Behavioural Control

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.


Economics – a tool for how, not an answer for why.

In my earlier post about THX 1138 I mentioned that humans appear to searching for an answer beyond money, and that Economics has been mistranslated as proving that money is the goal, when it has always been just a tool to achieving our goals. I stumbled across an article this morning that gave me goosebumps, the simplicity in which it described my thoughts was pure beauty!

I wish I could say that when I began my studies that I knew what I was doing – no such grand plan here, I just selfishly followed my interests. It just so happened that my interests fell into Economics, Statistics and Philosophy. When you look at these three in conjunction, they’re actually very similar, and provide some key insights into each. In particular, if one looks at Philosophy and Economics, there are the obvious threads of logic and systems thinking, however after reading this article I saw something that had been niggling at the edge of my thoughts for a while.

Economics models the ways in which our society works, there are basic models for basic ideas, and much more complicated flows and designs to capture the bigger ideas. We use statistics and theories to try and understand how our systems act and interact within our society, and the more we model, the more we try to generalise or compartmentalise humans – even to the point of adding in a factor for irrationality – all in order to make sense of what we see around us. There are many reasons why we model in this way, some as simple as making business decisions or placing policy, however I feel that we ache to understand our world, we try to make sense of what is happening so we can feel secure that the decisions we make are the best educated ones at the time. We want to feel right, and in control. Tim Harford put this nice and clearly in his Ted talk – Trial, error and the God complex.

However, we are not god. We are not all seeing, all knowing, and omnipotent. We make mistakes, because we are human, and to believe that there are models and systems of thinking that can account for everything is highly delusional, in just that we cannot even grasp the depth of the system in which we live, being our reality. I won’t generalise and claim that Economists do this, or even that people do this, at the least on a conscious level. However, what we are guilty of is believing that a model is the answer, when it is but a tool. Economics models our reality, but it can only show what we ask of it, and we don’t know all the questions, and the tool is only as strong as we make it. We can use economics to clarify, to simplify, to inspire, but it will not show us where to go or the reasons behind our questions.

Philosophy, the age old science, the beginning of all scientific theory, the beginning of logic, is where these questions can be answered. Or, if one has faith, then religion can possibly show these insights too. (Philosophy is my personal favourite, so I’ll continue with that branch in this post). Philosophy considers human emotion, response, consciousness and nature in order to understand why we are here, what this reality is, and what it could possibly mean to us – in this sense we can find our purpose, our reason for living, our reasons for humanity. Economics cannot provide us with purpose, only with the tools for the actions we determine.

I highly recommend you read this article, it’s a brief one and a shorter version won the New Philosopher writer’s award III.

Keep wondering readers.
– Rhiannon.