Sunday, March 17, 2013

Psycho-Pass - of legal, ethical and moral judgement - an analysis (PART 1)

Psycho-Pass is like a mash of philosophical and ethical issues with some bad-ass songs, which makes for an interesting analysis I should say (and a good anime). Prepare for a long post, dear readers. And this is what happens when you think a lot of things along the lines of philosophy.
*For the sake of my dear readers, I will split this post into two. This is the first part.

Let me be frank. I really, really like Psycho-Pass. Despite the explicit depictions of murder, the psychopathic antagonist and revenge-obsessed protagonist... yeah, it's the only anime I am religiously following this season. Because Sr. Project just doesn't equal social life - at least for me.

I took Philosophy as a freshman. It was one of my first subjects in university. Back then, we used the term system. So on my first term (Fall Term), I took Basic Composition 1 and Intro to Philosophy. My instructor was a cool guy who made me fall in love with philosophy. He was so passionate about the subject and he seemed like he knew what he was talking about that I was hooked.

In Plato's 'The Republic', he discussed justice, forms of government, etc... and of course, the famous 'allegory of the cave'. Plato and his 'allegory of the cave' was one of the things that stuck with me. You only discover the truth when you free yourself, when you look for it. Take Narayan Shankar's 'The Village' as an example.

Those exposed, seen 'the ideal' society, the 'perfect' (in a sense) world, would be responsible in educating those who haven't. To rule, you have to know what is good (in what may be the truest sense).

Then when I was a sophomore, I took Sociology to fulfil my social sciences core requirement. I think it was a good eye opener. I expanded my knowledge from previous classes like US Government, Philosophy and Cultural Anthropology - I learned more about different forms of government, the philosophers behind such styles of governing (take Marxism for example) and I think it was fun (doing the research, not at the history) when my group was randomly picked to do a presentation on the Soviet Union and the Russian Revolution.

Much of my junior year was spent finishing up my major requirements and taking up electives in art. Yet now as a senior, my last subject is on Communication and Media Ethics. With 2 Sr. Projects.

Yes, I began university studying philosophy and will end it with something similar.

So what about ethics? We have teleological ethics, deontological ethics and virtue ethics.

Teleological ethics - telos (purpose)
Deontological ethics - deon (obligation)
Virtue ethics - what we ought to be, moral development

These three (and their proponents) can be clearly seen in Psycho-Pass.

Purpose/Consequentialist: Utilitarianism, for the greater good. You sacrifice the minority for the good of the majority. That's Mill and Bentham. Minimize harm and maximize happiness.

Duty oriented: The theorist famous for this is Emmanuel Kant. Whatever decisions you make, you have to consider others' rights and your duties.

Virtue ethics: Who you should be, your morals. Famous theorist: Aristotle. With what? The Golden Mean.

So what do these philosophies and ethical theories have to do with Psycho-Pass?

Let me begin with the analysis of the series. Psycho-Pass' premise is a Japan years into the future (2113?) where they are cut off from the rest of the world and are ruled (as we find out much later into the series) by a system of "brains" connected to each other comprised of people who are "criminally asymptomatic" in which we call the Sybil System. Yeah, the Sybil as in 'the prophetess' I imagine.

Why is it 'the prophetess'?

Because it 'predicts' people's tendencies to commit crime - so called Psycho-Pass (which by the way is installed in each of the citizens). -- and I think predicting/prophecies reminds me of Sybil Trelawney from Harry Potter.

What's more, the Sybil System tells you that you will do well in certain things and you don't have to worry about what jobs you should take or even your future. Your only job is to remain 'healthy' as in your Psycho-Pass is a clear hue. The bad thing about this is that it creates a society that doesn't manage well with stress or just doesn't know how to handle or face stress. In psychological term, we have eustress and distress. Too much of either isn't good for you. In Psycho-Pass, people seem to end up in hospital a vegetable from too much eustress. Why? Because if your hue gets muddled, you're supposed to go for therapy or if you've become a latent criminal, you should be institutionalized (meaning meds and confinement) or become an enforcer (hunting down other criminals but at least still be able to move around although it's just within the Public Safety Bureau or accompanied by an inspector) - not much of a choice eh?.

