Consider the following excerpts from Orthodoxy by G. K. Chesterton:
The madman’s explanation of a thing is always complete, and often in a purely rational sense satisfactory.
Now, speaking quite externally and empirically, we may say that the strongest and most unmistakable MARK of madness is this combination between a logical completeness and a spiritual contraction.
Such is the madman of experience; he is commonly a reasoner, frequently a successful reasoner.
The madman is the man who has lost everything excepts his reason.
Thanos, the brainchild of Jim Starlin in the Marvel comics and in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, is the personification of these ideas about madness. He is a nuanced madman: cruel with a twisted sense of compassion, a logical thinker who reaches intellectually compelling yet abhorrent conclusions. He is not irrational; he is rational – make that super rational. This was demonstrated in Avengers: Infinity War (2018 from Disney Marvel, directed by Anthony Russo and Joe Russo), and it was perhaps the aspect of the movie with which I was most impressed.
I have often heard the phrase, “that’s subjective,” stated to refute opinions and arguments. The simplistic implication of this is that objective thinking is right and that subjective thinking is wrong. This is misleading. Taken alone, each of them is wrong. Objectivity places some very necessary constraints on subjectivity while subjectivity informs objectivity. Objectivity relies on logic, and the potential weakness of logic is that it must be based on a premise. If the premise is wrong, logic, even perfect logic, built upon this foundation can produce atrocities.
Hitler and his minions demonstrated this with their Final Solution. The Holocaust was the creative, logical product of one of the most advanced scientific civilizations of its time. The destruction by Thanos of 50 percent of an interplanetary population is a final solution writ large. The justification: overpopulation, suffering, and ecological imbalance (solved very logically by mercy killing on an incomprehensible scale). A big picture which ignores individuals is the product of ignorant objectivity uninformed by a subjective understanding of the worth of an individual. Such numerical morality plagues policy making in real life as well as in fantasy.
Subjectivity informs the premise on which logic is based, and to ignore this is madness. I look forward to this week’s release of Avengers: Endgame.