Wednesday, September 06, 2017

Evening Note for Wednesday, September 6

Thought for the Evening: Psycho-Pass

I finally got around to watching Psycho-Pass, an anime science fiction crime thriller, and can highly recommend it. In the future, Japan is governed by the Sybil System, a supercomputer with a ubiquitous network of psychometric scanners. The entire society is organized so as to reduce stress and mental disorders. Every citizen is continually scanned by the Sybil System and issued a Psycho-Pass, which includes a Crime Coefficient indicating the likelihood of criminal behavior. Anyone whose Crime Coefficient rises too high is hunted down by the Public Safety Bureau and neutralized, either by being stunned and sent to therapy, or by being executed on the spot if they are an imminent or irreversible threat. The means of doing this are guns called Dominators that are part of the Sibyl System. The enforcement work is itself stressful, so it is done by Enforcers who are actually latent criminals themselves - that is, they have the kind of psychological profile that have stably high Criminal Coefficients; they are overseen by Inspectors, with low Criminal Coefficients, who have authority to shoot them at any moment that they deem them to become a threat.

The series follows Akane Tsunemori, a rookie Inspector who is assigned to Division 1 of the Criminal Investigation Bureau, the Enforcer, Shinya Kogami. Akane, who has a natural temperament for accepting things as they are, has an unusually low, and unusually stably low, Criminal Coefficient; she and Kogami work together to solve am unusual series of grisly and ghastly crimes, committed by very different people who seem largely unconnected, but as things proceed, it becomes clear that there is an orchestrator behind the scenes, not dirtying his hands with the details but providing others means to do terrible things. What is more, the villain, Shogo Makashima, is an anomaly -- he is not bothered by his crimes, so his Crime Coefficient stays low, no matter what he does. No matter what other evidence there might be, the Sibyl System reads him as non-criminal, and therefore locks the Dominators.

Makashima is a compelling villain -- he is well read and cultured, soft-spoken and charming. Even more, the criticisms of the Sibyl System underlying his crimes are legitimate. The Sibyl System keeps society safe, for the most part, but the universal surveillance has stolen something from them, and the Sibyl System is not exactly trustworthy. A true villain, but with a legitimate complaint, capable of terrible evil and highly rational: it's a perfect combination to drop into an ordered dystopia.

The second season faced a number of problems, and received some rather severe criticisms from critics. The criticisms were well founded. The first season, while exceptionally good, had some pacing problems, which were carried over. In addition, there was insufficient continuity of characters -- too much change, one might say. The villain was inevitably going to be less impressive than Makashima. The series also occasionally lost sight of the fact that it was a psychological crime thriller, and became much more violent. However, it did have a number of interesting ideas -- in particular, introducing the idea of whether a collective group could have a high tendency to criminality even though all of its members had a low tendency. And it ends up being OK, not great like the first season, but OK.

The series as a whole is a deliberate mixing pot of philosophical puzzles and ideas: the Panopticon, the omnipotence paradox, deterrence theories of punishment, brains in vats, gestalt personalities, the nature of just judgment, human experimentation, and more. Quite enjoyable.

Various Links of Interest

* The word 'fascism' has been thrown around a lot recently, so it's worthwhile to re-read George Orwell's 1944 essay, "What Is Fascism?", because nothing has fundamentally changed.

* Philip Pilkington, Utilitarian Economics and the Corruption of Conservatism

* Timothy Hsiao, The Perverted Faculty Argument

* David Hershenov, Ten (Bad, but Popular) Arguments for Abortion

* Philip W. Magness, Houston Flooding in Historical Perspective

* Regan Penaluna, Sexism Killed My Love for Philosophy Then Mary Astell Brought It Back

* Christopher Bartel, Rock as a Three-Value Tradition

* If you are planning on donating for hurricane relief, either for Harvey or upcoming Irma, it's best to avoid the Red Cross. Red Cross does some things well, but they are notoriously bad at disaster relief; they are simply not flexible enough. Both the Salvation Army and Catholic Charities, on the other hand, have very good reputations for being able to improvise in a way that increases the chances of people getting the actual help they need, when they need it and in the way they need it.

Currently Reading

Murasaki Shikibu, The Tale of Genji
Edith Stein, Philosophy of Psychology and the Humanities
Ludwig Feuerbach, The Essence of Christianity
C. S. Lewis, The World's Last Night and Other Essays

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