Thursday, 24 October 2013

The Good, the Moral, and the Ethical

Technically, the words good, moral, and ethical are synonyms. I have no desire to challenge that lack of distinction, however, as a thought experiment a distinction may be drawn by looking at the modern common usage of these words.

Much of what passes for good these days has more to do with individual feelings derived from social conditioning. The good is whatever makes us feel good and the bad is whatever makes us feel bad. According to these criteria, right and wrong actions become arbitrary, whim-based, and easily justifiable or excusable.

While “the good” is feelings-based, the word morality seems to have a more authoritarian tone. In practicality, it does not matter whether this moral authority is religious or political in nature; both demand people to live according to their system of morality. So whether the moralists battle against gay marriage or against smoking cigarettes, both feel justified in their actions because they believe themselves to be aligned to their chosen moral authority.

Ethics is based on reason. It rejects good feelings as indicative of right action and dismisses moral authorities. Instead it looks at the world as it is and attempts to chart a course of action accordingly with the intent of achieving a prosperous outcome even if the road is hard.

The good are encouraged to follow their hearts and to do what feels right. The moral need only follow the rules and then rest assured in their salvation and moral superiority. The ethical must be wise; they learn through study, analysis, experimentation, failure and experience.

The distinctions presented here are of my own observations and are by no means according to Webster (or Oxford), and yet I find them very useful in understanding the world. For example, we might say that people are basically good, but being good is basically evil. Here’s how. People are basically good in that no person sets out to be evil. Some people do what feels good, but inadvertently cause long-term harm because they have not thought through the consequences of their actions.

For example, a person may feel good about themselves by giving money to a beggar completely unaware that this beggar then used the money collected to purchase heroin. This “good” person is in fact supporting the local drug trade. That may seem to be an extreme example, but it does happen on occasion. It may seem that the “good” government is one that provides for the poor, however the current system is one where politicians get elected and become rich by advocating such programs while contributing to a culture of entitlement and dependency among the poor that goes far beyond basic necessities. The long term consequences of being good often have negative outcomes.

Others use goodness justify their actions. Every villain thinks himself the hero – the good guy. Likewise, many evil actions throughout history have been justified by the moral authority that decreed it and the followers who simply obey feeling that they are doing right. The conflicts great and small throughout human history have not been between good and evil, but rather between good and good. Yes, even the Nazis thought they held the moral high-ground.

I believe that one of the great problems of our age is that the vast majority of people are good and many are moral, but relatively few are ethical. People learn to be good through social conditioning and become moral through submission to a belief system as obedient disciples, but being ethical requires reason and this means learning how to think rationally. Unfortunately, ethics education disappeared a hundred years ago with the loss of Classics and Philosophy from school curriculums. Instead, words derived from the study of Ethics such as virtue, vice, and character are now used out of context by the moralists as standards of judgement against non-believers.

In philosophy, Ethics is the study of right action. The goal, as with any study, is to determine a set of governing principles – a code of conduct if you will. So just as science has indentifies basic principles concerning the physical world, ethics seeks to do the same concerning human action. Virtues are positive habits that lead to positive outcomes and vices are negative habits that lead to negative outcomes. These habitual behaviours over time determine a person’s character as basically positive or basically negative.

Virtues, vices, and character are not immediate but incremental. Smoking is an excellent example of a vice. A single cigarette will cause no harm. Smoking over a few years will have little effect. However, a lifetime of smoking will cause serious damage. The good and the moral see the immediate positives but fail to see the long term negative effects of their actions. Likewise, virtue is often unrecognised. There may not be any immediate positives in daily oral hygiene, but a lifetime of this virtue yields great positives. From the standpoint of ethics, things that are immediately good, like a cigarette, can be negative and things that seem a chore, like dental hygiene, are good.

During the 1930’s and 40’s, Western Civilization introduced the modern welfare state. This was an immediate good. The poor were cared for, children were educated, people received healthcare, and the infrastructure was maintained and expanded. Now nearly seventy years later this is instilled into the social consciousness as a good thing, particularly among the good-hearted people of the socio-political left and to an only slightly lesser extent among the moralist right embracing “compassionate conservatisms”. The villains are the ethical people who recognise the welfare state as a vice and therefore “evil”, not because it is not immediately positive, but because the negative outcomes make it unethical. What has happened over the past seventy years has been an increase in the number of welfare beneficiaries, more bureaucracy to administer the programs, greater cost to pay for both of these, and a corrupt political class elected control it. The result is unimaginable and unmanageable national debts that threaten to topple the Western economies and potentially Western Civilization itself. All this could have been avoided because it was predicted during the Nineteenth Century by past leaders trained in Ethics.

The good follow their hearts, the moral follow their laws, the ethical follow their reason, and all three groups see the others as being evil. There is no difference in definition between the good, the moral, and the ethical, but there should be. Perhaps a division is in order so that we might better understand the current conflicts between the good, the moral, and the ethical.

