I finally got around to watching the top grossing movies of 2018 and 2019, Avengers: Infinity War ($2.1 billion) and Avengers: Endgame ($2.8 billion).
This type of movie, with extreme fantasy super heroes and over the top special effects, is not my cup of tea, but I decided to watch them to get some insight into what our culture is thinking.
The bad guy, Thanos, understands that the universe is in overshoot which will soon cause extreme suffering from wars and starvation, so he acquires a technology to humanely vaporize 50% of life, without causing any suffering, so that the remaining 50% can live in peace and plenty, with new found awareness to constrain their populations going forward.
The good guys, played by the largest and most expensive collection of movie stars ever assembled, think Thanos’ plan is evil, and spend the next 5 hours of multi-million dollar special effects to thwart his plan.
In the end the good guys “win” by vaporizing Thanos and his thousands (millions?) of evil helpers. The outcome for civilization is vague but it seems technology solved the overshoot problem by providing more stuff so everyone had plenty. There was no tying up of loose ends to explain why Thanos’ all powerful technology could not have done the same.
Sadly, two of the heroes are killed in the final fight, but we are promptly and explicitly informed that their spirits live on, and that they know their sacrifices were not in vain.
I skimmed a few fan forums that debate the plot and motives of Thanos. As you might expect there was lots of heat and noise.
Fortunately, one of our most respected and well known scientists, Neil deGrasse Tyson, stepped up with a tweet to comfort the world that brilliant physicists think we’ll be just fine as long as we push on to Mars:
It’s a reasonable assumption that popular movies reflect the current zeitgeist of our culture and I observed the following:
- The fact that the Avengers explicitly discussed the perils of overshoot suggests that many people must be thinking, at least subconsciously, about our predicament.
- Which role was assigned to the bad guys, and which to the good guys, demonstrates how exactly wrong our culture is about reality.
- The movie’s finale demonstrated once again how strongly our species denies death.
- Neil deGrasse Tyson demonstrates that our best and brightest deny reality as strongly as the common man.
In a similar vein, a top grossing movie of 2014, Kingsman: The Secret Service, is a Tarantino’ish version of James Bond whose bad guy understands that the only way to address climate change is to rapidly reduce the population. The wrong guys win again in this movie.
The 2013 TV show Utopia, was cancelled after only 2 seasons, perhaps because it had a little too much reality.
50 thoughts on “On the Avengers and Denial”
It turns out that all you really need to do to reduce the population is give women a choice about bearing children, and offer them employment. Distract men with Internet porn. Capitalism drives wages down, work becomes mandatory, child-care unaffordable, and soon reproduction rates fall below replacement. It took a few decades, but the trend is so clear that the next big crisis (so they tell us) is the forecast collapse of pension funds due to the shrinking pool of taxable workers.
That’s no panacea because the “all you really need to do” part requires burning diminishing fossil fuels and being capable of modernity that some cultures can’t achieve. They’ve had as much time as anyone to do it and they keep squandering aid thrown at them. It has to be an innate thing they can sustain without meddling.
Population growth momentum also assures continuing environmental damage for many decades, especially with “clean energy” schemes ruining what’s left of open space. I’m far less concerned about Man’s unnatural pyramid scheme economy falling. It’ll have to shrink anyhow. Too bad people can’t do it voluntarily and prevent a lot of misery.
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It’s much much too late for a painless “empower women” strategy, or a mildly painful one-child policy.
The only humane policy that might help now is a birth lottery in which any woman wanting a child must apply for a permit, and once a year a “sustainable” number of permits will be randomly issued. For the next couple generations only about 1 in 200 woman will be permitted to have a child. Thereafter the lottery can be eliminated because the remaining few hundred million people, with their modern comfortable lifestyles, will choose to have children at a sustainable rate.
In a nutshell, a couple generations of our species need to voluntarily agree to make a sacrifice so that thousands of future generations can have modern comfortable lifestyles. The alternative, if you are an optimist, is generations of suffering arriving at a subsistence medieval lifestyle. Pessimists can easily imagine worse outcomes.
The birth lottery idea, and many more details for what it will take to retain an advanced human civilization, were developed by Jack Alpert, which you can read about here:
At least Thanos struck a chord, as you can see by looking up “Thanos was right.” But beyond the abstract, few would volunteer for his plan!
Some other films with related quandaries:
“Z.P.G.” (even with Paul Ehrlich still popular) had a plot about people rebelling against necessary birth control. “They Live” blamed consumerism on aliens, with people as hapless victims. The viral-humans speech in “The Matrix” told the truth but a virtual reality cure was deemed unacceptable. “WALL-E” was praised for its environmental message but the director oddly said it was just a subplot.
“Soylent Green” was one of the few films that stayed on topic, and needs a sequel. The “…nobody cares!” scene in “Silent Running” was spot-on about human apathy.
