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There are few games that are as adrenaline pounding, intellectually stimulating, and stylistically satisfying as the Assassin's Creed series. As a fan of the franchise and a student of philosophy, I found the intricacies and moral dilemmas within the written creed the Assassins follow to be both interesting and compelling. Within each Assassin's Creed title there is a bounty of hidden information regarding the culture and beliefs of the Assassins expressing how they view the world with increasing clarity and with each sliver of information a little more of the mask is pulled away revealing the bare morality of these self-righteous killers.
The first and most recognized part of the creed is the maxim,
“Nothing is true, everything is permitted.”
This statement sums up a large part of what makes the Assassin Order as powerful as it is. “Nothing is true” simply means that there is no statement that holds more power over another when it comes to human nature. Truth, in the commonly practiced sense, is a fickle thing and relies heavily on both situation and perspective. If a group of five people were to get together and decide that 2 + 2 = 5 then among those five people that would be true but is that actual truth? Is the preference of an easy ignorance an excuse to stop searching for the right answers or correct information which could lead to a more realistically bleak outlook on life? The Assassins would say no and would support the claim that ordinary people are too easily swayed by others to accept convenient truths in place of actual knowledge. So, the statement “Nothing is true” does not mean that truth ceases to exist but rather that nothing is naturally true in and of itself and the truth lies within application and context of concepts and beliefs.
The second half of the maxim states, “everything is permitted.” As an organized and civilized peoples we have put limits on ourselves such as punishing stealing and murder and disciplining children that speak out of turn. While these limits are good (I'm not suggesting you shrug them off) the Assassins have taken a more hands on approach to life and cultural advancement by disregarding these limits. They kill if they must and feel no remorse as a result of the necessity.
At the core of the Creed lies the Three Tenets that focus on the success of a mission, control of emotion, and ensuring the safety of the brotherhood. The first one says,
“Stay your blade from the flesh of an innocent.”
This is both a rule of morality and also of tactics. The Assassins operate under an intense utilitarian mindset (greatest good for the greatest number) meaning that they will do what they must in order to benefit as many people as possible. This means they will not shy away from delivering death to their target or those that jeopardize their mission but will not under any circumstance dispatch a random innocent. Killing innocents spreads a negative view of the brotherhood and makes their ability to perform their duties more difficult than if they were to remain stalwart and respectful of bystanders. The second tenet is,
“Hide in plain sight.”
The Assassins exist for the betterment of the human race as a whole. They work for the common people and utilize them as their greatest defense. An Assassin must be able to follow a target and move about a crowd without standing out. There is also a psychological aspect to this wherein a mastery in moving about crowds unhindered makes it seem as though the Assassin appears out of thin air, performs his task, and then disappears into the mass of civilians becoming impossible to detect. The final tenet states,
“Never compromise the Brotherhood.”
When you become part of the brotherhood and are officially an Assassin you have dedicated your life to its cause and its continued welfare. If an Assassin were to fail in his task then he is a the mercy of his own actions and the brotherhood is not liable for what may happen to him. Assassins must never jeopardize the brotherhood even under the most extreme circumstances.
While these rules are clear, concise, and explain exactly what is expected of an Assassin there are a few things worth pointing out namely the Three Ironies. They are,
The Assassins promote peace, but commit murder.
The Assassins open the minds of men, but require obedience to rules.
The Assassins reveal the dangers of blind faith, yet practice themselves.
Any thinker could come up with a reason as to why these ironies are correct and lead to the defame of the Asssassin Order or why they are irrelevant. What it all comes down is simply: Where do you find yourself on the question of personal or cultural morality? If a group of people, either those lead by personal greed or high ideals, gains power you will find yourself playing by their rules. Whether or not you agree with the Assassins is not the point, its what you use to judge to correctness of your actions and the actions of those around you. Are you simply thinking about issues from a simple and narrow point of view constructed from the opinions of those you respect or is your perspective made up of a collection of personal experiences, observations, and knowledge gained from unbiased sources? If there is one thing to be taken away from this franchise it is that having a broad mind and a worldly view can have a serious personal sacrifice involved.
The exciting part about this discussion is that it is about to become more relevant than ever with the upcoming release of Assassin's Creed 3. With its more modern, relatable setting we will get to see the Creed in practice among a society we are more accustomed to. Perhaps a follow up piece on the modern application of the creed for the common person would be in order after my ravenous consumption of the latest and greatest Assassin's Creed game.