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Avengers: Infinity War - Wizards vs. The Prophet

posted by Jason Kottke   May 07, 2018

Last week, I was under the rock that everyone talks about and didn’t get to see Avengers: Infinity War until a couple of days ago. (Mild spoilers follow.) There’s a lot to like about the movie — I personally loved watching it — but the thing that surprised the hell out of me was how closely the motivations of Thanos and the Avengers echoed the subject of Charles Mann’s The Wizard and the Prophet.

Prophets look at the world as finite, and people as constrained by their environment. Wizards see possibilities as inexhaustible, and humans as wily managers of the planet. One views growth and development as the lot and blessing of our species; others regard stability and preservation as our future and our goal. Wizards regard Earth as a toolbox, its contents freely available for use; Prophets think of the natural world as embodying an overarching order that should not casually be disturbed.

Thanos is a prophet and the Avengers are wizards…both are even specifically referred to using those exact words at different points in the movie. More specifically, Thanos is a Malthusian…he wants to cut the population of the galaxy in half to up everyone’s quality of life. From the book, a description of economist Thomas Malthus’ ideas:

Human populations will reproduce beyond their means of subsistence unless they are held back by practices like celibacy, late marriage, or birth control. But the reproductive urge is so strong that people at some point will stop restricting births and have children willy-nilly. When this happens, populations inevitably grow too large to feed. Then disease, famine, or war step in and brutally reduce human numbers until they are again in balance with their means of subsistence — at which stage they will increase again, beginning the unhappy cycle anew.

Jeremy Keith noticed the same thing and I echo his amazement: “I was not expecting to be confronted with the wizards vs. prophets debate while watching Avengers: Infinity War”.