Regarding Neil deGrasse Tyson: He also perpetuated denial about energy sprawl, claiming “Unlike solar collectors, wind farms take up very little land, and none at all, if offshore, where the winds are strongest.” (Cosmos episode 12). Imagine looking at millions of skyscrapers and pretending to only see their basements, or thinking the mere fact of putting huge machine arrays on water nullifies their impact.
He also failed to mention that we can put solar panels on existing buildings, and his whole Cosmos series made no mention of nuclear as a sprawl-stopper.
most people are either in
stage 1 (denial) or
stage 3 (bargaining)
which is where degresse’s “solar and wind will save us” nonsense comes from.
hint: “renewables” are not renewable… and technology is no savior.
You are right. An honest accounting of the energy used to manufacture, install, maintain, replace every 25 years, and compensate for the intermittency of renewables would show that they are helping us burn up our much more valuable non-renewable energy faster, and therefore renewables are adding to the CO2 fire, rather than displacing the fire.
Renewable energy does contribute to economic growth, which we need to keep our mountain of debt (and economy) from collapsing, makes us feel like we are doing something good, and gives us an excuse not to change our lifestyles.
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You must also wince whenever some toe-deep environmentalist chants “100% Renewable Energy!” or uses the hashtag #RE100. Can’t these people lift a finger to run the math?
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Thank you False Progress for the movie tips. I had not heard of Z.P.G. and will check it out.
LOL! Rotten Tomatoes has only one critic review: “The film was so forgettable that, for me, at least, the picketers outside the theater did more to harm Z.P.G.’s image than the movie inside.”
I’m still going to watch it. 🙂
I started watching it many years ago and can’t recall if it was good. I must have started skimming when the plot became obvious. It could deserve a 2nd chance. “Children of Men” also made me think of VHEMT more than anything!
Disclaimer: One kid here, and not a nihilist. Just tired of seeing nature ruined by sheer numbers of people and machines.
Thanks, Rob… excellent and right on the mark, as usual.
You might appreciate my essay on this topic: “The Avengers Won the War, But Lost the Argument: How Our Heroes Doom Our Future” https://abeautifulresistance.org/site/2019/5/8/the-avengers-won-the-war-but-lost-the-argument
Your essay is excellent. Well done!
You present many facts and wise conclusions, such as the following paragraphs, and yet the vast majority of citizens who read it will reject it outright, without meaningful debate, despite having the brain power to comprehend and fact check your message. This is why I am so fascinated by our genetic tendency to deny unpleasant realities.
Celebrity physicists seem to have a problem with the concepts of finite and infinite, in fact, their core ideas are based on the observations and theories of the finite” known” universe that has no knowledge of the remaining infinite unknown universe. Why? first, because the remaining infinite universe and its laws may be beyond human detection or comprehension, and secondly – physicists either ignore or do not fully understand the meaning and implications of infinity itself.
Describing infinity metaphorically aids us in understanding how modern physicists are locked into a paradox similar to the infamous Greek philosopher – Zeno. – that leads to these failures. Consider if all the time since the Big Bang (alleged start of time) to this moment was just a single drop of water in a 12-ounce glass of billions of water drops – and then the glass is poured into the planet’s oceans to be mixed with a finite – but undefinable mix of untold mega-billions of ocean water drops. Picturing this tells us that our little water drop of time and observations would be of no relevance in the ocean’s immeasurable water drops of time.
Thus through this metaphor, we get a slight glimpse of understanding into what is meant by the infinity of anything, (time, data, energy, materials) and thus for physicists to draw conclusions based on just one small drop of time segregated from the vast ocean of time is not statistically sound nor conclusive in any way because the sample size is just too small to be utterly meaningful about any theory or hypothesis.
Which then boils down to that old quote-
“There are the known knowns,
The known, unknowns,
The unknown, knowns,
And most importantly -the unknown, unknowns…”
For these reasons I give little credence to such celebrity thinkers, and moreover because they cannot further comprehend or acknowledge the urgency of our situation – in that you cannot have infinite growth in a finite context – as our little drops (resources, climate, time ,etc.) in the ocean are not just a mere academic abstractions, but we are truly exponentially running out of these drops.
Thus the existential price of their celebrity failings is surely not just unacceptable but it is an unprecedented and undefinable human atrocity.
Some wise person whose name escapes me said something like:
“To understand a man’s beliefs you must look at how he makes a living.”
Neil deGrasse Tyson is a celebrity scientist making lots of money. Dennis Meadows is not.
Shit may be getting real.
N95 masks sold out over 3 days ago in my small lower-risk town, and n/a on Amazon.
I’ve followed these guys for a long time and trust them for on the ground insights into China.
This was an interesting read I thought you might like Rob
He didn’t mention varki though.
