's how:
- The Red Queen consumes all of the energy (adaptive capacity) of the both competitors for as long as it persists. No other adaptation is possible.
- The Red Queen forces competitors to specialize to win this, and only this, competition. This specialization is almost certainly maladaptive -- it's of little use outside of the competition and of zero use when the competitor is dead.
- An organism can get into a Red Queen's race with itself. Essentially, a competition that results in suicide.
I could spend days writing about this, but since this is being done on my dime, let's just spend a moment on number three.
Terrorism as a Red Queen's Race
How can an organism find itself in a Red Queen's Race with itself?
Traditional blood and guts terrorism results in a Red Queen's Race, in most instances. How so? Traditional terrorism seeks to create social disruption by making attacks that maximize body count or damage socially important symbols. This is done in order to coerce the targeted society or force the government into overreaction (or it's an marketing effort aimed at recruits/investors).
However, in almost all cases, blood and guts terrorist attacks do nothing of the sort and the attack doesn't evoke any meaningful effect. This is sometimes due to a deliberate policy wherein the government or society actively ignores the terrorists (as the poster suggests), or the attack just doesn't generate a significant amount of outrage (outrage is an art, not a science).
When the terrorist attack doesn't generate a response, the terrorist group is forced to make new attacks, bigger and more damaging than those in the past. In short, absent any meaningful response by the society and government it is targeting, the terrorist group will find itself in a deadly Red Queen's Race after the first attack.
Here's some detail.
A blood an guts terrorist attack is designed to evoke outrage and generate media coverage. Without that, it can't generate any meaningful effects.
However, with each subsequent terrorist attack, the amount of outrage and media coverage generated diminishes. This is due to the following factors:
- The public becomes desensitized. People get used to it. They learn to live with it.
- Media coverage follows the sensational. Routine or repetitive stories drop to the back pages.
- Each subsequent attack (of the same level or less) generates fewer resources (financing, recruits, etc.). It also increases the pressure from law enforcement (attrition/self-defense) as they gather information on the group.
As a result of these diminishing returns, a terrorist group also finds itself in destructive Red Queen's Race with itself.
What does this mean? It's simple.
In order for a terrorist group to stay alive, every attack it makes must bigger than the one it previously made... more people dead... a bigger spectacle... a more revered symbol laid low.
It also means that the moment the group is unable to do that, it's dead. The moment it can't adapt fast enough to best its last adaptation, it will lose the resources it needs to survive increasing levels of law enforcement pressure. It was also lose relevance and fade into obscurity.
PS: See the excellent paper by Neil Johnson et. al. called "Dynamic Red Queen explains patterns in fatal insurgent attacks" Would love to see his data sets put into a deep learning network.
PPS: The Red Queen's Race can turn technological innovation into destructive, rather than constructive, change.