Wednesday, 23 October 2013

Hail Satan – Or Why We Need More Devils

I finally got round to seeing the film World War Z which presented an interesting concept, the idea of the tenth man. Apparently, this is based on truth according this description on-line:

Following the Yom Kippur War (1973) which took Israeli military intelligence by surprise, institutions were put in place to reduce the chances that group think and overly dominant commanders would prevent diverse opinions from reaching decision makers or from being initiated at all. One of these was a unit often referred to as the devil's advocate office.

As describe by Yosef Kupperwasser, who used to head the Research Division of the IDF, in Lesson's From Israel's Intelligence Reforms :

The devil’s advocate office ensures that AMAN’s intelligence assessments are creative and do not fall prey to group think. The office regularly criticizes products coming from the analysis and production divisions, and writes opinion papers that counter these departments’ assessments. The staff in the devil’s advocate office is made up of extremely experienced and talented officers who are known to have a creative, “outside the box” way of thinking. Perhaps as important, they are highly regarded by the analysts. As such, strong consideration is given to their conclusions and their memos  go directly to the office of the Director of Military Intelligence, as well as to all major decision makers. The devil’s advocate office also proactively combats group think and conventional wisdom by writing papers that examine the possibility of a radical and negative change occurring within the security environment. This is done even when the defense establishment does not think that such a development is likely, precisely to explore alternative assumptions and worst-case scenarios.

In the film, it was described as “the duty” of the tenth man to challenge the majority which implies that even if he agrees with the consensus he must oppose them by presenting a thorough investigation and case to the contrary.

The use of the phrase “devil’s advocate” is an interesting one seeing as the word satan in the original Hebrew means to oppose, be against, or accuse. The figure of Satan appears by name only twice in the entire Old Testament. Once is in the book of Job where Satan is apparently on staff in heaven acting as a literal devil’s advocate against God who praises Job’s piety which Satan questions. The second is in the book of Numbers where God sends an adversary to prevent Balaam from acting against his own people. This word translated into English as adversary is the Hebrew word satan. It is not until after the Babylonian Captivity, possibly due to the influence of the Zoroastrian religion, that Satan became elevated to evil prince of darkness we know today.

Once upon a time the field of Science was known as Natural Philosophy. At the core of this philosophy is the scientific method not as the pursuit of truth, but rather the pursuit of falsehood. Humans are by nature believing creatures. Science has brought about the world we enjoy today by chipping away false beliefs, not by building truth. Whatever remains after this process is granted the highest honour of being deemed most likely true. As a result science has brought mankind closer to truth that any other study.

The popular rendering of the tale of Satan was that he was once the angel Lucifer whose arrogance led him to challenge God for which he was cast from heaven into hell. The name Lucifer means “light bringer” and is associated with the morning star, the planet Venus. As such, the name carries the connotation of meaning enlightenment. I prefer to see this story in reverse. By being Satan, challenging accepted beliefs, we achieve enlightenment to become Lucifer.

I appreciate that billions of people throughout the world believe the tale of Lucifer/Satan to be fact and with that have all sorts of associations concerning this source of all evil. However, in this context I am using Satan’s role as an allegory to illustrate that every organisation, even God’s heavenly one, needs a tenth man, a satan if you will, to challenge the leadership, the yes-men, the group think, and the herd mentality be it in politics, business, social life, or even within ourselves.  We all need a little devil inside to challenge our own biases and assumptions.

Wednesday, 3 April 2013

The Secrets of the Templars in Assassin’s Creed III

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.

Author’s Note:  It was a bit of a struggle to finish this one because I had an idea that kept distracting me.  Due to the popularity of my previous article on Assassin’s Creed, with nearly 19,000 views over two years, I have decided to expand it into a self-published book to be sold through Amazon.  I hope to write more on the history and mythology that inspired the series, examine the philosophies expressed, and demonstrate how these apply to the modern real world.

Monday, 14 January 2013

Idiot of the Western World

I finally saw the film, The Cabin in the Woods. I do highly recommend it if you have not seen it. The film introduces five figures which can be viewed as either archetypes or tropes in modern horror films: the athlete, the scholar, the virgin, the whore, and the fool.

The virgin and the whore are well-worn topics. The athlete is the alpha male warrior-type man and the scholar is the beta male who essentially has run human society since the beginning. The alpha may hold the reins of power, but the betas make things happen. The last one is the most fascinating. The archetype of the fool is mislabelled. He is not a fool, he is an idiot.

The word idiot comes from the Greek word idiotes meaning a private citizen or individual. Moving into Latin it becomes idiota meaning the same, an ordinary person or layman. In ancient Athens, the idiot was someone seen as being self-centred and concerned exclusively with private life as opposed to the public life of the citizen. This state of mind was equated with children who were born as self-centred but matured through education to be citizens involved in the public life with others in their community; therefore any adult who possessed these traits was seen as being immature or mentally undeveloped and widely considered to be dishonourable.

