Psycho-Pass 09 – Self-Destructive Society


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While a significant chunk of this week’s Psycho-Pass was given over to our cyborg hunter and his sophistry, the most interesting element was the self-destructive nature of the Sibyl system and its impact upon society. Psycho-Pass presents a fascinating world, a vision of a dystopian society within which your every thought can be tracked and quantified. It presents us with a highly stratified and controlled society where simple test scores can determine where you work and what your life will be like. A world where your thoughts, attitudes and abilities can be measure and quantified, thus determining your entire life, will create a highly stratified and structured society. In doing so, such a society would arguably create distinct and destructive social divisions, and with no ability to move and change your life, what might be dissatisfaction in another society can become dangerous and destructive. To be reliant on technology is one thing, but to let the technology control your life is something very different. Senguji Toyohisa makes an interesting point in his interview when he asks what the difference between a human who relies upon technology such as the costume devices or Ai secretaries and automatons and those who are full cyborg’s. At the most basic level there is little difference, with both wholly reliant on the technology to allow them to function in one way or another. On the other hand, those who have full cybernetic bodies have become utterly reliant upon their technology.

A similar issue is raised on numerous occasions in Ghost in the Shell, with the Major, Batou and Tougusa commenting on their cybernetic implants. Kusangi in particular muses on her utter reliance upon her cybernetic body and the people who can keep it serviced. Throughout the first film, and later on during the series we see numerous philosophical and practical questions raised about the continued dependence on a body that may or may not be their own. Tougusa doesn’t have to worry about these issues as much because he only has cybernetic implants rather than a full cyborg body like Kusanagi or Batou. However, his very presence within Section 9, along with his increased usage of cybernetic implants to do his job raises further questions about societies over-reliance on technology to carry out their daily routines and live a ‘normal’ life. Throughout the series and the film we begin to see how precarious society has become, and how easy it is for those who the abilities and knowledge to manipulate those in power for their own personal gains. We see through the eyes of Tougusa, Kusanagi and Batou how dangerous and ultimately damaging their society has become through the use of technology. And yet, despite their constant reservations and other philosophical and moral issues surrounding their cybernetic implants, they continue to use them. By understanding the problems that such a society must face, whole also realising that technology is not something you can simply stop using, Section 9 and capable of facing their problems and working within the boundaries that they and society set.

On the other hand, the society in Psycho-Pass appears to lack this understanding and instead goes about daily life while living within a highly stratified and in some cases, oppressive society. The Sibyl system dictates your life through the use of aptitude tests and scores, thus destroying any notion of choice. Furthermore, in order to maintain their current lifestyle it seems necessary to use stress reducing supplements and other sorts of medication in order to keep their Psycho-Pass levels low. Because of this, the society functions as a well oiled machine, while also allowing those with the knowledge and abilities to manipulate it and use its very systems for their own reasons. But, rather than understand these problems and work to redress them, those who are supposed to enforce the law appear to spend more time attempting to keep their psycho-pass levels down than solving crime. As we have seen over the course of the series, the criminals that are caught have been the weak, the slow, or the ones who have arguably been created by the very system that ultimately apprehends or destroys them. The people who facilitated their crime sprees by providing the necessary tools stay away and are never seen.

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The Public Safety Bureaus apparent inability to solve any unexplained crimes partly comes down to the emphasis placed upon Inspectors keeping a certain distance from the crime itself and allowing Enforcers to do all the work. Without any sort of teamwork it seems impossible to ever solve any real crime, however, the system itself doesn’t allow for teamwork to exist and punishes those who try. The introduction of Saiga, a clinical psychologist who, through his work with the police ultimately turned to criminal psychology neatly demonstrates the flawed nature of the current system and its inability to catch criminals. The notion that by taking his course your crime coefficient would rise suggests that the system itself doesn’t allow for free though, and anyone who tries to get into the mind of a criminal will ultimately be punished. This has already been proven by the existence of Kougami, an inspector who went too far for and was ultimately punished by the Sibyl system by being demoted to an Enforcer. By chasing Saiga out, the Public Safety Bureau is demonstrating how dangerous the current technology is, with its ability to effect how crime is dealt with and even thought about.

