Imagine your city dies out of starvation. Try to meditate on that a bit. In that place, everybody you loved, everybody you knew and everybody you ever heard of, no more. Adding salt to your wounds, you knew this was certain, and a possible solution that would’ve probably saved the fate of at least some of your people was on your mind too. Nevertheless, your own people reject your idea by calling you mad and insane. You escape with some of your friends who agree with you, however, your world is no more. So, what do you do next? You hope no one else has the same fate your world had. Welcome to the World of Thanos.
Everybody likes to be the hero. Thanos, the man who murdered half of life in the universe (at least for now) believes he’s a hero or at least a martyr. He thinks he’s saving half of life by killing the other fifty-percent because according to his theory, the alternative is much worse resulting in the death of all life in the universe. His diabolical yet good-hearted idea was rejected by his own people. When I came out of the theatre, I didn’t walk-out thinking Thanos was demonic or evil. He was neither resentful nor vengeful. He didn’t hate humanity. Moreover, it was the contrary. He loved humanity, and life itself. The latter, a bit more. He probably liked the way birds sang, the way children laughed, the way men fought for what’s right, and he knew how to love.
When there’s no other way, if it meant for you to sacrifice half of life to at least save the other, wouldn’t you do it too? I thought I definitely would. However, this is where it gets complex. A variety of his actions were absolutely reprehensible and downright unethical. Most of all, killing Gamora. I think that was the most profound scene in the whole movie and I believe most people would’ve felt it too.
Would you kill your own daughter(or somebody else, whom you love the most) if it meant that you’re saving the universe? This question tore me apart because we had a similar scenario on our planet not too long ago.
An Ordinary Man in Nazi Germany
It was during the Second World War in Nazi Germany. Ha! It was all Hitler’s fault! It turns out it wasn’t. It’s much worse.
Nazi Germany was one of the most educated countries and had the best educational institutions the world offered. So, the people of Nazi Germany weren’t illiterates nor unaware of their wicked actions. They weren’t trolls. Almost all the horrific acts were carried out by ‘Ordinary’ men and women, like you and me. The differences between someone reading this and them is simply trivial. So, what could make a normal person, such as you or anybody around you, shoot naked pregnant women in the open fields? It’s a tough question but more than that, it is a rough one. The answer seems to be usually a variant of the below.
If you protest to what the Führer says, you die. Not just you, but also your whole family or anybody close to you (This was also a threat in Communist Russia, by the way). In this scenario, the deed wasn’t done by fellow ordinary men but by absolute, brute monsters who genuinely liked their job. If you can imagine a little bit, they never just killed anybody. Their psyche was equipped with precision to cause the utmost suffering a human being can endure both physically and mentally. They had the ability and the will to create your worst nightmare. I’ll leave the rest to your imagination. The other reason why some people didn’t want to leave their post though they had the option was that they were unwilling to leave their friends alone. Yup, that happened.
The alternative to this was, killing the Jews and going home at the end of the day.
“I fear that we live in a world in which war and racism are ubiquitous, in which the powers of government mobilization and legitimization are powerful and increasing, in which a sense of personal responsibility is increasingly attenuated by specialization and bureaucratization, and in which the peer group exerts tremendous pressures on behavior and sets moral norms. In such a world, I fear, modern governments that wish to commit mass murder will seldom fail in their efforts for being unable to induce “ordinary men” to become their “willing executioners.“- Christopher Browning, writer of ‘Ordinary Men: Reserve Police Battalion 101’
Now, looking at these odds, it isn’t too obvious that a person in this turmoil would choose to save the life of a random 15-year-old Jewish girl named Anne Frank. Not surprisingly, an overwhelming majority, almost all of the population complied (by complied I mean, to not protest by action, and choose what is expedient) with the Führer’s ideas. This might surprise you but the odds are in favour of you being a perpetrator instead of the hero if you were a citizen of Nazi Germany, considering 99% of the German population were unwilling to act against the Führer though they didn’t like him at all.
One probable cause of this would be because of a lack of objective/universal moral truths instead of relative moral truths. A universal moral truth would be – you don’t kill people unjustly no matter what, and you kill only when they voluntarily point a gun at you. A relative moral truth would be what happened in Germany – They threaten me, therefore, I shoot to save myself and the people around me. If everybody had picked the universal moral truth road, history would’ve been different in Germany. Men like Hitler would’ve had no chance of corrupting the people. So, how do you know what is a universal moral truth and how many are there? We’ll try talking about that, no one really knows the answer to those questions but in some sense, it is intrinsic and is known by every human being. It’s in your conscience as long as you don’t do enough things against its will.
This is partly why I think we need to know who the ideal person is. To know how to act when existence itself goes against you and face it with your shoulders back and back straight.
So, what would an Ideal Person do in such perplexing situations? It’s tough to answer for a wide-range of reasons. But, then again, that’s why we have movies and books. Down below, I’ve picked a character who could help figure out the characteristics that could comprise an ideal person.
Maximus Decimus Meridius
No, those are not three people. I’d 10/10 recommend anybody to watch the movie, Gladiator. I don’t think people love this movie for the VFX or the great battle scenes, they love it because of the man Maximus is. Maximus in Gladiator (2000), is arguably the most ideal character to have been portrayed in the theatres. Maximus is a Roman, the Commander of the Armies of the North and the General of the Felix Legions. Let’s break his characteristics down.
You cannot help but respect a person who’s exceptionally good at something even if that person has other parts of their life in entanglement (reminds me of Dr. House). Maximus is exceptional at his job. You can tell that he’s been working his back off since he was a youngster by just watching him slay the barbarians, definitely high on conscientiousness. He’s the kind of general that goes to the frontline with his men. Maximus’ men irrevocably respect him for this. At one point in the story, Maximus loses everything he had, except himself. Among other traits, his skills play a pivotal role in reaching his goals. High-level of competence helps a person to get into chaos with less neuroticism and a higher probability of success.
Morality becomes virtue-signaling if this trait is lacking completely.