The video game series "Assassin's Creed" has... well... a creed.
Nothing is true. Everything is permitted.
That creed is not as permissive as may seem at first glance. And I think we can all learn from it.
When the main character in the original game of the series hears those words, Altair takes it as allowance to do whatever he thinks needs doing. Now, the quality of the games isn't always that great, but as the series progresses, we start to learn that the creed has a meaning of personal responsibility and accountability. During the initiation ceremony into the game's assassin's league, the following is said:
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."
This is not a denial of truth, nor of morality. It means that each man is responsible for his own pursuit of truth, his own vision of morality. We are, each of us, tasked with seeking truth, not just accepting what others tell us is truth. We are, each of us, tasked with determining the nature of morality, and of law. And for holding ourselves accountable both when we uphold that law, and when we violate it.
That kind of responsibility can be a heavy burden. When the responsibility is directly on our shoulders, then we cannot shield ourselves with dogmatic words or texts. We cannot shrug off the consequences of our actions (and inactions) because some statement codified by a government declares something to be law, or even to be a violation of it. This, I believe, lies at the heart of freedom and liberty.
A free man does not have the luxury of stopping where the law wishes him to stop. He (or she) must look deeper, dig beyond the walls of his comfort, and seek out the truth that lies beneath the mantle of government. I'm not talking about willful disobedience, mind you. I'm also not talking about anarchy. I'm talking about understanding the decisions and the morality that underpin the laws he allows to govern him (or, again, her).
Thomas Paine said in "Common Sense" that:
Some writers have so confounded society with government, as to leave little or no distinction between them; whereas they are not only different, but have different origins. Society is produced by our wants, and government by our wickedness; the former promotes our happiness positively by uniting our affections, the latter negatively by restraining our vices. The one encourages intercourse, the other creates distinctions. The first a patron, the last a punisher.
Society in every state is a blessing, but government even in its best state is but a necessary evil; in its worst state an intolerable one; for when we suffer, or are exposed to the same miseries by a government, which we might expect in a country without government, our calamity is heightened by reflecting that we furnish the means by which we suffer.
As Thomas Paine said, government is sometimes a necessary evil. Government is a bastion against the worst of ourselves. But it does not define the best of what we are, or can be. We do that as a society. All of us. While I previously mentioned "on you" and other phrases suggesting being alone, or on our own, that's not really the intent.
We must, as free people, find the mores and the ethics that define the world as we wish it to be. Each one of us. But in arriving at those principles, we have to acknowledge those in our community as well. The fact that communities can reach across political boundaries is not a barrier to that acknowledgment. In fact, I think it makes the coming together easier. If, that is, we commit to finding that condition of "together" that works for the betterment of all.
I think we are fully capable of finding that togetherness.