Psycho Pass (Review #2) – Pragmatic Philosophy

Psycho Pass;

Pragmatic Philosophy

Telling stories is an important part of human development. It is what allows us to think abstractly, and develop our neo prefrontal coxtices, of “forebrain”. It affects our sense of what is possible, as well as our sense of what is expected.

Spoiler warning: discusses details of season 1 of Psycho Pass.

In episode 3 of seasons 1 Psycho Pass, the story is a one-off case which is presented and solved within a fraction of the episode. The pacing of the episode serves an a great way to demonstrate the correct execution of an educational drama, however. So subtle is the education, this is “edutainment” at its finest.

Terms such as “hue” and “cymatic scan” are differentiated from the usual jargon in a very illustrative way, showing that, in Psycho Pass, everything has a definite purpose and meaning. This rewards the viewer for paying attention, but does so in a subtle way which only seems obvious when some ass, like me, breaks the magic and analyses the fuck out of the details.

As such, it may spoil some of the magic of story, the magic of edutainment, for you, if you read my reviews before hand.

For that reason, I didn’t go into any detail during my first review; but so much did I want to avoid spoilers that I just wrote a bland introduction, and I also forgot totally the summary of episode 3 (in retrospect, I could have just cheated and read the wikia entry of episode 3, 0″103 Rearing Conventions”). My previous review incorrectly summarizes episode 4, under the heading of episode 3.

This forgetting episode 3, effectively omitting it form records, is not just a sign of my lack of grasp on linear time, however (a problem which is a result of the minor “time skirmish” of latter 2015 in the common worlds, but that is another story altogether that mere mortals need concern yourselves with), but actually a testament to how successful it is at transforming the viewer from an ignorant observer, to an adept at the details of the fictional world being presented. The best learning is like learning to walk: it takes considerable time, but is forgotten as if the skill was always known.

When I look closer, however, episode 3 has a lot of positive impact on the viewer, and repeat viewings of this and other episodes allow more realizations to come to light.

It begins with one of the PSV (future police, or Public Safety … um… whatever V stands for) team members practicing close-quarters combat in a gym. Our proxy avatar (Akane, the rookie Inspector) walks in on him and questions why, in an era where they have robot drones and powerful “Dominators” (smart guns, which will only allow the trigger to work when pointed at a target that has been judged to be a threat by the all-seeing, all-knowing Artificially Intelligent, Impartial Sybil System), he trains so hard.

He explains that one must be stronger than the weapon one wields, in order to “be worthy of” such great power. This is not a blatant mantra like Spider-Man, but rather a carefully thought out philosophy which the character goes on to exhibit in a variety of circumstances, as the drama unfolds. (In contrast to Spider-Man, and other typical comic book based “super-heroes”; they just fuck up everything in a very irresponsible manner, destroying public property willy nilly in blatant show of might-makes-right, the “heroes” in Psycho Pass balance a multitude of constraining limits, an important one being maintaining public order by disrupting common momentum as little as possible.)

This theme will be later revisted in episode 11, when Akane’s inability to use weapons other than the Dominator drives an important plot progression. In the meantime, however, the entire episode serves to expose possible problems in the society which relies so much on artificial intelligence to diagnose criminals and thus prevent crime.

In particular, Akane fails to believe that murder can reduce the latent criminal intent resident within the psyche of an individual, whereas the more experienced detectives point out that they had just seen evidence of how bullying (although they didn’t use that word) transfers emotional stress from the environment onto one person who is victimized, and thus, how the victim can relieve the stress by getting revenge.

This reminds me of a cycle which we are, perhaps all too familiar with: prison / vacation cycles. We endure situations which feel confining, draining, in terms of styles of “making a living” which actually detract from daily joy, as we do some work which is a danger to our emotions, but a benefit to our finances. Then we take vacations, to counteract the accumulated stress, and return to the same situation.

This cycle is so integrated into mainstream media that ever Hollywood based plot considers it to be normal. Thus, it is like using zombies as a model for real humans, it puts real humans, outside of that cycle, on the radar as anomalies rather than healthy. The term “zombie” is not used in Psycho Pass, but whilst developing philosophy with the Programmers’ Stone group at the turn of the millennium, the “over-ritualistic addiction to compliance, at the expense of happiness, sanity, and creative capabilities” was a common theme which carried many themes, including “Monster Zero”.

In episode 3, an isolated factory served as what is, on the surface, a simple “locked room mystery”. Somebody working within the factory had to have committed multiple murders, but there is no way easy way to say whom.

