“Only a mind free of impediments is capable of grasping the chaotic beauty of the world. This is our greatest asset … It presents us with challenges, yes, but freedom yields greater rewards than the alternative.” ~ Altair, Assassin’s Creed.
In my post on chakras, I mentioned that I often lose faith in humanity; but that, once in a while, someone will come along and restore it and remind me that I’m on the right track. The brilliant minds over at Ubisoft responsible for the Assassin’s Creed series are another such group of people.
For those who don’t know what it is, you can check out the Assassin’s Creed wiki, or play the games yourself.
Suffice to say, it involves global conspiracies throughout history that are well-researched and quite plausible, in my opinion. It’s a work of fiction, of course; but much like the works of Dan Brown, I doubt such stories could be made believably if there weren’t a great deal of truth to the subject matter.
The main idea behind Assassin’s Creed is that there are two overarching factions at work: the Templars, who seek to control everyone and everything in an Orwellian oligarchy, and the Assassins, who seek to restore freedom and sovereignty to the individual. Over the years, these two sides go by different names, have different faces, and use different methods, but the core ideas of order versus chaos, control versus freedom still prevail.
The Assassin’s Guild has its own rules and hierarchy, but these are much more general and loosely defined in what is known as The Assassin’s Creed.
“Justice is balance. You burnt my house and left me for dead. Consider us even.” ~ Raz Al-Ghul.
Like many factions, both real and fictitious, the Assassins see themselves as the agents of natural law and divine justice. They believe in balance above all things and the authority of the individual to act as judge, jury, and executioner in maintaining that balance.
Justice is balance, and the purpose of any system of justice should be to restore a situation to its proper state. If a person’s property is damaged, justice demands that the offending party fix the property or pay fair compensation for the damage. If something is taken, it must be returned.
In our modern society, prison does not always serve as appropriate punishment. All prison really does is remove the person from society, but this does not always remove their criminal influence on society, nor does it guarantee their reform. If you’ve ever seen the movie Goodfellas, you know that people of wealth and power can easily circumvent the rules to avoid truly paying off their debts by turning punishment into a luxury. Thus, the power of the offender often determines the method by which justice is best applied.
One cannot undo rape or murder or reverse psychological trauma easily. Thus, justice would demand that the individual be made to understand the severity of the damage caused in kind, so as to deter them from further damage in the future. A rapist is sodomized, a murderer killed, and one who destroys a person’s life has their own destroyed.
An eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth, a life for a life, … that is true justice.
The word “justice” itself derives from Latin justistia, meaning “equitable.” It is an economic term that refers to the application of natural law in determining the monetary value of something. The term “equitable” relates to “equatable,” meaning that two things can be considered the same. This is the basis of our entire monetary system.
There’s a reason Lady Justice is blindfolded and carries a sword and balance scales.
The blindfold suggests the impartiality and unbias of true justice in the ideal. The sword represents execution on the law in a strict sense, which may literally include the execution of an individual in taking their life. The balance scales are used in commerce and are the best visual metaphor of equity. If you place a weight on one side, the scales very obviously tip to that side. If you then place a weight on the other side, the scales will tip back the other way. If the scales are not even, then the two sides are not equitable.
Mercy is altogether a different thing from justice. In fact, mercy is the special allowance of an imbalance to exist. For instance, it is normally wrong to take a life because this causes great pain, but it is generally considered more wrong to allow a person to suffer for a long period of time. Thus, the idea of a mercy killing creates an exception to the rule because it serves a greater good.
The term “mercy” derives from Old French mercit, meaning “reward, gift, or kindness.” Mercy is linked to the concept of forgiveness: “For I give.”
If you give a gift, you are relinquishing your right to something in exchange for nothing. You are putting something on the scales and the other person isn’t. You are creating an exception in ordinary rules of justice.
In the Mosaic Law, there was execution on the law and an emphasis on justice and equity, taking back what is rightfully yours. When Christ came along, he placed great emphasis on justice, but a greater emphasis on forgiveness. This is because forgiveness represents a superior position. If you have an abundance of money or power or love, you can give of yourself without suffering any significant loss. Taking is easy, giving is hard. If you are constantly giving, the other party will have no need to take from you, nor can they, as you cannot take something that is given freely.
“Stay your blade from the flesh of an innocent.” ~ First tenant of the Assassin’s Creed
In carrying out their charge, the Assassins employ a variety of techniques and practices, including the killing of those that cause harm to others.
As you can imagine, having such power to take life can be easily abused. Towards that end, the first tenant of the Assassin’s Creed was developed, which cautions against the spilling of innocent blood. More generally, this cautions against collateral damage of any kind, instructing members of the order to act only when it serves the greater good.
This is one of the few rules that differentiates the Assassins from the Templars. Where the Templars are willing to do anything and everything to achieve power, without regards for those they hurt, the Assassins exercise restraint and mercy alongside their administration of divine justice.
The term “fungible goods” is used to refer to anything that is equivalent to another thing of the same kind. For instance, all one-dollar bills are worth the same amount. It is generally assumed that all things of a kind (an eye, a tooth, a life) are fungible goods. In the administration of justice, it is sometimes necessary to distinguish something as not being fungible. For instance, you cannot refuse a dollar bill as payment unless you can prove that it is counterfeit and therefore worthless.
In law, human bodies are considered physical property of the soul and fungible as a general rule. Of course, in practice, not all human beings are equal. Some people have more to offer than others. Some are better at a craft or are better teachers, etc.
In the case of capital punishment, the value of a murderer’s life is considered diminished because the vessel has a history of causing damage to other vessels. If the body or mind cannot be restored to a state of health, the vessel must be destroyed to prevent further damage. This is not unlike a car with faulty parts that tends to lean to the left and drive into on-coming traffic. If the issue can’t be corrected, and no other value can be gained from the vehicle, the car must be removed from the road and destroyed.
This is what the Assassins do in carrying out divine justice – rounding up and destroying the vessels that damage other vessels, leaving all others to their own devices. Just as you would not needlessly destroy a perfectly working automobile, so too does the first tenant of the Assassin’s Creed guard against the needless and unjustified destruction of innocent human beings.
Just as crushed cars are recycled, so too will the human body and mind be recycled by the universe.
However, unlike a car, human beings are self-correcting machines. Given enough time, even the most vile of persons can come around. Unfortunately, this could be several hundred years, which is enough to span several lifetimes.
Thus, it is a very delicate matter being an Assassin. It requires great wisdom and experience to determine whether a person is too far-gone to be healed, if they are worth saving or too dangerous to be kept alive. Because human beings are not yet at the point where we can restore life as easily as we can take it away, I think capital punishment should be reserved as a last resort and for those that are truly incurable.