by Nora Rivera-Larkin, October 26, 2021
This is an analysis of Philip K. Dick’s short story, ‘Minority Report’.
The age-old conflict of what is more valuable to a society: security or free will. In the futuristic society of the Minority Report, crimes are stopped before they begin, with a triad of machines called “precogs” predicting crimes and forming majority and minority reports based on the possible timelines and likelihood of the crime being committed. This allows the police force to put the would-be offender in a detention camp before they can commit the crime. The idea of stopping crime before it happens is idyllic and a tactic highly sought after in government and military forces. But it presents a moral ambiguity about the true guiltiness of the supposed criminal and raises the question of whether this regimented oversight is simply an abuse of power.
The idea of Precrime, the police agency that deals with stopping crimes before they happen, presents an interesting moral conflict to the reader, regarding whether or not someone is guilty of a crime they did not yet commit and how far the prosecution should go based on suspicion. In today’s society, planning out a crime or thinking about a crime is not illegal until you act in some way on the thought. But Precrime takes the calculations and predictions of machines as a guilty verdict and punishes people before they even do something wrong. This system eradicates the idea of “innocent until proven guilty” and does not even inform the person of their supposed crime beforehand, denying them the ability to even go against their predicted future and make a different choice. Even John Anderton, the head of Precrime, admits, “We claim they’re culpable. They, on the other hand, eternally claim they’re innocent. And, in a sense, they are innocent,” (Dick, 229). This system lends to the idea of a heavily controlled military state, where even supposed dissent is met with a sudden end, no matter your true innocence.
Along with the debate of suspicion of crime vs. actual crime comes the issue of abuse of power. The police, and certain army officials, are presumably the only people with definitive access or use of this technology. This raises the issue of malpractice and misuse by these people. Giving a government force complete access and power over a citizenship that has an overall blind belief — but no actual access to a technology that could imprison any one of them — is a life of fear and control, and an example of informational inequality at the expense of the people. The idea of abuse of power is further developed when Anderton is able to evade law enforcement and his supposed rightful fate in a detention center due to a prediction that he will murder someone. He has the ability to deny that the murder is in his future, and the ability to believe he is being set up, because of his powerful influence and access to the technology, a liberty that was not afforded to any of the people who had been detained prior. He directly represents the privilege of the government and of individuals with overwhelming power: the ability to question his own future and the ability to make a choice of who he wants to be and what he wants to do in his life, something not afforded to other citizens.
Precrime deprives the would-be criminals of their free will and of their choice in a criminal action. People are criminalized for something they have not yet done and are not given the true information on the system that puts them in a detention camp. The society is kept safe, by keeping its population in check with the elimination of free will and cognitive liberty. Precrime provides them with a safer community, but at what cost?
Dick, Philip K. “The Minority Report.” Selected Stories of Philip K. Dick, Pantheon Books, New York, NY, 2002, pp. 227–264.