Coming off the crest of the Marvel wave of last week’s column about Deadpool 2, we continue with Avengers: Infinity War. As of June 1, 2018, Avengers: Infinity War grossed a worldwide total of USD1.922 billion, which makes it the highest-grossing film this year. But while we rave about the movie’s stellar star power or fight scenes and that ending, we need to address the movie’s antagonist, Thanos, and his motivations.
Per usual, here’s the obligatory spoiler alert: the following will reveal certain plot points of the movie and if you haven’t already watched it, turn back now. Maybe check out a listicle about Yves Saint Laurent, or enjoy this video of a cat who is dressed up to look like Momotaro.
Y’done? Aight. Let’s get down to it.
In a nuteshell—Earth's mightiest superheroes go up against the alien Thanos who is trying to find six of the infinity gems so that he can decimate half of the galaxy's population… and, in the end, he did it. The movie ends with Thanos feeling the dawn rays wash over him and, what looks like a smile appearing on his big purple mug.
So, really, when you put your mind to it, you can do almost anything.
Thanos doesn't see himself as the villain. In his mind, he's the hero who has witnessed his home planet's resources deplete due to overpopulation and now doesn't want the same fate to fall on the rest of the universe.
Thanos: Little one, it’s a simple calculus. This universe is finite, its resources, finite. If life is left unchecked, life will cease to exist. It needs correcting.
Gamora: You don’t know that!
Thanos: I’m the only one who knows that. At least, I’m the only one with the will to act on it.
Thanos' ideology is actually rooted in the Malthusianism school of economic thought. Named after Reverend Thomas Robert Malthus, who saw that population growth as 'potentially exponential while the growth of food supply is linear'.
And this brings us to the concept of 'wizards and prophets'. This idea came from Charles C Mann, a science journalist whose book, The Wizard and the Prophet, references two individuals—Norman Borlaug, who is credited for saving over a billion people from starvation through the introduction of a new wheat strain that’s disease-resistant and high-yield; and William Vogt, an ecologist, who linked environmental woes to overpopulation. It was Vogt's book, Road to Survival that revived the Malthusianism idea. Both men have diametrically opposite views about the environment and Borlaug and Vogt are the respective titular “wizard” and “prophet”. From the book:
Prophets look at the world as finite, and people as constrained by their environment. Wizards see possibilities as inexhaustible, and humans as wily managers of the planet. One views growth and development as the lot and blessing of our species; others regard stability and preservation as our future and our goal. Wizards regard Earth as a toolbox, its contents freely available for use; Prophets think of the natural world as embodying an overarching order that should not casually be disturbed.
Quite simply, wizards believe that science can 'magic' our way out of problems, while prophets see the natural limits and screams at us not to transgress them.
The Tony Stark and his peers are the wizards while Thanos and his army are the prophets.
While it's easy to fall into either of the two prominent camps, Mann said in an interview that when you think about it empirically, you'll "realised that the facile 'this just will never work' arguments are often wrong."
But both sides have compelling arguments and while we can't fault Thanos for being a prophet, can he be blamed for his methods of 'bringing balance to the universe'? For sacrificing billions to save the universe, is Thanos to be lauded?
According to economics researcher, Lyman Stone, Thanos is wrong. There are studies that show that overpopulation isn't the cause of global warming; an issue as complicated as this shouldn't be solved with an overkill by the gross over-simplification of the cause to 'overcrowding'.
I suppose the better solution for Thanos would be to use the infinity stones to follow in the footsteps of the wizard and, with a snap of his fingers, produce high-yield resources that can sustain a growing population for eons to come. And, perhaps, that would be a better justification of an ending where Thanos can finally rest and watch the sun rise on a grateful universe.