In fact, it is difficult to gather enough evidence, due mainly to bureaucratic momentum. The factory is isolated in order to keep the work safe and secure, the workers working in tight shifts to make deadlines. Any drop in “productivity” as measured in terms of units produced, is strongly resisted by the administrator overseeing the facility, despite the fact that human lives – perhaps his very own life -are at stake.

Fictional realms, such as Psycho Pass, can provide for reflection on the general story in a “safe way”, unrelated to reality. We can thus overcome our own “knee-jerk reactions”, on ingrained habits, which foster wrathful ignorance of opportunities to reform our styles of living such that they support actual life more, and yet satisfy the demands of the matrices of orthodoxy within which we were all placed by the prevailing fiscal and social systems.

In other words, we can learn how to give to Ceasar what is His, whilst also giving to initiating insightful flow of vigor, the thanks due for life, and developing the virtues of comprehension and victory seeking within the world which lacks justice, in a manner which bypasses weaknesses.

The PSV team manages to render justice by using a jury-rigged system, at great apparent risk to themselves. However, considering the strengths of the particular team members, and the amount of careful planning and design, they were never in any significant risk, and their victory was all but certain.

S1E3 (Season 1, Episode 3 of the Psycho Pass anime) also sets up the revelation of even more back-story for the characters, which is integrated with the transformation of the society into one which depends on the S.S. (Sybil System), rather than law enforcement methods which are more traditional. Gradually, pieces of history are revealed, and this all makes me both admire the writing team, and the directorial skill, behind the production.

This directorial skill is evidenced from the very first episode, however, which opens with a “flash-forwards” to the epic battle between a major protagonist and major antagonist. However, it does so without actually spoiling the series; rather, it builds that a parallel main plot-line is unfolding, and when it starts to get going in earnest in episode 4, there is much more excitement and anticipation.

Of course, reading my detailed recap will likely spoil it for you, if you’re that type of spoil-able person. The joy in Psycho Pass, for me, however, is in the discussions about reality which this fictional world allows people to “safely” have, without threating their sacred cows and worthless statues of gold.

Conclusion

Psycho Pass is an experience which is deeper than a typical dystpoian movie. Their world is neither dystopia nor utopia (never mind what other, more respected reviewers, like kotaku, say). Rather, Psycho Pass is a satire of the condition of humans living within cities (and civilizations) which drive people to act in an impersonal manner.

Many men are driven by uncivil civilizations to pursue factors needed to conform to systems which are flawed: designed by idiots, implemented by zombies. Still, this is no reason to avoid the joy of thinking as an actual individual, and thus, developing the skills of actualization.

Whereas previous works have been satires, such as Animal Farm, 1984, Brave New World, Brazil, this world which the Psycho Pass franchise presents uses a medium which allows for much more literal analogies to the present time. Thus, it succeeds in providing a foundation for discussion and development which previous works, by their non-franchise nature, lacked.

Furthermore, rather than leaving the concept that “they have a plan to take away human freedom”, Psycho Pass allows one to learn strategies to both work within a team of peace-seeking individuals, successfully, and to reflect on how to bypass weaknesses and pitfalls, to make victory certain.

Thus, it can be seen as work which promotes both true teamwork, and the actualization of the individual. Not just one type of individual, either, but many different characters develop and actualize their will, despite being “within” the same system.

Anime is ideal for this

The anime medium is ideal for this, as the per-hour cost is low compared to live action, but the long time is used to develop deeper, more complex world details and story-lines than could easily be done in a movie or even a set of static novels.

Thus, the writers who penned such great worlds in the pre-mass-electronics era, long before cheap anime was made possible by computer-assisted rendering technology based work-flow, and mass distribution, planted some seeds which are even referenced explicitly in some cases, with characters quoting from philosophical text both common and obscure. Yet, this medium makes fruit of those seeds from the fertile ground of the “new economy”.

And for that, I am grateful.

We may not live in a utopia, but we do live in a world where the work of philosophy can be made much more pragmatic (via personal reflection, as individuals seeking to maintain and foster actualization), and widely useful to society (via mass communications and the relative ease of ingesting multimedia).

And for that, I am grateful.

So, don’t put off Psycho Pass because it happens to be animated. Both seasons are available in dubbed English versions, and improvements were made to the quality of production, between initial streaming and the retail release (see Season 1, Extended Edition, which I haven’t obtained yet).

Even more to be grateful for!

References

Kotaku did a review of the first half of season 1 (the first 11 or 22 episodes). This doesn’t cover the major changes to the extended edition, which are detailed on the wikia page about it.

The Wikia page states that the extended edition of season 1 is 11 one-hour (or so) episodes, rather than 22 23-minute (or so) episodes.

 

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