As the word moved from Greek to Latin to late Latin to Old French and then into Middle English around 1300 AD, the original meaning of individualism and selfishness was lost and the word idiot came to be defined exclusively as a mentally deficient person.

Marty, the character of the fool in The Cabin in the Woods, is by no means mentally deficient. He is an avid pot smoker, slacker, and social drop-out. He represents an increasing class of people in the West who look at public life and turn their back in disdain. He is an idiot not because of pure selfishness, self-centeredness, or ignorance. He is aware, both cognitively or intuitively, that civic life is a con, and his seemingly paranoid belief in the puppet masters proves correct.

For example, consider that the presidency of Barrack Obama is no different from that of his predecessor, George W. Bush, in terms of policy; and his challenger in the polls for the 2012 election, Mitt Romney, was not that different from Obama. So why bother voting? Why go through a pointless process like election campaigns and civic involvement when the outcome is no different? Why act when the “puppet masters” have predetermined the outcome?

The idiot looks at the world and sees his fellow man scurrying around competing for women always who seem to exploit and reject them in the end.  He sees people paying fortunes for worthless university degrees and end-up working dead-end jobs.  For those who get the great high-paying jobs the cost is freedom sold to employers, spouses, and children.  The view is not that different from the line of reasoning that led King Solomon to declare in Ecclesiastes that all is vanity and striving after the wind – or to put it in the vernacular, “It’s all bullshit”.

The fool in the films Clerks and Clerks 2 is the character Randall Graves who confesses that he behaves as irreverently as he does because when he looks at the world everything looks stupid to him. Likewise we have the Comedian from Watchmen or the Joker from Nolan’s Batman who see the world as one big joke. The idiot sees that the game is fixed and refuses to play, but if he does choose to act, then he acts against society. The Comedian and the Joker are both in the guise of “fools” but their actions veer towards destruction. Likewise, Randall looks to cut down others, and Marty brings about the end of humanity.

A valid question to speculate is whether the idiot in the sense presented here is an archetype or a trope. Archetypes are ancient images preinstalled into the human psyche, like the warrior or the fool, and can be found across time and space in human narratives. A trope is more of a modern convention that recurs in films, television, books, and comics. The idiot has its precursors, such as the fool and the rebel, but I see it as a wholly modern response to a modern context.

In the film, Pump Up the Volume, we have the character Mark Hunter in 1990 who assumes the guise of the pirate DJ known as Happy Harry Hard-on responding to a letter from one of his listeners.

'Dear Harry, I think you're boring and obnoxious and have a high opinion of yourself.' Course some of you are probably thinking I sent this one to myself. 'I think school is okay if you just look at it right. I mean I like your music, but I really don't see why you can't be cheerful for one second.' I'll tell you since you asked. I just arrived in this stupid suburb. I have no friends, no money, no car, no license. And even if I did have a license all I can do is drive out to some stupid mall. Maybe if I'm lucky play some fucking video games, smoke a joint and get stupid. You see, there's nothing to do anymore. Everything decent's been done. All the great themes have been used up. Turned into theme parks. So I don't really find it exactly cheerful to be living in the middle of a totally, like, exhausted decade where there's nothing to look forward to and no one to look up to.

Nine years later, we have Tyler Durden in the film, Fight Club:

Man, I see in fight club the strongest and smartest men who've ever lived. I see all this potential, and I see squandering. God damn it, an entire generation pumping gas, waiting tables; slaves with white collars. Advertising has us chasing cars and clothes, working jobs we hate so we can buy shit we don't need. We're the middle children of history, man. No purpose or place. We have no Great War. No Great Depression. Our Great War's a spiritual war... our Great Depression is our lives. We've all been raised on television to believe that one day we'd all be millionaires, and movie gods, and rock stars. But we won't. And we're slowly learning that fact. And we're very, very pissed off.

The issues described by these characters over twenty years ago have not improved.  They have gotten more pervasive as more and more people are becoming idiots.

It is common to identify these idiots as rebels. We might contrive that in the case of Tyler Durden in Fight Club, but generally the difference between the idiot and the rebel is that the idiot sees the pointlessness of rebellion. In his mind, cutting-off the hydra’s head will only spawn two more, so what is the point? What Tyler Durden does have in common with the idiots is that he sees the only solution to be not a new head, but the complete destruction of the existing order.

In the world I see - you are stalking elk through the damp canyon forests around the ruins of Rockefeller Center. You'll wear leather clothes that will last you the rest of your life. You'll climb the wrist-thick kudzu vines that wrap the Sears Tower. And when you look down, you'll see tiny figures pounding corn, laying strips of venison on the empty car pool lane of some abandoned superhighway.

Looking past the idyllic primitivism of Durden’s desired world, what we see is a life where life has purpose and actions are meaningful and appreciated. In 1980’s post-apocalypse films, we have raiding marauders or mutant monsters. Today’s expressions include shows like Jericho and Revolution that focus on community values, honest living, and a purposeful existence. It is almost as if we want Western Civilization to die.

