Six Damn Fine Degrees #24: Thanos

Welcome to Six Damn Fine Degrees. These instalments will be inspired by the idea of six degrees of separation in the loosest sense. The only rule: it connects – in some way – to the previous instalment. So come join us on our weekly foray into interconnectedness.

I am fascinated by Thanos. Marvel couldn’t have invented a better, more convincing baddie if they had tried. Avengers: Infinity War is now three years old, and I still try to figure out a CGI character with only two or three facial expressions. He does not seem obsessed, he does not want world domination (in fact he acts against the plans of his former superiors and retreats as soon as his job is done), he is not foaming at the mouth, and he never loses his temper. He does not raise his voice more than he absolutely needs to. He might think of himself as extreme, but not as a bad person. He finds his job hard, but somebody has to do it, and it might well be him, since there is no-one else around to wear that glove. He is very good at scheming and deceiving, but you cannot catch him lying. He seems to think about his utterly devastating task, constantly reassessing his odds, but never wavering from his path, gathering all the stones at tremendous cost to himself, always vying for that snap that will wipe out half of all living beings in the universe.

There is a phenomenon in poker called the 51/49 decision: out of two outcomes, one is just slightly likelier than the other, and that is what you go for, even if the other option is almost just as likely. That is the thing with him: He seems to come down every time on the side of being convinced that unprecedented manifold genocide is the right thing to do. And if he would come down on the other side, the whole universe would be spared its fate. But we already know early on that that will never happen.

And so we, the audience, are denied the utterly sane and second-likeliest of options, the one in which we all survive. It should be what happens, it should not even be one of two options, it should be reality, unquestioned and unchallenged, it should be everyday life, pure existence, and we should be oblivious that such an insane option like the snap even exists. Except there is Thanos, unmoved, slowly plodding towards his goal. That he has feelings for Gamora makes him… human. Relatable, in a way. Which, of course, is a horrible thing to say, but that is how a story like this gets you involved.

And of course Thanos makes your ecological dreams come true. Overpopulation? Snap. It’s done. Smaller carbon footprint, more resources for fewer creatures. More love, more space, the universe is in the balance again. Earth gets her breath back, and she may even thrive again in years to come. Ethics aside: Isn’t Thanos precisely a swift one-man solution to climate change? His method bypasses endless political negotiations and ineffective demonstrations – it’s not a rebellion, it’s a seemingly unstoppable process. That it’s a deeply undemocratic one makes it all the more effective. Just think about that. Thanos represents the most extreme, the most inhumane wing of any greenist movement. And if the price were not staggeringly high, Thanos’ radically simple method looked, well, alluring.

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