The Sibyl System is Justice

Psycho-Pass spoilers ahead, you have been warned.

With the revelations in the latest episodes of Psycho-Pass, a lot of people now seem fully convinced that society under the Sibyl System is undeniably terrible for humanity. Makishima Shogo, despite being a sociopath, is just fighting a good battle with the wrong means. Perhaps Urobuchi Gen intended for the story he wrote here to be interpreted in such a straight forward manner, but at least from my experience, Gen has never been one to settle for black and white interpretations. The Sibyl System certainly has some flaws, but I am not convinced at all that it is broken.


To summarize the basic facts of what we know about Sibyl so far: it is a massive hub of parallel computing, an aggregation of human brains is mechanically incorporated into the system in order to expand and speeds up Sybyl’s ability to think, and the individuals who comprise the system are those with unique personalities that do not fit mankind’s “conventional standards.” Furthermore, the criminally asymptomatic individuals, people whose crime coefficients cannot be determined by Sibyl, are seen as desirable additions to the Sibyl System because they further expand its abilities to process.

Essentially the Sibyl System can just be thought of as an ever growing collective consciousness that has been given omnipotent powers over mankind. In episode 17, Makishima points out the sheer irony of this revelation because “people accepted the Sibyl System” only because it is presented as “a society that doesn’t depend on human egos.” This of course reveals that the entire situation is a huge farce, but then it raises a more interesting question about society – what is the role of human judgment in law and order?

Magnificent bastard, but not a champion of justice.

The initial argument for the Sibyl System is that it is good only because it is unbiased and impartial to anybody. Nothing can be more objective than a machine, but then again, no machine is perfect. Moreover, anyone who works enough with computers should know well enough that computers are stupid. Machines are limited by the intelligence of the people who created them, so it makes perfect sense that human judgment cannot be fully removed from the rule of law. The complexity of human nature is not something that can be delegated to a mere machine without sentience.

If humanity cannot be fully separated from the governance of society, then this would seem to imply that Sibyl, as it is first presented, is just a pipe-dream. However, the Sibyl System actually does incorporate human judgment. While the revelation of such a fact to the society at large might bring it down, its secrecy has thus far kept the order and peace. The horrifying imagery of brains connected to machines distracts from the basic point here that humanity is still governing here. Human judgment has not been thrown away, and is in fact very important.

Even so, one will naturally question why in the world humanity should submit to the collective consciousness that is the Sibyl System, especially when we know that some of the people in it are sociopaths. The answer might not be all that complicated. Strictly speaking, the aim here is to have close to an ideal society as possible. In our world we of course have had several forms of government including direct democracies, monarchies, republics, and more. Democracy is commonly seen as the best possible government on average, but it does not necessarily mean that democracy is better in every situation.

“The society we have described can never grow into a reality or see the light of day, and there will be no end to the troubles of states, or indeed, my dear Glaucon, of humanity itself, till philosophers become rulers in this world, or till those we now call kings and rulers really and truly become philosophers, and political power and philosophy thus come into the same hands.”  
                                                                                                                                                         ― Plato, Plato’s Republic

Indeed the idea of a “philosopher king” has existed for a long time, but the problem has always been that no matter how great a ruler a king might be, their successor might not be so great. However, doesn’t the Sibyl System transcend this problem? This collective consciousness which rules society can be interpreted as a sort of “philosopher king.” No single human being can measure up to this collective consciousness in its ability to process and assess information. With each new unique individual that is added to it, its ability to think is expanded beyond what any single person is capable of. Better yet, as far as we know, it is not limited by mortality.

Society as organized by the Sibyl System might in fact be what comes closest to perfection as possible, assuming we are just looking at this from the stand point of justice. The show itself justifies this because in their world, people no longer fear crime.  Everyone walks around without a worry that they will be attacked or robbed, and they even leave their doors unlocked! A world where children do not have to have doubt and mistrust beat into them can be practically called utopian. Moreover, the Sibyl System has the ability to adapt and grow, so arguably it may be the best form of rule and order imaginable.

Justice without free will might not be so attractive.

Of course, justice is not the only consideration in managing a society. The conversations Makishima has with the fully cybernetic man, Senguuji, in episode 7 outlined the draw backs of the Sibyl System quite well. Some of the main points included how the average life span is decreasing as people are dying of heart failure from excessive stress care, and that people no longer talk about how life should be since they have essentially relinquished the notion of free will to Sibyl. Senguuji even goes as far to say that “now humans care for themselves to the point that they’ve actually regressed as a living being.” When it all comes down to it, what Makishima fights for is not justice, but free will.

Makishima has turned out to be one of the more interesting antagonists in recent times, not because he is simply badass, but because his philosophy is compelling to us as human beings. Almost anyone wants to believe that we are not just automatons; people want to feel like they have actual power over their actions in life. The Sibyl System takes away one of most quintessential qualities of human nature itself, our ability to perceive ourselves as individuals. Everything that gives life any sort of meaning has disappeared because from the moment you are born, Sibyl already knows what you can or will do.