The television show Revolution is a post-apocalyptic world where electricity stops working and society crumbles. One of the characters, Tom Neville, is a typical tamed man. He works as an insurance adjuster beaten-down by his corporate boss and goes through life meekly asking permission. He lets off steam with a punching bag hung in his basement and tells his son, “We only hit the bag, not people”. After the blackout, the chains come-off and he proves himself to be capable, ruthless, and tough. With civilization gone, he is able to live to a potential that he never knew he possessed. The character may be a villain, but I think many viewers can relate to his position. They cannot articulate this, but they feel trapped.

We live in a world where people seem in practice to define freedom as a state of being free from oppression. When in fact freedom means being free to act without prevention. These may seem very similar, but the difference is vital. A person might say that they are free because they do not fear jackbooted thugs patrolling the streets and harassing citizens, an image that they identify with oppression, true, however neither is there the freedom to act without fear that the government may punish actions through arrests, courts, and penalties. Whether there is active oppression or subtle nudging, the power to act is removed from the individual and without the power to act there is no freedom.

Idiocy is a reaction to this sense of fear and powerlessness, this absence of freedom that the idiot alone recognises. When society at large accepts a particular narrative that they consider normal, then anyone who rejects it is not normal and therefore weird, alien, and outcast. This social exclusion may even exacerbate his rejection of society. He does not want to reform the plantation. He wants to burn it.

They say, “Don’t rock the boat, especially when you are standing in it”. It takes an idiot to do something that stupid, but maybe that is what we need to shake things up.

Saturday, 12 January 2013

The Age of Hades

The typical school day for Victorian children consisted of Classics, followed by Classics, then Classics, and then, just to mix things up a bit, Classics. Of course there were other classes too, but much of a student’s school day was devoted to the Classics. As late as the 1920’s, a person was not deemed educated unless he spoke Latin. Today, the Classics are the ghost towns of academia. It’s a pity really.

When I was a boy I studied Greek mythology for fun and much of my adult knowledge on the subject stems from this period, however I have lately been dipping my intellectual toes into these Greek waters once again and I had a rather fascinating realisation.

The word zeitgeist means “the spirit of the age”. It is not a literal spirit; rather it refers to the General Will of the people manifested. Yet, looking over certain periods of history, and taking into consideration the human tendency to see patterns, it is easy to assign a guiding force over the ages of humanity and the Olympians make ideal metaphors for the spirits of the ages.

For example, looking at the Romantic Period (1776-1929) we see a surge in invention, commerce, human understanding, and above all freedom. These are all under the auspices of the Greek goddess Athena. Her image is found in countless works of art and sculptures of the period (including the Statue of Liberty), not to mention federal and local government buildings and seals. Even Britannia and Columbia, the symbolic representations of Britain and America, are based on her. The Romantic Era was the Age of Athena.

This got me thinking. Which Olympian is the spirit of our post-modern age? Apollo? No, he is more suited for The Enlightenment. Dionysius? No, the social chaos is not as widespread as one might expect from the ultimate party god. We supposedly had a sexual revolution and we are obsessed with love, but this is not the Age of Aphrodite. Ares? We’re not so medieval. Hermes? It is the communicate age after all, but that did not seem right either. It’s difficult to truly recognise your age when you’re in the middle of it let alone identify the driving “spirit of the age”. Then it hit me. This is the age of Hades.

After the Olympians defeated the Titans, the three sons of Kronos divided the spoils of earth, sea, and sky between them. Zeus got the sky, Poseidon the sea, and Hades the earth, well, not the earth exactly. The surface of the earth was neutral territory. Hades got the hidden earth underneath. He is the Lord of the Underworld which includes the mineral riches as well as the bodies we bury. He is the ruler of the dead, their judge, and the god of wealth. His name means “the Hidden One”, but he is also known as Pluton in Greek and Pluto in Latin – the Lord of Riches.

Many scholars argue that the Romantic Period ended with World War I. I see the war as part of the beginning of the end, but not the end itself. The true end came with the collapse of the stock market in 1929, financial mismanagement that exacerbated the Great Depression, and the fear that drove the world towards government central planning. It seems fitting to begin the age of Hades with the word depression, a loss of faith and hope.

The spirit of an age is its driving force. For example, some may smirk at labelling the Romantic Period as the age of freedom because of the existence of slavery, but what they fail to consider is that it was a century that saw an active movement to free slaves and it succeeded. The driving force was the process of liberation and not necessarily the absence of slavery.

Likewise when looking at the age of Hades we are looking for the general thrust of the age, the movements of events towards a conclusion. The Romantic Period saw the birth of the Modern and the apex of Western Civilization while our post-modern age is the movement towards its death. Many cultural historians have observed that the patterns of Western Civilization over the past near century indicate a death wish leaving them to conclude that we are a suicidal culture.