So your choice boils down to these:
Become this?
Rikako's father seems stoned.
Too much psychotropic drugs, I think.
By the way, he died later on.
Clouded hue? So clouded you're a latent criminal?
Oh, get yourselves institutionalized.
You can't possibly recover from that. =.='

Enforcers in episode 1 (shown here are Kagari and Kougami)
At least you can move around. But you get treated like dogs.
Not much of an alternative either... but what can they do?

Now getting back to the main point. Let's do it according to philosophers/theorists, shall we?

In the 'allegory of the cave', the person isn't aware of the outside world until one day, he decides to venture out. Essentially, the person lives in a 'sheltered' sort of way until he searches for the truth.

To connect with Psycho-Pass, I'll take Akane for example. Akane (a main character and protagonist) is an inspector at the Public Safety Bureau. Like all others, she doesn't know the true face of the Sybil System. I'm sure she doesn't know what the outside world outside Japan looks like either (unless she Googles it, though I doubt it won't be monitored).

Sybil System reveals itself to Akane.
Yeah, Choe Guseong saw this before
his head was blown to smithereens.
In episode 20, she was shown the real face of Sybil System. The reason why this happened is because the system believes her to be another pawn for their use. In Akane's words, the system believes that she felt it important that the system be upheld, otherwise society will crumble. The very foundation of the society relies on their belief on the Sybil System - that it is absolute. If society finds out that they are controlled by a collection of brains, and said brains still have some people that which they cannot read (criminally asymptomatic) because they believe their actions to be right... then people will start having doubts against the system.

As for Akane's case, episode 21 seems to show that the knowledge of the true face of the system weighs heavily on her.

And how about the Sybil System? Are they really the ones who can do no wrong? Are they the absolute good and know what is truly good?

Now that, is something worth thinking about. I think we can analyse this based on Kant's idea of moral duty or rather, the categorical imperative.


Kasei firing an overidden dominator at Kagari.
I was like: a friggin' cyborg?
Based on Kagari's demise, the Sybil System itself isn't morally right if Kant had his say. I'll explain in a little while.

Kant has an absolutist point of view. Black is black, white is white. You don't have a grey area. Period, full stop. You also need to remember the following:

1) If whatever decision you make, a maxim, cannot be universalized, the answer is simple: You SHOULDN'T do it.
2) If it can be universalized, then moral agents should do it.
3) The ends don't justify the means - the results don't matter, what you do to arrive at the outcome is what matters.
4) Everyone has moral dignity, everyone should be respected.

Kagari's last moments before his death. I cried!
So getting back at the Sybil System: they killed Kagari simply because he found out about the system and they really don't need him (he is of no use to them as a pawn). In essence: they treated him like a disposable means to an end.

According to Kant, that's not ethical. Kagari should be accorded his moral dignity and be respected as a human being.

Yet one issue stands here: Sybil System itself is legal. It is the judge and executioner. They could do whatever they want if they wanted to and no one can say anything about it. It can eliminate threats to their existence even if it means killing a few citizens. Based on their logic, if the system is destroyed it could cause public uproar and civil unrest. So they took on the utilitarian concept. For the greater good. The ends justify the means. Heard of Bentham? Makishima mentioned his name in one of the episodes, probably episode 19. I'll explain this later when I explain about Mill and Bentham.

Back to Kant. In his perspective Kougami would also be wrong. He can't kill Makishima just because he killed many people to reach his objectives. Because killing people can't be made a universal maxim, killing Makishima would be wrong. Lets not forget: Makishima had killed so many people brutally to destroy the system and yet the system treated the criminally asymptomatic guy as a prize (because they wanted to harvest his brain for the system). This paragraph could explain Akane's line of thinking, which would be in line with Kant, I should say. Remember when she said this to Kougami: "I don't want you to become a murderer." If we think the way Akane thinks, well... Kougami shouldn't kill Makishima because killing is wrong. Like Kant would think.

Aristotle, Mill and Bentham and Relativism
Will be explained in Part 2.

Yes, I realize that this has gone on long enough so I decided to break it here and continue in part 2 sometime later. I will edit later to add the link to the next part.

*Update: Link to part 2 is here.

Footnote: Yeah, Makishima mentioned some philosophers like Marx and Bentham. That made me more interested in the series. More interesting is the mention that Makishima's actions are considered civil disobedience. Hmm... perhaps a further look into that in part 2?

