The very first word in the Western literary canon is rage/wrath (μῆνῐς – menis – in the original Greek).
Indeed, while often thought of as being about the Trojan War, the Iliad can alternatively be known as the story of the wrath of Achilles.
Interestingly, the Iliad more or less starts with a plague afflicting the Greeks, and the tensions that arise from it. Obviously our situation with covid-19 is a bit different, but it’s a good starting point for this post.
There’s a lot of anger in the community being caused by covid-19.
The disruptions caused by covid-19 have affected us all, and all in different ways. And each successive wave brings with it different emotions and motivations for them.
In our current fourth wave anger seems to be increasingly simmering beneath the surface – and, at times, bubbling right over. Let’s look at how that’s manifesting and why.
From the Vaccinated
For many who have been dutifully following public health regulations and have become vaccinated, there is anger towards the unvaccinated community. It’s not hard to understand the basis for this anger. It is primarily the unvaccinated members of our society that are both fueling this current wave and causing the main disruption as a result. How you might ask? Because it is primarily the unvaccinated that are in hospital, and it is the stress this causes to the hospital, and the collective action to reduce that stress, which is the primary basis for the disruption of the fourth wave.
Yes, vaccinated persons can get covid-19. However they are statistically less likely to catch it. And even if they catch it, they are statistically less likely to suffer severe symptoms. This doesn’t mean they can’t develop severe symptoms and even require hospitalisation – and some may even die from it. It just means that statistically they are less likely to. That being said – and something we need to keep in mind as the fourth wave continues to unfold – (a) a vaccinated person with high risk factors for covid-19 (senior age, immune-suppressed conditions, etc.) is generally still more vulnerable to covid-19 than an unvaccinated person with no such risk factors (such as a 30 year old healthy individual); and (b) due to the greater number of people that are vaccinated (67%) versus unvaccinated (33%) it is quite possible that the absolute numbers needing hospitalisation and even dying from covid-19 will be vaccinated, however the key is to look at the relative numbers.
So, yes, the reason workers are being sent home, the reason so many people are under quarantine, is mostly a precautionary measure to reduce the risk of a further spread of the outbreak, not so much to protect the majority of vaccinated persons, but to protect the vulnerable members of our community – which today is both the 33% of the population that is unvaccinated AND those vaccinated persons who are still particularly vulnerable to covid-19. It’s not hard to imagine that if all who could get vaccinated (at a guess, 95% of the population) had been vaccinated, that these disruptions would not be necessary. Yes, there would still be precautions for those who can’t medically vaccinate or who, while vaccinated, are still vulnerable, but the hospital wouldn’t be stressed and the disruption to our daily life would be minimal for the majority of the population.
At the same time, it wouldn’t be surprising at all if the healthcare workers, especially those on the frontline of contact tracing and caring for unvaccinated patients in the hospital are particularly suffering from both compassion fatigue and moral injury. They know more than any of us that, while they’re professional and will take care of the patients needs, that the unvaccinated patient simply didn’t have to be there this time. In previous waves, it was understandable – we didn’t have the vaccine in the first two waves, and in the third wave we were still in the early stages of our vaccine rollout, so patients needing hospitalisation was understandable. Today, for the vast majority of unvaccinated patients, they’re there by choice.
From the vaccinated point of view, those unvaccinated needing hospitalisation, triggering the disruption to our daily life, the increased risk of businesses failing, financial stress, general stress, longer-term health impacts from missing out on check-ups, non-emergency surgery and physiotherapy, are the reason. They are seen as selfish, deluded and ignorant of the wider social and economic consequences of their choice.
How this anger is being, or will manifest itself, is hard to say.
Only an extreme minority will say they shouldn’t be treated, but one can easily see people arguing that they should bear the cost in terms of paying higher insurance premiums or even get the bill from businesses losing out on custom. Mostly people will simply articulate their anger on social media and move on. In cases where an unvaccinated person went to work despite being ill and infected others, directly or indirectly, especially if those so infected are high risk (say, pregnant, recovering from cancer, elderly), one can imagine direct in-person hostility. The various public faces of the Qonion movement are likely to serve as lightning rods for public anger though – and it is curious that since the fourth wave started the main faces of Qonion have been keeping a low profile. More widely, it is likely we will see more voices calling for vaccine mandates or greater restrictions for unvaccinated persons.
From the Unvaccinated
To the unvaccinated, they are feeling anger from many fronts, partly in reaction to the growing anger being directed towards them with people blaming them for the fourth wave. In this they will be defensive and argue that people shouldn’t be angry at them for choosing not to be vaccinated, regardless of the wider social and economic costs of their decision. Many will probably double down – it wouldn’t surprise me at all if those most feeling the heat, those in hospital, double down and proudly declare to their nurses that they’re proud purebloods – which is perhaps a topic for a post in itself…
Indeed, my guess is that, while the main faces of the Qonion movement are laying low at the moment, they’ll be back with gusto soon enough. I expect them in particular to take advantage of absolute numbers as opposed to relative numbers, like I noted above, to argue, falsely, that the vaccines don’t work.
The primary reaction from most of the Qonion movement will likely be to deny the facts on the ground and basically claim that the statistics provided are false. We already see this where anything from Government or the ‘mainstream media’ is treated with contempt, and that only ‘facts’ provided from within the movement and their international wider Qanon movement can be trusted. Denial, deflection and delusion are the hallmarks of the likely reaction. But so is the potential for anger and for anger to be manifested in violence…
More concerning is the risk of actual violence. In their various protests, and in particular during the whole stand-off around Ms. Cannonier earlier this summer, it was not uncommon to encounter members of Qonion utter threats, both veiled and direct. Indeed, Mr. Eugene Dean, a prominent spokesperson for the Bermuda Freedom Alliance, regularly gave voice to calls for an uprising against the government while standing outside Ms. Cannonier’s house.
