I know I am a little late to the party, but I recently watched Avengers: Endgame for the 15th time and still got chills when Chris Evans – who plays Steve Rogers aka Captian America – said “Avengers assemble”. But was also the 15th time that I wondered if Thanos – Marvel’s one of the most dreaded supervillains - in Avengers: Infinity War. In the 2018 movie, the Mad Titan had a clear idea about how to save the universe from ultimate destruction. For him, the fact, problem, and solution were simple.
So, we all know (I mean those of us who have watched the movies) that at the end of Infinity War, the Thanos had acquired all the infinity stones for the gauntlet. Once he had acquired the two, because of the combination of the two, that let him snap his fingers and eliminating half the population but turning them to dust. In doing the dreadful act, Thanos believed achieved his goal of correcting the universe and freeing it of suffering. Now, according to him, the survivors after this catastrophe will have more resources than they need, thereby solving the world's major problems.
Well, first let me make this clear that I don’t condone his actions. They are outrightly disgusting, but I do want to understand the logic of his intentions. Because unlike many other villains he does not seek revenge or world/universe domination.
Who is Thanos?
He is a self-appointed god-like being who travels from planet to planet, killing the residents. In one of the scenes, Bruce Banner (the Hulk) tells Tony Stark (Iron Man), "He invades planets, he takes what he wants, he wipes-out half the population."
Thanos, however, claims that he does not perform these acts of mass murder because he enjoys it. He's merely collecting the five 'infinity stones' for a gauntlet that would give him enough power to achieve his goal - a universe free from suffering.
At many places, throughout Infinity War and Endgame one can even see the supervillain, bad guy, from another perspective. Even though many would disagree with his reasoning to sacrifice Gamora, he did because he believed that his journey led him to a greater good, thus after he’s snapped his fingers and he sees little Gamora in the Soul realm, she asks him if he did it (achieve his ‘destiny’) and what did it cost, to which he said, “Everything!” And since he did get the Soul stone after sacrificing something is loves the most, his daughter, maybe he did love someone after all and at the core maybe he did believe that he was working towards a greater good.
A necessary evil?
Is overpopulation 'the evil'? Did you know that not only the “intergalactic sociopath” (as described by Netflix) from the Marvel universe has this theory, but something on similar lines was mentioned on Earth in 1798 by Thomas Robert Malthus in his work, ‘An essay on the principle of population’, thereby coining the term — ‘Malthusian-ism’. In his work, theorized that while the population grows in a ‘geometric progression’, food production or availability of other resources is linear. So, what that means is that according to his math the growth of population outgrows that of supply of food – resulting in a probable shortage.
The two naturalists - Charles Darwin and Alfred Russel Wallace - who independently developed the theory of natural selection were inspired by Malthus’s work.
Biologist Paul Ehrlich, wrote a book in 1968 ‘The Population Bomb’ highlighting overcrowding in cities and the eventual death of millions due to starvation, creating a fear of overpopulation.
Now, Marvel’s Thanos may not be from Earth and may not have known Malthus or Ehrlich, but they did share the thought process (maybe because his home planet suffered a similar fate). In the Infinity Saga, he says, “The universe is finite, it’s resources finite, if life is left unchecked, life will cease to exist. It needs correction.” He also, (oh, so kindly!) gave us a solution, “When we faced extinction, I offered a solution, Genocide, but at random, dispassionate, fair to rich and poor alike.” Umm, this argument seems fair, but vanishing half the population is not the most-favoured solution.
But on Earth, most problems - pandemics, starvation, diminishing access to clean and fresh water, rising pollution, climate change, degrading biodiversity, etc. – have been blamed on overpopulation. So, if we consider population to be the disease is it wise to eliminate the people rather than curing the symptoms?
Unfortunately, Thanos is a destroyer who believes his deed is a necessary evil. In his own mind, he's not the bad guy, instead, he is kind of an anti-hero. If you think about it sounds outrightly evil and twisted but he considers himself to be an instrument of destruction that will eventually help save the universe.
Idea of limited resources
We are not sure about other planets, but here on Mother Earth, the human population has been increasing since the dawn of civilization - 10,000 BC. Even though, that constant rise was relatively slower than the post-Industrial Revolution which dramatically increased the growth rate. Today, the world population is 7.8 billion (and constantly rising by the second) and is estimated to reach almost 10 billion by 2050.
After Industrial Revolution, there were suddenly improvements in the health and sanitation sectors. The quality of life was getting better which was leading to a longer and healthier life - dropping the mortality rate exponentially. And since society still nurtures and believes in adhering to the old-fashioned traditional ideas about birth control, abortion and being fruitful and multiplying the birth rate remains high. And that’s where the population increase comes from.
There is an assumption that our planet has a natural carrying capacity. This means that Earth can support only a particular number of people. Since there is a carrying capacity, we can also assume that the world has finite resources. Within a given society at any point in time, things like food, space, water, and other resources are limited, thus creating competition among people and groups, a reason for evolution by natural selection.
Fact vs Fiction
Getting back to too many people and a probable decrease in the food supply, is it possible that Thanos was right all along? On Vice, Lyman Stone, economics researcher specializing in population issues, said, “When people talk about overpopulation you have to ask, "Why? What is the problem with the number of people that we have?" You get a couple answers. Sometimes people say we can’t feed them all. That’s not true. The caloric output of current agriculture is more than enough to feed everyone, and most of the world is nowhere near maximum theoretical yields with even current technology.”
He goes on to explain that most of our resources like water are renewable. It is in the atmosphere, in the seas, and it falls from the sky. We just need to find a way to collectively desalinate seawater to make it fit for consumption.
There are other schools of thoughts too. Environmental writers and thinkers such as Fred Pearce feel that the real issue is not overpopulation but overconsumption. Since the citizens of developed or rich nations consume more than they actually need. Stone furthers this logic and says, “That is the fundamental population problem—not food, not crowding, the only real issue is energy.” He gave a solution too, “but at the end of the day, there is a vast amount of energy available using fairly simple technologies like wind, hydro energy, and biomass, which is renewable since the sun is pumping energy onto us.”
Normal humans are usually averse to the idea of the destruction of human life, and maybe there are solutions – long term and short term. There is a need to look for those and advance our research in such fields. So even if Thanos has the best intentions at heart (or so he thinks) his solution is not a solution it's mass murder.