Every so often, I encounter a work of art that leaves me so brimming with admiration and praise that I have difficulty thinking straight. That’s no exaggeration. It’s like a hypodermic injection of inspiration, straight to the brain. The thoughts come too quickly for me to process any one of them at a time, and so I’m forced to sit and meditate until the thoughts move slow enough for me to grab hold of one of them. Sometimes talking to people helps, but I don’t usually have that luxury. Even when I do, my unfortunate interlocutor oft ends up looking at me like I’m completely off my rocker. I don’t blame them.
Speaking of madness, we’ll be talking about Psycho-Pass today. Specifically, Makishima Shougo. If you wish to avoid spoilers for the first season of this series, I suggest you stop reading now.
It was late when I finished the last episode. Bad time for my head to be swept up in a tempest of thought and inspiration. Some people can’t sleep with the lights on. It’s the same with my brain: I need to turn the lights off inside my skull, lull myself into a thoughtless state– usually by watching or reading a thoughtless piece of entertainment.
So I grab Neuromancer off the shelf. Its scattered, dream-like prose and garish setting is enough to get me to calm down… a bit. Thanks, Gibson.
It soon gets me thinking about Makishima talking with that hacker dude in that one episode (descriptive, I know), about Philip K. Dick, about Neuromancer, and other popular Sci-Fi classics. That line of thought gets me back to thinking about how own personality and world view isn’t that far from Makishima’s– like, eerily similar, in some ways, to the point where a few scenes gave me goosebumps. I’m probably projecting a little, because Makishima is a fascinating and expertly-crafted character, and I’m definitely not ‘evil genius’ material; but still, I think the less I elaborate on this point, the better. That said, I shouldn’t neglect to mention that I have not committed any major crimes in my life, nor have any intention to. That’s all I’m going to say before I dig this hole any deeper. Let’s move on, shall we?
You can probably guess my stance on the question I put forth in the title– or at least why the question fascinates me. I’ve often struggled with the question of whether I’m mad, or if I’m simply one of the few lucid people left on the planet. One could probably academically argue that that question constitutes the main premise behind Psycho-Pass. But I’m not going to. That would require looking up and citing secondary sources, which I don’t feel is necessary for this particular project. Most of this is simply going to be me talking about my personal feelings and theories about the character.
Keep in mind I haven’t seen anything beyond season 1 of this show, and I feel like I don’t want to. Most series get progressively worse the longer they go on: Entropy. I don’t know if anything I will write here is later proven or disproven by the show, and I don’t really care. Stories take on their own meanings beyond the author’s intent, and it’s a grave disservice to the audience and the imagination to have each and every facet explained to us by the writer(s). That only hastens the entropic dispersal of artistic energy– your raging fire will become sputtering embers in no time.
But you didn’t come here to be lectured on the fine art of making fine art. Back to the topic at hand….
So, is Makishima mad, or is it the rest of the world around him that’s insane? I feel like Makishima’s character comes from the belief that, yes, you are among the last few free-thinking people in the world… and because of that, that world needs to change, by any means necessary. It’s a very egotistical belief, but one which Makishima often proves right through the numerous trials and tests he puts people through. Most notable, of course, when Akane first discovers that the Dominators won’t work on him, and he offers her a chance to save her friend’s life by shooting him with a real gun.
This is an opportunity I think that most people would– or at least should have taken in Akane’s shoes. Save one of your best friends, and also take down an extremely dangerous criminal mastermind? Regardless of your faith in the Sibyl System, to fail to take this chance with a resolute heart is utter insanity, in my opinion.
On the flipside, Makishima often shows a disregard for his own life– in the above scene, he’s willing to risk serious injury or death simply to prove a point. This could also be seen as madness.
Here we have two cases of irrational thinking, happening at the same time. Neither is judged dangerous by the Sibyl System. It makes me wonder what all those numbers and hues in the System are actually a measurement of. Does the System simply choose an arbitrary number whenever a Dominator is pointed at someone, depending on what outcome they desire? There is evidence that the Brains can manipulate the Dominators at will, and make exceptions to their own rules when it’s convenient. But I think it’s more than that; I think those numbers actually have significance. I don’t think the Crime Coefficient is actually a measure of one’s mental stability as it’s often portrayed, but one of their confidence, or faith.
The Sibyl System makes virtually every choice on behalf of its citizens. But why? To ensure everyone’s happiness, or to ensure everyone’s dependence? Take the first criminal in the entire series, for example. He has the courtesy to tell us a bit about himself before his inglorious demise. We learn that he was a functioning member of society for most of his life, until a single event tipped the scales and found him in discord with the System.