References should be acknowledged here, I think. My classes used Mitchell's Roots of Wisdom (Intro to Philosophy) and Day's Ethics in Media Communications: Cases and Controversies (Communication and Media Ethics). Whatever theories I said here may be mentioned in those books and my instructors' notes.

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

Of philosophy and ACG

Somehow, I kinda love some of the philosophies that are explained in some anime...

It's been a while, yes... I know. So Junketsu Kareshi's 6th volume [純血+彼氏<6>] came out in January. As I was in a state of "broke" in a really, really critical monetary sense, I only bought it earlier this month. Haven't had time to properly thumb through it, just skim it. 

Judging from what I've just read in passing... yes, it gets interesting, but I shall put this forth: I'm already losing track of the story. It's kinda like the time when I read Vampire Knight and I went from 'ooh nice!' to 'what the heck is this?' to 'ooh, now I get it' to 'okay, you've lost me'. Speaking of VK, yeah, it's ending in the April issue but I just don't have the energy to follow it again. Hopefully, I don't lose the vigour while reading Junketsu Kareshi.

Now that J+K is out of the way, there are other books I bought this month (and probably burned through my savings, but that's okay):

1. Japanese Grammar Dictionary N5~N1 with annotations in 3 other languages
2. Psycho-Pass Pt.1 Light Novel
3. Biblia Koshodou no Jiken Techou <4>
4. Super Darling! <1> and <2>
5. Easy Statistics in Psychology

Now you're probably wondering about the other books... so let me just go through them for a little bit.

1. THE grammar dictionary
Quite okay... me and my friend bought it because we were planning to sit for JLPT after we graduate (which isn't too far off). For her, she's finally sitting for N1 so ganbatte ne! She's been my 'tutor' in Japanese, helping me learn some of their culture and is always kind enough to help me understand my books. Thanks!

2. Psycho-Pass Part 1 (Light Novel)
Ever since Psycho-Pass first aired, I was hooked. Not just for the action and the plot, but also for the philosophies mentioned in the series. I have a soft spot for philosophy and sociology (those were some of my favorite classes in university). In fact, this semester, I'm taking media ethics, which also revisits philosophical ideas and theories as well as looking at the masses in that sociological stand point.

The novel's quite thick and probably bit more to handle than Saimono, but I'll find the time. The cover's quite nice too!

3. Biblia Koshodou no Jiken Techou <4>
Okay, I admit that it's been long overdue. Everytime I visited Kinokuniya in Kuala Lumpur, they seem to be out of stock. Imagine my joy when I saw the copy on that trip! It made my 2 1/2 hours bus-LRT journey worthwhile, I'll say.

It's also nice that they're putting the promo for the drama adaptation where there usually put other promos on the jacket of the novels. If you haven't watched it, go ahead! Although I am disappointed that the girl doesn't have long hair like in the novel, I can still bear with it simply because the premise is good.

4. Super Darling
This. This one! Well, I wasn't expecting much and I personally liked the drawings. Since it's from the same mangaka as Junketsu Kareshi, I wasn't surprised at the artwork. Pretty nice and kind of funny for me. Don't know about you lot! =P

5. Easy Statistics in Psychology
So how on earth did this book become part of this lot? One explanation: Senior Project. Which kind of explains why I'm behind in the books I've bought... but that's okay. I'll go through them during spring break.

And now comes the point of the next post: Anime

Yeah, I did say I was busy with senior project and all... but that can't stop me from enjoying a few anime a week! =P So what I'm following this season?

1. Psycho Pass (22 eps) - and one I'm religiously following this season.
2. AMNESIA (13 eps)
3. Hakkenden Touhou Hakken Ibun (12 eps)
4. Ore Shura (12 eps)
5. GJ-bu (12 eps)

and an outlier here: a drama - Biblia Koshodou no Jiken Techou.

Hopefully I'll find some free time sometime this week and post up some reviews now that most of the shows I am following are ending soon. With Psycho Pass having 2 eps left, AMNESIA (3 left), Touhou (3 left), Ore Shura (2 left) and GJ-bu (3 left) all nearing the end...

Looking forward to the new season after this!

P.S. A translation of a chapter from a Psycho Pass novel can be found here:

P.P.S. If you love Psycho Pass, might as well have a look here. It's pretty amusing haha:

Maybe I'll edit this post later to include the covers of the books... =/