I became acquainted with Assassin’s Creed (AC) in the mid-2010 decade. I knew there was something there worth delving into that related to my research on toxic organizations and authoritarian societies–but I didn’t quite know what at first.
The more I read about the Assassin’s Creed/Templar backstory, the more clear it became. It had to with “paradigm points” (values, beliefs, behaviors) and ways in which our worldview affects all that we do. In this case, it’s about key differences in polar opposite views about human nature. These distinctives hold direct implications for how we set up our social organizations:
If we think human nature is essentially bad, we need to override it, control it, channel it via enlightened rules and elitist rulers.
If it is essentially good, then we seek to unleash it, empower it, equip it via rule-of-thumb heuristics and role-model mentors.
Which of those two views drives you—or is it something in-between? The backstories in Assassin’s Creed offer the opportunity to explore those possibilities. Its popular videogames, movie, and tie-in novels and other products highlight the constant battle between equity in freedoms for all, as represented by the Brotherhood of Assassins, versus control by elites, as represented by the Templars.
While storylines are based in conspiracy theories about Templars and Assassins, in reality no group can succeed at creating a total-control society (like the Templars want) or complete freedom society (like the Brotherhood wants) unless there is conspiring–or at least overlapping paradigms that drive similar ideologies and social goals and designs.
The AC movie also depicts:
A total institution system (Abstergo), where all aspects of those inside are controlled by scheduling, monitoring, and punishing.
The Abstergo Industries is tied into an interlocking directory (the Elders), whose business, political, social, and humanitarian interests/involvements coincide, even though their network is decentralized.
This formal level of elite leaders is part of a larger industrial complex (the Templars), where entire social, economic, and political domains are being infiltrated and dominated by Templar individuals, institutions, and ideologies.
These are three steps in a sequence that would lead to a fourth–a society of totalist psychological and social control (i.e., authoritarianism) by Templars. If they achieve that, they can run the world without it even overtly looking like they’re doing so: shadow cabals exerting total control.
While I do not like the level of physical violence in the AC universe, I have not found another media example that captures this important organizational series of total institution, interlocking directory, industrial complex, and totalist society–each stage showing an increasing scope of social control. These organizations all rely on forms of violence–psychological, relational, and social–even if they don’t major on physical violence. So I use Assassin’s Creed as a case study–despite the strong physical violence that related media assume and display–for how it can train us about institutional and ideological backstories and how these paradigms rely on psychological terrorism.
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In launching this Assassin’s Creed Notes site, I hope you’ll find something of interest that leads you deeper into understanding of authoritarian cultures of control, and finding ways to resist.
NOTE: As with most of my media case study sites, I have launched when the structure is close enough to what I think it should be, and I have enough details and images for it to be worthwhile for those who are interested in the subject matter. I will complete the site as time allows. As posting progresses, my page titles may change but the links will likely remain the same.
The image above is “brunette man in the cape,” (c) sandaboy, Fotolia #64797201, licensed to Brad Sargent.