Sunday, 26 April 2015

Assassins Kill Their Parents

I am not a big Superman fan.  Don’t me wrong, I don’t hate him and I will happily watch him in animation or a film, but I am not heavily invested in the character.  I do have a friend who is and he was outraged by the ending of the film Man of Steel where Superman kills Zod to prevent him from killing a group of cornered bystanders.  What made my friend angry was that the writers put Superman in a position where he had to choose between killing Zod and saving the innocents.

When we consume media, it is easy to get caught up in the story and forget that there is a storyteller making these characters say what they say and do as they do.  All stories are contrived.  A good storyteller makes us forget that he is there pulling everyone’s strings.  A good critic asks us to see the storyteller and ask what he is telling us beneath all the distractions of character, setting, and plot.

What the storytellers of Man of Steel seem to be saying is that under the right set of circumstances even the best people will do something terrible.  Superman fans will accept that message from just about any character except Superman, who is meant to be an ideal.

A question that bothered me for years, the kind of question you find yourself pondering now and again while alone, is why the storytellers involved in the Assassin’s Creed series made it so that most of the Assassins killed either their parents or a parental figure.  What is it with killing their parents all the time?

Altair kills Al Mualim, a father figure.  Ezio gets a pass on this one; however in his trilogy we see the animosity between Desmond and his father.  Connor kills his father.  Aveline kills her step-mother and contributes to the events leading her mentor to kill himself.  Edward, Adewale and Arno all get passes as well, however there are family issues with Edward, who is disowned by his  parents for becoming a pirate, and Arno, like Ezio, has the murdered father issues times two as he lost both his father and his foster father to murder.

My first thought was that this was some kind of Freudian thing where a boy does not become a man until he kills his father or his father dies.  This may be the case, but it seems too obvious an answer.  It is also very likely that the storytellers were just telling a story and the parent/child conflict just makes for a good story.   They may not have even noticed the recurring theme of patricide in Assassin’s Creed.  

The solution that I arrived at is quite simple.  You must kill your parents.  No, not literally.  The parents are symbolic of the invisible prison in which you live your life and no one can be truly free until they destroy that prison.  This prison fashioned by your parents is what I often call “the program” and sometimes “the matrix”.

Ever wonder how the snake got into the Garden of Eden?  I think that God put him there.  He gave mankind free will but nothing to choose between.  So what’s the point?  The snake provided Adam and Eve with an option that they had never considered and therefore an opportunity to exercise their free will.  In the end, they chose Enlightenment over God and as a curse were forced to accept adult responsibilities.

As children we only know what our gods, commonly known as Mom and Dad, have taught us and the world they made for us.  The entire framework of our minds, both conscious and unconscious, comes from them. We learn by their lessons, their examples, and the experiences they provide for both good and ill. Our parents created us; our bio-electric computer brain was formed by them.   So if you lash-out because of a chemical imbalance, it’s because of them.  Sometimes our life choices are forced or determined by our gender, that’s because of your father.  So when it comes to freedom, the power to exercise our free will, to what degree was our lifetime of choices predetermined by our parents?  Either through inherited biology or active nurturing.

The Program

I find that the best metaphor for understanding our psycho-emotional make-up, aka “the soul”, is the computer.  A computer can be said to have four parts: the hardware, the operating system software, the factory pre-installed software, and then the personal software downloaded by the user.  Each of these is analogous to the elements of our psycho-emotional make-up.

Hardware:  This is the physical aspect which includes our electro-chemical brain and how the body produces and responds to these chemicals.  For example, changes in serotonin levels can alter how someone perceives and responds to reality.  In terms of study, this is represented by the fields of neurobiology and psychiatry.  When we speak of mind altering drugs, we are talking about affecting the computer’s hardware.

Operating System:  Are you a Mac or a PC?  Each operating system is closely linked to the hardware and determines how the computer functions.  Likewise, humans have evolved certain instinctive modes of behaviour as a species.  This is the field of evolutionary psychology.  For the most part, people are largely unaware of how our operating system affects our behaviour, but it accounts for a great many of our natural drives.

In the age old debate of Nature vs. Nurture, these are the Nature parts of the equation.  The next level represents Nurture.

Factory Software:  in a computer, these are the programs pre-installed by the manufacturer.  The same holds true for the human computer.  The manufacturers in this case are the parents.  The child may have inherited certain hardware and OS aspects, but Factory Software refers mainly to what is called social conditioning and takes place during the first roughly seven years of life.  The agents of this conditioning are primarily parents and siblings but later in the process friends, peers, teachers, and mass media all come to play a role in framing how reality is perceived and understood.

Social conditioning can be divided in two phases.  The first is the unconscious phase.  This is where an infant absorbs things like language, dialect, and even facial expressions from their parents.  Although the child is conscious, they are primarily acting on instinct since they are still developing their cognitive abilities.  The second phase is the conscious phase where the child has the capacity to interpret and process their experiences.  The child may respond either positively or negatively to their conditioning.  For example, if the parent makes the child do chores the child may respond positively and accept a program for a positive work ethic, or the child may respond negatively and accept a program for a negative work ethic.  It all depends on how the child emotionally responds to the experience. 

Despite the child being conscious and cognitive, this period of life becomes largely forgotten. So as an adult a person may have a set of pre-programmed responses to certain stimuli, but have no idea how that program came into existence.  As a child, this person may have seen the colour orange just as he was startled by a car backfiring.  The result is distaste for the colour orange lasting the remainder of his life even if that event has been completely forgotten.

When you first get a computer or laptop and first turn it on this is what you have: hardware, an operating system, and factory software.  You did not design it and you have very little control of how it does what it does.  Likewise, your soul is as it is. You had no say in how the electro-chemical brain of yours was designed and wired and you had no control over how that brain was first programmed by the agents of your social conditioning.  What you can control is how you choose to use the computer given what you have.

The final level is the Personal Programs.  These are largely determined by personal experiences and repeated patterns of behaviour.  We are what we repeatedly do.  The problem is that Nature and Nurture have already predetermined how we process our new experiences, how we perceive reality, and the beliefs and values that drive our actions.  When a person says, “follow your heart”, “trust your instincts”, “let your conscience be your guide”, or “remain true to yourself” what they are really saying is to follow your programming.

What haven’t you noticed today? 

Well, you don’t know because you didn’t notice it.  When Al Mualim asked Altair if he regretted his life as an Assassin, Altair answered that he cannot judge because he has known no other life.  He was raised to be an Assassin from infancy.  This is a recurring theme throughout the Assassin’s Creed series.  Yes, we do see adults join the Assassins, but there is a strong element of Assassin parents raising their children to be Assassins.  As a result they know no other life except for the one chosen for them.

It is unclear to what degree Ezio's father prepared him for life as an Assassin.  Edward Kenway simply arranged for young Haytham to receive combat training and encouraged independent thought to prepare his son (much to the frustration of Haytham's jealous half-sister, Jennifer) without ever revealing its true purpose.  In the modern day, the Assassins went so far as to send their children to a commune called "the farm", which seems rather ominous, to indoctrinate them.  But is it indoctrination or simply child rearing?

