The current state of the Arab Spring through the lens of Psycho-Pass

Back in 2012-13, my involvement with the Psycho-Pass fandom on AS was a charged affair. The world and themes (whether actual or alleged) being what they were, the discussion was always going to be controversial. One thing that surprised me, however, was when a fellow poster indicated that I was being rather optimistic that the people could change the system without violence. I tend to think of myself as being rather cynical, or realistic. The impression I have of most people outside my field is that they are optimistic and even romantic about the outcomes of revolutions. Personally, I am not, largely because I work in a field where people are often quite cynical about how governments and countries really work. About how people really work. So whilst I was somewhat sad to find out that Egypt has apparently become “a police state more vigorous than anything we have seen since Nasser,” in no way was I surprised.

What has happened in Egypt brings me back once again to what Urobuchi Gen may have been trying to say through his story. One thing that really frustrated me when I was following Psycho-Pass was the way in which most of the fandom seemed to remain focused on the question of just how bad Sibyl was, and criticising Akane for her decisions. The problem is that commentary on the problems and dangers of authoritarian systems is nothing new – writers have been warning about this for well over a century now. Hence, the way that the first season of Psycho-Pass ended suggests to me that this may not have been Urobuchi Gen’s main point.

What might that point have been then? As I noted when I first reviewed Psycho-Pass, one of the key questions that struck me as I was watching the show was concerned with the way that people think. Our positions in any debate are always framed by the contexts of our lives, by the norms and histories of the societies that we live in. These are the institutions that determine how we think about a particular question as well as the answer that we arrive at. And the answer that most people seemed to arrive at when they reached the end of Psycho-Pass was that Sibyl needed to be taken down as soon as possible, no matter the cost. As one other poster put it at the time: why do you think the Arab Spring has occurred?

I think the answer to that question is obvious: people living under various degrees of oppression want to change their governments so that they will be guaranteed what we call the basic rights and freedoms of all humans. But based on what this world has seen over the course of its history, this is not the most important question that we should be asking. The mature democracies that the West prides itself in did not appear overnight; rather, the rights and freedoms that are now encoded in The Universal Declaration of Human Rights evolved over at least two centuries through transitions in many different states. Although some of these transitions were relatively peaceful (e.g. England, Australia), the ones that we tend to remember and celebrate emerged in bits and pieces in the wake of huge civil wars, as in France and the USA. Unfortunately, there is also a tendency to forget the ones that did not produce democracy; and even some of the ones that allegedly have not produced the liberal democracy that the West so aggressively promotes. Countries like Papua New Guinea and Egypt after the Arab Spring present a stark lesson for us: revolution does not often succeed, and some scholars have shown that it is less likely to succeed when it is violent (a good summary here); in other words, Gandhi may have been right.

Or, to put it another way, change is slow. As another member of AS observed,

In real life, there are far too many forces and interests at play in constant struggle. Real change is all about making compromises and advancing forward inch by inch, taking bold action when an opportunity actually presents itself, and fortifying position when circumstances look unfavorable.

Such compromise and re-entrenchment is a constant feature of change, even where violence has preceded or accompanied it. Slow and painful change is how the world has gone from one of slavery to one where equality is encoded in international institutions, although they have yet to reach all parts of the globe. The chance for a revolution to successfully lead to a democratic regime is low in the first place: add violence and it is far more likely to end in civil war with one faction potentially winning through to take power and suppress the others. If we don’t realise and accept these realities — and I’d like to suggest that the West often hasn’t — then the fragile outcome of liberal democracy is more likely to slip away. In short, whilst most people recognise that sacrifice is needed, change also requires far more thought and planning than many of my fellow viewers seemed to understand.

Which leads us to what I feel is a more important question: what is the best way to bring about such change? I don’t know — I don’t think anyone does, and I contend that this is one of the questions that Urobuchi Gen wanted us to consider, by looking at our own societies. But, having done that throughout my young academic career, I honestly feel that this can be said: a majority of the people in the state first need to agree that change is needed, and that a freer, more democratic society is what they want.

About karice
MAG fan, translator, and localization project manager. I also love musicals, travel and figure skating!

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