This isn’t the blog post I intended on writing – I’ve been quiet of late as I’ve been powering through a couple of fascinating new books, and I did sit down this morning with all intention of summarising and relating my ideas on at least one. However, turns out I ended up watching Psycho-Pass Season 2 (all of it) instead, which led me to this post.

Psycho-Pass Season 2 Synopsis: The story takes place in an authoritarian future dystopia, where omnipresent public sensors continuously scan the Psycho-Pass of every citizen in range. The sensors measure mental state, personality, and the probability that the citizen will commit crimes, alerting authorities when someone exceeds accepted norms. (Wikipedia, 2014).

The authority in place is the Sybil System, and at one point they raise what was known as the Season of Hell, when a new system, Panopticon, was partially implemented to manage the road systems. However, it resulted in hundreds of deaths because of the constant bugs and lack of control. Which led me to question, what is a Panopticon? Of course, ask and Wikipedia shall provide.

The Panopticon is a type of institutional building designed by the English philosopher and social theorist Jeremy Bentham in the late 18th century. The concept is to allow a single watchman to observe (-opticon) all (pan-) inmates without them being able to tell if they are being watched or not. Bentham himself described the Panopticon as “a new mode of obtaining power of mind over mind over mind, in a quantity hitherto without example”. (Wikipedia, 2014)

It seems though, that although the idea of the Panopticon uses fear to control, Bentham himself argued for a more inclusive society, which appears at odds with such manipulative control. It may be that the fear of being watched, of losing privacy and thus control, is what has caused the ferocious backlash against central control. One can make a fairly easy comparison to Government, where a small number of people control the masses – although, not to the extent of the Panopticon, perhaps there is a grain of truth in the fear of possibly being watched by a Government that shrouds a majority of its actions. In Superfreakonomics, they discuss the idea of consequences. If one is caught speeding, one is fined, as appropriate for the level of speeding. An economic agent will weigh up the choices (presumably) at the time of the act as to whether they wish to stay in the speed limit, or disregard it and risk the fine. One simple answer to stop everyone from speeding is a death penalty. This extreme solution may cause the agent to always stay within the speed limit, given that the risk if they don’t is too high. In order for this to work however, the probability of capture would need to be high to always, otherwise agents will likely refer to their heuristics to determine the likelihood of capture, rather than the fine itself. However given the small number of law enforcement resources in comparison to the populace, currently this is not being done. If we were under constant surveillance, and the fine if one broke the law was to die, then it is very likely that agents would not break the law, given two critical things: the probability of capture (and resultant fining) is high, and the fine is too much of a risk for the pleasure (time, money, happiness) gained in the act of breaking the law.

Fear seems to be the controlling tool here, and it’d be interesting to see how this use of fear carries through in the behaviour of government, and those in power. It is also echoed in the fears that citizens seem to hold regarding surveillance – are we scared because of our lack of control, or because of a lack of trust of those in power? If it is the former, will it be a real loss or just the illusion that we had control originally. If it is the latter, do we mistrust because of previous behaviour, especially regarding fear tactics, or is it back to control, and loss of?

I’ll keep researching this, there are some fascinating crossovers with the material I’ve been reading of late, I’d say some of the key points that require defining and researching are:

  • Fear tactics
  • Control, reasons for, against, and effects
  • Privacy

Keep wondering readers.

– Rhiannon

Levitt Steven D. and Stephen J. Dubner, 2009. Superfreakonomics. United States: HarperCollins Publishers

Tow Ubukata. 2014. Psycho-Pass 2, Anime Television Series, Tatsunoko Production.

Wikipedia Contributors. “Psycho-Pass”, Wikipedia. The Free Encyclopaedia, 2014.

Wikipedia Contributors. “Panopticon”, Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopaedia, 2014.