January 02, 2011

Notes from How I Found Freedom

How I Found Freedom in an Unfree World 

by Harry Browne, my cliff notes


Freedom is the opportunity to live your life as you want to live it.


Most of the rest of the world will remain unfree during the rest of your life. Most people will continue to lead what Thoreau called "lives of quiet desperation"1—paying high taxes, bowing to social pressures, working long hours with little to show for them, never having the time to do what they want to do, resigning themselves to loveless compromises that masquerade as marriages. 

Fortunately, that doesn't have to be your life. Even in an unfree world, you can be free.


PART I Why you are not free


Identity Traps


There are four basic principles whose recognition can help to avoid the Identity Trap:


     1. You are a unique individual—different from all other human beings. No one else has the exact same nature that you have; no one else reacts to things in exactly the way you do. No one else sees the world exactly as you do. No one can dictate what your identity should be; you are the best qualified person to discover what it is.


    2. Each individual is acting from his own knowledge in ways he believes will bring him happiness. He acts to produce the consequences he thinks will make him feel better.


     3. You have to treat things and people in accordance with their own identities in order to get what you want from them. You don't expect a stone to be a fish. And it's just as unrealistic to expect one person to act as someone else does. You don't control the identities of people, but you can control how you deal with them.


     4. You view the world subjectively—colored by your own experience, interpretation, and limits of perception. It isn't essential that you know the final truth about everything in the world; and you don't have the resources to discover it.


Instead, the test to be applied to any idea is: does it work? Does your identification of things lead to the consequences you expect? If it does, what you've perceived was true enough for that situation. But recognize the context of the situation and be skeptical when generalizing from that test to draw broader conclusions.


These observations can help to keep you out of the Identity Trap. You don't have to try to live a life that isn't yours. What others say you should be is based either upon what they are or upon the way they feel you'd be of more value to them. Neither can be a valid basis for determining how you should live your life. They're doing and saying what makes them happy, and their conclusions are drawn from their own limited, subjective experience.

"As soon as you trust yourself, you will know how to live."


"Nature, to be commanded, must be obeyed."



Emotional Traps


Your intellect and your emotions are both essential, real parts of you. Each has a function; neither can be disregarded if you're to get what you want in life. To deny either of them is to fall into one of the traps.


You're in the Intellectual Trap if you let your intellect tell you what you should feel.


You're in the Emotional Trap if you let your emotions make important decisions for you.


Both traps lead to trouble.


You have to know what you're doing and why. The Emotional Trap blinds you to what you're doing because you can't see the consequences clearly. And the Intellectual Trap cuts you off from the only important why connected with your actions—knowing that what you're doing will lead to what you know will create happiness.


To achieve genuine, durable happiness, you have to recognize your emotional nature and intelligently think ahead to create situations that will trigger happy emotions from your unique nature.


Then, when your plans have produced what you wanted, you can disregard your intellect, relax, and just feel. You'll be able to act spontaneously within that context because you've eliminated any possibility of bad consequences. 

Then you can allow yourself to be engulfed in a flow of genuine positive emotions.  And that's what makes life worth living.


     "No one has ever talked himself (or anyone else) out of an undesired emotion by hurling insults or by delivering a moral lecture."



Morality Traps


You are responsible for what happens to you (even if someone else offers to accept that responsibility), because you're the one who'll experience the consequences of your acts. 

You are the one who decides what is right and what is wrong—no matter what meaning others may attach to those words. You don't have to obey blindly the dictates that you grew up with or that you hear around you now. Everything can be challenged, should be challenged, examined to determine its relevance to you and what you want.

As you examine the teachings of others, you may find that some of it is very appropriate to you, but much of it may be meaningless or even harmful. The important thing is to carefully reappraise any moral precept that has been guiding your actions.


As you examine each of the rules you've been living by, ask yourself:


     —Is this rule something that others have devised on behalf of "society" to restrain individuals? Or have I devised it in order to make my life better for myself?


     —Am I acting by an old, just-happens-to-be-there morality? Or is it something I've personally determined from the knowledge of who I am and what I want?


     —Are the rewards and punishments attached to the rules vague and intangible? Or do the rules point to specific happiness I can achieve or unhappiness I can avoid?


     —Is it a morality I've accepted because "someone undoubtedly knows the reason for it"? Or is it one I've created because I know the reason for it?