Overseas, we have seen cases of violence from Qonion’s affiliates – be it the murder of a worker enforcing masking in Germany, a nurse being assaulted in Quebec, threats against public health officers, and more. Already we know our contact tracers are facing verbal abuse, and, after the Prime Minister of St. Vincent, Ralph Gonsalves, was injured by anti-vaxxers in August, veiled threats were common on social media in reference to our own politicians.
The very narratives of dominant representatives/voices within the Qonion movement frame the situation in such a way that increases the potential for violence. Consider for example the following – which even a causal review of the Qonion narratives reveals:
- Those resisting public health regulations and the call for vaccines are ‘freedom fighters’.
- The government is ‘tyrannical’ and pushing ‘an agenda’ – they reject that this agenda has anything to do with health (‘we know that’s what they say it’s for but we reject that notion and so ask what is the real agenda…’).
- The government is in league with global elites to fulfil the plan of the elites.
- The government is engaging in child abuse.
- The government is persecuting the ‘freedom fighters’ through censorship and threats.
In general, the ‘struggle’ that the ‘freedom fighters’ are engaged in is conceived of in apocalyptic terms, a biblical struggle of good versus evil, with the government and those supporting public health actions and vaccines being cast on the side of evil and as child abusers. Particularly singled out as big bads are Marxists. Mr. Bean’s interview rather neatly encapsulates these narratives, but you see them present in the statements of the Bermuda Freedom Alliance and their spokespersons, especially Mr. Eugene Dean (highlighted above), and are common currency by adherents, both on social media and in real life.
Once you cast the struggle in these terms and portray your ‘enemies’ as embodiments of evil, as child abusers, hell bent on oppression and enacting a sinister plan on the behalf of global elites, once you dehumanise your opponents in this way, it becomes very easy to justify violence towards your enemies.
Essentially, the groundwork for violence has been laid by these narratives. The kindling is there and it just needs a spark.
Now, to be clear, I’m not saying that the Bermuda Freedom Alliance, for example, is going to formally engage in or support violence, even if they have played with veiled threats of such.
However, it’s not hard to see the potential for ‘lone wolf’ actions involving loose cannons who have absorbed the above narratives, see themselves as ‘heroes’ and ‘freedom fighters’ and, under pressure from the fourth wave and its aftermath, act out on this fantasy. We already see healthcare workers, especially contact tracers, being subjected to abuse. We have already seen some members involved with the Qonion movement threaten the Premier, and it’s hardly unusual to come across threats towards the Premier and the Minister of Health in the comment sections of social media during press conference updates on covid-19.
For most people this will be experienced in the form of increasingly angry social media posts or the occassional in-person argument (though most people will walk away not seeing the utility of engaging). But one cannot rule out the increased risk of a Pizzagate incident, a Jo Cox incident, or even a January 6th Capital event.
Your average person doesn’t really have to worry about any of this potential violence though.
The anger will be focused on those persons that their narrative sees as key representatives of the ‘evil’ plan. The Premier and the Minister of Health are obvious persons, but so would the entire Cabinet and those persons identified as PLP activists. And just as anger in the US Qanon movement is directed towards Dr. Fauci and healthcare workers, the Chief Medical Officer Dr. Oyinloye and healthcare workers are likely targets. Marxists too no doubt…
On the bright side though…
I don’t want to leave on too pessimistic a note though. I don’t see the potential for violence as particularly high. Angry threats and bluster, certainly, especially on social media.
And nor do I think it is inevitable. Only that the potential is there and that those who have spun the narrative that has loaded and cocked the proverbial gun are just as, if not more, responsible than any individual who actually pulls the trigger. And I think it is important that we consider the potential soberly.
How do we defuse it? I don’t fully know. I have no illusions that posts like mine are going to influence any hardcore Qonion. But there are less committed persons who can still be convinced, and those who are still on the fence. It is easier to prevent falsehoods taking root than it is to deal with them once they’ve become entrenched beliefs like we see today. But there is still the potential to help prevent them taking root further – thus my recent series of posts. The challenge is that the pandemic, especially the lockdowns, while good at mitigating the immediate public health threat, did help these extremist beliefs and narratives to take root.
Those responsible for narrative in question have the potential to help walk things back – if they wish and aren’t completely convinced by their own narrative. Let’s just say I’m not holding my breath on the potential for them to help walk things back though.
The most important potential for helping contain and reverse this situation comes from, in my opinion, civil society groups (such as the unions) and public intellectuals helping both counter the extremist beliefs in the first place, and offer an alternative narrative in it’s place.
There are legitimate grounds to criticise the healthcare system (and especially big pharma), entrenched racial power structures (locally and globally), the role of the State, media and political actions. Many of the roots of the extremist beliefs in question do have genuine origins – which is why they have found fertile soil to grow in. The challenge is that rather than engaging in the actual problems they engage in simplistic explanations that play fast and loose with the facts and make leaps of logic. By addressing the legitimate issues that serve as the germ of truth on which these conspiracies build upon, and providing an alternative narrative – and not one that maintains the status quo but challenges it from a progressive position – the threat of rightwing populism can both be defeated and progressive radical change enacted in its place.
For an interesting alternative point of view, which I don’t fully agree with but it provides some insights worth considering, see this recent post from Tim Wise.