I once met a girl, who was nineteen at the time, who had no idea what the religious significance of Easter was.  One of her parents was a Christian and the other was an Atheist.  They decided not to force either belief on her and allow her to decide when she was old enough.  There are a few problems with this tactic.  First, if a parent believes that a stove is hot, then they will prevent their child from touching it and thus protect them from harm.  If a parent truly believes Christian doctrine, then they will raise their child accordingly and thus save them from eternal hellfire.  Second, if a child is not socially conditioned (programed) to believe in the supernatural, then they never will.  Their brains will not possess the wiring to allow it.  By not choosing to raise the daughter as a Christian they inadvertently chose to raise her as an Atheist.  The contrary is also true, its is very difficult for someone who was raised religious to ever truly abandon it. They may swap religions easily enough, but few become Atheists without deep down feelings that they made a mistake.  No matter how much our parents try to be unbiased they cannot help but make us.

The word kindergarten means “garden of children”.  It stems from a theory of child rearing that believed that every child’s soul was like a seed that only needed to be cared for and it would just grow into whatever it was meant to be.  It is from this concept that we get the expression “bad seed” to described someone just born bad. This theory runs contrary to what had been the norm for most of human history.  It was believed that a child’s mind came into the world as a blank slate to be filled.  Parents and social institution were not so much raising children as taking  a pro-active role in programing them according to whatever they believed to be right or best for the child.  Today we see this as wrong so instead we allow the child’s programming to occur by accident rather than on purpose as if that relieves parents and institutions from any responsibility for the outcome.

Just as Altair could not judge between his life and one he had never known, neither can we conceive a life, lifestyle, or state of being that we never experienced.  All we know is the life produced and fixed by our parents or parental figures.  Since all of our choices only exist within this predetermined context, then we can never be truly free from them.  This psychological foundation will always be there.

Imagine two girls.  One girl was raised (socially conditioned) by her parents to have a very free and liberal view of sex.  The other girl was raised in an environment where open sexuality was frowned upon.  She decided to rebel and eventually got a job in the sex industry.   On the surface, she was sexually free and open, but deep in her unconscious was a sense of shame and guilt.  Eventually she burned-out and left the industry seeing it as a bad experience.  The other girl did the same, but felt no such guilt and when she left the industry it was on a positive note.  The difference between these two girls is one acted consistently with her program and the other did not.

This story illustrates that it is not so easy to “kill your parents”.  Simply rebelling against the program will not do the job.  Feelings like fear, guilt and shame are the part of the anti-virus software designed to keep you in-line with the program. The programming will be a part of you until your learn to change it.

Sure, the theme of patricide in Assassin’s Creed could be an accident.  However, if we look at the series as Existentialist mythology, then the clear message is that we will never be truly free until we overcome our  programming and its associate worldview and learn to see what we haven’t noticed.

So how do we change the program?  Well, it could be argued that all religion, psycho-therapy, hypno-therapy, and self-help is devoted to that purpose and as a result there are countless points of view from thousands of self-proclaimed experts.  We all want that magic pill to set us free to be who we choose to be or whoever we think that we want to be or should be and there are plenty of salesmen ready to make a living by selling it to us.

I do not know the answers, but the lesson I take from Assassin’s Creed in this regard is that we are who we were programmed to be and we know no other way to be.  The idea of killing your parents is a metaphor for challenging our preconceived notions concerning ourselves and the world as we experience it.  We may not be able to “kill” the program, but by recognising it we can begin the process of transcending it.

Saturday, 25 April 2015

Assassin's Creed: Seek This Symbol

This article originally appeared on my Evil Thoughts of a Decadent Mind page on 18 November 2012.  Unlike the other re-postings,I have chosen to re-edit, add to, and amend portions of this article. The original article and comments can be found here.

When people ask me what I write, I answer, “the cultural, history and philosophy of the Romantic Era from 1776-1929”. Since philosophy covers metaphysics, epistemology, ethics, politics, and aesthetics, I write about all these subjects as they pertain to the Romantic. Yet my most popular article by far is a critique of Assassin’s Creed focusing particularly on the ideas expressed in the game Assassin’s Creed 2.2, titled “Brotherhood”. I am currently on my second play-through of the latest release, Assassin’s Creed 3 and I thought that I would take a moment and share some ideas.

When any aesthetic expression is put into the world certain people are drawn to it but for very personal and often unique reasons. This game series has fans all over the world, but I doubt that very many see what I see. Likewise, I may see things beyond whatever was conceived by the creative team behind it.  This is not to boast.  It is is the nature of any artistic experience for the audience to make their own interpretation that may bear little resemblance to the artist's intent, but that by no means diminished the affect it has on the audience.  The emotional response is very real. 

Where I got the chills in Assassin's Creed III was the scene where Juno, the Ancient who had downloaded her consciousness into various "temples", she shows young Ratonhnhaké:ton (Connor) the insignia of the Assassins and tells him to “Seek This Symbol”. That is where I got the chills. This article explains why.

There are two kinds of people in the world. There is us and them. Humans are by nature small group animals with about 100-150 people in a group. We can say that what binds them together are familial ties, but that is superficial. Values are those things we act to gain or to keep. These values are determined by beliefs, and the habits required to attain these values are called virtues. When beliefs, values, and virtues are shared by members of a group we say that they have a common purpose. This is the glue that binds humans together as a couple, a family, a gang, a tribe, and a nation. We might even call it love.

All of these things, beliefs, values, virtues, shared purpose, and levels of group identity, are all abstracts. They have no physicality. So we manifest them as symbols. A symbol is not merely the representation of an ideology, but also of the group that adheres to that ideology. This is why the desecration of a symbol invokes such wrath. We love our symbols because they symbolise our love, our love of ourselves as part of the group we identify as us.

Humans may be small group animals by nature, but we no longer live in small groups. The groups we form are within the context of a larger group all filled with numerous other groups divided along a myriad of largely superficial lines, like race, national origin, religion, politics, and even cultural consumption. The result is that symbols lose their exclusivity to us. Anyone can impose any meaning, be it great or trivial, upon a symbol as they utilise it according to their fancy. A person may wear a cross for a number of reasons without any of them signifying identification with the beliefs, values, or virtues of Christians as a group.

Ubisoft, the company behind the Assassin’s Creed series, has made the symbol for the Assassin Brotherhood readily available in numerous forms, from jewellery, to belt buckles, to decals. What this says is, “I like the game Assassins Creed.” But there is more to it.

Within the context of the game’s story the symbol represents a secret society. It is a gang of men and women who have dedicated themselves to a system of beliefs, values, and virtues. Through this there is a common purpose and a brotherhood. Now suppose players of the game once exposed to this ideology find that they share these beliefs, values, and virtues. Does it not stand to reason that they will invest their emotions in the symbol as well? At this point the symbol transcends, “I like the game Assassin’s Creed” and becomes “I believe in the Assassin’s Creed”. The transition is made from art into life.

So let’s look at the symbol itself. First though, I need to give a brief disclaimer. I have no idea how the designers at Ubisoft came upon the design or what their intentions were.  All that I have is speculation.  I will note that a reader informed me once that the image the represents a flame burning on a lamp or brazier. Perhaps as the flame of Truth or enlightenment. This would fit within the Assassin's Creed lore and it is an interesting idea. It would be nice if it's origins were as ancient as this reader seemed to imply rather than just something that the Ubisoft creative team made-up, but he did not, or could not, elaborate or support this idea with evidence.  So it remains an interesting notion for now.

The Christians have their cross, the Muslims their crescent moon, and the Jews their  Star of David. So what should we call this?  Its been called the Assassin's Creed crest, insignia, logo, and symbol.  I prefer to call it just the Assassin's Creed.  A creed is a belief, yes.  However there is another definition for the word creed.  It can also mean the symbol representing the belief.  So the Christian Cross can rightly be called the Christian Creed.

