Fantasy Faction

Fantasy Faction => Fantasy Movies, Comic Books & Video Games => Topic started by: J.R. Darewood on April 29, 2018, 04:43:34 AM

Title: Rant about population science tangentially related to Infinity War
Post by: J.R. Darewood on April 29, 2018, 04:43:34 AM

I posted this on fb too but I thought I'd also vent here.

Ok so I never read the comics these movies are based on (I was into Spidey but never the Avengers) but even implied science is important b/c there's a lot of f**ed up policy out there.

** The human strain on finite resources is about two things 1) Over-consumption 2) the ratio of population growth rates to death rates. There are plenty of real life disasters that have shown the actual number of people on the planet after some sort of disaster is irrelevant if growth rates are high.

Over-consumption. 1% of the world's population consumes the vast majority of it's resources, so this whole discussion of over-population is actually missing the point. Our environmental crisis stems primarily from rich people in the US, Europe and China decimating the world, not poor people having too many children. A subsistence farmer in an Amazonian village consumes less than 0.04% of their biological environment in comparison to an American, who in a 15 minute trip to the grocery store decimates natural systems around the world via mining, petroleum, plantations and whatnot. But hey, we'll sideline this one for the moment and look at how killing half of everyone wouldn't solve over-population either.

Population science. Stable systems (in homeostasis) have mechanisms to either keep growth rates down or death rates high. Rats have tons of babies. They also get eaten by tons of stuff. Pandas, orangutan, cheetahs, gorillas have low birth rates b/c they don't have a ton of predators. The trick is looking at under what conditions humans have low birth rates.

Human birth rates vary. For wealthy people, or people in secure environments, birth rates tend to increase-- people put more energy into each offspring and try to keep it to 1 or 2. Eg. for the wealthy sub-populations in US and Japan, population growth rates have gone down over time as wealth has increased. In insecure environments (read: deepening poverty, after disasters like earthquakes or hurricanes or war that kill tons of people) humans tend to have lots of kids. Consequently, killing off half of humanity would result in increased birth rates. If long-term insecurity resulted from that shock (wealthy places didn't recover, insecurity remained geographically widespread a generation later) there could be a long-term acceleration of population growth. (side note: keep in mind what I said above are generalities coming out of human biology that can, in practice be culturally mediated)

The environmental crisis is the result of disembedding our consumption from natural systems. Globalization allows Europeans, Americans, Chinese etc to set up infrastructures that lay waste to much of the world, turning ancient jungles into toilet paper, and oceans into a toilet. The natural consequences are felt by the rural poor of the 3rd world who, as a result of being displaced by armed men setting up banana plantations which you purchase in your grocery store, have tons of kids b/c there's a high chance some of them will die. The wealthy, who drive the ecological crisis, are disembedded from the consequences of their actions and thus destabilize what was previously a homeostatic ecological system.

Anyway, when Thanos is like "look your planet is now better off" to Gamora, I know it was a single line in a piece of fiction, but that's simply not what would happen if half the planet died, and the belief that it would is just more fodder for jackasses who promote policies that make our environmental problems worse, not better (which has happened in many places). So even if nature somehow works differently in Marvel's fictional universe, it leaves audiences with a implicit misunderstanding of over-population that makes me really angry.

I guess, what I'm saying is that whether or not it works in the Marvel Universe or not, the movie left viewers with the impression that it might work-- these ideas about overpopulation weren't explicitly challenged and Thanos wasn't painted as being completely misinformed about the long-term consequences of his actions. We get images of Thanos's own planet destroyed from inaction, and an unchallenged narrative about how "bellies are full" in Gamorra's planet now. Fiction is, well, fiction, so anything can be changed, but the thing that upsets me here is that there's tons of people out there that might not want to kill everyone, but understand overpopulation in the same terms Thanos used, and it upsets me to see that misapprehension spread because there are real consequences to people not understanding our current ecological crisis. Choosing to build this in as a character motivation spreads jackassery irl. To me it's just as upsetting as if I saw racism or sexism built into a narrative in a way that left it unchallenged as bad in the audiences mind.