Monday, 25 April 2011

Of Image and Substance

Mark Twain is claimed to have said “image travels round the world twice before reality gets its shoes on”. For William Butler Yeats, it had more to do with the poetic persona as the mask a public figure must wear to communicate with large numbers of people. For those whose public dealings are limited to the few within their monkeysphere there really is not much need for a public persona, however in these days of mass communication and social networking image is no longer the reserve of the famous. We are our own little spin doctors and image consultants.

I find it quite appropriate that places singles go to meet other singles in hope of finding love are called “meat markets”. All ethical human relations are based on trading values. These may be monetary exchanges, exchanging favours, or advice, or simply companionship. The values exchanged can be emotional or material. The important part is the trade. When people are looking to meet someone in these settings, it’s like being in an outdoor market with everyone showing and shouting what they have to offer another person. We are all salesmen selling a product and the product that we are selling is brand us.

A friend shared an observation with me the other night. He noticed that if a pretty girl passes I suddenly start speaking more loudly about my work as a writer. I honestly never noticed I did that, but I see now it’s true. I do do that. That is me announcing the values I have on offer. I do this out of habit probably because my work is of value to me and it has always brought me buyers in the past.

According to the pick-up artists, I am presenting the wrong image. The goal is “cocky funny” as being the attitude, or image, that women find attractive. There has to be a balance. Too little cocky is boring and lacking self-confidence and too much is arrogance. As for funny, too little is boring and too much is the overbearing class clown. Cocky funny is more effective than a discourse on Aristotelian Ethics in creating arousal despite what you might read in an Ayn Rand novel.

Where I believe some pick-up artists get it wrong is that much of their advice leans towards creating a public image to sell the product, but like the snake oil salesman, he may get the punter’s money but there is no substance to the product so there are no return customers. So he has to keep moving from town to town and hope that no one recognises him. Only then can the snake oil salesman perpetuate his fraud.

Image is like the smell of fresh coffee or cinnamon buns. We are drawn by the smell and we enjoy the feelings it gives us, but we want that cup of coffee or the bun at the end of the journey. We not only want our desires to be fanned, we also want them satisfied. For this reason, image and substance go hand in hand. One is simply a reflection of the other. For the Victorians, this cultivated image was not just appearance, but more importantly reputation. A reputation could make or break a person’s prospects. As the saying goes, “Our reputation precedes us”.

I was recently made aware of someone who is quite vocal in her beliefs and calculated in her image, but her listeners found her strangely hollow. She was described as lacking passion. When the person’s history was recounted to me it became obvious that here was someone who had cultivated an image based on a particular ideology and had the ability to argue and even embody her position, but her life was one of complete contradiction. The word for such people is hypocrite; someone whose image is contrary to their substance.

What I am describing here is the relationship between image and substance as it pertains to people selling themselves in their social interactions. When we move up to more famous people another layer is added to the dynamic.

Consider the case of Marilyn Manson and Dita Von Tease. The story goes that their marriage ended because she wanted to be the Fifties housewife and he wanted to be the partying rock star. The Manson image/substance seems consistent but Dita’s seems contrary. Not true. Manson seems to have made a classic blunder. Female performers whose job is to convey an image of sexuality are not inherently nymphomaniacs. That is an image the male audience wants to believe, but that is all just part of the show. The sexy stripper flirting with a guy as she gives him a lap dance will go home to her boyfriend and complain about her sore feet.

But the same can be said of the rock star. I once met an aspiring metal singer whose band was considering touring. He complained that he would now have to grow his hair out again. The members of Metallica are all classically trained musicians, but you would not assume that from their fan base. Or think of Lord Byron, the poster boy for the Romantic. Mr Mad, Bad, and Dangerous-to- Know wrote, “Those who will not reason, are bigots, those who cannot, are fools, and those who dare not, are slaves." One hardly thinks of the Byronic image as an advocate for Reason.

People are drawn to the popular image created by such celebrities and fill-in the blanks with the sort of person they want them to be for real. As Mr. Incredible said, “Of course I have a secret identity. I don't know a single superhero who doesn't. Who wants the pressure of being super all the time?”

The concepts of image, self-image, public persona, celebrity persona, and reputation are all facets of the same basic concept. These are ideas that we utilize, consume, and propagate on a daily basis, but like your mobile phone, you can probably work it but don’t really understand it.