When people ask me what does that symbol you are wearing mean, my typical answer is, "It means Nothing is True; Everything is Permitted."  The Assassin's Creed (symbol) means what it represents, the Assassin's Creed (belief).

Here are a few connections that I have made concerning the Assassin's Creed.  They are not facts, just observations that I find interesting to consider.


You may notice that the symbol looks like the letter “A”.  Sure, we can say A for Assassin.  We could also say A for Atheist.  The creed, “Nothing is True; Everything is permitted” as first expressed by the philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche was an attack on belief, which historically has been used to control people, and in a general sense it rejects all beliefs derived from social conditioning. not only religious beliefs.  Also, the Assassins in the game are portrayed as atheists.

A can also stand for Athena.  It may seems strange to mention a pagan goddess alongside atheism, but the gods and goddesses are very useful tools as symbolic representations.  Athena, as mentioned earlier as Minerva, is in many ways a vivid characterisation of the Assassins, their beliefs, values, and virtues as the goddess of wisdom, battle tactics, invention, commerce, truth, reason, and freedom. As the patron of heroes, particularly Odysseus, she encouraged the virtues of strength, courage, mastery, and honour.

Also of note in this regard is that in the game the Templar leaders carry the title Master, while among the Assassins the preferred title is Mentor. The word mentor originates from Homer’s Odyssey as the proper name of an old man who lived in Odysseus’ town.  During the story both Odysseus and his son are counselled by him, but it is later discovered that this was actually Athena appearing in his form.  The root of the word mentor, men, is the same from which we get the word mental referring to the mind.  It is also the root for the proper name Minerva, aka Athena.  So we have another connection between the Assassins and Athena.

download_ca_redThe letter A can also stand for Anarchy.  The political view of the Assassins is that power must be redistributed to each individual rather than concentrated in a central authority.  If we see political opposition on a scale between individualists on one side and collectivists on the other, then we have a clearer picture of the Assassins on the individualist side along  with the libertarians and anarchists and the Templars on the authoritarian collectivist end with the progressives, socialists and communists.  Power to the people does not mean power to a central authority claiming to act on behalf of the people. it means challenging the central authority as it presently exists and the potential creation of new authorities.

I have chosen to mark as the beginning of the Romantic Era as 1776 for three reasons.  That is the year that Adam Smith published The Wealth of Nations, James Watt put the first commercial steam engine into operation, and the Declaration of Independence was issued.  Romanticism is about individualism.  The Wealth of Nations brought capitalism that empowered the individual economically, the steam engine heralded the Industrial Revolution created individual opportunity, and the Declaration of Independence heralded the age of Classical Liberalism, which at the time was called radical republicanism, brought individual freedom.  Another interesting relationship was that Adam Smith, James Watt, and many of America’s founding fathers were all Freemasons.

Square_compasses.svgThe symbol of the the fraternal brotherhood known as the Freemasons, or Masons, is a compass and square.  Others have noticed the similarity between this and the symbol for the Assassins, with the compass forming the “A” shape and the square being the portion beneath it.  The “G” is said to stand for God, though not in a purely Judeo-Christian sense, but rather a supreme being as the “great architect of the universe”.  Masons use architectural and stonemason metaphors the illustrate their key principles of brotherly love, relief, and truth.

The similarity between the Mason and Assassin symbols is uncanny and yet may be purely coincidental.  Many theorists put forward the notion that the Mason evolved directly from the historic Knights Templar, however in the game universe, the Assassins are the oppositions to the Templars and the Masons are a separate entity.  I am by no means an expert on Masonic history, but from my understanding and research I would assert that Masons were generally on the side of liberty and were often persecuted by authoritarian regimes, such as the Italian fascists, the Nazis, and the Soviets.  I suspect that given further study many Masonic ideas may be present in the representation of the Assassins in the game.

Personally, I have friends who are Masons and they have given me an invitation to join, however as an atheists I cannot become a Mason.  Though it is funny to me when their friends meet me, notice my Assassin's Creed watch fob, and say things like, "You know what I mean, brother" with a sort of wink and a nudge.

Assassin’s Creed is a fantasy.  None of it is real.  There are no ancient ones, divine or otherwise; there is no Assassin Brotherhood, at least not since the Assasiyun died out after the Crusades; and there is no Knights Templar, although that is often debated on the internet.  So for all intents and purposes the symbol of the Assassins is equally meaningless, and anyone is free to ascribe any meaning to it, be it trivial or profound.

What is real is that there are people in the world who seek power which they usually justify in the name of righteousness.  Power is the means by which a person works their will in the world.  Some people use their power to exert their will over others and others readily accept this authority.  History shows us that human beings have an incredible capacity for self-subjugation to a point where it is perceived as a social norm and anyone who challenges the authority is seen as being weird or fringe.  Since the authority cloaks itself in morality, these outcasts are usually portrayed as evil or deranged.

This is the underlying truth behind Assassin’s Creed.  It envisions a secret group of people, a gang if you will, who rally behind a symbol and bind themselves together in shared beliefs, values, and virtues to challenge the authority –  “to work in the dark to serve the light”.  We talk about fighting for the right, but we really do not mean it.  We fight metaphorically through political activism or vicariously by playing games like Assassin’s Creed, but the authority does not fear metaphoric or vicarious battle.  Fighting means violence if necessary and the Assassins represent a group that sees the oppression that most are blind to and they are willing to do what must be done no matter how terrible.

At the end of Assassin’s Creed 3, the Earth is threatened by a return of the same massive solar flare that wiped-out “the Ones Who Came Before”.  The main character, Desmond Miles, must make a choice.  By activating an ancient device he can save humanity but also free Juno’s consciousness and she will in turn enslave humanity. Athena/Minerva councils him not to activate the device.  Remnants of humanity will survive and they will be free.  Desmond’s choice is one we must all make.  Do we value security and safety under the authority or do we choose freedom even if it means the world burns?  For me, the symbol of the Assassins marks those who choose freedom, no matter the cost and that is something very real.

The Assassin’s Creed – Nothing is true; everything is permitted

This article originally appeared on my Evil Thoughts of a Decadent Mind page on 18 April 2013.  This is the one that started all this as mentioned in my blog description.  You can view the original and the comments here.

Where other men blindly follow the truth,

Remember, nothing is true
Where other men are limited by morality or law,
Remember, everything is permitted.
We work in the dark to serve the light.
We are assassins.

I like criticism. Now there is a lost art. The role of the critic is to examine a piece of creation or a social phenomenon, or even a political phenomenon, and put it into a philosophical context that both the consumer/s and the creator/s may have missed. Unfortunately, the role of critic in society has devolved into two types. The academic critic is driven by ideology and the pop critic, with his thumbs up or down reviews, is usually driven by the market. The best place for reading proper old-fashioned criticism is the internet. I have written several and many folks have written some brilliant pieces.  The keen eye of the critic is most often active in the arts of painting, literature, and cinema. I know it is foolish to ever claim to be the first, but I know of no one who has ever written a proper criticism of a video game. I wonder why not. The best games have story and characters so why not unpeel the layers to reveal the hidden messages?

