Psycho-Pass 02 – Decisions and Consequences

A world where your thoughts, attitudes and abilities can be measured and quantified, thus determining your entire life style will create a highly stratified and structured society. In doing so it is also arguably creating distinct and potentially destructive social divisions, and with no ability to move up and change your current way of life, what might be dissatisfaction can become destructive and dangerous. These similar ideas are present in numerous cyber-punk anime, not least Akira, where the highly stratified society leads to protests and social disorder on a large scale. Such are further present in real life, with protests against government plans and attitudes towards where ones place in society are. Akira, and now Psycho-Pass mirrors this with the use of their various systems and bodies in order to police the spaces between these distinct areas of society, looking out for those who have finally snapped.

Although in the case of Akira it is a mirroring of the student protests in 1960/1968-1970 that were sparked largely by students dissatisfaction with the governments attitudes towards American military bases. Such attitudes and ideas continue to resonate with us today as society continues to become ever more stratified although we have yet to gain a similar system to Sibyl. In Psycho-Pass, your aptitude for certain jobs, along with your overall scores has absolute authority over your career path – there is longer any question about choosing what you want to do, instead it is laid out before you. In this sort of society, Akane is an anomaly, someone who could, and arguably is a member of the elite, with the best scores necessary to work in all of the top jobs.

And yet, she chooses to work in the Public Safety Bureau, somewhere that doesn’t have the prestige as other companies or public bodies. What is important however is that she made a distinct and conscious choice, but at the same time, it was one that she could only make because of her overwhelming score and ability at the jobs, at least according to Sibyl. When talking to her friends it becomes clear that despite going to school together, they have had very few choices in life, being forced to work in lower paid jobs because of their overall scores and aptitude tests. Her attitude towards her job, along with questioning whether she should even be working there causes a certain amount of anger, or possibly annoyance in her friends. That she can even question her current career path, while also musing about what she wants to do with her life is alien to them, and arguably to many others in society.

This demonstrates how stratified and in some cases segregated the society in Psycho-Pass is, with those who have the ability freely moving from one career to another, safe in the knowledge that they have the ability to change at a moments notice. Akane’s worries, while seemingly normal to many are therefore entirely abnormal and perhaps unheard of for the vast majority of the population. If we look at the cyber-punk setting, along with the dystopian elements and the martial-law style law code we can see that Akane is naïve and also rather innocent. Akane’s naivety about the world that she lives helps to provide a particularly interesting view of the Psycho-Pass system that is in opposition to the vast majority of the cast. Whereas others are stuck in their jobs and in many respects may become bitter, resenting the world and the system that has stuck them there, Akane offers us a different perspective. She is coming in, not only as an idealist, but also as someone who partly rejects the system.

She has yet to be ground down, or possibly corrupted by the people that work within the Public Safety Bureau, while also demonstrating that with a little thought the system that governs life and death can be questioned. On the other hand, her innocence, along with her choice of career annoy certain characters, especially when she begins to question her current choice, along with musing about what her place in life really is. In a society where you essentially do what you are told, Akane makes a conscious choice to join the Public Safety Bureau, suggesting that it is because the other jobs had others like her, whereas there was no one interested in her current job. She wants to think that because no one else got an A rank for the Public Safety Bureau that there is something only she can do by working there. At the same time, she wants to find a purpose for life in a society that simply delegates what you should do rather than allowing conscious and informed decisions to be made.

Such a simple statement does however come with a lot of problems, not least when talking to someone who has no free will and in order to stay alive must continue to obey orders regardless of what they truly think. Shuusei points out that he has no idea what she is talking about and could never really understand someone who can happily choose her life style, while also agonising over her current choices. As an Enforcer and a confirmed Latent Criminal he has no freewill, and in order to continue to exist must obey the draconian rules of the Public Safety Bureau. To him, assassinations and works as an Enforcer because the only other option would be staying in an isolation facility to live his life in confinement. Even Tomomi tells Akane that in reality her job is to simply make sure that the Enforcers don’t go overboard and let them to the dirty work.

