Thanos

I’m going to discuss Avengers: Infinity War without spoilers, unless you count the motivations of the main villain as a spoiler, in which case you should stop reading now.

The most recent book by Charles C. Mann—author of 1491 and 1493—is called The Wizard And The Prophet. It profiles two twentieth century figures with divergent belief systems: Norman Borlaug and William Vogt. (Trust me, this will become relevant to the new Avengers film.)

I’ve long been fascinated by Norman Borlaug, father of the Green Revolution. It is quite possible that he is responsible for saving more lives than any other single human being in history (with the possible exception of Stanislav Petrov who may have saved the entire human race through inaction). In his book, Mann dubs Borlaug “The Wizard”—the epitome of a can-do attitude and a willingness to use technology to solve global problems.

William Vogt, by contrast, is “The Prophet.” His groundbreaking research crystalised many central tenets of the environmental movement, including the term he coined, carrying capacity—the upper limit to a population that an environment can sustain. Vogt’s stance is that there is no getting around the carrying capacity of our planet, so we need to make do with less: fewer people consuming fewer resources.

Those are the opposing belief systems. Prophets believe that carrying capacity is fixed and that if our species exceed this limit, we are doomed. Wizards believe that technology can treat carrying capacity as damage and route around it.

Vogt’s philosophy came to dominate the environmental movement for the latter half of the twentieth century. It’s something I’ve personally found very frustrating. Groups and organisations that I nominally agree with—the Green Party, Greenpeace, etc.—have anti-technology baggage that doesn’t do them any favours. The uninformed opposition to GM foods is a perfect example. The unrealistic lauding of country life over the species-saving power of cities is another.

And yet history so far has favoured the wizards. The Malthusian population bomb never exploded, partly thanks to Borlaug’s work, but also thanks to better education for women in the developing world, which had enormously positive repercussions.

Anyway, I find this framing of fundamental differences in attitude to be fascinating. Ultimately it’s a stand-off between optimism (the wizards) and pessimism (the prophets). John Faithful Hamer uses this same lens to contrast recent works by Steven Pinker and Yuval Noah Harari. Pinker is a wizard. Harari is a prophet.

I was not expecting to be confronted with the wizards vs. prophets debate while watching Avengers: Infinity War, but there’s no getting around it—Thanos is a prophet.

Very early on, we learn that Thanos doesn’t want to destroy all life in the universe. Instead, he wants to destroy half of all life in the universe. Why? Carrying capacity. He believes the only way to save life is to reduce its number (and therefore its footprint).

Many reviews of the film have noted how the character of Thanos is strangely sympathetic. It’s no wonder! He is effectively toeing the traditional party line of the mainstream environmental movement.

There’s even a moment in the film where Thanos explains how he came to form his opinions through a tragedy in the past that he correctly predicted. “Congratulations”, says one of his heroic foes sarcastically, “You’re a prophet.”

Earlier in the film, as some of the heroes are meeting for the first time, there are gags and jokes referring to Dr. Strange’s group as “the wizards.”

I’m sure those are just coincidences.

Have you published a response to this? :

Responses

Sergio Villarreal

Excellent analysis. I kept thinking that Thanos’s motivation was too simplistic yet oddly, invited analysis. This is a great explanation for that.

Paul D. Waite

Whatever. Infinity War sucked because it contained literally zero photos by Jeremy Keith ★☆☆☆☆

Xavier Roy

Avengers: Infinity War (2018) from IMDbThe Avengers and their allies must be willing to sacrifice all in an attempt to defeat the powerful Thanos before his blitz of devastation and ruin puts an end to the universe.

It has been years since I watched a movie alone at the theatres. And this one had been pending for a while. So this Sunday, I decided to see if I could get tickets for this blockbuster and I got lucky  – the single seat at the last row (A24).

As a comic book fan, this has been a great opportunity to see how Marvel brings together its various properties and barring a few jarring pieces, they seem to have done a good job.

The interesting thing that I liked in the movie is the juxtaposition of Thanos and the Avengers. Malthusian ideas versus the Agricultural revolution. [via @adactio]

They did well to end the movie on a note that will keep the audiences coming in next year for the conclusion. And since Captain Marvel is scheduled for release in March 2019 just before the second part of Avengers in May 2019, it is a damn good move. After the Ant-Man and the Wasp  releasing in July 2018, there seems to be no Avengers tie-ins  movies scheduled for release till Captain Marvel.

This is a good deal since they can bring back the vanished Avengers before/at/after the climax of the upcoming Avengers conclusion. Since by then, we can have a grand finale with everyone who went missing or are missing joining in. A pity, they cannot bring in Wolverine and the Inhumans for that one. Peter Dinklage was a surprise. though it seems to be still channeling Tyrion Lannister in his role.

[Bugbears] I felt the Cull Obsidian (Black Order in the movies) could’ve been more fearsome and more powerful. All the different places that Thanos destroys, all of them seem very very eerily similar to each other.

Did I like it? Yes. I would give it ★★★½.

 

# Posted by Xavier Roy on Tuesday, May 22nd, 2018 at 2:14pm