The frame story of the Assassin’s Creed series is actually pretty weak. The idea is that a secret society has created a machine called the Animus that allows a person to tap into the genetic memories of their ancestors. A bartender named Desmond Miles is kidnapped by this secret society, The Knights Templar no less, because they seek information known only to his ancestors, and Desmond must relive the memories of his ancestors to find the answers. In Assassin’s Creed 1, the ancestor is Altaïr Ibn-La'Ahad (born 1165) a member of The Assassins, or Hashishin, during the Third Crusade. In Assassin’s Creed 2 and Assassin’s Creed Brotherhood the ancestor is Ezio Auditore da Firenze (born 1459) a Florentine noble during the Italian Renaissance.  The world of Assassin’s Creed is one where two secret societies are locked in a nearly thousand year struggle for the soul of mankind. The Animus provides the narrative means of linking the past and the present to give the player a much larger picture of historical events in relation to the present.

There was a time when the Knights Templar were of little interest outside historians, but today they have become the foundation of the conspiracy theorist’s grand narrative. Their history in brief is that the Poor Fellow-Soldiers of Christ and of the Temple of Solomon, commonly known as the Knights Templar, were a religious order formed circa 1129 who fought during the Crusades as the elite troops of Christendom. To fund their activities in the Holy Land the Knights Templar had to be able to move money from the West to the Middle-East quickly and so invented the foundations of the banking system. They not only moved wealth to the Holy Land, but also from it and thus became very rich. King Philip IV of France was in debt to the Templars, so he pressured Pope Clement V to disband the Order in 1312 and, Jacque de Molay, the Templar Grand Master, was burned at the stake and the Templars disappear from history.

The conspiracy theory goes that the Templars, though disbanded by papal decree, continued to operate behind the scenes ever since as the secret money men controlling the strings of puppet governments. Their modern decedents are the cabal of international bankers and multi-national corporations moving us towards a one world government – The New World Order. This seems to be the premise accepted in the Assassin’s Creed games.

The only opposition to the Templars in the game are the Assassins. Historically, the Assassins active during the Crusades were an order of Nizari Ismailis, part of the Shia branch of Islam, which existed from 1092 to 1265 under the leadership of the Persian Hassan-i Sabbah. The name assassin comes from the Arabic hashishin, or “users of hashish” but also carries the connotation of “outcast” or “rabble”. Sabbah’s followers were known for their athletic prowess, intelligence, and ability to blend in. Their targets were exclusively politicians and generals and during the Crusades they were known to take contracts on Crusaders and Saracens alike, whichever suited the guild’s purposes. In 1257, the Mongol warlord Hülegü destroyed Alamut, the Assassin’s mountain headquarters in northwestern Iran, including their library, so not much is known of their beliefs. Then in 1265 their strongholds in Syria fell to Baybars, the Mamluk sultan, and that was the end.

Just as conspiracy theorists postulate that the Knights Templar survived their reported demise to become the secret ruling elite, the game Assassin’s Creed resurrects the Assassins in the mold of the plucky outcasts murdering key figures to disrupt the machinations of the Templars to enslave mankind.

Now let’s take a step back from the game for a moment and look at the larger game. There is a hierarchy to the world. In every human society, no matter their claims to egalitarianism, there have been people at the top, people at the bottom, and people in-between. The gauge for determining a person’s place is power. Power is the means by which we work our will in the world. People of great power command wealth, some control armies, and some control both. This can be on a global, national, or local scale, but the principles are the same. The people at the bottom have limited power, so they learn to submit.

We acknowledge that all people have the Natural Rights to life, liberty, property, and the pursuit of happiness and any violation of these rights is immoral and grounds for moral retribution. This puts a check on the power of the powerful. Through the instrument of law the weak are protected from the abuses of the mighty.  But what if the law favours the powerful over the weak? What happens when the phrase becomes, “and freedom and justice for all who can afford it”? What if the very laws themselves serve the interests of the people of power and not the people?

We may read Assassin’s Creed as being subversive in that it complements the narrative given by the conspiracy theorists, particularly in these dark days when it seems that their predictions are coming to pass. Or we may view it as a metaphor. The Templars represent the powers-that-be seeking to control people and the Assassins are those willing to fight such controls, not only for themselves but for all people. These people who “work in the dark to serve the light”.

Consider this fictitious scenario. Police raid a home or place of business without announcing themselves. Perhaps they have a warrant; perhaps they do not. Either way, that is not announced upon their arrival. The occupants respond to the armed intrusion with gunfire and some of the officers are killed during the arrests. Should those who killed the policemen be accountable for murder?

I believe that the vast majority of people would say yes. We are taught through our social conditioning to obey the police and that murder is wrong. However, in a liberal society based on individual rights, the answer would be no. Such an invasion would be a violation of property rights unless the police have a search warrant issued by a judge who determines if there is reasonable cause for such an action. So regardless of the fact that these invaders are wearing uniforms, without a warrant they are, under the law, intruders, and the occupiers have the right to defend their property using reasonable force.

If we reject this interpretation, then what we are saying is that the State, meaning the people of power, can use force against the people as they choose and it is illegal for the people to oppose them. We have taken power from the law and put it in the gun. Of course the people of power have more guns, so those who choose to fight back must use force with surgical precision, meaning assassinations.

However, although I can make a moral argument for using assassination as a political tool, when we look through history we find that the most famous assassinations were not performed in the advance of liberty, but by either the insane, by the men of power themselves, or by the few acting in personal interest in the name of the people. The only exception that comes to mind is the assassination of Julius Cesar and perhaps John Wilkes Booth’s assassination of President Abraham Lincoln. “Sic semper tyrannis”, or “thus always to tyrants” Booth shouted from the stage. In order to preserve the Union, Lincoln acted against the prescribed powers in the Constitution and impeachment was not an option given Lincoln’s popularity after the war. So though Booth may have been wrong, a case can be made that he acted morally.

The Assassinations

The game Assassin’s Creed Brotherhood is broken-up into segments with the core chapters concerned with three primary assassinations. The first is a corrupt cardinal and banker who flaunts his hedonistic lifestyle, the second is an effete French general who believes his value stems from his birth status and not his actions, and the third is a rival assassin (the Murderer) whom Ezio spares.

With each victim we have their final words and Ezios admonitions:

To the Banker:

Juan: The things I have felt, seen and tasted. I do not regret a moment of it.
Ezio: A man of power must be contemptuous of delicacies.
Juan: But...I gave the people what they wanted.
Ezio: And now you pay for it. Il piacere immeritato si consuma da sé (Pleasure unearned consumes itself). Requiescat in Pace (Rest in Peace).

To the General:

Octavian: I only wanted respect.
Ezio: Respect is earned, not inherited or purchased.
Octavian: Perhaps you are right... I need more time...
Ezio: Che tu sia parte nella morte (May you be equal in death). Requiescat in Pace (Rest in Peace).

To the Murderer:

Micheletto: I am not yet dead.
Ezio: I did not come here to kill you. He who is the cause of someone else becoming powerful is the agent of his own destruction.

In the additional story available as downloadable content, The Da Vinci Disappearance, Ezio kills the leader of cult that wants to use a hidden Pythagorean code make people more enlightened.

Ercole: You... an Assassin... the enemy of knowledge?
Ezio: One must choose to search for truth. Forcing it on others accomplishes little.
Ercole: These lost people... warring kingdoms... I would have ended their suffering.
Ezio: Che tu possa conoscere la verità nella morte. (May you know the truth in death.) Requiescat in pace. (Rest in peace.)