This just shows us how entrenched the system has become, with people merely going along with what they are told they should do. In such a highly stratified system where there is no real freedom for choice it is hardly surprising that stress becomes contagious, effectively damaging our chances for a peaceful life. At the same time, the system becomes self-fulfilling, with those who are flagged as Latent Criminals turning into them simply because their conditions and way of living changes. The Enforcers for example are all Latent Criminals and cannot go out without a CID Inspector, but, by enforcing the law and carrying out assassinations according to Sibyl’s readings, their psycho-pass becomes ever more clouded. On the other hand, the presence of characters like Shuusei, Tomomi, Yayoi and Kugami demonstrates that when necessary those who are considered to be criminally minded will be used rather than sent to rehabilitation. Not only does it underline the curious and arguably flawed logic that the psycho-pass works under, but it also helps to highlight how psycho-pass levels are largely ignored when convenient.

Akane’s decision to shoot Kougami in order to save the rape victim was clearly the right choice, and while others may disagree with her, she was thinking in a far clearer way than any of the other Inspectors or Enforcers. We are shown and told how the rape victim was responding well to treatment, along with being told that her psycho-pass levels were artificially elevate due to the stress of the situation. This helps to demonstrate how flawed the Sibyl system is, along with how dangerous the unthinking attitude of those who enforce it can be. If she hadn’t have stopped Kougami, he would have pulled the trigger and killed the victim, even though she was clearly innocent and could be helped. He confesses to Akane that the behaviour of a ‘hunting dog’ has been ingrained within his hand and his mind to the point where he will mindlessly follow the instructions of the Dominator.

The fact that those who are supposed to enforce the law simply follow the will of a computer demonstrates that they are more like robots than human beings. They lack a will or thought process of their own; although this is partly because the system does not allow for individual thought unless you are like Akane and considered an elite. Everyone adheres to the will of the system, because in their mind to do so allows them to continue living – by going against the system they believe will bring only pain and destruction. However, because of this attitude they no longer think about the possibility of innocence (assuming they even thought about that to begin with), and it is quite possible that many victims of the psycho-pass system were completely innocent and could have got on with their lives. Akane’s presence in the Public Security Bureau appears to have made some sort of impact however, with Kougami beginning to think about whom he is and why he continues to fight. He clearly has unfinished business, but he has now begun to think about his actions and how he has effectively become an unthinking robot that merely caries out the will of Sibyl and the Dominator.

Also, by saving the rape victim, Akane has demonstrated quite clearly that readings can change and that the context within which the psycho-pass reading increases is incredibly important. It may be a small change, but it is incredibly important within that specific department, with Akane’s actions and attitude affecting those around her (although how much is yet to be decided). At the same time, Akane’s ability to think about her future, along with partly questioning the current system and way things are done demonstrates the problematic nature of the society itself. That asking such fundamental and arguably simple questions can be so alien, and dangerous to many further demonstrates the flawed nature of the psycho-pass system. This would never have happened were it not for her naïve and innocent nature – while a character like Kougami might give us a warped and darker view on society, Akane’s innocence gives us the closet thing to an outsiders perspective on this society and culture.

About illogicalzen
An Illogical anime fan in a very Zen-like way.

7 Responses to Psycho-Pass 02 – Decisions and Consequences

  1. windyturnip says:

    That’s quite the post. So far, I’ve really enjoyed comparing our justice system to theirs so I’ll stick with that topic.

    At the end of your post, you criticize the enforcers for blindly following the will of Sibyl. Our justice system might not have a master computer, but collectivism is essential to its operation. Individual thought is important at points, but it is eventually drowned out by the rule of law and trial by jury. Similar to Akane’s position, the supreme court, the elite of the judicial branch, is the only authority with any sort of significant influence. Even at the top of the hierarchy, the supreme court is severely limited by the constitution.

    Our legal system also has flaws which are ignored for the greater good. Most people adhere to the status quo because it provides a sort of stability. We will actively avoid bettering the system if it means we can avoid the chance of worsening it. This same approach is taken by the enforcers who have found that following orders is the best option they have to maintain their current positions.

    • illogicalzen says:

      While you make a valid point i dont entirely agree with you with regards to following orders for the greater good. Psycho-Pass takes the idea of crime prevention from Phillip K. Dick’s The Minority Report in many respects, and it also suffers from similar flaws. In The Minority Report, Precrime, as the name would suggest, is a way of stopping crime before it has happened – however, over the course of the story we begin to see through the eyes of John Anderson that the system itself is fundamentally flawed. The problem is that each precog generates a Minority Report, and the two reports that overlap the most create a Majority Report which is then used to determine future crimes. The problem is that the reports can differ tremendously, but there is enough overlap for the system to create a crime. In this respect the entire system is flawed and we see that very often the path of least resistance is used, thus resulting in crimes being ‘prevented’. The question that this system, much like the psycho-pass system brings up is whether or not there is any real justification in deciding that people are driminals based off of a system that is inherently flawed and effectively abused in order to maintain the Precrime goals.

