The Matrix, a famous 1999 Wachowski movie set in a near dystopian cyperpunk future, deals with a "neuro-interactive simulation" that was created by out-of-control machines and pulled over the "desert of the real" in order to enslave humanity. The Matrix (the software) belongs to the realm of the mind, whereas the machines (the hardware) belong to physical reality, while humans (the users) live and die in both worlds.
Agent Smith is a "rogue" neural program within the Matrix, a full-blown virus of the mind that infiltrates, replicates, spreads, and consumes - modifying human behavior into treason and murder.
In a classic scene, Smith - while torturing Morpheus, a human rebel - provokes the audience with a stark observation on human behavior:
I'd like to share a revelation that I've had during my time here. It came to me when I tried to classify your species and I realized that you're not actually mammals. Every mammal on this planet instinctively develops a natural equilibrium with the surrounding environment, but you humans do not. You move to an area and you multiply and multiply until every natural resource is consumed, and the only way you can survive is to spread to another area. There is another organism on this planet that follows the same pattern. Do you know what it is? A virus. Human beings are a disease, a cancer of this planet. You're a plague and we...are the cure.*
Having just recently watched this masterpiece during two long weeks of self-isolation, I was left with a lasting impression by both its philosophical implications and political actuality/relevance. Fact-checking on Smith's epidemiological analysis, I found several examples in modern history that seem to check virtually all the 'epidemiological' boxes regarding virulence, human-to-human transmission, global spread, resources consumption, and destructiveness:
- Global conquest of Christianity
- European colonialism
- Western imperialism
- Endless "Cold" Wars that keep turning hot
Coming from a physics background I lack the knowledge and proper training in political science, but AFAIK there are theories that champion a similarly "mechanical", "inevitably Darwinist" view on politics, human nature, and history ("realism"?) as advocated by Agent Smith's character.
Let's, for a moment, make the assumption that realism holds and that ethics does not exist, i.e. let's consider the software + hardware and neglect the user.
=> Are there works in political science that actually use epidemiological concepts, models, and methods to analyze and possibly predict politics?
There are fictional works that describe powerful predictive frameworks such as "psychohistory" in Asimov's Foundation trilogy - but how much is this in the realm of current scientific practice?
*I hope it's clear that the idea is not to equate humans (users) with viruses (software), but to identify those cultural elements that drive and sustain "virulent" politics. Smith's analogy, of course, is fundamentally flawed - but it touches on important moral problems, e.g. ethics in stem cell research:
Quite apart from the fact that a [genetic] program cannot be equated with its result, this statement [that a fertilized egg cell is already in the full sense a human being] is also incorrect for other important reasons. [...] Without the mother's organism, the fertilized egg cell can only develop into a vesicle made up of a little more than a hundred human cells; the factors in its own cytoplasm are sufficient for this, but not further.
From: "Wann ist ein Tier ein Tier?" (When is an animal an animal?), Christiane Nüsslein-Volhard, 2001