Each of these characters is symbolic of power in our society. The Cardinal/Banker represents pleasure. However it is not as simple as that. Why are people religious? It makes them feel good. Why do they consume? It makes them feel good. Why do they rack up consumer debt with the banks? To pay for feeling good. To all this Ezio says, “Pleasure unearned consumes itself”. All of these pleasures are of value, but they must be earned. The pleasures of faith through deeds, the pleasure of consumption through work, and such honest thrift saves us from the banker’s debts.

I find it interesting that morality here is equated with hedonism when it takes the form of self-righteousness. It is so obvious, but rarely articulated. The image of the Cardinal/Banker seems perfect to express the do-gooders supporting the power of the state to satisfy their own self-importance all in the name of righteousness.

The French general represents those born into power. From my association with the wealthy, I have found that the men who earned their wealth are good, if not great, men. However, their children are another matter. Often they have an innate sense of entitlement which is unearned and they grow to command others as their fathers had. Some are capable and others are not. To them Ezio reminds them that “Respect is earned, not inherited or purchased”.

The Murderer represents those among the people who serve as the fist of those in power. Ezio’s admonition, “He who is the cause of someone else becoming powerful is the agent of his own destruction”, reminds me of the socialist protestors who are in essence demanding a more powerful central government. They are the agents of their own future oppression.

Finally, the cult leader represents academic power and the self-proclaimed intellectual elite. Have you ever noticed that people think that everyone else is an idiot but them? Those that I might consider stupid proclaim that the world is full of idiots and apparently they are the exception. How more so must this be among the educated? These are the people who tell others how they should live if they are to be as intelligent as they are and they seek to accomplish this through the force of government in the form of laws. To this Ezio says, “One must choose to search for truth. Forcing it on others accomplishes little”.

You may have noticed someone missing from the list. The games primary antagonist and final kill. This is Cesare Borgia and he represents political power. He is the overreaching force that controls the Cardinal/Banker, the General, and the Murderer. His end comes when he is defeated by Ezio but proclaims that no man can kill him. Ezio answers that fate will decide and throws him from the castle walls. The message here is that government by its very nature will spawn new Cesare Borgias and we must remain constantly vigilant for their return.

The Assassin’s Creed

But what of the Assassin’s Creed?

“Nothing is true, everything is permitted”. There are three sources for this. The first is the 1938 novel ‘Alamut’ by the Slovene writer Vladimir Bartol which was the basis/inspiration for the first Assassin’s Creed game. Strangely, the novel was not translated into English until 2004. The game itself appeared three years later. The next source is a quote mistakenly attributed to the 1880 novel ‘The Brothers Karamazov’ by Fyodor Dostoyevsky, "If God doesn't exist, everything is permitted". The exact phrase, “Nothing is true, Everything is permitted” appeared that same year as “Nichts ist wahr, Alles ist erlaubt”, in ‘Thus Spoke Zarathustra’ by Friedrich Nietzsche.

In philosophy, the branch known as Ethics concerns itself with human activities. Those actions with a positive outcome are good and those with a negative outcome are bad. It is impossible to determine right action from wrong action without considering the context. That is where the first two branches come in, Metaphysics (what is reality?) and Epistemology (what is knowledge?). Together, these two branches pose the ultimate question in all of philosophy, “What is Truth?” If there is no Truth, then there are no moral limitations to action and thus is every action permitted.

Now take a moment to consider what you believe to be true. Is God in His heaven? Is global warming threatening life on planet Earth? Would the world be a better place is wealth was equally distributed? If you answered yes to any of these questions, then can you prove any of it or do you just feel that it is true because everyone else says it is?

In his day, Nietzsche was questioning the commonly accepted truths of the Judeo-Christian belief system. Today, we might expand that to include all socially conditioned beliefs that people accept without question. What if none of it was true? What if nothing is true? How would that affect your actions? There would then be no limitations to your will to act, or as Nietzsche famous said, “the will to power”. What he is really addressing here is what modern psychology and self-help call “limiting beliefs”. These are ideas about the nature of reality (truth) that limit our ability to act productively for our own benefit.

To say, “Nothing is true” is not a denial of Objective Reality. It is a denial of Subjective Reality and its power over our ability to engage our free will to act. This is not only important to humanity in general but particularly to the Romantic, since individualism is built upon volition and fettered volition is not true freedom at all but a form of slavery.

When I discovered the idea of the triune nature of reality: Objective, Subjective, and Artificial, I felt incredibly empowered by this idea. Ultimately, what it says is that nothing is true except Objective Reality, but there is more to it.

As we see in Ezio’s admonitions, and as his character as it develops throughout the games, he is constantly preaching a believe system. So we cannot say that “nothing is true”. However, these beliefs he espouses can all be traced by to the idea of Natural Law derived from Objective Reality.

One of the central characters in Assassin’s Creed Brotherhood is the historical figure Niccolo Machiavelli, who the writers of the game recast as a member of the Assassins. The following is from a scene involving Machiavelli and Ezio Auditore in Rome.

Ezio: Look at this city, the center of Borgia and Templar rule. Killing one man will not change things. We need to take away the source of their power.

Machiavelli: Are you suggesting we appeal to the people?
Ezio: Maybe.
Machiavelli: Relying on the people is like building on the sand.
Ezio: You are wrong. Our belief in humanity rests at the heart of the Assassin Brotherhood.

What Machiavelli is suggesting here is that the people cannot be trusted to do the right thing implying that they are fickle and will pursue short term gain or pleasure rather than long-term happiness and stability. We might go so far as to say that people are ignorant or stupid and therefore incapable of doing the right thing. A religious person might simply say that people are sinful. In all of these scenarios, the conclusion is the same. The people must be controlled, led, coerced, regulated, or nudged to do the right thing. Right being determined by someone else’s idea of truth and imposed by force on others for the good of society.

I think the majority of people would agree with Machiavelli here, but Ezio’s reply taken in conjunction with the Assassin’s Creed says different. He may be suggesting the idea of spontaneous order, or the invisible hand.

Objective Truth relies on Natural Law. There is a Sanscrit word that does not exist in its pure meaning in English; the word is Karma. It denotes the reality of Cause and Effect that lies at the heart of Natural Law and creates the spontaneous order found in Nature and in society.

Consider this scenario. You should not hit people. Why? Because they might hit you back. That is Natural Law. You avoid pain by not causing pain to others. Now suppose that you are socially conditioned not to hit people because it’s not nice, or God says so, or any other Subjective line of reasoning. You are now at the mercy of those who do not share your social conditioning. They can be violent without any fear of reprisal. They can now act without consequence and so disrupt the Natural order.

I confess that I too agree with Machiavelli, that the people cannot be trusted. However, I believe that is because they live a life where they have be sheltered or protected from the consequences of their actions, and therefore never learned how to be better -- to live up to their own potential.  The solution is not to impose rules based on Subjective Reality, but to allow Nature to take its course. This teaches responsibility and self-control through experience. Positive actions bring positive results and negative actions bring negative results.

For example, an article from Scientific America (April 2011) entitled ‘How Self-Control Works’ by Dan Ariely demonstrates the importance of self-control.

A recent study by colleagues of mine at Duke demonstrates very convincingly the role that self control plays not only in better cognitive and social outcomes in adolescence, but also in many other factors and into adulthood. In this study, the researchers followed 1,000 children for 30 years, examining the effect of early self-control on health, wealth and public safety. Controlling for socioeconomic status and IQ, they show that individuals with lower self-control experienced negative outcomes in all three areas, with greater rates of health issues like sexually transmitted infections, substance dependence, financial problems including poor credit and lack of savings, single-parent child-rearing, and even crime.