Thank you. I agree with the author that beliefs are strongly influenced by your tribe. But I don’t think this is the whole nor the most important part of the story.
Take climate change for example. The right tends to deny and the left tends to accept the reality of climate change. But here’s the key point, neither tribe accepts the reality of what it would actually take to do something about it, and neither tribe is willing to reduce their lifestyles in any meaningful way.
Or take wealth and inequality. The right favors less government and is less concerned about inequality. The left favors more government and prefers less inequality. But both tribes make economic growth a top priority, neither acknowledges the reality of limits to growth, and neither is willing to make do with less.
Or take population. The left tends to favor empowering woman to make responsible family planning choices. The right tends to encourage fecund families. But neither tribe acknowledges the severity of our overshoot predicament, let alone the policies required to reduce our population quickly.
You can find a tribe for almost every belief. Except one. There is no substantial tribe that accepts the reality of human overshoot and that supports the policies necessary to do something about it. Why? Because these beliefs conflict with core behaviors evolved over billions of years.
Humans simultaneously evolved an extended theory of mind that denies unpleasant realities which enabled our uniquely powerful intelligence to emerge and dominate the planet. Our genes’ core behaviors, in the presence of temporarily abundant resources, as we enjoy today, results in overshoot. Our denial prevents our intelligence from being used to override our genes’ behavior, and our intelligence could not exist without denial.
Viewed from the perspective of the universe this all makes sense. Life exists to accelerate the reduction of energy gradients. If a one-time windfall of energy exists then life will expand to use it as quickly as possible, and then contract when it’s gone.
I must say, however, that I still find it sad and hard to accept that we are unable to break through denial and use our amazing intelligence to preserve more of the earth’s diversity of life, and to retain some of the best human accomplishments, and to reduce future suffering for a lot of species including our own.
Thanks for the reply. I’ve certainly found it easier dealing with people in denial (and recognising my own denial) since stumbling across your website and then reading Varki’s book. It really has helped me come to accept the way the world is.
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A little troubling, and a glimpse of our future, that Chris Martenson was labelled a conspiracy theorist and deleted off Wikipedia for YouTubing about the virus.
He’s seen as drumming up fear because the word “coronavirus” is only new to the public as a direct designation, not something fundamentally different from SARS-CoV (2002) and MERS-CoV (2012). Both were controlled by the same strategies in play now.
If this were a radically different virus I’d be more concerned. It’s noted that plain old flu kills far more people in similar time-frames (typically the old) but many still don’t bother with vaccines. Risk perception is a strange thing and skews toward the unfamiliar.
Maybe. Not enough good data to know yet. I hope you are right.
Michael Dowd interviews Paul Chefurka who is a great and wise thinker.
Here are some of my favorites by Chefurka.
I could relate to his life journey which entailed putting together all the pieces that make sense of how our world is put together, grappling with that reality and then finding some peace with it. My wife died 15 years ago and it taught me a lot about death and grief but also about what connectedness and love are all about. Paul’s such a humble and thoughtful person.
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Tim Watkins is good today.
Nice essay today by Charles Hugh Smith on genetic reality denial except he doesn’t know that’s what he’s writing about. Same phenomenon as people flying to COP conferences to protest fossil energy use.
It’s easy to mistake conspiracies for denial.
h/t James @ Megacancer.com
Good interview on aging by Chris Kresser, a health expert I trust.
Steve Ludlum explains that the crevasse we can survive in is narrowing. Today $60 is too low and $75 is too high.
Another example of how reality denial has (temporarily) inverted what should be true.
The health of the economy is now inversely proportional to stock prices. A virus shuts down the world’s factories? No problem. Everyone knows central banks in response will print more money and buy more stocks so everyone buys stocks on every bad news story, often by borrowing money, because it’s so cheap.
What could possibly go wrong? And the idiots in the mainstream media will report no one saw the “correction” coming.
Federal Reserve Socialism has many short-term benefits.
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Socialism haters want free markets unless that means lower stock prices.
Don’t try this without diesel kids.
Two months later the mainstream media begins to pile on. Here is Ambrose Evans-Pritchard with a summary of the economic impacts of the virus. h/t Panopticon
A good (but too optimistic) comparison of diesel and battery powered trucks.
Recall that optimism = denial.
Steve St. Angelo explains that we’re burning the cheap stuff way faster than we’re finding it, and the remaining expensive stuff can’t generate enough growth to keep debt cheap enough to keep the money losing expensive stuff flowing.
Can you spot the self-reinforcing feedback loop?
Inquiring minds wonder how long the expensive stuff can be forced to flow if governments nationalize the oil industry after it goes broke? And what will happen to purchasing power when printed money is used to subsidize a huge unprofitable industry? And how will a suburbia suburban owner with a 40 mile commute and no public transit options react when they’re at the bottom of the priority list for gasoline rations?