      I criticise the Enforcers for blindly following the system because that is what they do. As Kougami points out, he simply listens to the voice in the Dominator and pulls the trigger, without any thought about innocence or guilt. As Akane has already demonstrated, the system cannot be fully trusted, and by simply offering some kind words and reassurance she was able to reduce the victims level from one that would result in death to one where she can now go through therapy and return to ‘normal’. By becoming unthinking ‘puppets’, the Enforcers, and also the detectives are not really carrying out anything other than the will of a system that cannot understand the intricacies of human emotions and the context within which crimes are committed. It may claim it can, but the numbers that we see, along with the colour seems rather arbitrary to me. On the other hand there are reasons why the Enforcers do what they do – if they weren’t Enforcers, they would likely be locked up with no possibility of being released. So while I criticise them, there are still clear reasons for their actions.

      With regards to the way the current law system works (I am assuming the American law system here), that in itself is flawed – Phillip K. Dick is arguably showing us that any system where people are automatically seen as guilty until proven innocent is flawed and destructive. Yes, people may adhere to the status quo, but by not even questioning it you end up with a system that offers no safety for anyone other than those with money and power. There are clear parallels between Phillip K. Dick works, Psycho-Pass and various law systems, although obviously they arent quite as extreme, but they are equally as flawed and destructive.

  2. s2012k1993 says:

    Hey! I found your blog on AnimeNano and find it thought-provoking. I actually view the Psycho-Pass system favorably, and its misgivings much more subtle than a simple enumerating mental states and stratifying society. Let’s not discuss my epistemology, but rather how one can go about defending the Psycho-Pass system.

    I interpreted the Psycho-Pass system as something that quantifies one’s propensity to kill another. Unlike the Minority Report, Psycho-Pass system doesn’t predict the future, but rather given the situation, it quantifies one’s chances of pulling the trigger. Because the system is using probabilities based on one’s mental state at a given moment to judge its actions, I don’t think it’s any different from a police officer shooting a civilian because the civilian is considered sufficiently dangerous (e.g. attacked another). At least in the Psycho-Pass’s case, we have no human biases interfering with the judgment and because it can quantify human mental state real time, it’s much more objective.

    Why is it that the rape victim didn’t shoot and was eventually saved? Since we are dealing with probabilities, one can never be 100% sure. It may have been a very specific action, Akane’s shooting of Kougami, that triggered a change in the rape victim’s mental state. The system’s flaw, therein, lies in its inability to calculate how one goes about changing another’s mental state and instead defaulting to kill. Of course, we still don’t know much about the Psycho-Pass (e.g. if Kougami was about to kill the rape victim, why didn’t Akane’s dominator kill him?), but I think it’s unfair to call it flawed without defending it properly.

    • illogicalzen says:

      While you make some interesting points I would still disagree with them because you are trying to turn human actions and nature into something that is easily quantifiable and easily summed up in a single number. The Psycho-Pass system is fundamentally flawed because it doesn’t take into consideration the subtitles of human emotion and actions. By trying to quantify human emotions and feelings it white washes the whole concept of context and why such emotions or feelings have arisen in the individual. I dont think that any system such as this can truly understand why humans change, and in many respects it is a crude tool used to keep the population from rising up and starting a revolution of some sort. Furthermore, the idea that it is no different from a police officer shooting a civilian who is considered dangerous, is in itself also flawed – largely because such a system is also brutal and arguably shouldn’t exist either.

      In terms of the rape victim, it is quite obvious that the current change of situation, with Akane offering kind words of help and advice changed her outlook of life and calmed her down. This sort of change is far too subtle for the Psycho-Pass system to truly understand because it tries to quantify something that cannot really be quantified. The change in her mental state had begun before Kougami was going to shoot her, and before Akane shot him, however, because of the way the system works with numbers and readings this change was never read and without Akane saving her she would have been killed for no reason. In terms of Kougami being knocked out, it seems fairly simple that because he was following the orders of the system through his dominator he was not considered to be a threat and therefore only justifies him being knocked out, rather than extermination. This in itself demonstrates another flaw of the system, if they allow those who are considered to be dangerous to walk around with the guns in order to bring down other criminals, then we are seeing a system of double standards, one that is happily changed, or bent to the wil of those in power.