The Enforcers, while quite scathing and to the point are not necessarily dangerous and don’t look anymore like criminals than Akane or Ginoza, but because of their crime coefficients are labeled as a danger to society and effectively locked up. Interestingly, Ginoza’s outburst at discovering that Akane had taken a short course from Saiga further reinforces the damaging nature of the system and how it can create divisions even within the smallest of groups. As a system it may punish an individual, but due to the overwhelmingly negative attitude towards latent criminals within society it is ultimately the close friends and family who will suffer the most. When we learn that Ginoza’s father is a latent criminal, and because of that his entire family suffered and were considered by society to be the same as his father. This sort of demonization through the use of technology and the arbitrary links it makes between thought processes and criminality reinforces how destructive and flawed the Sibyl system is. The very notion that any detective who gets too close to a criminal case will be followed and constantly watched by the Sibyl system suggests that within the society of Psycho-Pass the only ones who are free to do as they please are the criminals that work from within. If nothing else the division between Inspectors and Enforcers arguably means that crime will never be dealt with properly and that despite Akane’s best efforts the system will inevitably start to exert its control over her and limit her ability to work.

This is in stark contrast to the fascinating, but similarly dark and destructive societies found in Ghost in the Shell and Do Androids dream of Electric Sheep (Blade Runner). These stories explore the ambiguities surrounding right and wrong, with their central characters demonstrating how easy it is to move from one side of the law to the other. The Orwellian society that we see in these stories helps to underline the inequalities in society and the destructive nature of the systems that were set up to allow the ruling elite to maintain their control over the populace. Towards the end of Blade Runner Deckard appears as more of an antagonist, carrying out his mission to destroy the androids who appear far more human than he could ever be. He is carrying out an official job, one that is recognised by society as essential, but in doing so these commonly held beliefs are called into question. To use another example, in Ghost in the Shell, the characters regularly take on the roles of the antagonist, working outside the law in order to succeed in their mission. During the majority of their cases Section 9 will almost invariably have to work within the narrow gaps between laws, even going up against other government agencies with competing agendas.

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Ghost in the Shell demonstrates the malleable nature of law and order, with the world portrayed as murky, filled with espionage, counter-espionage and governmental bodies using terrorism and other ‘illegal’ means to get their jobs done. Through all this Section 9 has to play the political game, while also carrying out its own missions. The section is therefore filled with people who have their own dubious reputations and backgrounds, chief among them being the wonderful, mysterious and enigmatic Major Matoko Kusanagi. Throughout the films and the series we see the Major working on both sides of the law and willing to use all at her disposal in order to get her job done. Often what she is trying to accomplish differs greatly from what Section 9 has been ordered to do which inevitably puts her, Batou, Togusa and the other members of the section at odds with other, often more powerful governmental agencies. But, this is partly the point, who is a criminal and who decides they are criminals is questioned throughout Ghost in the Shell, with the characters frequently questioning their own place within society.

Section 9 play with the very notion of law and often ignore it when it is convenient, whole also hiding behind the law when necessary, something that is impossible within Psycho-Pass. By having the Sibyl system follow any Inspector who gets too close to a criminal case it becomes nearly impossible for these people to ever solve crimes. The argument is that by splitting into two groups with the Enforcers in one and the Inspectors in another it becomes possible to work around the system, but this brings to light the problematic nature of how this department works. The Enforcers are constrained in what they can do, and are ultimately wholly reliant on the presence of an Inspector to carry out their duties. Because of this they may never be able to truly deal with a case, and regardless of what they discover, the inspectors may dismiss it as ludicrous, much like Ginoza dismissed the detective skills of Tomomi as a relic of a past age. The deeper we dig into the world of Psycho-Pass, the more ridiculous and self-destructive the society becomes. With such a system it was almost inevitable that criminals like Makishima and Senguji exist since they appear to be the only people who profit from it and are able to work around the restrictions that it places on every other part of society.

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

4 Responses to Psycho-Pass 09 – Self-Destructive Society

  1. windyturnip says:

    I’ve slowly come to realize that the worst part of the Sibyl system isn’t any of its blatant faults, but is instead its unquestionable nature. Its become increasingly apparent that very few people perceive the Sibyl system as anything short of faultless, and this leads to a dangerous stagnation in societal changes.