So many questions and so few people thinking about them thanks to genetic reality denial.
Alice Friedemann summarizes the latest signs of peak oil and decline.
Meanwhile the idiots that lead us and the media that inform us deny all of it.
Nothing is more important to our future than affordable fossil energy, with the possible exception of climate change, an honest assessment of which they also deny. It’s head shaking amazing.
The following comment is by JT Roberts. When he/she writes, I read.
Iñigo Capellán-Pérez et. al. – Dynamic Energy Return on Energy Investment (EROI) and material requirements in scenarios of global transition to renewable energies
Good interview of Charles Hall today by Sam Mitchell.
Ecologists and climate scientists who think that education is the key to positive change, deny reality as strongly as the citizens they want to educate.
Nevertheless Hall’s still one of the good guys.
Dr. John Campbell explains the latest COVID-19 statistics and concludes we would be prudent to assume it will be everywhere soon.
Pay attention to what they do, not what they say. 760 million people are quarantined in China.
My plan is to stay home.
The New York Times on the economic collapse of Venezuela. Several times they mention that Venezuela has the world’s largest reserves of oil. Not once do they mention that their high cost of oil extraction exceeds what the global economy can afford to pay and still grow. Nor do they question why Venezuela’s abundant hydro electricity, by far the best type of renewable energy, is not powering them to prosperity.
Once again the most important things to discuss are the only things that are not discussed. It’s amazing.
Ilargi with a nice summary of what we know about the coronavirus and the idiots in charge.
Nice rant today by Mac10…
Talking of collapse themes in popular culture I am convinced that Game of Thrones was saturated in them. It was sold as a fast moving power struggle fantasy drama with surprising plot twists and quite a bit of the old how’s your father (not that that’s of much interest to a man of my advanced years).
It was all of these things but as became increasingly clear over the series there were less obvious themes playing out. The power of fossil fuels and what they enable and what happens when they go, infrastructure collapse, climate change and the resulting migrations, incurable diseases, the absolute power of the central banks, diminishing returns on mineral deposits and the wars that result (I’m sure that there were more) all wrapped up in a big blanket of denial.
I’ve not been able to bring myself to watch (must toughen up) the final series as apparently it has a surprisingly happy ending. It was not written by the original author. I don’t know why. Perhaps he couldn’t deal with what seemed to be the inevitable arc of the story? Anyway the product must get made.
On another subject, and I would have thought as a Canadian of more direct interest to you, do you remember a couple of months ago when the Iranians shot down that Ukrainian plane. If I remember correctly many of the passengers were Canadian citizens of Iranian descent. Thinking about the Iranian Covid 19 outbreak I wonder how many of those flights there have been recently. I agree we’re getting better info from John Campbell (and Chris Martenson) than any other source.
Anyway take care and thanks for continuing with the righteous fight against denial.
Hi Mick, thanks for stopping by.
I’ve not yet watched Game of Thrones. It’s interesting and can’t be a coincidence that the top movie and the top TV series both have overshoot themes. I suspect that billions of years of evolution exposed to periodic scarcity bottlenecks has given our genes the ability to sense trouble.
It would be interesting to compare common movie and TV themes from the 50’s and 60’s when climate change, peak oil, species extinction, and runaway debt were not yet things to worry about.
With regards to the virus, here in British Columbia most everyone I talk to says “it’s no worse than the flu”. Seems our idiot officials have been successful at reinforcing denial. They should have shut down Vancouver airport to Asia a month ago, but they didn’t. Shame on them. There are now 7 cases confirmed in B.C.
I screen capped this from Chris Martenson’s YouTube video yesterday…
With health and social unrest stories drawing our attention it is easy to forget that the climate is spinning out of control.
If you’re looking for a good place to stay grounded in climate reality, my friend Panopticon publishes a daily summary of global climate weirdness.
Panopticon in 2012 encouraged me to create this blog and write with my real name. I chuckle that he created his blog a few years later using a pseudonym.
Dr. John Campbell explains that the WHO (World Health Organization) is a perfect example of reality denial.
Those of us who have followed this outbreak from the beginning know that the WHO is primarily concerned with protecting their high paying comfortable jobs by telling our leaders what they want to hear, but is NOT concerned about public health.
Isn’t it amazing that genetic reality denial can cause a health organization to disregard health?
Ilargi today also focuses on virus denial.
This is a fascinating discussion of the repo market problems by some intelligent financial analysts who work near the epicenter. Pay attention to the wide array of fancy terminology they use for printing money without ever saying “printing money”. Not one of these rocket scientists understands what caused the problem, and not one of them understands the relationships between energy, wealth, growth, and debt. The monkeys in charge don’t know what they are doing.
Helicopter money begins. h/t Panopticon.