Of course this view may be an example of apocalypse porn. The term apocalypse porn was coined to describe the phenomenon in which people derive a perverted pleasure in reading about or theorizing on the end of the world. The fear began in earnest in the 1950’s with the Cold War nuclear scare, then predications of environmental disaster starting in the 1960’s till today, and now its economic collapse we fear or government tyranny. This is not an overt fear, but a lingering one as if it is slowly consuming us from the inside making us numb.

We live in the deadliest age with an estimated 231 million people dying in military or civil conflict during the 20th Century. The irony is that as a culture we seem to place more value on human life than ever before, and yet our attempts to preserve human life are overshadowed by a massive death toll.

Hades is the god of riches. Traditionally this meant the mineral wealth hidden underground like gems and precious metals. Contrast this with Athena as the goddess of invention and commerce, the creation and exchange of values, therefore Athena is the goddess of capitalism. Hades on the other hand governs existential wealth. It is not created but found wherever it is hidden and once found it is hoarded, for Hades is a greedy god.

In the age of Hades money is still created, but the focus is in moving existential wealth around rather than commerce. Where the Athenian Victorians demanded commerce flow for the sake of prosperity, today the children of Hades demand invisible wealth is transferred from rich to poor with only a sparse choir calling for an increase in production to alleviate financial woes. Even so, the poor are not that poor. The average standard of living far exceeds that of medieval nobility.

Pluto, the Roman name for Hades, gives us the word Plutocracy, rule by the wealthy. There has always been a symbiotic relationship between government and the rich. Politicians want the wealth and the wealthy want the power of force. It is when this relationship becomes a bit too cozy and rulers govern not to defend the rights of the people but to legislate the interests of the rich that we see the hand of Hades at work. Today this is called corporatism or crony capitalism, while some erroneously call it capitalism from their occupying tents.

The Age of Hades has also brought us the death of the family. Should we be surprised by declining birth rates in the West, after all the god of the dead is infertile? Liberated women are now free from life-long familial responsibilities and many men and women now choose to opt out of the family game altogether.

Neo-pagan orientated feminists indulge themselves in Olympian fantasy, but the truth is that Athena hated other women, Hera is the goddess of marriage and family, and Aphrodite is the sexy beauty queen. None of these fit the feminist ideal. A flimsy case could be made for Demeter the goddess of fertility and farming and more so for Artemis, the lesbian huntress, but the best goddess to represent feminism is Persephone, the wife of Hades.

Hades adored his wife and would often acquiesce to her demands to such an extent that she could be rightly considered the co-ruler of the Underworld. In a similar vein, feminists like to believe that they took the power they now have, but the fact is that men gave it to them just like Hades relinquished power to Persephone. The thing is that she hated him for it.

As the judge for the dead, Hades divided new arrivals into three groups: the good, the bad, and the average. Seriously offending the gods resulted in eternal torment. A life un-extraordinary meant being reduced to mere post-mortem sheeple grazing the Asphodel Meadows. Only those who really stood-out from the crowd got the good stuff and this meant being heroic, but very few gained the special rewards or the special torments. The bulk of the deceased were sentenced to a blissful limbo where they forget who they were in life and mechanically pursue routine monotonous activities of no consequence. Film maker George Romero portrayed this metaphorically in his zombie films with people shuffling about in constant consumption continuing their routines long past their sell by date. The state of humanity in the Age of Hades is the walking dead.

Athena loved heroes. She counselled or sponsored Asclepius, Bellerophon, Hercules, Odysseus and Perseus. Likewise during the Age of Athena young boys were inspired to live heroic lives through the body in strength of arms, or through the mind in creation or invention. The greatest challenge for any hero involved a journey into the Underworld to match wits with Hades. Of those who ventured into that dark realm, only Hercules and Orpheus returned (and he left empty handed). Heroes may have been rewarded after death, but in life Hades was not a fan of heroes.

After the Age of Athena ended, the pervasive social mood was to tear down the ideological statues that had been erected to honour Victorian heroes. Individualism gave way to collectivism as the dominant social philosophy. Victims replaced heroes as models for action. Social status went to whichever group could argue themselves as the greatest victims while the heroes of old were repainted as villains. For the first time in history, the losing teams were awarded the trophies.

The thing is that human beings need heroes. The concept is engraved into our DNA. So we quarantine them. Heroes get relegated to works of fiction to be outgrown. We indulge our need vicariously through narratives in television and cinema or in video games, but frown on those who make them legitimate role models for life. Sure, some men might strut around thinking themselves the tough guy, but never have the opportunity to test their imagined mettle, and this makes them arrogant. Rather than lead us to extraordinary lives worthy of the Isle of the Blessed, heroes subjugated by either this dismissive attitude or arrogance lead us deeper into mental limbo as slaves to Hades.

The Age of Hades is one of fear, sorrow, and hopelessness, despite great wealth, in a life without conscious direction, subjugated by the corrupt, and without heroes to save or inspire us. Of course, what I have written here is no more than an interesting observation, a flight of fancy. Yet, one feels obliged when pointing something out to follow with a prescription.