    This tug and pull between authoritarianism and anarchism, collectivism and individualism, is meant to lead to better choices as humanity (hopefully) learns from its past mistakes. As soon as a consensus is reached that the current system is perfect, this necessary change grinds to a screeching halt.

    This kind of reminds of a question I saw on a survey in middle school. It read: Change for the sake of change is a good thing. At the time, I thought this was the most ridiculous statement I had ever heard, but reflecting on it now, I see some truth and reason behind it. I might not completely agree that change is always good, but the alternative is far worse.

    • illogicalzen says:

      I’m not sure you can take one without the other – the Sibyl systems numerous flaws are all a part of its questionable and arguably dangerous nature. The way these characters approach it as infallible and appear to take the systems judgement as the truth demonstrates how dangerous the system has become with those in charge of public security no longer capable of questioning the system and doing their jobs properly. The very notion that any detective who is perceived to have become too close to a criminal case will be watching by the Sibyl system as closely as it watches other criminals is rather worrying for the society since it is effectively criminalising those who are trying to deal with criminals or in a broader sense, crime.

      The system has already been shown to be dangerous, but I cant see the antagonists as any better since in many respects they have no real goal in mind and they seem content to randomly quote Titus Andronicus under the mistaken belief that it means they are deep, thoughtful characters. I’m not so sure about the whole change aspect though, since I feel that the way the system has been created has stifled the very notion of change and made it increasingly difficult to question the very basics of society itself. Rather than re aching a consensus it appears that the Sibyl system was created with the best intentions in mind, but as its influence grew society became ever dependent upon it. But, because of how the system is set up it doesn’t allow for change, growth or any real thought process, with those who are viewed to be dangerous for whatever arbitrary reason Sibyl decides upon locked up for life.

      • windyturnip says:

        By no means was I trying to say that the Sibyl system is unquestionable–only that it is perceived to be so which is where the real danger lies. Also, those with the ability to change the system have determined that that is a poor course of action for whatever reasons. This lack of change and the persecution of those who seek change is the real threat.

        The fact that the Sibyl system specifically watches detectives may seem cruel, but I agree with it in part. Detectives are not infallible beings; they are vulnerable to criminal tendencies just like anybody else. When surrounded by crime in their daily lives, it’s unreasonable to think that none of them will be negatively affected.

        Just look at any war to see what theoretically honorable soldiers do in desperate, terrible situations. A more specific example is the Abu Ghraib incident in Iraq where “normal” U.S. soldiers committed brutal war crimes against helpless prisoners. When put into such an environment, people are bound to become corrupt if they aren’t careful.

        “He who fights with monsters should look to it that he himself does not become a monster. And when you gaze long into an abyss, the abyss also gazes into you.”

        (Does that make me deep and thoughtful?)

        • illogicalzen says:

          I’m sure there will always be the potential for detectives to be tainted by the people whom they chase, but watching them as if they were already a criminal isn’t the right way to go about things. Doing this basically means that detectives can never do their jobs, and as we see in Psycho-Pass the Public Safety Bureau is now split into the Inspectors and the Enforcers, with the Inspectors doing very little other than to keep watch over the Enforcers. This way of working is ridiculous and it is hardly surprising that criminals manage to slip through their net, in fact we see through the actions and attitudes of Ginoza that Inspectors seem to put more effort into maintaining their Psycho-Pass Hues than actually looking for criminals. It is not only that the system is perceived to be flawless it is the system is set up in such a way as to punish those who arguably do the right thing. Kougami, despite his clear flaws was attempting to catch a murderer, but in doing so he was demoted to being an Enforcer and now his knowledge, skills and abilities are effectively seen as useless compared to this apparently flawless system. And I think this whole thing comes back to the flawed notion that it is somehow possible to link criminality to the inner workings of the mind, thus determining if someone is a ‘latent criminal’. As ive mentioned on several occasions to me the entire Sybil system is arguably set up in such a way as to reward criminals who know how to manipulate it and punish those who want to catch the criminals. It tries to reduce the complexities of society into a simple and arguably arbitrary number and colour.

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