One of the first rules of writing is to never assume what your readers know. When writing a book its easy to explain a concept in chapter six and then when you refer to it in chapter ten all that is necessary is a quick reminder. The blog format is a bit different. One cannot assume the person reading today’s article read the one you wrote last year, so you end up explaining some of the same concepts repeatedly. The best solution that I have found is to take some key concepts and set them apart from the main blog flow in their own mini-articles for reference. This first one is about to interpreting the Creed and how it relates to what I call the Triune Nature of Reality.
Part 1: Interpreting the Assassin’s Creed
I have theorized that the Assassin’s Creed – Nothing is True; Everything is Permitted – is a very ancient concept which may have been guarded by some form of secret society. The role of this secret society was not merely to protect the concept but also control how it was interpreted.
One inheritance from the Protestant Reformation was the idea that the average person can interpret the Bible for themselves without the need of a priest. In the greater context of human history this is a novel concept that we now take for granted. The danger here is that things do not always mean what we think they mean.
Benjamin Franklin once estimated that one-third of the population of Philadelphia was Irish. Sounds straight-forward right? Not exactly. Back in Britain the government had wanted to colonize Ireland and they started in the six northern counties by settling Protestants from Scotland there. Many generations later the descendants moved to the American colonies where they were referred to as being Irish. Fast forward another fifty years and there was a mass immigration of Catholic southern Irish. The Northern Irish did not want to be associated with these new-comers, so they started to call themselves Scotch-Irish. Franklin’s statement is often misinterpreted by those looking to promote Irish pride, but the Irish he was talking about were culturally Protestant Scottish and not the Catholic Irish.
The lesson here is that things do not always mean what we think they mean. Making information available to everyone is a good thing, but the door is opened to the opinions of those who have never studied, and they tend to imprint their personal motives onto the text. Within Jewish tradition, the study of the Kabbalah does not begin until one has thoroughly studied the Torah and Talmud for literally decades, and yet this information is free for non-Jewish average folk to pick-up, study and say whatever they think it means without ever reading the Torah or Talmud even once. When it comes to understanding the Kabbalah, I would rather speak with an old rabbi than a pop-star singer like Madonna.
Unfortunately, the Creed has come to us in mystery and there is no longer an existent authority to tell us how to interpret it. All we can do it speculate for ourselves. This can cause problems if the Creed is taken at face value.
The Creed entered into the English language from French in the 1960’s. It is likely that its form in English as we know it today was created by the beat poet William S. Burroughs, its primary populariser. He had a superficial interpretation. Think what you want and do what you want. It was an invitation to nihilism and hedonism which he used as a philosophical justification for his chosen lifestyle. If the Creed is the great philosophical concept that Friedrich Nietzsche thought it was, then there must be more to it than that.
The Creed is made of two parts: Nothing is True and Everything is Permitted. These correspond to four of the five branches of philosophy: Metaphysics, Epistemology, Ethics, and Politics (the fifth is Aesthetics). Metaphysics is concerned with the nature of reality and Epistemology with the nature of knowledge. What do you know (Metaphysics) and how do you know it (Epistemology)? These two branches form a linked pair that can be combined into one question. What is truth? Ethics is concerned with right action for the individual and Politics with right action for the group. Again, these are linked because the individual is usually part of the group and they answer the question, “What is permitted?”.
Philosophy asks, “What is Truth?”. The Creed answers, “Nothing is True”. Philosophy asks, “What is permitted?”. The Creed answers, “Everything is permitted”. It seems straight-forward, but it is not. In fact, it’s nonsense.
If nothing is true, then everything is true. If everything is true, then nothing is true. Here’s how that works. The statement “nothing is true” would also include the statement itself, so what you are really saying is that everything is true, but if everything is true, so too would the statement that “nothing is true” also be true. See? Nonsense.
How about the second half? Everything is permitted. You are permitted to fly. Go ahead. I’ll wait. Permitted is not the same as possible. You may be permitted to fly but it is impossible for you to fly, aside from in an airplane, but let’s not be pedantic. Remember that this half of the Creed concerns itself with right action. The key word here being action, the same root word as actual, meaning existing in fact. This is the key to making sense of the Creed.
Someone says to you, “Nothing is true. Reality is an imaginary construct.” You respond by punching them in the nose. This person then grabs their bloody nose in agony as their eyes fill-up with water. Is that real enough for you? What we have here is the conflict between the ideal and the real, between thought and fact, between the subjective and the objective.
The first half of the Creed is subjective. You can say a nonsense phrase like “nothing is true” or “the moon is made of cheese”. There is no limited to what can be imagined. The second half of the Creed is objective. Everything is permitted is limited by the laws of Objective Reality and with that the rules of action and reaction, also known by the Sanskrit word karma. You may be permitted to step from the roof of a tall building, but that permission does not excuse you from the consequences of the action.
Another way to look at this is through the Scientific Method, specifically through the two key steps in the process: hypothesis and experimentation. The hypothesis is subjective. It can be anything imaginable. Experimentation puts that hypothesis into action. It transfers it from the subjective to the objective. I believe that if I drop a penny from the top of the Empire State Building that it will leave an indent on the pavement below. Let’s test that theory by dropping a penny from the top of the Empire State Building and see what happens. The subjective hypothesis is either proven as fact or not.
Despite the hypothesis stage being subjective by nature, it is possible to create hypotheses that are as objective as possible. The Scientific Method has allowed humanity to create a body of objective knowledge commonly known as the sciences. This body of knowledge allows us to formulate hypotheses rooted in already established fact. Just as experimentation allows for more objective hypotheses, so too can we make the statement “nothing is true” make more sense by remembering that the two halves of the Creed are not independent of each other. By interpreting them as one, we find that the phrase “nothing is true” is not a denial of objective Truth, but rather a denial of the subjective posing as Truth.
The Assassin’s Creed could be expanded to read:
Nothing is true, except that which is proven to be objectively true;
Everything is permitted, but only within the realm of possible action and not without consequence.
It’s not as catchy as “Nothing is True; Everything is permitted”, but when I refer to the Creed, it is the interpretation that I use.