Image is a form of communication. As with any communication, do you know what you have to say? Is it purposeful and thought out or haphazard? Are you going to tell the truth or lie? Will your audience understand you, misinterpret you, or be completely baffled?

Another thing about image is that it is always communicating. Even when a person says not a word they are speaking volumes to an observer, whether or not the audience is correctly interpreting the image or even if they are consciously aware it.

This is how image works. Regular readers are aware of my theory concerning the triune nature of reality. In that video link I wrote:

Objective Reality is supreme, but we can never truly know it.

We exist in Subjective Reality, but the map is not the terrain.

We depend on Artificial Reality, but it must be sustained by production.

There is a philosophical debate over what defines humanity. There are those who say that it is our ability to reason. Others say it is emotion, particularly sympathy and empathy. I once strongly advocated the former over the latter, but Adam Smith convinced me otherwise.

We live in the Objective Reality governed by Natural Law and fuelled by the engine of karma, the process of cause and effect. I sometimes call this The Great Machine with every moment in time, every event, and every human choice moving another piece forward and creating a new chain of events. We could not understand this process if we could not imagine the process.

Sympathy and empathy are also the result of imagination, as we imagine ourselves in another position or imagining how they feel. Of the four root emotions (happiness, sorrow, desire, and fear) two of them, desire and fear, are purely imaginative in nature.

What makes a human being unique is their ability to imagine and thus create the Subjective Reality of our perceptions. Our imaginations make us human. It is the source of all human invention and creation, and thus the source of the Artificial Reality as well.

The image that we communicate to others depends upon the perceptions of our audience and how they imagine us to be.

This brings me to my theory of Doppelgangers. Since the mind can never truly engage reality.  Every person, place, thing, or concept that we encounter is filtered through our perceptions and the mind creates a mental manifestation of it.  When we think about, talk about, or engage with that thing we do so with the mental image and not the thing itself.  Wisdom is the ability to align our idea of reality as closely and objectively as possible with reality.

When you first see or encounter someone, your mind begins to construct a mental doppelganger, or imaginative duplicate, of this person.  If a relationship forms, then that image gets fleshed-out.  Ideally, a perfect mental double is created.  All of your dealings with this person is not with the person but with your idea of the person.

If an intimate relationship or long-term partnership develops, the mind starts to form emotional attachments with the doppelganger.  Now, the doppelganger needs constant feedback from the real person to remain viable.  So the process is not independent.  However, we are always in love with our idea of a person and never with the real person.  That may seem harsh, but if we exist within the realm of our perception and can never truly know Objective Reality, then why would our romantic relationships be any different?

As with our relationship with reality, our mental constructs may be more true than false in some areas and more false than true in others.  The doppelganger may be accurate or it may be constructed of wishful thinking or emotional need.  As with life, the goal is to be wise.  We should use the facts of reality in our mental manufacturing process; likewise we must look at a person’s actions as objectively as possible in creating the doppelganger.

When the relationship ends, even though the person is gone, the doppelganger remains.  However, without the feedback from the real person the doppelganger begins to die.  This is incredibly painful because the doppelganger is made from you.  Your thoughts, your hopes, your desires, your emotions.  It may feel like you are dying inside, and that is because you are.

The human imagination is a powerful thing – and extremely dangerous. Of the three “realities”, the only one that is True Reality is Objective Reality.  Nonetheless, it is our ability to imagine Objective Reality in the form of Subjective Reality that allows us to form emotional connections with it and ultimately gives life meaning.

In his poem Ode on a Grecian Urn, John Keats concludes with the famous line "Beauty is truth, truth beauty, - that is all Ye know on earth, and all ye need to know”. The reasoning behind this statement is that we live in a world of order governed by Natural Law which is the source of Truth, likewise Beauty is defined by order and symmetry. We can go a step further and say that by following the Natural Law then order and beauty will follow, which is Morality, or right action. So Truth, Beauty, and Righteousness are all aspects of the same central concept.

According to Objective Reality governed by Natural Law, Truth is Beauty and Beauty is Truth, however the picture changes in the context of Subjective Reality. Subjective Reality is based on an individual and collective perception and interpretation of Objective Reality and the feelings evoked. Since this is only an idea, then is does not really exist. Likewise, when we communicate these ideas to each other be they through conversations or through art, we are only communicating ideas, not necessarily reality.

Subjective Reality is governed by individual and collective feelings, learned responses, and social conditioning which may or may not have any connection to Natural law. To break these laws is to invite hurting people’s feelings and possibly invite their retribution.

