I saw an advertisement last night for the new Assassin’s Creed Syndicate computer game, which most certainly caught my attention, but not for good reasons. In fact I nearly choked on my pizza slice when a husky voice declared that “stealing from the rich is criminal, stealing from the poor is capitalism…”
Stealing from the poor is capitalism? Good grief. Poor capitalism, I say. It is accused of being a vehicle for every kind of human suffering when, in reality, it is the only economic system in the whole of human history that has continuously raised the standard of living of the masses. Nothing else has ever come close. It’s the very reason that I, a common man of the UK, have a higher standard of living of than the vast majority of the world’s population. It’s why I eat like an 18th century king and not an 18th century peasant. And why I live much longer than the latter.
Only recently it has been forecasted that, for the first time in human history, less than 10% of the world’s population will soon live in extreme poverty. This should be a time for joyously celebrating our achievements through global capitalism, through economic freedom for more of the world’s people. Instead, many in the western world, whose standard of living would have been utterly inconceivable to the common man of two centuries ago, spend their days decrying and demonizing capitalism. It’s really quite bizarre, when you think about it.
The anti-capitalist mentality
I wasn’t able to find a video of the particular advert I saw, but the one I’ve embedded in this post serves just as well, if not even better, to illustrate the brazen anti-capitalist mentality that the game is premised on. Indeed, some of that trailer’s script Karl Marx himself would have been proud to have written.
It’s impossible to escape the irony of a computer games company producing a game in which the enemy is not a group of evil doers or criminals but ‘capitalism’: the system of spontaneous economic order that the global computer games industry owes its very existence to.
Without capitalistic societies as wealthy as ours there is no possibility whatsoever of the existence of an interactive entertainment industry worth $25 billion. Oddly enough, interactive entertainment isn’t high on the list of priorities of starving and malnourished people who don’t live much past thirty.
The creators of the game do not necessarily possess the anti-capitalist mentality themselves or accept Marxism, of course. Perhaps they simply believed the anti-capitalist/marxist rhetoric would maximise the game’s appeal amongst today’s gamers. If that’s the case, then the sad thing is that they’re probably right. If the game’s premise is aligned with the political convictions of its creators on the other hand, then that’s a pity, but not surprising in an age when it’s become fashionable to shout: down with capitalism!
It is such a pity that the plot of Assassin’s Creed Syndicate is nonsensical, because in terms of its visuals and its gameplay it really is very impressive. I guess it won’t bother the majority of players, but if this game had a coherent plot underpinning it, then it could have taken its place as one of the great creative defenses of liberty of our time.
It would have made sense (i.e. justified the use of violence by the creed) and improved the game’s credibility immensely if the Templars (the group “controlling London”) was a large organised criminal gang who were systematically preying on London’s poor. This would have given the player a genuine evil to rid London of, a real injustice to fight. Rather than fighting the ‘evil’ industrialists of the late 19th century who ‘oppressed’ the masses, symbolised by the Templars.
It’s worth pointing out that the State itself would have been the ideal candidate for the enemy – it being the ultimate criminal gang. The Templars should symbolise the State, and the creed’s aim should be to free the industrialists and the workers from the oppression of the State. A few assassins bringing down the State by force, however, is perhaps a little far-fetched even for a computer game. Although a mission to take out tax collectors or politicians probably would be enormous fun.
Industrial Revolution myths
The Industrial Revolution wasn’t an era of widespread oppression. It was the transition from an agricultural world, which couldn’t sustain a growing population and where the standard of the common man’s living had no chance of rising, to a progressive industrialised world of mass production, which needed the labour of the masses and where therefore the standard of living for the masses would rise to heights never seen before in history.
Although it was still an awful existence by today’s standards, it was undeniably an improvement upon the only alternative and what had been the norm for the masses for centuries before. Which only serves to illustrate just how terrible the common man’s standard of living was in the pre-Industrial Revolution era. Starvation, disease and early death was commonplace and accepted by the common man as his inevitable lot until the Industrial Revolution created hope of a better life.
The only widespread use of coercion in society during the Industrial Revolution era (apart from taxation by the State, of course) was against children, particularly orphans, who were sometimes shackled and beaten by their employers or owners. Immoral though this is, at the time it was legal.
Some forced but legal child labour and the usual pillaging of society by the State were the only aspects of the era that can correctly be described as oppression. Child labour was certainly common, but mostly this was genuine economic exchange, not oppression. Children simply had to work in order for most families to eat regularly and keep roofs over their heads. Over time, as productivity increased and thus wages increased, increasingly more families could afford to refrain from sending their children to work.
Every standard mainstream argument of the general form that the Industrial Revolution was a period of pernicious exploitation of poor people by rich people which was one big social injustice always ignores the greater truth. This era of staggering wealth creation eventually raised the masses out of chronic hunger and malnutrition, which had been the norm and accepted as inevitable for centuries, into a standard of living that even the most forward-thinking economists of the age never dreamed of – even as a theoretical possibility.
Furthermore, the masses who flocked to London (and indeed from Europe to England) to seek work in factories did so out of an urge to improve their standard of living for themselves and their families, not because they were rounded up by whip-wielding evil industrialists.
Since this unprecedented burst of wealth creation, the result of a prodigious leap from hand-production for a minority to machine mass production for the masses, the world’s wealth has grown exponentially. The common man in most countries today eats like only kings, queens and emperors once did – and lives much longer.
For more on the positive social and economic outcomes for the masses of the Industrial Revolution, I recommend reading Tom Wood’s article for the Foundation for Economic Freedom, which discusses the myths surrounding the era and the Austrian economists (Mises and Hayek), who did much to expose the flaws in the widely accepted narrative that it was a period of exploitation of the poor.
Freedom from capitalism is enslavement to the State
Computer games that get us thinking about the struggle for human freedom are a good thing. The Assassin’s Creed series has generally done a good job of this with its previous iterations, but this latest version has veered away from the genuine enemies of liberty to ones invented by Karl Marx and other believers in class war.
Here’s my advice to game makers. If you’re going to make a game about the fight for liberty, then make sure that whatever you’re supposed to be fighting for freedom from in the game is a genuine enemy of liberty. Not something that’s actually very good for humanity and a function of it – i.e. capitalism.
Fighting for ‘freedom’ from capitalism in real life can only lead the masses (back) into some form of State serfdom where we remain in a more or less static state of equal poverty. Which is exactly the kind of hopeless predicament that the much maligned Industrial Revolution and modern capitalism has enabled the masses of the world to rise out of.
I know it’s just a computer game, but the Assassin’s Creed plot might be indicative of a popular belief that the common man’s great struggle today is against capitalism and the rich. It’s not. It’s only ever been against Statism and those who rule over us by government force.