The Age of Athena ended with a general loss of faith. Sure, we lost faith in heroism and the nation-state after World War I and we lost faith in capitalism with the Great Depression. Since then, we have been abandoning many of the virtues of Western Civilization (those being competition, science, medicine, property rights, consumer society, and the work ethic with competition, property rights, and the work ethic being the big losses).

That being so, we need a traumatic event to shake us from our slumber and bring about a great awakening. Not some fanciful “Age of Aquarius” nonsense, but a real fundamental shift in the collective consciousness of the zeitgeist. For thirty years before the end of the Romantic Era people in academia were laying the foundations for this hell on Earth. So it seems reasonable to assume that the best way forward is to lay some new foundations. If we fail, then we may well see the end of Western Civilization as a worst case scenario and the best case, should we fail, will come the Age of Ares.

Tuesday, 8 January 2013

The Story of Us

I have come to the belief that one of the great casualties of post-modernity is us. Here’s what I mean by that. The human brain is the most complex computer in existence. This particular computer comes with preinstalled software developed about 50,000 years ago. This brain has the ability to perceive roughly 100-150 other humans as being unique individuals; everyone else is just them. You can use other terms to describe them, like randoms, non-player characters, or simply the extras and supporting cast in this film which is your life. The human brain draws this very clear distinction between us and them. I call this the UvT (Us versus Them) Mentality.

The problem is that a basic tenant of post-modernity is that there is no us or them; we are all part of one great, big global village. So the archaic tribal brain is at odds with the post-modern social conditioning. We are trying to force a round peg into a square hole and this denial of reality may prove to be our doom.

Okay. That may seem a bit extreme, but I am not so sure. Some rules of nature are pretty obvious, like jumping from height will be painful or lethal. Other rules are more subtle and the results of violating them are more gradual. It’s kind of like smoking. One cigarette is innocent and harmless enough, but after a pack a day for twenty years the habit takes its toll. The sin is not the cigarette, the sin is the lifestyle. It’s these subtle long-term violations of natural law that are the most dangerous. The denial of the UvT Mentality is just such an insidious sin against nature.

Human social organisation has been pretty consistent over these past 50,000 years. Every living creature is driven to procreate. Among humans, males and females join forces to procreate, feed, and nurture their young. It is advantageous to produce as many off-spring as possible in case some die and to help support the family. These are the first three tiers of human society: the individual, the couple, and the family. But what about these children in the family? They need to procreate as well and keeping it in the family is not the best genetic option. Families need other families. This collection of families constitutes the tribe, the fourth tier of human social organisation.

There is another group that fits snugly in-between the individual and the family; call it tier 1.5. This occurs when a small group of men break away, either literally or metaphorically, from the tribe to seek their fortune and thus become a gang. If successful, gang members do eventual take wives, form families, and either establish a new tribe or re-amalgamate into their old tribe.

The tribe is the key. It is the mental template for human organisation. There are a few key features of note that need to be understood so that we can see how this template works and how it is applied to the higher tiers of human organisation.

The generic tribe that I am describing here is the typical form of human organisation taking into consideration the past 50,000 years. For the sake of perspective, imagine that the modern human brain has only existed for one hour. Agriculture and the city-state emerged in Egypt and Mesopotamia about ten minutes ago and the modern nation-state formed half a second ago. As far the human brain is concerned, non-tribal organisation is bucking the trend and by no means the norm.

The first key feature of the tribe is that it claims a defined territory that it exploits and defends. This is universal. The popular myth that Native Americans, for example, had no concept of land ownership is simply nonsense. All tribes recognise the territory used and defended by the tribe. This creates the fundamental delineation between us in our space and them in theirs. The UvT Mentality begins in this physical space. Within its defined space the tribe develops culture. This includes language, beliefs, rituals, history, and stories. This creates a second border that transcends the physical plane to become conceptual. We are different from them.

The tribe exists for one purpose. It exists to flourish. The first part of flourishing is survival, and then as survival becomes easier the tribe looks to prosper. These are the seeds of human morality. Killing, robbing, or lying to members of your own tribe runs counter to the tribe’s purpose because such acts diminish the tribe’s ability to survive. However, in order to prosper it may be necessary to kill, rob, or deceive members of another tribe. So a double-standard develops. Thou shalt not murder your own kind, but you can kill outsiders. There is one standard for us and another standard when dealing with them.

Likewise behaviours considered to be virtuous have their origins within the tribal context. There is an innate sense of co-operation and mutual concern for the well-being of others in the tribe. A man may willingly and happily sacrifice his time, energy, and skill to do a favour for a fellow tribesman. Similarly, he may readily obey a tribal leader directing the actions of the tribesmen for the good of the tribe because he knows that by helping others he is indirectly helping himself. This has to do in part with the interdependency among its members. Abstract concepts like duty, honour, altruism, and human value all stem from the physical necessities for survival found in tribal existence.

