Author: Razib Khan

Totally Under Control—A Review

Alex Gibney’s Totally Under Control revisits a time, the legacy of which still haunts us. Spanning the period between January of 2020 and late spring of 2020, his new documentary traces the rise of the pandemic which has become a defining feature of our time. A New York Times headline on January 21st read “China Confirms New Coronavirus Spreads From Humans to Humans.” The full horror of mass deaths and economic lockdown hadn’t dawned on the world yet. Even in Wuhan there wasn’t full comprehension of what was to come. Nevertheless, the next day President Donald Trump was asked if he was worried about the pandemic and responded that “We have it totally under control.” Obviously, Trump was wrong. Totally Under Control is squarely focused on the bungling, mismanagement, and incoherence of the Trump administration. Gibney’s documentary is fundamentally a chronicle of the lopsided match between the COVID-19 pandemic and the Trump administration. As a point of contrast, Gibney focuses on the coherent and concerted efforts of America’s Pacific Rim ally, South Korea. The comparison …

The Evolutionary History of Man’s Best Friend Revealed

Man and dog share a long history. In much of the world, a history as old as humanity. The latest genetic evidence now tells us that the emergence of the domestic dog lineage occurred soon after the human expansion out of Africa 50,000 years ago, in the depths of the last Ice Age. We came. We saw. And we befriended. This we knew, but now we can closely examine how. A paper out today in Science uses 27 ancient dog genomes from the past 11,000 years to construct an evolutionary history nearly as rich as that produced by human population geneticists over the last decade. The authors found five lineages of ancient dogs that were present at the end of the last Ice Age. These were the dogs that interacted with human migrations during the rise of agriculture and the fall of civilizations to produce the riotous dog diversity that we know today. Familiar breeds like the Pekingese and the St. Bernard, as well as stray Asian village mutts, they’re all the products of a …

Not All Identities Are Created Equal

In 2020, much of the public discussion of social issues revolves around notions of identity. Ideas about race, reformulations of gender, and considerations of class or religious confession. But it is not often stated that these identity categories are qualitatively different, and these differences have different implications for the real world. Some reflection on the real-world consequences of identity ought to make this apparent. Why is a party based on working-class solidarity far less sinister than a party based on a racial or ethnic group? Perhaps because being working-class is not a fixed identity, and solidarity is open to all. One’s race or ethnicity is viewed as more static. Most of us can imagine struggling to pay bills and keep a roof over our heads, but few can imagine being another race. Race-thinking is anti-empathetic by its nature. Obviously, most humans have a variety of identities that they balance, synthesize, and are enriched by. Before World War I, socialists expressed their opposition to a conflict that they believed, correctly, would only bring suffering to the …