Consider whose side you're on

(Lights illuminate the walkway from Brockville's COVID-19 assessment centre.)

I owe a debt of gratitude to the American economist William Spriggs, who in an interview Friday afternoon on NPR’s The Takeaway gave me the science fiction metaphor for COVID-19 I didn’t know I needed.

And as our region prepares to head into the Yellow zone (relax, folks, we have it better here than a great many people, for now), it’s worth taking a moment to consider where we stand in this science fiction nightmare.

The eminent economist brought up the classic SF trope of the alien invasion, recalling that, in the old films, the aliens attack and humanity rallies to save itself, coming together in common purpose to defeat the malevolent aliens.

In this context, of course, the coronavirus is the alien – and in the American context, the old SF trope no longer applies, because in the human camp there are two sides: Those trying to defeat the aliens and those essentially joining them.

I would take Professor Spriggs’s comparison to a place he didn’t presume to, namely, most if not all of our deeply flawed species. Because the old classic tale of humanity banding together to defeat the invading aliens is hopelessly naïve.

The reality is that, under such a scenario, we would all band together at first, and after this short-lived flash of altruism, some of us, usually the wealthy and powerful who have the means to do so, would come to accept their new alien overlords and figure out a way to profit by living under them.

COVID-19 has now demonstrated in real time how this process unfolds. In March, when the reality of the pandemic first hit us here in North America, all sides seemed united in a common cause against this microscopic alien invader.

It did not take long, however, before it became apparent that, in the war against COVID-19, some will inevitably be on the side of the virus.

There are many ways to be on the side of the virus, but for the sake of simplicity let us divide the collaborators into two broader camps: The Masters and the Dupes.

The Masters are the ones who have concluded the invader is not leaving us very quickly, but their own gain depends on things returning as close to the pre-pandemic normal, as quickly as possible, no matter the cost in human lives. They will endeavor to combat whatever measures authorities put in place to slow the spread, and in other countries, most notably the United States, they have had some significant victories.

The Dupes are all those who reject the evidence of science and declare, to varying degrees, that public health measures are not necessary, or that the virus is all a big hoax

(If I had time to do it, I would lay claim right here to the copyright for a science fiction satire about what an actual hoax pandemic might look like. Only I am a bit busy at the moment and I suspect brighter lights in the SF world are already working on this. Needless to say, it would not work the way the Dupes believe it’s working now.)

The resulting social dynamic is as old as politics itself: The Masters use the Dupes as cannon fodder in a battle to subvert whatever public health measures must be subverted to ensure the Masters’ gain. For an example of this in action, look no further than the post-election spike in COVID cases in Trump-favouring states, after thousands of Dupes went to the rallies and opted to vote in person on Election Day.

So far, the Masters and the Dupes in Canada have been less successful, restricting themselves to the odd obnoxious protest, kook websites and Twitter feeds, vehicles flashing absurd religious messages and the occasional bar fight in Perth.

But as we head into the Yellow level of COVID protection next week, look for the Dupes to be more vocal and the Masters to be rubbing their hands.

One day, of course, all of this will be history, and History will remember who was on the side of the virus, and who was on the side of the public.

I would suggest that one science fiction narrative that did get this dynamic right was the 2004-2009 remake of Battlestar Galactica, an SF series in which a different malignant narcissist becomes president and cooperates, for a time, with the invaders.

Those of us who recall that show also remember how it turns out, an excellent illustration of how unkind History will be to the Dupes, and some of their Masters.