It is important to note that the UvT Mentality is not inherently hostile towards those outside the tribe. You may trade with them, ally with them; be friends with them; live among them, and you may even marry from them, but they are still them.

The next tier of human organisation is the nation, a collection of tribes sharing common language, history, culture, beliefs, values, and virtues. This commonality leads to the pervasive belief that the tribes comprising the nation are one people.

To us the step from tribe to nation seems small, but it represents a huge leap in consciousness. The key features of tribal existence are practical and immediate. The members of the tribe live, work, fight, produce, and endure together. Think of it like a family. Imagine two brothers who go their separate ways and form families and you are a child born of one of these families. You grow-up on an isolated farm among your brothers and sisters and led by your father and mother. You work your farm and defend it from outsiders. Then one day an man appears that your father introduces as being your cousin and therefore part of the family. This does not make any sense to you. How can this outsider be part of your family when he is a stranger? To understand this you have to make a cognitive leap and redefine your concept of family to include distant blood relatives who have their own farms where they live, work, produce, and endure with their immediate family, but are still part of your family.

It’s a common phenomenon in history where an invading army conquers an area by picking-off one tribe at a time. These tribes shared a common language, culture, and beliefs, but never united against their common enemy because they failed to make that cognitive leap from the practical tribal identity to the conceptual national identity.

The first four tiers of human organisation, from individual to couple to family to tribe, are straightforward and based largely on immediate and observable necessity. With the advent of the nation and conceptual national identity, human organisation starts to become more abstract. The birth of national identity marks the beginning of a process of transference in which many tribal features move to the national level. The final three tiers of human organisation, the nation, the nation-state, and multiculturalism, are phases in this progression.

The driving forces behind this progression are technological advances in travel times and communication. In eight hours a man can travel 24 miles, a horse 40 miles, an 1850’s steam train 280 miles, a car 480 miles, and a modern passenger jet 4,400 miles. If the nearest tribe or village was fifty miles away, then you could reach them in two days by foot or ride there in one day. With industrialisation you could be in the next town fifty miles away in less than two hours, and today you could drive fifty miles to the other end of the city in less than an hour depending on traffic. The same applies to communications. A letter once travelled as fast as man or horse could carry it but today it moves at light speed.

The early nations were a confederation of largely autonomous tribes residing in fixed locations. Over time more power shifted to a ruling central authority administering a much larger territory and the tribal territories evolved into villages and towns.  As more and more people participated in the governance of the nation we see the beginnings of the sixth tier, the institutionalised nation commonly called the nation-state. The United Kingdom became the first modern nation-state in 1707 followed by the United States in 1783 and France in 1789. In the nation-state, we see a transference of the practical tribal features, such as common territory, mutual interdependency, and common culture, beliefs, language, virtues, and values to the national level and a more institutionalised sense of “us” than we see in the nation.

The basic tribes does still exist, but in the form of villages, small towns, neighbourhoods, and communities within the larger structure of the nation-state. As with the nation, the tribes are united by a shared belief in the unity of the people, their nation-state, and a shared purpose. This is commonly called patriotism among the insiders and nationalism to the outsiders. They still retain a local sense of tribe, but it has more to do with things like interpersonal relationships, sentimentality, and local pride than the urgency of survival and prosperity that we see in the basic tribal model.

The nation-state, like the nation itself, is the product of a shift in consciousness in which the individual’s concept of “us” is expanded to include strangers that we presume to be like us. Conceptual identity is a tricky thing. I may say that I am proud to be an American, but my idea of America may be different from another American’s. There is a presumption that we are part of the same tribe, but that presumption could be based on nonsense. This is why the nation-state needed to function like a giant tribe with clearly defined physical and cultural borders that defined us as being a distinct group.

Call it patriotism or nationalism, but either way the nation-state constantly reinforced tribal identity and tribal morality. In the film Monty Python’s The Meaning of Life, a British soldier during the Zulu War observes, “Here is better than home, eh, sir? I mean, at home if you kill someone they arrest you, here they'll give you a gun and show you what to do, sir. I mean, I killed fifteen of those buggers. Now, at home they'd hang me, here they'll give me a fucking medal, sir." The scene is funny because we can no longer conceive the tribe-oriented code that says that it is morally right to kill them to advance the tribe, but immoral to kill us. We cannot conceive it because we have moved into the seventh tier of human organisation called multiculturalism.

High speed travel and communications, the complex, varied, and specialised division of labour, and changes in family law have drastically altered the context of human existence. Multiculturalism is an attempt to expand upon the presumption of commonality found within the nation-state to a global scale to include all humanity as one huge tribe of 7 billion people with different, and sometimes conflicting, cultures, beliefs, values, and virtues.

