My view of Psycho-Pass's Sibyl System

April 10, 2013

(There are spoilers here.)

The Sibyl System is at the heart of Psycho-Pass and so I think that how people view it will be at the heart of how they react to the ending of the show. Because of this I want to write up my thoughts.

There is no question that the Sibyl System is flawed; the show goes out of its way to show us that in the first episode. Nor is there any question that it's tacitly oppressive; again, the show makes that clear with things like pervasive surveillance, mandatory treatment if your psycho-pass becomes cloudy, and potential imprisonment if the (flawed) system thinks that you've become merely potentially dangerous. One character has lived his entire life from childhood onwards as what is basically a non-person prisoner simply because the Sibyl System thought he was too much of a latent criminal.

But this brings us to the big question: is the Sibyl System an actively evil thing, something built and operated with malign intent or as a conscious tool for oppression? My view is that it is not.

I feel that Sibyl is fundamentally benevolent and well intentioned. Its flaws are not the result of active evil but (mostly) from being built with imperfect and limited technology; these make it both simplistic and overly rigid and thus inherently flawed. While the system is dishonest about how well Sibyl works and its limitations (and exactly how it works), this stems from good intentions. And generally Sibyl actually works. For the most part it delivers on what it claims to and does so without abuse, and as a result it's welcomed by people. You can argue about whether or not this is wise of them, but to the extent that Sibyl reduces people's free will it's not because Sibyl takes free will from people but because people voluntarily relinquish their free will to something that will do their thinking for them.

(You can argue that some of Sibyl's goals are inherently bad, eg that even if it had certainty that someone would commit crimes in the future they should not be imprisoned now.)

We never see Sibyl make a clear false positive diagnosis of (dangerous) criminality; its bad judgements of that (starting in the first episode) are always rational and driven by clearly limited and rigid views (eg 'too much stress makes people dangerous'). I maintain that we also never see strong evidence that Sibyl is corrupt and is being used to enrich and empower particular people.

(Yes, Sibyl covertly holds important and powerful positions. But there is no evidence that these positions are being abused for personal or group gain; instead, they are simply being used as part of making the whole Sibyl system work.)

To me this makes Psycho-Pass a much more interesting show than if Sibyl was a clear tool for evil and oppression. As it is you can have a real disagreement over whether Sibyl is a good thing and whether its benefits are worth its drawbacks.

(It also gives the show a different perspective, less about outside oppression and more about what people voluntarily do to themselves both individually and as a society.)

Written on 10 April 2013.
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Last modified: Wed Apr 10 14:26:41 2013
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