The Thing I Like About … [mild spoiler]

PsychoPass: the part where she can’t save her friend.

In PsychoPass, Akane is a new detective placed in charge of Enforcers, people with cloudy psychopasses who can use their latent criminal tendencies to find actualized criminals but who cannot be allowed into the general population themselves. The psychopass is a government-run assessment of personality and emotional state, and if it’s cloudy, then the detectives and Enforcers are authorized to use specialized guns – Paralyzers. Paralyzers can stun or kill, but each one will only turn on for its authorized owner, and the decision to stun or kill is made by the government-run computer network rather than by the detective.

Akane’s friend Yuki is abducted by the bad guy, and when Akane corners him, he uses Yuki as a shield. Akane trusts her Paralyzer, but it turns out this particular bad guy doesn’t have a typical psychopass, and the gun won’t recognize him as a threat. Akane does find an ordinary shotgun, loaded and ready to go, but she keeps trying to use her Paralyzer. She even aims the shotgun, and eventually fires it to the side, but she can’t bring herself to shoot the shotgun at the bad guy. Shooting him with the Paralyzer would probably kill him, given his criminal proclivities and the fact that he was actively endangering another human being, but Akane – who had literally vaporized other criminals with her Paralyzer – could not shoot the bad guy with the shotgun … even as he slits Yuki’s throat.

Akane can’t shoot him with the shotgun, because it would be her shooting him, and she’s never been expected to make that decision – even though she’s taken lives in the line of duty, it was always the Paralyzer making the ultimate determination, and doing the dirty work. She was just pulling the trigger.

Science fiction uses futuristic or otherworldly settings to explore current human problems, and PsychoPass explores several. But the shotgun incident – that leads to Yuki’s death – explores one that has been plaguing humanity since we arrived on the planet: we want things to be done, but we don’t want to take responsibility for the decision. We want outcomes, but we’re not willing to pay the consequences. “Authority” and “responsibility” are, for some reason, not synonymous; instead we equate responsibility with “blame” – and no one wants to be blamed, especially for stuff they actually do.

Akane isn’t the sort of person who wants others to do her dirty work, or who wants to avoid blame at all costs; in fact, her character takes her job, her responsibility, and consequences very seriously. But she has lived her whole life in a culture that encourages her subservience to the moral decision-making of the government computer network. She’s never been taught how to decide. She’s never learned how to evaluate. Her actions in this world aren’t her own to choose or to judge. She knows that she’s supposed to be “good” rather than “bad”, but she’s never been given the chance to understand the differences between good and evil, and to pick one or the other.

And because Akane lives in a world where a single entity guarantees that “bad guys” will be automatically eliminated, and where all the “burden” of selecting right or wrong will be rendered moot, Yuki’s throat is slit, and she dies for no purpose, and the bad guy gets away. No good is done. No wrong is righted. No cultural value is upheld. It’s a total failure on the parts of the hero, of the police department, and of good itself.

Even as Akane holds the loaded shotgun.

It isn’t that she’s bad, or inept, or that she doesn’t want to save Yuki. It’s not that she thinks the bad guy shouldn’t be stopped, perhaps by extreme measures. It’s that she doesn’t know how to make the decision in the absence of the computer network.

It doesn’t matter if the controlling entity is government, computer networks, parents, religions, bosses, peers on the playground … it doesn’t matter. It doesn’t matter if that entity is benevolent or not, or if it’s competent or not; what matters is whether or not the individual knows how to go it alone. What matters is whether or not the individual has learned for him or herself how to decide – between good and evil, between right and wrong, between left and right. If you can’t decide to shoot – whether it’s a Paralyzer or a shotgun – then why say you’re doing anything at all? Why show up at all? If you don’t know how to tell what’s best to do, then how will you evaluate the moral ability of the entities who’ve been deciding for you?

Find your ethical center. Find the courage of your convictions. Learn how to choose, evaluate and act … how to be responsible, to accept consequences, to adapt to new information.

Before another Yuki dies.

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