A quality like self-control is proven objectively to bring happiness, so it is up to parents to encourage this process of delayed gratification in children until they learn to do it for themselves, otherwise it is up to them to learn it on their own through experiences and hardships. The problem is that some people never learn from their mistakes and so as parents they never teach it to their children.

GK Chesterton said, "When people stop believing in God, they don't believe in nothing -- they believe in anything." In other words, belief in nothing creates a vacuum without any sort of standard and all that remains is the post-modern idea of relativistic Truth. So in rejecting Subjective truth we must accept the lessons found in Objective Truth to avoid the vacuum.


In 1987, I studied the book, Cultural Literacy: What Every American Needs to Know by E. D. Hirsch Jr.. Wikipedia defines cultural literacy as:
Cultural literacy is the ability to converse fluently in the idioms, allusions, and informal content that creates and constitutes a dominant culture. From being familiar with street signs to knowing historical references to understanding the most recent slang, literacy demands interaction with the culture and reflection of it. Knowledge of a canonical set of literature is not sufficient in and of itself when engaging with others in a society, as life is interwoven with art, expression, history, and experience. Cultural literacy requires familiarity with a broad range of trivia and implies the use of that trivia in the creation of a communal language and collective knowledge. Cultural literacy stresses the knowledge of those pieces of information that content creators will assume the audience already possesses.

People can play a game series like Assassin’s Creed and take little from it aside from the combat, challenges, and quests. That’s fine. However for the culturally literate there is so much more to see. That is the role of the critic. He points these things out.

As a Romantic, I recognise the deeper ideology as being more than the “assassin’s creed”. It is also the Romantic's Creed. It is not surprising that Machiavelli appears in the game as a secret leader of the assassins. He is part of the Romantic philosophical canon, and his works influenced others in the canon like Rousseau, Francis Bacon, John Milton, Adam Smith, John Locke, Benjamin Franklin, and Thomas Jefferson.

Blair Worden wrote in "Milton's Republicanism and the Tyanny of Heaven":

In the seventeenth century it was in England that Machiavelli's ideas were most substantially developed and adapted, and that republicanism came once more to life; and out of seventeenth-century English republicanism there were to emerge in the next century not only a theme of English political and historical reflection - of the writings of the Bolingbroke circle and of Gibbon and of early parliamentary radicals - but a stimulus to the Enlightenment in Scotland, on the Continent, and in America.

There is a clever scene towards the end of Brotherhood where Ezio and Machiavelli part company. Machiavelli says, “I intend to write a book about you one day”. Ezio responds, “If you do, make it short”. This is no doubt a reference to Machiavelli’s most well-known work, ‘The Prince.’

I like the idea that the assassins are “outcast” but through their nobility of spirit and their character, as embodied in Ezio, they become princes. I will note that ‘The Prince ‘itself has little bearing on Ezio or the assassins.

For those with the culturally literacy to see it, Assassin’s Creed is more than just a game. It is a call to arms encouraging us to remove the shackles of our social conditioning by recognising that “Nothing is true, everything is permitted” and thus have the strength of will and character to challenge the oppressions of our age.

The Secrets of the Templars in Assassin’s Creed III

This article originally appeared on my Evil Thoughts of a Decadent Mind page on 3 April 2013.  You can view the original and the comments here.

When I saw the early trailers for Assassin’s Creed III there were chills, particularly the Rise trailer. For someone like myself who knows the historical, cultural, and philosophical backdrop for the series I expected this game to be a metaphoric call to arms challenging us – the players – the rise up to face the challenges of our own age. In this regard I was slightly disappointed when I played the game. The challenge was there, but it took a very different and more esoteric form than what I had expected.

What we have is not so much a call to arms but rather a revelation. This edition of the series might well have been called “The Rise of the Templars” for in no other storyline do we see the Templars so elevated and the Assassins so downplayed. So, for those who identify with the Assassins the narrative was more of an exposition into the lay of the land.

Within the Assassin’s Creed series there are hidden teachings. They are not hidden because of some diabolical plot. They are hidden simply because most discussion and judgement of games focus exclusively on matters related to general gameplay, such as the graphics or the combat system. The teachings are revealed the story, the characters, dialogue, and themes within the narrative and clearly visible to those familiar with the socio-political background, both historic and modern.

Perhaps teachings is too strong a word. I do not believe that the writers of the series, Corey May, Jefferey Yohalem, Joshua Rubin, and Danny Wallace, have consciously imbued their work with “teachings”, however in creating a series about two rival ideologies it is part of the nature of the beast that these ideologies are explored.

I must stress that when I use the terms “Templars” or “Assassins” I am not referring to any literal organisation, but rather ideologies as presented in the game in the form of these fictional secret societies. In real life, these ideologies are believed, expressed, and acted upon by many individuals who may or may not be part of some formal of organisation.

In Assassin’s Creed III we are given the clearest examples of the Templar ideology in any of the games. In fact, the representative for the Assassins, Connor Kenway, is constantly being derided by the Templars with no strong counter arguments like we saw from Ezio in previous games. Consider these three key quotes from the character Haytham Kenway, the Master Templar in Assassin’s Creed III.

The people never have the power, only the illusion of it. And here is the real secret: they don't want it. The responsibility is too great to bear. It's why they are so quick to fall in line as soon as someone else takes charge. They want to be told what to do. They yearn for it. Little wonder that, since all mankind was built to serve.
I see the world the way it is, not as I wish it would be.
 Even when your kind appears to triumph, still we rise again. And do you know why? It is because the Order is born of a realization. We require no creed. No indoctrination by desperate old men. All we need is that the world be as it is.
Compare these words with those of Shadia Drury, in Leo Strauss and the American Right (1999), she argues that Leo Strauss taught that the "perpetual deception of the citizens by those in power is critical because they need to be led, and they need strong rulers to tell them what's good for them."

Leo Strauss was a professor of political science at the University of Chicago from 1949-1969 and has since become a shadowy but pivotal figure in modern global politics as the “father of neo-conservatism”. Professor Harvey Mansfield, a Straussian philosopher at Harvard University, summed up Strauss’ message for the BBC documentary, The Power of Nightmares (2004).
“He did want to have a school of students to get others to see what he had seen, that Western liberalism led to nihilism. [It] had undergone a development that at the end of which it could no longer define itself or defend itself. A development which took everything praiseworthy and admirable out of human beings and made us think to the dwarf animals, lead us into herd animals, sick little dwarves satisfied with the dangerous life in which nothing is true and everything is permitted.”
The use of the word “liberalism” in the above quote seems to refer to classical liberalism, or what today we might call libertarianism, as opposed to the liberal socialism currently associated with the word liberal.

The story of Connor begins with him being duped. The ancient known as Juno appears to Connor as a “spirit” and sets him on his path with the purpose to prevent the Templars from gaining premature access to her temple, however the quest is presented in such a way that in Connor’s mind he is avenging his mother’s death and protecting his village. In the end he succeeds in protecting the temple, but discovers that the Templars were not responsible for his mother’s death and the Americans that he aided do eventually drive his people from their village, so he failed to achieve what he wanted even though he succeeded in his role as Juno’s pawn.