What happens when someone who has invested their future and well-being in a governing system for all their life, regardless of lingering doubts, suddenly, and for no well-explained reason, finds themselves rejected by it? It’s only natural that the person would become disenfranchised. I do not think the man in the pictures above is insane per se. He is panicked, grief-stricken, angry, and on drugs: an unhealthy mixture that would inspire the best of us to make irrational decisions. Is he beyond rehabilitation? I don’t think so. But according to the Sibyl System, he is more trouble than he is worth, and so he is hunted, pushed to the point of no return, and consequently exterminated. I think there is a numerical threshold in which the System decides a person is too disenfranchised to risk rehabilitating, and labels them Latent Criminals. Refusing the System’s “therapy” (which I’m convinced at least partly serves as a form of indoctrination– maybe the man even knew this, hence his refusal) was what made the System consider him too far gone. To further reinforce the theory that Crime Coefficient is in actuality Disenfranchisement Coefficient is the fact that simply being around a Latent Criminal is enough to make your own Coefficient increase. The System wants you to be docile, and stay docile– just like real life. Witnessing a crime does not make someone want to commit that same crime… but being around someone who can potentially open your eyes to the problems of the system? That’s how revolutions start.
So, what does this mean for someone who is criminally asymptomatic? I think it suggests a certainty of character, one who has never believed in the Sibyl System, who is so committed to thinking critically for oneself that the System either cannot properly process them, or chooses not to, so that they can be captured and integrated into their big ol’ pool of brains. You cannot judge others without first having your own set of morals, and that is precisely the sort of information that the Sibyl System seeks out. If any of those brains were once like Makishima, then they were relentless pursuers of knowledge, who pursued their own personal goals and ideologies above all else. This is obviously essential for a system designed to regulate and judge something as complex and morally-grey as human society.
So, where does this leave us? Let’s return to the question of whether it is Makishima who is insane, or the world around him. At a certain point in the story, Kougami theorises that Makishima’s motivations stem from feeling lonely, isolated:
I think that’s only half of the truth– and this is where things get a little anecdotal. This was a scene that really hit me, reminding me of all the times I attempted to be recognised by society, and failed, and how that made me feel. It’s what made me see Makishima as more of a tragic villain. Would he have been any different if he were born into an “ordinary” (for want of a better word) society like ours today? While Makishima exhibits sociopathic tendencies: He is charming and cunning, and does not seem to have any remorse when it comes to violence or killing; but is this a symptom of his isolation, or the cause? Furthermore, studies show that many of our world’s most successful businesspeople have similar sociopathic natures. Regardless of how you feel about these people, this does, to me, show that being a sociopath does not necessarily mean you cannot be a functioning member of society. In fact– and very similarly to the world of Psycho-Pass— much of our society as we know it revolves around the decisions of these people. I do not find it hard to imagine Jeff Bezos and his ilk becoming our real-world equivalent of the Sibyl System. That might frighten you, but I think we deserve it. The masses have proven that, when it comes down to it, they don’t want to think for themselves, anyways. You’d probably be happier. Ignorance is bliss, after all.
My personal definition of insanity consists of thoughts or actions which are objectively incongruous with reality. By this definition, I wouldn’t call Makishima insane. Arguably, he is one of the most logical characters in the entire series. Virtually every action he takes is performed for a carefully thought out reason. All else is a question of morality.
As for me? Well, it’s obvious I’m not a carbon copy of Makishima, though I like to think I know how he feels, being a social misfit myself. It sounds trite, as everyone likes to pretend they’re special in some way; but to someone like me, this isn’t a point of pride. It’s a curse. It’s something I hate about myself. If I could fit in, live life as some nine-till-five Average Joe, and do so without getting fired, or hating myself even more than I already do, I’d take that life in a heartbeat. Ignorance is bliss. I’ve stood in the middle of booming parties where everyone is reveling and debauching and enjoying themselves, and felt utterly alone. Is that special? Sure, I can get along with people, to a point. But beyond that point? There’s a wall. You can sometimes see the exact second where their eyes glaze over, and they lose interest– where the rabbithole gets a little too deep and dark for them to risk following me any further, and so they climb their way back up to the familiarity of their creature comforts. As I said, I don’t fault them for it. It’s actually kind of nice hanging around people like that, who make life look so straightforward, and remind you, without even trying, how much you overthink things. No; I only fault myself.
That was way too much information. I’m starting to annoy even myself with all this talk of my tragic backstory. I’m not looking for sympathy. The only reason I’m writing all this is to (hopefully) emphasise how much this character resonated with me, the idea of isolation, and what it can do to some of us. What about me? Will I ever become a Makishima? Become a murderous terrorist, hell-bent on collapsing society? I don’t think so. The world may be turning more into a dystopia with every passing year, but I don’t think we’re there just yet. So, uh, please don’t call the cops.
I almost teared up during the final episode. Not just because I didn’t want it to be over (maybe I will watch the later seasons after all), but because of the bittersweet inevitability of it all. Kougami knew he would kill Makishima, and Makishima knew he would be killed by Kougami. At the end of it all, Makishima had finally found a person who understood him. And he was happy. It was a beautiful scene.
Okay, I think I’m done. I’m actually kind of proud I was able to lay these thoughts all out here as clearly as I did, because believe me, it took me a while to get them sorted into a coherent stream of consciousness… and that usually means the thing I’m writing is destined for my “discontinued” folder. I hope something I said here was of interest to you, and that talking about myself the way I did wasn’t too creepy. It’s just who I am. I’d be happy if you left me a comment… even if it’s just to call me a nutjob. Until next time, cheers.