The post-modern individual still needs other humans, but they are nameless, faceless others. They are strangers scattered across the globe who make our clothes and stock our supermarkets. It is now possible for the first time in history for a person to live without family, friends, or tribe, independent of any community. There is no sense of mutual dependency to bind couples together till death do they part since they do not really need each other anymore, and kids don’t need their parents either. Emotional ties may still bind them, but these relationships are not needed for survival as in the old days. Without concrete mutual dependency the tribe becomes so abstract that it becomes subject to personal whims. The couple, family, gang, tribe, nation, or nation-state still exists because people will it to exist and not because it needs to exist. So we find ourselves trying to navigate a place where the tribe remain a psychological necessity, but not a physical imperative, and so it becomes an emotional luxury.

At the start I illustrated how many abstract values are rooted in concrete necessity. For example, in a conflict where you are protecting the territory from which your tribe derives the resources required for mutual survival, loyalty and honour become vital abstract tools necessary for concrete survival. The absence of loyalty from your fellows or a negative reputation could lead to disaster, but today the cure for disloyalty or a bad reputation is as simple as changing your circle of friends or moving to another part of town. When our morality is no longer rooted in practicality, it becomes little more a vestigial organ with which we feel only a sentimental attachment.

Where villages, small towns, neighbourhoods and communities once fulfilled the human instinctual need for a tribe we now see cultural consumption as the primary delineator of groups. These are usually recognised as subcultures, lifestyle groups, supporters of sports teams, political groups, or hobbyists. These post-modern tribes satisfy our superficial need for community without the sacrifice or permanence that makes it a real tribe.

In the tribal context the individual had value among the people who had known him his whole life. If he wanted to be a craftsman, artist, performer, scholar, or warrior he could be and people valued him for his contribution. In the nation-state you could attain national notoriety but today we demand global notoriety, anything less is just local and therefore deemed not as good or simply amateur. We might argue that we are getting the best of the best by demanding global quality, but the trade-off is that a lower percentage of people can make a living doing what they enjoy and be valued for doing it.

Despite the fact that the current global context is not conducive to tribalism, humans are still hardwired to be tribal creatures and this leads to social divisions and exploitation. For example, looking at the stereotypical Right/Left political paradigm we see the Right operating on a sixth tier model of the independent nation-state sharing common culture, value and beliefs, fixed borders, stressing family and community, and recognise one rule for us and another for them (if one American dies it’s a tragedy but if a thousand Iraqis die it’s a statistic). Any threat to that worldview is seen as an attack on the nation-state and therefore the tribe.

The modus operandi for the Left is more seventh tier as they attempt to apply the pre-programmed tribal model universally. A tribe takes care of its own, therefore we must ensure that no one goes without social support, including people living thousands of miles away in Africa. Multiculturalism and diversity must be promoted regardless of the values and virtues that they promote since all cultures and beliefs are deemed of equal value. Since all humans are part of the same tribe, all human life is sacred and morality must be applied across the board regardless.

So here’s the problem. The right-wing view that I presented here runs counter to the current context in which we live and the only way to change that is through drastic action to save the indivisibility of the nation-state. However, the left-wing view runs counter to the UvT Mentality inherent in human nature, and therefore is also destined to fail without drastic action to force conformity. Both sides need a hammer to pound that round peg of ideology into the square hole of reality but are unable or unwilling to use it.

Another arena where the UvT Mentality is exploited is in the business world where companies attempt to mould their employees into a tribe rallying behind the corporate banner. What they fail to recognise is that the days of life-long employment with a single company are over. Most employees are mercenaries selling their skills to the highest bidder – and rightly so.

So who is your tribe? I have spent most of my life trying to answer that question as I searched the world looking to find “my kind”. I finally found my answer in a quote by the French philosopher Voltaire. “All people are equal, it is not birth, it is virtue alone that makes the difference.”

A virtue is a positive habit and is often linked to values, those things a person acts to gain or to keep. Each of us looks at the world and decides what is worth acting for and which actions are positive (good) and which are negative (bad) in getting them. Collectively, these choices constitute our lifestyle and therefore compose our identity. We are what we do.

Ultimately, what separates one person from another; what makes one man or group of men better or worse than another; what unites a tribe and divides one tribe from another are virtues and values. The virtues and values that a person subscribes to were once primarily the product of social conditioning within the family, tribe, nation, and nation-state. This is still true to a degree, but a primary feature of our multicultural state of post-modernity is the absence of a single dominant ethical system of universally accepted virtues and values. Truth is seen as subjective and therefore little more than opinion.

This condition leaves each of us trying to find a tribe that shares our ideas of what is virtuous and what to value. We possess an innate instinct to be a part of that tribe wherever it might be. Some people happily accept the standard that they were given in their social conditioning. Others want to change the world the fit their standards. Others still just want to find their community and shut the rest of the world out. There seems to be a growing number of people who secretly long for socio-economic collapse and a forced return to tribalism. All that I can answer to that is each person must discover their own standards and be true to their beliefs.  These days the members of your tribe or nation include anyone that you choose to include as your people within that mental construct called us.