This is reminiscent of an idea of Leo Strauss. Basically, the he sees society divided into three groups. There are the wise that accept reality as it is in all of its cold brutality and yet do not flinch. The next group are the gentlemen, these are people of belief and honour who are willing to fight and die for their beliefs. The third are the vulgar masses driven by their animalistic desires for self-indulgence and consumerism. Society must be ruled by the covert manipulations of the wise upon the gentlemen to control the vulgar masses.

Juno, who is arguably representative of the Templar ideology, is the wise manipulating the naïve idealism of Connor, the noble gentleman. To put it into a modern context, Drury uses the example of the “wise” Paul Wolfowitz manipulating the “gentleman” George W. Bush into the Iraq War.

The examples above point to the American neoconservatives of the right-wing Republican Party to be analogous to the Templars. This can be supported by a thinly veiled reference to the modern anti-capitalist protestors. As Benjamin Church dies he tells Connor, “Are these the same men and women who fight with muskets forged from British steel? Who bind their wounds with bandages sewn by British hands? How convenient for them. We do the work. They reap the rewards”. This criticism is reminiscent of those levelled against the occupy protestors fighting against the very corporate institutions that provide the iPhones in their hands, their Levis, and the McDonalds they eat.

It is easy to see the Templars as corporatists or Republicans and the Assassins as their liberal opposition, but that is narrow thinking. If we imagine the Templars as presented in the game, then no doubt they would hedge their bets and play both sides. Church goes on to say,
“It's all a matter of perspective. There is no single path through life that's right and fair and does no harm. Do you truly think the Crown has no cause? No right to feel betrayed? You should know better than this, dedicated as you are to fighting Templars - who themselves see their work as just. Think on that the next time you insist your work alone befits the greater good. Your enemy would beg to differ - and would not be without cause.”
What Church is suggesting is the very simple adage that there are two sides to every story, but the implications are incredibly complex. He is describing a context in which no path is without a potential victim and every alleged villain sees himself as an angel fighting evil for the greater good. Connor answers with the weak retort, “Your words may have been sincere, but that does not make them true.”

The answer to Church is not whether someone is morally in the right, either in fact or according to their intensions. The questions are how far they are willing to go to force their will on others and what the natural consequences of their actions are. Connor should have known this, but he was ill-prepared.

When the time came for Connor to become full-fledged Assassin, Achilles decided to forego the ritual. Looking back, we are reminded of this vow taken by the initiate:

Assassin: "Where other men blindly follow the truth, remember..."
Initiate: "Nothing is true."
Assassin: "Where other men are limited by morality or law, remember..."
Initiate: "Everything is permitted."
Assassin: "We work in the dark to serve the light. We are Assassins."

Questions of right and wrong in the conventional sense are merely social constructs and therefore simply the products of many minds in unison. None of it is true. What is true are the consequences of actions. What we see in the traditional right vs. left paradigm are two moral sides operating on the same principles. There is not much in action and consequence to separate the likes of Leo Strauss from his liberal counterparts, like Saul Alinsky and Carroll Quigley. The essential philosophy is the same. People must be controlled, manipulated, and lied to for the greater good as interpreted by the “wise”.

Carroll Quigley was a history professor at Georgetown University and a mentor to President Bill Clinton. In his book, Tragedy and Hope, Quigley writes:
The argument of two parties should represent opposed ideas and policies, one perhaps, of the Right and the other of the Left, is a foolish idea acceptable only to doctrinate and academic thinkers. Instead, the two parties should be almost identical, so that the American people can “throw the rascals out” at any election without leading to any profound or extensive shifts in policy. The policies that are vital and necessary for America are no longer subjects of significant disagreement, but are disputable only in details of procedure, priority, or method.” (1966)
No matter if you choose the path to the left or the right the final destination is the same. Think of it like “good cop/bad cop”. The “Right” is portrayed in a largely negative context in the media, whereas the “Left” in a positive light as those desirous to help people through social programs and welfare. One is the stick and the other the carrot, but the destination is still the corral.

Consider the post-911 world. Avoiding all the conspiracy theories surrounding that incident, the fact is that under the presidency of George W. Bush we saw a huge consolidation of power to the executive office and numerous civil rights losses, both foreign and domestic, particularly under the Patriot Act. The world was outraged; however these policies have been continued and expanded upon under Barack Obama, most notably with the passage of National Defence Authorization Act 2012 which allows for the indefinite detention of American citizens without due process of law and the murder of US citizens on American soil without trial. The only difference between the policies of George W. Bush and Barack Obama are how they are packaged. Where Bush outraged the world as the evil rich, white Republican, popular opinion readily swallowed the same medicine from the caring, black Democrat. But the outcome is the same.

Looking back at Haytham’s statement: “All we need is that the world be as it is. “ It is the natural flow of power to consolidate. The goal of the Templars is to be the ones to whom the power flows, whereas the goal of the Assassins is the dissemination of power from the few to the many.

On the surface, popular opinion is all for the Assassin’s way of things, but in practice this is not the case. As Ezio says in Revelation, “To say that everything is permitted is to understand that we are the architects of our actions and that we must live with our consequences, whether glorious or tragic.” What he is talking about here is the responsibility that comes with power. Power is the means by which people work their will in the world and with these actions come consequences; with freedom comes responsibility. When we take responsibility and consequence from people, they lose their freedom.

In Assassin’s Creed III, the Templars seek to purchase the tribal lands of Connor’s people in order to preserve it from encroachment and thereby protect the Mohawk there. On the surface this looks like a positive act. If Connor went along with it, he would have succeeded in saving his people. However, the Templars wanted to preserve the land not to protect the Indians, but rather to have free access to the temple site and they were more than happy to allow the natives to remain provided they did not interfere.

When William Johnson tried to convince the tribal elders of the Templars’ humanitarian goals, they rejected him citing the idea of personal responsibility. If you want to project us, then give us the means to protect ourselves. When someone seeks to do for you they have taken power from you. You become like a child. Give a man a fish and you feed him for a day; give him a fish everyday and he becomes your slave.

So when Haytham Kenway reveals the secret that the people do not want power because “The responsibility is too great to bear” this is the principle that he is evoking. If leaders provide the people with bread and circuses (sustain their lives and entertain them), then the people will naturally obey because they do not want to lose their benefits or accept the responsibility that comes with freedom. The state will see to your child’s education, provide benefits when you are unemployed, look after you in your old age, and provide medical care for you. You don’t have to worry about a thing, so you can now focus on reproduction, entertainment, and consumption. All that they ask for in return is your obedience and your taxes.

I have read some reviews of Assassins Creed III in which people seem very disappointed in Connor as a character, whereas his father, the Templar Haytham Kenway is amazingly popular. We see the Assassins through the eyes of the Templars as naïve fools fighting for a world that can never be. As General Pitcairn on his deathbed says to Connor, “You wield your blade like a man, but your mouth like a child”. Likewise, Thomas Hickey mocks Connor for chasing butterflies, ideals that can never be realised. We are also given examples of Assassins who turned to the Templars: Haytham Kenway, Lucy Stillman, and Daniel Cross. At the end of the story our hero, Desmond Miles, chooses the way of Juno and the Templars rather than the path of the Assassins as represented by Minerva. Even Achilles seeks to dissuade Connor from becoming an Assassin. Assuming Connor to be a boy with full knowledge of what he is asking of him, Achilles says, “Oh you might dream of being a hero. Of riding to rescues, of saving the world, but stay this course and the only thing you're gonna be is dead. The world's moved on boy. Best you did too.”

