Questions About the New Inequality

Herb Kauderer, whose poem “Bicameral” appears in our July/August issue [on sale now], explores some of the new social divisions arising from this pandemic, and asks us to consider what role science fiction has to play as these shifts and rifts come into being.


I am writing this blog nine weeks after my job as a professor was converted—in emergency fashion—to online, due to the Coronavirus threat. Social distancing and quarantines are happening in many different ways and levels. New systems of work and socialization are being developed, and new language is following. For example, many of us are having work meetings and social meetings on visual platforms such as Zoom, Collaborate, Google Hangouts, and Skype. Most of these offer a view where we can see a grid of the webcam views of others in an array of boxes. Soon people in those virtual boxes performed comic actions based on the shape in which they were contained, and such actions quickly acquired the name Brady-boxing after the 70’s sitcom The Brady Bunch, and its opening theme. As the music plays, the large Brady family is presented, each in their own box, but referencing each other. In fact, I propose calling this system of communication Brady meetings and Brady socialization. They are unexpectedly important and deserve a distinct name.

Like many people whose employment was forced to go online (and essential workers in person), I have had to work a lot more hours. In fact, probably sixty-five hours a week. Meanwhile, there are more involuntarily unemployed people than at any time since The Great Depression. As Brady socialization increased there was a period where speakers would assume that everyone now had an excess of free time to fill. Many awkward exchanges caused that assumption to become less common. The other side of the assumption coin followed when employed speakers faced with the loss of spending outlets inappropriately assumed everyone now had spare money. More uncomfortable moments followed causing these assumptions to decline as well. A new etiquette continues to arise, and sociologists are already charting it.

But my experience cannot be subjective, because I have spent a life in science fiction. So have most in my social groups. Social and/or geographic distancing has been a key idea for as long as I’ve been reading. I can’t even estimate how many science fiction stories I have consumed that dealt with some form of quarantine or long-distance exchanges. I might guess that at least two hundred of my published stories and poems have dealt with these phenomena, so I have thought about it a lot, and researched it periodically. Lots of great, and some accurate, portrayals of what it’s like have been produced. Yet those small details, such as Brady-boxing and the new inequalities of time and spending cash, are hard to guess.

Less difficult to predict has been the political squabbling over supplies and what to do. Competition for resources always follows their scarcity. Distrust of science is sadly prevalent among world leaders who don’t know what to do.


I know firsthand the nobility of humanity, so I am sure most with antibodies will serve others. I know with an excessive personal catalog of scars, physical, emotional, and mental, of the brutality of humanity; so I am sure there will be hate and discrimination.


 

As it turns out, I have had, and recovered from, COVID-19. What was a mild twenty-four hour bug to my young and healthy son knocked me on my back for weeks. I avoided the hospital, but there were days where almost every waking minute was focused on breathing evenly and smoothly. It was a respiratory infection from hell. A dozen people I know have died from it. I tend to take care of myself and stay healthy, and I suspect it made the difference in this case.

This leads to a new inequality: immunity.

And my question to readers is this, what happens when those with antibodies are increasingly free while those without are increasingly constricted?

I know firsthand the nobility of humanity, so I am sure most with antibodies will serve others. I know with an excessive personal catalog of scars, physical, emotional, and mental, of the brutality of humanity; so I am sure there will be hate and discrimination.

I have always believed that an important component of science fiction and science fiction readers is the willingness to focus on tomorrow and beyond while the rest of humanity wonders what’s for dinner. In general, we need to approach the coming antibody inequality with love, practicality, scientific research, and respect for human rights. And we will be opposed. But the power of science fiction is to crowd source solutions before the problem is manifest. Our job has rarely been so important.


Herb Kauderer is an English professor at Hilbert College.  His doctoral dissertation, and both his masters’ theses, involved speculative fiction.  He wrote the indie feature film ‘Beyond the Mainstream’ (2013), and his publications include sixty plus short or flash fictions, and over 1700 poems, many collected into eighteen books and chapbooks.  His poetry has won the 2016 Asimov’s Readers’ Award, been a finalist for the AnalogAnLab Readers’ Award, and received Honorable Mention in The Year’s Best Fantasy & Horror.  More about Herb and his writing can be found at HerbKauderer.com.

One thought on “Questions About the New Inequality”

  1. Well said.
    I’ve read a lot of end of the world fiction from the Scarlet Plague to the Stand and they all got it wrong. I haven’t been thrilled with the response of government to covet 19, but the fictional accounts always have government pretty much disappearing and doing nothing. Nobody got that right.
    However, you raise a good point about the new inequality. About the only fictional plague that discussed the reaction of the immune and the plight of the afflicted was the Last Ship. The TV series had immune goons running around scaring and threatening the poor souls who feared catching the world wide plague.

    Liked by 1 person

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