Why Thanos Was Wrong
September 27, 2022
Brace yourselves. We are about to embark on another adventure. I am afraid I have been appointed the task of arguing the most obvious answer to this question. And I am also afraid that there was someone who wanted to take the other end of this argument—afraid for his sound mind. But, in all sincerity, within the question posed above hangs far more than a fanatic’s monomania attempting to form an argument against a fictional villain. For in this villain, we discover far more than meets the eye. Throughout Infinity War, Thanos is desperate for a panacea to spare the universe from the same macabre end of his own race. In his mind he is a hero, yet for the universe he remains the villain.
It is curious to consider a madman, Thanos, who believed that he was right, standing convinced in the end that he did a good for humanity. “It’s a simple calculus,” he says. “This universe is finite, its resources finite. If life is left unchecked, life will cease to exist.” Convinced of his purpose, he is blinded to the second half of the calculus. First, a bit of history. The argument for overpopulation goes as far back as 1798, when Thomas Malthus proved that the earth’s food supply would soon fail to feed the hungry mouths of the earth’s population. He foresaw two outcomes: people would either die from starvation or war for food, or the government could limit people from having children. Malthus, however, had left out the second half of the calculus. Ester Boserup thus countered his argument with a simple clause. Boserup postulated that famine and war would ensue unless humanity’s inventions matched the population’s swell. In other words, the numbers did not matter as much as the human mind. This incited numerous advancements in farming to occur, like rotating fallow fields, selective breeding of livestock, and the invention of the seed drill, which led people scuttling to the cottage mills. Invention after invention continued, until, in the MCU, we have nanotechnology, vibranium suits, and Vision, a creation from J.A.R.V.I.S, the Mind Stone, and Thor’s life-giving lightning.
Yet, overpopulation is not really Thanos’ argument. He does not merely believe that food will run out, but that all resources will run out. He thinks that life will become so big that the universe will not be able to sustain us. As he says in Endgame, “I thought by eliminating half of life, the other half would thrive, but you have shown me … that’s impossible. As long as there are those that remember what was, there will always be those that are unable to accept what can be. They will resist.” Notice what has happened here. His main point has lost its focus. Instead of concentrating on the “calculus,” his argument has shifted to comfort. “By eliminating half of life, the other half would thrive.” He wants everyone to be spared from the misery he experienced as a child when his planet was destroyed, because his elders refused to heed his advice of killing half his race so that the other half might live. To spare the universe from his same anguish, he resolved to kill half the universe. Now we must remember, for Thanos this seems like a promising plan. In his own eyes, he is a savior. But that is because he believes in a warped ideology. For the rest of the universe, to kill half the population does not bring comfort. It brings even more anguish and despair. That is why the Avengers rose against Thanos in resistance, “unable to accept what” had occurred. For instead of bringing comfort, Thanos takes it away. Not just the world, but the entire universe, is left bereft of comfort, of joy, and of life. In succeeding to snap his fingers, he has failed to open his eyes. He has neither brought comfort to himself, having to sacrifice his very daughter in the conquest, nor to the universe. He has not brought comfort, but simply chaos.
“I know what it is like to lose. To feel so desperately that you’re right, yet to fail, nonetheless.… I ask you to what end? Dread it. Run from it. Destiny still arrives all the same. And now it is here. Or should I say, I am.” Now these words begin to make some sense. Thanos recalls his childhood trauma and steps into the role of the savior which fate has called him to assume. However, there is a flaw in his reasoning. To quote another beloved franchise, The Lord of the Rings, “Many that live deserve death. And some that die deserve life. Can you give it to them? Then do not be too eager to deal out death in judgement.” Thanos does wield the power to deal out life or death; in this sense, he is man’s destiny. Yet, on what ground does he chose to kill half the universe? He claims it is out of utility. If half die, half thrive. But on what ground is one person killed and not another? Why should I die and my sister survive? “You break the rules and become the hero. I do it and become the enemy. That doesn’t seem fair,” says Scarlet Witch in Multiverse of Madness. And it isn’t. Dr. Strange falls into the same confusion. He says that “In the grand calculus of the multiverse, their sacrifice means far more than their deaths.” But, again, on what grounds should they die and not Dr. Strange himself? Human life is sacred—it cannot be thrown around carelessly as part of a calculus. We are more than mere numbers. The sacrifice must come from the person, for it is his life. To offer himself up, like Beowulf, Frodo, or Iron Man for another human life, or in this case, for the universe, would be a heroic act. But to sacrifice others without their consent is inhumane. There is a stark difference between Iron Man’s sacrifice and Gamora’s murder. The numbers do not matter as much as the humans themselves.