The notion of free will is a chaotic idea, and if one thing is clear about the society in the show, people have little idea how to deal with chaos as has been illustrated perfectly during the riots. These people could not simply transition out of the system whenever they want, as they have become entirely too dependent on it. Kogami is not particularly comfortable with the idea either and even remarks that administering justice themselves is “a far more difficult and troublesome task than shooting a Dominator.”  Yes, even if we like free will, or at least the illusion of it, the question of justice remains.

She would find the right balance.

Akane seems to be where these two perspectives meet in the middle. She has tried to believe in the Sibyl System from the start, but she faces the cold hard reality that it might not be all it is cracked up to be. In episode 1 she makes a key decision not to listen to the Dominator’s order, and successfully captures a hysterical woman by using her own judgment in the situation. This exact scenario might be a blue print for good change in this society. Instead of using Sibyl as the ultimate authority on everything, it would merely be used as an advisory tool, and humanity will once again take the reins on life itself.

If there is anything that Gen has tried to communicate in Psycho-Pass, it is not that the Sibyl System is ineffective at administering justice, but that Sibyl takes away life’s meaning. People cannot fear their own inner darkness to the point that we start letting others manage our lives for us. Without the impulse for chaos in life, then humanity will stagnate and regress as sentient beings. Of course, if someone does not care about such notions, then society under Sibyl really is perfect. At least for Gen, the price of absolute justice is too great and not worth having.

One Response to “The Sibyl System is Justice”

  1. Well, that was certainly a misleading title

    what is the role of human judgment in law and order?

    After the latest episode, I started to view Psycho-Pass as being something of an unintentional(?) allegory to the Common Law system. If you think about it, the same way we use previous cases as precedents for any similar future cases, the Sibyl System uses the brains it has in stock as precedents as well for judging any potential criminals it may encounter. In both cases, the idea is that once a ruling is passed for the first time on a criminal, every similar case must be treated in the same way since it must be the ”correct” answer to the crime, and that since we are using an impartial system of law that doesn’t distinguish between humans and treats them all as equal, it would be fair and just. Of course, as is the case in PP and real life, the actual situation is that the real power is still in the hands of the people who enforce those laws and that no matter how much we want to fool ourselves, we can’t separate humans from the process of keeping order and maintaining law in society, nor is limiting our involvement in the process the answer for a fairer system.

    The example that you used with Akane and the way she handled that situation is the thing that makes this analogy more clear. In that situation, the Sibyl System had made a call according to its own records and precedents, but Akane choose to handle the situation according to her own judgement, disregarding the Sibyl System’s directions.

    And that’s the thing here, in order to make fair judgements, we humans must be able to do so with our own rules and not treat each case with the same logic as everyone without putting into consideration the changing times or other factors into the ruling. Such a system would be too rigid and easy to exploit (as is the case in PP) and would ultimately breed injustice. That was the conclusion that the House of Lords came to and decided to amend in the 60’s, and we had managed to become better thanks to it.

    Everyone walks around without a worry that they will be attacked or robbed, and they even leave their doors unlocked! A world where children do not have to have doubt and mistrust beat into them can be practically called utopian.

    I would call such a world ”simple” rather than truly ”utopian”, a world similar to Pleasantville where everyone is so stuck in a bubble that they are so sure would protect them and ignore whatever happens to the world outside of theirs. A world detached from reality. Even putting that aside, it does create dangerous trends with the population under such a system as the show had shown us. The people had been deluded into this false sense of security to the point where their survival instincts had gotten dull, and the moment someone manages to exploit the system they become easy to kill since they have no idea how to manage in lethal situations.

    Personally however, the real tragedy here is that after humanity had made such huge progress in its legal system and attempting to find the best, sure ways to carry justice and law, it decided to go back to square one. After taking away the power to dictate judgement according to things like putting a hot rod into someone’s hand of drowning people (”God’s judgement”, which even as someone who believes in God I can’t help but shake my head at) and trying to look at the facts of a case and the evidence and constructing scenarios that best match the reality of the situation, the folks in PP world had decided that the best way after all was just handing the entire process to an omnipotent deity that tells us what to do and we carry out its orders.

    If there is anything that Gen has tried to communicate in Psycho-Pass, it is not that the Sibyl System is ineffective at administering justice, but that Sibyl takes away life’s meaning. People cannot fear their own inner darkness to the point that we start letting others manage our lives for us. Without the impulse for chaos in life, then humanity will stagnate and regress as sentient beings. Of course, if someone does not care about such notions, then society under Sibyl really is perfect. At least for Gen, the price of absolute justice is too great and not worth having.

    Yes, I think that is the point that Gen wants to get across as well (though I think the show had made it also a point that Sibyl isn’t actually just, but that might just be me). For all it’s problems, I do appreciate the message of the show, though at the end of the day it isn’t what I really was expecting here.

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