What measure is a psycho?

Psycho-Pass, episode 11-13

As every viewer suspected, the Sibyl system is flawed. But that flaw isn’t just a technical detail, that it doesn’t accurately measure everyone, or a moral dilemma about “thought crime”, like in Minority Report, that it incriminates people who didn’t do anything, but a huge elephant in the living room that Makishima pointed out in episode 11:

“And how do you define a crime to start with?” 

You have a neurological scanning system that can find criminals. Good for you. So who are criminals? What makes someone a psychopath? A deviant? Harmful to society? Who gets to decide what is moral, and what is immoral?

You can define “crime” as an opposition against an official legal system, but then some of the greatest figures in history were criminals, including MLK, Gandhi, Jesus Christ, George Washington, and Spartacus.

You can define “crime” as breaking the Golden Rule, and you will end up excusing many violent or otherwise harmful men genuinely believed that the system that they are using is just. Freed slaves who then held their own slaves, or “survival of the fittest” believing killers who would have accepted getting killed by  someone “fitter” with no hard feelings.

You can define “crime” as trying to decrease the amount of suffering in the world, but then you enter the shady area of moral dilemmas, and the needs of the many vs. the needs of the few, and ideologies about exactly how much freedom the individual deserves and how much control counts as tyranny that is harmful in itself.

You can define “crime” as something that is opposed to your Holy Book, but there are so many holy books, and so many interpretations…

In the end, you can’t just write any simple definition of crime, and arrest everyone whose brain disagrees with your definion, in a way that you end up only arresting evil people.  You will need some sort of personal standards, a free will to decide what is good and what is bad, who lives and who dies. And it has to be more than just a blind acceptance of established authority. Akane has to find her own reason what makes Makishima evil, something beyond “well, he kills people, and killing people is bad because Sibyl says so”.

And it’s even more confusing if we start discussing mental illnesses: What is a mental illness?For that matter, what is an illness?  A condition that makes you weaker than the mainstream society?

Required reading:  The Country of the Blind by H.G. Wells.

Summary: It’s a short story, about a traveller, who finds a hidden community of people whose ancestors have been blind for centuries, by now, they are even born with closed eyelids and without properly developed eyeballs. He thinks to himself “In the country of the blind, the one-eyed man is king”, so he starts to try convincing the blind people that he has this superpower of “seeing” things. Yet, as the blind people work in the coolness of the night, he can’t prove that he is a more effective worker, in fact he is barely keeping up with them, since he isn’t used to dealing with darkness. The same happens in their homes, on which they had no reason to build windows. Their roads, their tools, and all their surroundings are built in a way to be helpful to blind people, and not particularly helpful to seeing people. Even when he finally tries to physically attack them, they overwhelm him, and force him to admit that he is just delusional about his vision.

As he eventually gets used to being integrated into their society as a weirdo with his weirdo “vision”, he falls in love with a girl, and asks for her hand in marriage from his father. The father and the daughter both agree that she is only accepting his proposal, if she is willing to visit the local doctor, and try to get cured. The doctor investigates him, and concludes that his brain is being affected by two abnormally swelled tumors at the front of his skull,  that need to be removed to end his hallucinations.

What makes seeing people “healthy”, and blind people “ill”?  That we arrogantly built a world of printed texts, touchscreens, traffic lights for the majority, and then we called everyone else “ill” for having different requirements?

 What makes, autists, schizophrenics, paraphiliacs, or anti-socials “sick in the mind”? That they are too uncomfortable for the neurotypical majority to deal with? That we built a world where they don’t have a place?  Huxley’s Brave New World, and Bradbury’s Fahrenheit 451, both dealt with something like this, that could be called a psychological version of  The Country of the Blind, about sane (by or standards) protagonists being treated as insane by an insane(by our standards)  society.  Psycho-Pass also implied a very similar word, showing people who are being locked away for their passion for books, music, their old-fashioned views, that are no longer accepted in mainstream society, therefore they are illnesses.

Makishima seemed to be really concerned with showing Akane that she has a free will, even genuinely risking his life for it, and accepting her judgement and punishment as long as it’s truly hers.

Akane clearly has the same ability as Makishima, based on her clear Psycho-Pass. What the authority calls being “criminally asymptomatic”. It’s named like just another disease, for disturbing the  comforting common knowledge that good and evil were already decided for us. But it represents much more than that: It shows that some people able to grow beyond that state, and get into one where they can write their own rules. Some of these rules might be horrifying for us, as it is the case with Makishima. If he was right about Akane, she will soon also start writing her own set of rules. And we might find it horrifying, or righteous, or incomprehensible, or stupid.

But it’s almost certain that they won’t align with Sibyl’s rules.

2 responses to “What measure is a psycho?

  1. I’m not sure it’s quite as difficult to find out what’s good as your article says. I mean, there is such as thing as moral idiocy (C. S. Lewis’s term) or moral insanity (from the latest Robert Downey Jr. Sherlock Holmes movie). Many moral laws are self-evident, and the Golden Rule or Categorical Imperative are the best examples of that. Furthermore, everyone wants to be happy, and we have ideas as to what that happiness consists in and that certain actions will either promote or decrease this happiness.

    So, I suppose that one can define a wrong as an act which unjustly diminishes another human being’s happiness. In which case, a crime is an action which diminishes another human being’s happiness to the extent that it requires punishment. The most obvious example of such a thing is theft–which requires that a person give restitution. One can logically deduce many other examples.

    Now, I shall sit back and wait for the chink in the above argument. :)

    • The most obvious flaw with the golden rule, is that while it is a somehow self-evident moral law, exactly what it implies, is not self-evident.

      As this comic summed it up, in a black humor way: http://www.explosm.net/db/files/Comics/Rob/explain.png

      In more serious examples, the golden rule would justify every agressive oppression enabler, as long as they are a member of the oppressed group themselves. (eg.: closeted gay gay-bashers, female misogynists, etc). Historically, there were slaves who got freed, and then kept their own slaves. Does it make slavery moral, if it’s done by someone who used to accept his own status as a slave, and thus treated others as he expected to be treated?

      In this very story, Makishima himself is willing to accept getting killed, as long as it is done by another human with a free will, like Akane, and not by Sybil. In that sense, he is following the golden rule. He treats others as subjects to a free human’s judgement, that he would accept as well.

      Karl Popper tried to avoid this dilemma by adding “The Platinum Rule”, that says: “The golden rule is a good standard which is further improved by doing unto others, wherever reasonable, as THEY want to be done by”

      In that interpretation, Makishima is evil, because OTHERS didn’t want to get killed, and he should have empathised with them and understand their point of view.

      But notice, that it hinges on a concept of universally knowing what is “reasonable”. Without that, every crazy person should be obeyed as long as they expect to be obeyed.

      So we should somehow know that slaves have a right to rebel against their slaveholder even if he followed the golden rule and he expected , because his demands were “unreasonable”, and he should have empathised with them instead, while in this case, Makishima shouldn’t rebel against Sibyl because he is the “unreasonable” one. Why not the other way around? Why not the slaves empathising their owner’s right to property and accepting his system, or his victims empathising with Makishima and accepting that rebellion against Sibyl’s judgement is a good thing and join him in joyfully murdering each other?

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