Psycho Pass: Das Kapital to The Republic in One Easy Step
So, two episodes of Psycho Pass have come out since I last posted. In that time I’ve accumulated plenty to say. Starting with episode number seventeen, it’s impossible to discuss the episode without bringing to the foreground, the ominous world shattering twist we saw this episode. I will not dawdle on the whatsits and whosits, so anyone who hasn’t seen these two episodes really needs to fucking leave the building right now. Which is unlikely considering
There, are the only ones here people who want to hear what I have to say? Good. Sybil is not some wonderflonium powered machine that can determine based on a set metric the probability or moral wrong doing of every person. It’s a hyper collective of genius and outsider consciousnesses creating a sort of wonder jury that judges every single person in the country. The significance of this event doesn’t just rattle through the storytelling aspect of series analysis, but shakes deeper all the way down towards the bones of the show’s core philosophy. Political philosophy that is.
Guy? I think we can all agree that the people living in Psycho Pass do not live in a free society. In fact, the show spends an awful lot of time analyzing just how deep the lives of individual citizens are controlled. We even get to see some reflections of real world issues facing authoritarian societies. How exactly can a country be an information age society and a dictatorship at the same time? You can ask China, North Korea, Iran, and Saudi Arabia that same question and each would have a different answer to that question. Some of these countries would even have multiple answers. Each of them is wronger then the last. In Psycho Pass we got to see the same problem plague the enforcers of the dystopian cyberpunk nightmare world.
But, not all dictatorships are created equal. Nazi Germany, Stalanist Russia, and Bourbon France were all dictatorships, but the methodology and more importantly, the ideology behind each were different. Is future Japan an Oligarchy? A Communist State? A Fascist State? A Monarichal Kingdom? A Theocracy?
Many of these have a point to be made in their favor (well except not Monarchy). Clearly Sybil is what is what is running the government, so any directly stated government type is very useless. Until now that meant a bizarre computer run government, as opposed to the newly revealed brain based government. There is a case to be said about a theocracy with Sybil as the religion, but only if you would count the quixotic things that happen in North Korea as a Monarchical Theocracy. There is another case to be made about the Sybil System as fascist, especially because at times the System doesn’t fit the classic bill of leftist economic ideology, but I’m not so sure you could divorce Nationalism from Fascism. So far Psycho Pass has been devoid of anything resembling Nationalism, so I think that one can be filed under the nos.
Up until this point though, I think the case that seems most likely is that Psycho Pass is a Communistic System, only lacking most of the outward physical elements of Communist Authoritarian regimes that we’ve come to expect. Because Sybil was acting on the values of community, using the bases of normal behaviors as a method of keeping the population in line, the governance of the country was derived from society in a way that no Communist State was ever capable of achieving. Here was a world literally ruled by social standards. But at the same time the Social Standards were self imposing, turning people into cogs of a great societal moilith. In Psycho Pass we see command economy so strict that it goes so far as to control who doe what work.
I will admit a personal bias towards that particular explanation of how the society of Psycho Pass works. I am an ardent Libertarian, believing in both the values of a free economy and society. Believers in a controlled economy and society are my naturally opposed viewpoint. Who doesn’t like to think “Oh man, the writer of this thing CLEARLY agrees with me?” At the same time, if I were at least pretending to be objective, I’d say that it’s certainly a more daring antagonist, because there is some case to be made for a powerful state so long as it’s benevolent. It’s a much harder target to bring down. The same way that there is an arguable case to be made for the benefits of a Sybil System.
Bringing us back to Episode 17, the reveal changes that interpretation. Sybil System is not society imposing it’s judgments on the individuals of Japan, its an elite cabal of super brains. We are robbed of the System being used as a surrogate for Society’s laws and standards, and instead just see a bunch of Tyrannical Oligarchs. At the end of the day, Sybil is nothing but a bunch of people, and that robs us of the true impact of a world where a completely earnest effort is in place to protect a country’s people by herding them into line. It’s just another evil government. And I think that makes the show worse for wear.
In fact, I can’t see much that the series really gained from this twist. It hardly re-contextualizes the events of the show, as the changes are more philosophical then anything. Sure it means that the message behind someone shooting a Dominator at someone with a high crime coefficient might be slightly different, but if you go back earlier in the series with the fresh knowledge of Sybil’s hive mind, have you really gained anything? Maybe there is more to come, but so far my answer is no.
And for some of my more well read readers, Some of you may know or have read Plato’s “The Republic” a dialogue where Socrates attempts to explain his ideal society as a way of defining justice. I’m likely going to butcher the crap out of the ideas from the book. If you want a million times better explanation just go read it.
The society of The Republic can be described as efficient and seamless at best and dehumanizing and evil at it’s worst. Pscyho Pass’s society seems to mirror that of Socrates’s metaphorical government (not likely an accident seeing as defining justice is another major sticking point of the show). The republic is built around three castes, The common man, the guardians and auxillaries, and the aristocracy. The common man makes up the average member of the society. The guardians and auxillaries are the ones who keep the common people in line. In Psycho Pass, they take the role of the enforcers, but also the government as a whole. And then lastly there is the Aristocracy, exemplified by the Philosopher-kings. A philosopher king is an absolute ruler who’s rule can be relied on free of tyranny because they forgo physical thinking to delve into the realm of philosophy, and things as they are beneath the surface. There is a strong case to be made that Sybil makes up the highest sect of Psycho Pass’s republic.
I have more things to say about the two episodes though. Stay tuned for part two of my three part post series on Psycho Pass 17 and 18.