Kris Morgan 5/3/2018
In my opinion, Avengers: Infinity War is the best movie to come out so far this year. It has action, adventure, plot twists on top of depth, offering insights into family dynamics, war, philosophy, psychology, and lives up to the hype surrounding it. That being said, if you haven’t seen the movie, please stop reading now and go see it, as there are a few spoilers ahead. You have been warned.
While the movie reflected many aspects of our culture, and made use of interesting symbols such as the twin-tower formation found at the location of the soul stone, nothing topped the persona of the main villain, Thanos. Not only did he see his monstrous actions as benevolent, in several scenes he showed a very humane side towards his adoptive daughter, Gamora.
The plot of the movie was very simple. Thanos perceived overpopulation as being the cause of suffering throughout the universe. Resources were too scarce to sustain a comfortable life for all, so the answer was simple: collect all six infinity stones and, at the snap of a finger, eliminate half the population.
His thought process sheds light on a very serious topic. Even the best of people cannot be trusted with power. Thanos’ belief that much suffering would be alleviated if he accomplished his objective gave him all the justification he needed to commit genocide on an unimaginable scale. This seems irrelevant with respect to real life, since there are no known sources of power so great, other than in the movies. However, virtually all government provided services mirror this attitude: that it is just to use aggressive force against a population as long as the goal is humanitarian.
The war on drugs is a prime example. Most people agree that addiction is destructive and leads to crime. Users often steal to fuel their habits and the market is by definition ran by criminals. There is no shortage of information available on how to help addicts, what to do if they steal from family or friends, etc. In a sense, it is only natural for some to conclude that since drugs lead to addiction, which leads to crime, drugs should be prohibited.
Though the outcome does not lead to genocide, it does lead to plenty peaceful people being arrested. In Thanos fashion, many ignore this, in light of the chain of logic presented above. In fact, in a document titled Speaking Out Against Drug Legalization, the DEA noted in ‘fact’ 7: “Drug use, crime, and violence go hand in hand. In 2004, 17 percent of state prisoners and 18 percent of federal inmates said they committed their current offense to obtain money for drugs.”
The problem with making all drugs and use thereof illegal is it puts government in the position of being the aggressor. Using force against people because they may one day use it themselves defeats the purpose and harms those who otherwise would have not reached that point.
This ability to ignore the amount of harm one causes simply because they have good intentions reeks of narcissism. In Thanos’ case, due to the damage caused, it is obvious. He has an extreme sense of self-importance, fueled with arrogance, and was exploitative with Gamora as he sacrificed her life for the soul stone; all traits PsychologyToday defines as narcissistic. Might it also be just a little self-serving to support drug laws, in order to ‘help others’, while ignoring the damage they cause?
Since the intellectual case against Thanos’ plan was never made on screen, I do feel compelled to make it here. Like all Hollywood stories, the plot of Avengers is based loosely on reality. Specifically, the work of an economist named Thomas Malthus. In the Malthusian world, the amount of wealth society has depends on whether the population grows or shrinks. If finite resources are divided amongst fewer people, everyone can have more. Conversely, if they are divided by more, everyone gets less. Seems logical enough, right?
Of course not. Malthus completely ignored the role of the entrepreneur. Entrepreneurs find more efficient ways to use things. While supplies may be limited, there is no reason to assume they are being used in the most efficient way possible. Making production more efficient alone has helped the west to grow in population as well as wealth. Let’s also not forget technology is almost at a point where we can begin mining asteroids in space.
In addition to the role of the entrepreneur, we have that of price. Even if the world’s assets were being used at their fullest capacity, there would be no natural need for a leader to exterminate half the population. Prices rise and fall as goods become more abundant or more scarce. During times of scarcity, prices rise and consumption falls. This discourages more people from having children. On the other hand, if prices fall due to improved productivity, the population has the opportunity to expand.
This is part of the reason price controls are such a dangerous tool. If resources are low and prices are also held low by power, then a society may wake up one day and find they have abruptly consumed all there is. If prices are artificially high, the people would be outraged to find out they could have had much better and easier lives if not for their ‘benevolent leaders.’ While not always perfect, prices are much more reliable than ignorant politicians who truly believe they know what size the population ought to be. Beware anyone who thinks it is truly their choice to make.
If Thanos was benevolent, he would have simply advocated for free markets. Even if his perception on resource consumption was correct, his solution was clearly wrong. The same holds true for our drug warriors. Truly benevolent leaders accept that people must be free to direct their own destinies. The job of governments, and anyone wanting to help, is to do so without causing harm to peaceful people. Any other means is a contradiction and doomed to fail.
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