Death, pain, hardship, loss, and public disdain are recurring themes throughout the series. Haytham Kenway recognises that it is the creed that sees the Assassins through the painful life they choose as outcasts and rebels destined to be alone. He rejects the creed as the indoctrination of old men and since many assassins are born into the order one might rightly call the creed an indoctrination of their children. This is a life rejected by Benjamin Tallmadge whose father was an Assassin, but he chose a different life so that he could have a family outside the order. The same can be said of Desmond who was born and raised in the order but ran from it. We are given more examples of people born into the Assassins than we are of those who chose it, whereas all the Templars join as adults.

It can be said that the modern world was born during the Renaissance, but it not come into full maturity until the beginning of the Romantic Era in 1776. The picture presented of the Assassins is one where the Templars embraced the Modern and evolved new strategies to exploit it, but the Assassins are still bound to medieval notions that simply no longer apply.
During the Middle Ages the Templars sought to control people through brute force and during the Renaissance through the force of religion. Both Altair and Ezio were capable of responding on these terms. However, during the modern era the Templars discovered the value of cultivating the illusion of freedom in order to create a plantation of free range humans managed by the Templars. This is something the Assassins are ill-equipped to confront, and we see this in the cynicism of Achilles and the naiveté of Connor.

One might easily see Assassin’s Creed III not as a call to arms but as a revelation of the world as it is. The message is that people by nature value security more than they value freedom. This means that they will willingly submit to any authority capable of providing it. The Templars recognise this fact, so rather than being simply cruel authoritarians according to the stereotype, they are looking to help people by providing security not only from physical threats but also natural ones, like the need for food, shelter, clothing, and medical attention. On the surface this may seem like benevolence, but consider that of the so-called 1% controlling the bulk of America’s wealth, roughly 43% of them live in the counties surrounding Washington DC. The Templars and their cronies are getting rich at the expense of everyone else, nonetheless as long as people feel secure, in every sense of the word, they will accept and even defend the current status.

An important often over-looked point concerning the American Revolution is best exemplified by the Boston Tea Party. Due to changes in the East India Company the price of tea in Boston had never been cheaper, even with the new tax. The people of New England paid far less for tea than the people of Old England. What people miss is that the tea party was not about the amount of tax. The issue was the tax itself as a matter of principle.

The same can be said of arguments against slavery. The average slave was well cared for with food, shelter, clothing, entertainment, and even spending money provided. The issue was not whether the slaves were cared for. It was the principle that no human being should be owned as property.

To put this is a modern context, when people engage in an activity that either national or local government does not approve they seek to ban it in the name of the public health. This was first tried with cigarettes in which a fine, a penalty for usage, was built into the cost of the product and wrongly called “a tax”. Many people supported this because they either did not smoke so the fine did not affect them or they were smokers who knew they should not be smoking anyway. But these health concerns were irrelevant. The principle being established was the power of government to regulate, ban, or fine any legal activity it chooses. Now we see governments placing similar fines on gasoline, trans fats, and even banning large sized sodas in New York City.

Why protest a tea tax when tea has never been cheaper? Why protest slavery when Southern slaves have a better standard of living than Northern factory workers? Why protest fines posing as taxes when I don’t smoke? Because there should be no taxation without representation, because owning another human being is wrong, and because government should not have the power to regulate our consumption. It’s a matter of principle.

Until society as a whole comes to rediscover the concept that principle is more important than immediate benefit, there seems to be no end to this Templar plantation. However, the writers of the game provide two courses of action for the Assassins in response to this subtle form of Templar control.

The first is the way of Minerva. “Let it burn”. This idea in a modern context is that as the system becomes more unstable it begins moving towards its inevitable collapse which is constantly being predicted either through environmental, economic, or social means. Minerva tells us to prepare for it and let it happen so that new life may emerge from the ashes.

The second course of action is somewhat similar and provided in a more subtle form through the example of the Homestead. For readers of Ayn Rand, this may be called “Going Galt”. For survivalists, it’s called “living off the grid”. It involves separating yourself from the Templar plantation, denying their “free stuff”, and living in a community where power is dispersed with each member contributing their time, energy, and skill to others to tend to their mutual needs for food, shelter, clothing, education, medical care, and protection from outsiders.

It seems very likely that this is the final word on the subject. How does the game series end? The Templars win and Assassins Creed III shows us how they won despite the initial victory of principle in the American Revolution. Fast forward two hundred years and the Templars are the mega-corporation called Abstergo and the Assassins are scurrying around like rats in a cave grossly outmanned and out-gunned both militarily and economically.

In a recent interview, Ashraf Ismail, the director of the forthcoming Assassin’s Creed IV, described Assassin’s Creed III as depicting an attempt at democracy that succeeded whereas Assassin’s Creed IV will depicts an attempt that failed.

In many ways it is true that the American Revolution heralded a new era in freedom and the path of the Romantic Era from 1776-1929 has people in a constant movement towards greater freedom, this includes economic freedom for the individual to freeing literal slaves both in America and worldwide. It can be easily said from a Nineteenth Century perspective that the Assassins achieved their goals. Hooray, now we can all go home.

However, from a Twenty-first Century perspective we have seen in the previous century an unprecedented consolidation of power from the individual to the central government, and now local governments can bravely ban anything that a select group decides the people should not have. It seems petty, but it is the principle of the thing.

The Templar secret is just as it is spelled out by Haytham Kenway. People want the freedom to act as they choose, but they do not want the responsibility that comes with the power to act, so they satisfy themselves with the illusions of power, and therefore the illusion of freedom, and look for someone to tell them what to do.

Does that sound crazy? I recently watched a marketing lecture in which a discovery was disclosed. When you ask people what kind of coffee they prefer, the most common answer is dark rich coffee, however when you provide them with various samples to taste and rank the truth is that most Americans prefer weak milky coffee, but who will admit to that?

To those of us conditioned to the ideals of democracy and freedom it may seem absurd to suggest that people do not really want freedom, just as it is absurd to suggest that people prefer weak and milky coffee over a dark roast. The proof of what people are like is expressed in what they choose to do or not do and not in what they say they would do. Historical incidences of people rising up to fight for their freedom are extremely rare in the big picture despite the levels of hardship they endured. Of the few uprisings that succeeded, most quickly fell into another form of authoritarianism. The American War of Independence is more of an exception than a rule and even then only a third of the population supported it.
The Templars accept the world as it is and require no creed.  The Assassins however realise that without a creed, a code of beliefs to discipline oneself to, that our natures would drag us down into complacency and we will accept the unacceptable as “just the way things are”.  As Wendell Phillips said in a speech addressing the Massachusetts Anti-Slavery Society in 1853:

Eternal vigilance is the price of liberty—power is ever stealing from the many to the few…. The hand entrusted with power becomes … the necessary enemy of the people. Only by continual oversight can the democrat in office be prevented from hardening into a despot: only by unintermitted Agitation can a people be kept sufficiently awake to principle not to let liberty be smothered in material prosperity.
Assassins Creed resonates because we all know who the real-life Templars are. They may not be as obvious and extreme as presented in the game, but on some level we know that there are powerful people in government and commerce consolidating their power. When people lose the power to choose and to act on their choices, then they have lost their freedom. Who are the true Assassins? They are the outcasts who resist these powers.