Resisting the Voice of Thanos
I made another appearance on the podcast God and Comics, this accompanied by my wife Leah Libresco Sargeant, chatting with a geeky priest and deacon about the latest and greatest superhero epic, Avengers: Infinity War. One of the most interesting parts of the conversation was our discussion of the real world resonance of the film's antagonist Thanos, who reflects the despairing anti-natalist bent of many real people. Here's a transcribed excerpt:
I really appreciate what they did with Thanos in this movie [...] he has a Malthusian anti-natalist crusade, very much opposed to the idea that life has inherent value.
What the heck is a Malthusian anti-natalist?
I'm glad you asked, Fr. Matt. Robert Malthus is the theorist behind Malthusianism. He was a demographer interested in resources and populations [...] He came up with concepts like the Malthusian trap the Malthusian specter to do with overpopulation, when population outstrips the ability to feed people and for people to lead a good-quality life. So people drawing on Malthus's ideas [...] are all about austerity, all about finding some way to limit the growth of the human population, in extreme cases finding some way to destroy some of the human population, out of this perceived danger of overpopulation. So it leads to terrible real-world ideologies rooted in eugenics, rooted sometimes in genocide.
Thanos's characterization in this movie is all the more frightening, because it has these Malthusian overtones. In the comic books, he's literally in love with the personification of Death. Instead of that magical realist angle, where there's a figure representing Lady Death that Thanos is wooing, we have Thanos as this terrifying force opposed to the abundance of life itself on what he thinks are pragmatic grounds.
And, later in the podcast, we discuss how to resist the voice of Thanos in our daily lives:
I'd love to see some of these characters moving on as parents or mentors or otherwise shepherds of the next generation, because I think that's the perfect rebuttal to the Thanos imperative of fighting against the onrush of life.
[...] I think we encounter Thanos in smaller forms every day. The person who at the grocery store looks at a mom with her group of three kids and goes, "You're done right? You're not going to have another?" That's the voice of Thanos speaking, the voice that sees life itself as excess. So anyone who wants to assemble like the Avengers should defend parents and speak up in favor of taking a chance on life.