Recently, I’ve been rewatching season one of Psycho-Pass, a police sci-fi show partially written and composed by one of the most well-known anime writer, Gen Urobuchi. I’ve been meaning to rewatch it for some time because I don’t quite ‘get’ it the first time that I watched it (also I’m kind of a Urobuchi fan.)
While I was watching the first episode, I suddenly felt conflicted. After the death of George Floyd due to police brutality, many people called for complete police abolition and condemn mainstream media for glorifying the police as the arbiter of justice. While Psycho-Pass is about exploring hypothetical society, the show’s primary lens in exploring that society is through the lens of law enforcement officers. Inevitably, there is always going to complication of whether or not this show is merely depicting cops or glorifying them. Me watching this show, in turn, potentially propagate the glorification of police.
I still have a bit of reservation because of this, but as I watched the show, and remembering some of the show’s plot twist down the line, I actually found several interesting things about the show’s world-building that correspond to the narrative surrounding police abolition. In fact, based on my findings, while the society of Psycho-Pass is a pretty extreme fictional portrayal of hypothetical society, it probably is the closest to the ideal of a police-free/crime prevention society than our current society.
(Warning: Spoilers from here on)
But first, what exactly is police abolition? Based on my limited reading, the narrative of police abolition isn’t so much sudden elimination of law enforcement, but rather, working toward cultivating and developing society that focuses on, among other things, providing welfare toward the people so that the police becomes more or less obsolete. This includes strong emphasis not only on eliminating poverty, but also providing mental health care for the people in need. The argument goes that, if the people are taken care of, there would not be any reason for people to commit crime. When that happens, police would not be necessary.
With this in mind, how does the society of Psycho-Pass operate in reaching that crime-prevention society? Well, one thing that struck me the most about the society of Psycho-Pass is that it has a very strong emphasis on mental health recovery. Hue check (stress reading) is performed regularly toward its citizen, and people with dark hue are mandated to attend therapy sessions (sometimes by force if necessary). Isolation cells are only reserved toward people who are deemed by the Sibyl System as someone whose latent criminal tendency cannot be brought down by therapy. This strong emphasis on providing mental health support toward its citizens made the concept of bullying as a way to relieve stress feels downright alien for Akane, the show’s protagonist, in episode three.
In addition to that, there is also a strong job security within the society of Psycho-Pass. The Sibyl system determines suitable jobs to its citizens based on their personal capability, so as long as the people can keep their hue clear, they are basically guaranteed with a happy, prosperous life (although, based on episode 1, homelessness still exist).
Beyond the effort expended by the Sibyl system, Akane is also shown to be the show’s model of what law enforcement, if its still needed, should be. An officer that doesn’t ‘beat’ criminals, but serve the people. In the first episode, when a kidnapping victim’s psycho-pass dropped to a level that requires paralyzing shot by the police, Akane goes out of her way to stop her colleague from shooting her. Sure, it would only paralyze her, but it goes against the principle of serve and protect that law enforcement suppose to uphold.
Having said that, there are still flaws and limitations in the society of Psycho-Pass. For one thing, isolation is not only reserved toward people who are at constant risk of committing criminal activity, but it also applies toward people such as Kogami’s professor acquaintance and Yayoi’s old band-mate, people whose perspectives are considered as being ‘unsafe’ within the confines of the system. In addition to that, like what Jacob Chapman over at ANN has wrote, society constructed around a strict crime prevention based on criminal intent is effectively creating populace who are emotionally neutered. When having criminal thoughts is a punishable offence, what essentially the system condemning is simply having human emotions, passion, and instinct.
This ultimately is why I think the society portrayed by Psycho-Pass is perhaps the closest society to an ideal crime-prevention/cop-free society than our current one. Granted, admittedly my understanding of police abolition narrative is still limited and it’s possible that I misunderstand/misremembering of the structure of the society in Psycho-Pass. With that said, I’d like to hear from all of you in the comments regarding your thoughts on this.
Police Abolition Resources (to name a few):