      It is not a case of human bias, rather human judgement and thought processes – this makes decisions involving crime and criminals subjective, and actually allows for a degree of subtly that any sort of system such as psycho-pass or minority report lack. You cannot have an objective system because in many respects objectivity does not exist, especially in the case of dealing with crime or criminals. The system takes away all forms of human subtitles, not least in the case of those who enforce it – but simply following the orders of a gun they are in effect trying to take away every element of human interaction in the decision making. At the same time it clearly cannot quantify human state because of the subtle changes that humans go through on a daily basis are not picked up by the system or used in its decision making. I make comparisons between this and Phillip K. Dick works because they are exploring similar themes. Human emotions and involvement in decision making is essential, once you take that away you effectively destroy the system and turn it into something that oppresses rather than helps.

      I call the system flawed because it is, at a fundamental level, a system that assigns what are arguably arbitrary numbers to thought proceses that cannot be easily quantified, if at all. While it does not predict the future like the Minority Report system does, it suffers from similar issues in terms of how the system is used to create criminals that arguably wouldn’t have existed where it not for the system itself. Many become criminals because the system says so, and if they run their reading gets increasingly higher – they are chased into a corner and become dangerous because the system creates them as such. Who is to say that their elevated reading was not because of something simple such as feeling ill or having a lot of work? Does this justify the response that the Psycho-Pass system asks for? Absolutely not, and because of this we see a system that far from stopping criminals actively creates them in order to justify its existence – although obviously we have yet to truly understand whether Sibyl is sentient or merely a computer programme.

  3. s2012k1993 says:

    Before I start babbling, I want to make one point clear, something I initially forgot as well. The dominator has two settings: one paralyzes the convict because of her propensity to kill, the other kills the convict because she cannot be rehabilitated. I want to talk about the paralyzing aspect, not the killing aspect, because the killing aspect depends on rehabilitation, a concept the series hasn’t explained yet.

    It seems to me that you do believe that there is something inherently subjective about crime; therefore, we cannot objectively convict another person of a crime–the PP system cannot go around stunning people before they commit crimes because of their mental states. Then I have to ask of you, why does our justice system have a set of laws to determine crimes from non-crimes and instead not have just a bunch of people saying what they think? I guess what I want to ask is why is understanding a convict’s thought process so important that it can somehow free her from her crime? I say actions, in this case mental states, should define (as they do in our world) criminality and not the convict’s intentions.

    • illogicalzen says:

      That is because I am suggesting that crime is subjective, all laws can change over time, or differ depending on the country and belief system in that particular country. We also have to take into account how stealing to survive is a crime whereas stealing money via tax avoidance or other elements of big business is considered fine and many get away with it. It is also important to note that there is no such thing as objectivity, not really, and especially not with respect to crime. All laws are created because someone considers them necessary, and numerous laws are created in order to help the elite in society, therefore the entire system of law and order is inherently flawed. In the case of Psycho-Pass it is clear that the line between criminal and being innocent is blurred if almost nonexistent in places, with government agencies using and abusing the fuzzy edges of the system in order to maximise production while sacrificing a few.

      Your comment also shows up a flaw since you immediately think about the convict, to assume guilt unless proven innocent is flawed and destructive. We should assume innocence unti proven otherwise, not the other way around. It is essential to understand the context within which a potential crime is committed, since more often than not it will provide essential evidence about the actions and reactions of a suspect. In Psycho-Pass it is also important since we have already seen how the system essentially creates criminals i oder to justify its own existence. In the first episode for example the rape victim was treat as a criminal y the system because of he arbitrary Psycho-Pass number rising, but she hadn’t dont anything other than witness a gruesome murder and be the victim of rape. That further demonstrates the necessity of understanding the context within which a crime is committed.

      On another note, the Dominator is basically the Judge Dredd gun in all but name.

  4. Pingback: Psycho-Pass Episode 2 | Anime Commentary on the March

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