Everything is relative without the standard provided by Natural Law and its principles. When everything is true; there is no Truth. When everything is beautiful; there is no Beauty. When any action is moral justified; there is no morality. When Subjective Reality is taken to its logical extreme we find that there is no Truth, no Beauty, and no Ethics.

John Keats was a child of the Romantic Era, the Age of Reason. Today, we live in what I call The Socialist Era, the Age of Feeling. I cover this in the article, Born in 1920. Where the culture of Keats was one focused primarily on Objective Reality and Natural Law, ours is one based on Subjective Reality and on Divine and Positive Law, in other words, whatever people feel is true, beautiful, or moral is valid regardless of any proven basis in reality.

To illustrate, with an Objective orientation the purpose of education and research is to understand Nature so that we can command Nature. But with a Subjective foundation the purpose of education and research is to attain social status and influence regardless of Natural Law. This places us on the path to destruction, or what I call Athena’s Wrath.

I touched on the concept of celebrity persona. When we see Christian Bale dressed-up like a giant bat and saying, “I’m Batman” we know that he’s lying. He’s Christian Bale. But we accept the lie because we recognise he is an actor pretending to be Batman for our entertainment. In the film Galaxy Quest, we laugh at the alien Thermians who thought American television programs were historical records. In real life, it would be just as foolish as the guy in the strip club thinking that the dancer was flirting with him because she fancied him. Most people have the power to discern a false image from a true one and will happily play along.

And yet when it comes to celebrities outwith playing a role, or musicians, or even politicians, people are quick to believe the false image concocted by their stylists and spin doctors. Why? Because they want to believe even though deep down they know it is a lie. They want their heroes and villains standing in the spotlight to love or despise. They want to believe in the substance they perceive to be communicated by these images.

There is a scene in the film Galaxy Quest where an actor, who plays a Captain Kirk-type hero on TV, is feeling irritable and slags off a fan by reminding him that it’s not real. The dejected kid says he knows this and slinks off. In the course of the film the fictional ship is built by aliens and the actor has to call on the fanboy for help. The actor tells the kid that it’s all real and the elated fan shouts, “I knew it”. We know that it is a lie but we desperately need it to be true.

The psychologist Nathaniel Brandon has an exercise were he asks people to stand in front of the group one by one and say convincingly, “I am worthy of existence”. Some are overly theatrical, some are shy, and others are monotone. He then asks the audience if they believe the person. Mostly, they don’t. His point is that most people don’t believe that they are worthy of existence. Most people want to be someone that they imagine to be more worthy.

We play out this exercise every day of our lives. The world is a meat market and we are all salesmen trying to convince the world that our goods, Brand Us, is worthy. Some people use gimmicks, some lie, some are overly theatrical, some shy, some sexy, some monotone, and some mundane. All this is conveyed through image – whether that image is consciously cultivated or not.

In the world of the Subjective we endeavour to make our audience feel good, regardless of Natural Law. This can bring fame, fortune, and recognition, but it all lacks substance. According to Branden, one of the keys to a positive self-image, which we then project through our communicated image, is the sense of efficacy. This means that we have done something to merit it by our actions in the Objective Reality of karma – cause/effect or action/consequence.

Edward Bernays was Sigmund Freud’s nephew and applied his uncle’s theories in the field of sales and marketing. He even branched out into politics and political causes. Bernays was all about manipulating public opinion through human desires. Remember, desire is one of the imagined emotions. In other words, he was using image to sell products and concepts. Why? Because people respond to the feelings invoked through the imagination more than facts. This is how image travels round the world twice before reality gets its shoes on. This same principle is taught by the pick-up artist gurus. The lesson is how to create an image to manipulate female emotions in your favour.

Now perhaps the products sold by the Mad Men are superior to their competition. Perhaps the guy manipulating the girl really is a great guy for her. Regardless, the image is meaningless without the substance to back it up. Without substance the product and the relationship will eventually fail.

One of the key principles of the Romantic is to live consciously. This is because the Romantic emphasises the self and free will, but free will is meaningless if we choose not to consciously exercise it. This means taking conscious control of your image.

Through a combination of attitude, dress, and physical and verbal communication you are conveying an image. You may have a celebrity persona and also a public persona and a private persona, but each of these must convey Truth. The substance behind the image is you.

Monday, 18 April 2011

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

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.