     —Is it a morality that's currently "in style" and accepted by all those around me? Or is it a morality specifically tailored to my style?


     —Is it a morality that's aimed at me and against my self-interest? Or is it a morality that's for me and comes from me?


All the answers must come from you—not from a book or a lecture or a sermon. 


When you decide to take matters into your own hands, someone may ask you, "Who do you think you are? Who are you to decide for yourself in the face of society and centuries of moral teachings?"


The answer is simple: You are you, the person who will live with the consequences of what you do. No one else can be responsible, because no one else will experience the consequences of your actions as you will.


     If you're wrong, you will suffer for it. If you're right, you will find happiness. You have to be the one to decide.


     "Who are you to know?" It's your future at stake. You have to know.


     "Freedom comes only from seeing the ignorance of your critics and discovering the emptiness of their virtue."


     "Volumes might be written upon the impiety of the pious."



Unselfishness Trap


Everyone is selfish; everyone is doing what he believes will make himself happier. The recognition of that can take most of the sting out of accusations that you're being "selfish."


Why should you feel guilty for seeking your own happiness when that's what everyone else is doing, too?


The demand that you be unselfish can be motivated by any number of reasons: that you'd help create a better world, that you have a moral obligation to be unselfish, that you give up your happiness to the selfishness of someone else, or that the person demanding it has just never thought it out.


Whatever the reason, you're not likely to convince such a person to stop his demands. But it will create much less pressure on you if you realize that it's his selfish reason. And you can eliminate the problem entirely by looking for more compatible companions.


To find constant, profound happiness requires that you be free to seek the gratification of your own desires. It means making positive choices.


If you slip into the Unselfishness Trap, you'll spend a good part of your time making negative choices—trying to avoid the censure of those who tell you not to think of yourself. You won't have time to be free.


If someone finds happiness by doing "good works" for others, let him. That doesn't mean that's the best way for you to find happiness.


And when someone accuses you of being selfish, just remember that he's upset only because you aren't doing what he selfishly wants you to do.


     "Poke any saint deeply enough,and you touch self-interest."




Group Trap


The Group Trap is the belief that you can accomplish more by sharing responsibilities, efforts, and rewards with others than you can by acting on your own.


You waste precious time, effort, and money when you attempt to achieve freedom through the efforts of a group. You can achieve far more for yourself by using direct alternatives to free yourself of government interference, social pressures, and other conditions that restrict you.


     There are easier ways—ways in which you can go as far as you're willing to and be rewarded accordingly.

Down to Gehenna or up to the Throne, He travels the fastest who travels alone.



Government Traps 


The Government Traps ensnare many people because they never stop to recognize what a government is. It's an agency of coercion that's accepted as necessary by most people within its area of influence. It differs from the Mafia only in that the Mafia isn't usually considered necessary by the people in the communities it "serves."


Governments usually do enjoy that respect. Even those people who want the "ins" replaced by the "outs" consider the institution itself to be necessary.


I don't expect to see a world in which there would be no theft, aggression, or coercion. But it would be refreshing to live in one in which no agency of coercion had the acceptance of most of the people around me. Dealing with an agency of coercion would be much easier if you didn't have to cope also with "law-abiding" neighbors who act as unpaid functionaries of the state.


I believe a world without "government" would be a better place to live. However, that doesn't tell me how to deal with the world in which I do live.


But a realistic understanding of government keeps you out of the Government Traps. You won't waste precious time and energy trying to work through the government to become free. Nor will you allow blind allegiance or patriotism to keep you from living your life as you want to live it. Nor will you be deterred by the government's apparent powers.


There's nothing to be gained by trying to make the government more efficient, by trying to get the "bad guys" out and the "good guys" in. The government has nothing to offer you.


And therein lies the answer to the famous cliché, "The government should do for the people only what they cannot do for themselves."


There's nothing the government can do for you that you can't do for yourself—far less expensively, far more easily, and far more securely. And you can do it for yourself without first having to obtain the approval of the electorate, the establishment, or anyone else.


... the art of government consists in taking as much money as possible from one class of citizens to give to the other.



Despair Trap


You're in the Despair Trap if you believe that you have to stay where you are and work things out somehow. Or if you believe that you couldn't be any better off if you were to change your situation. Or if you think that the government or society can stop you from being free. Don't be depressed by what others say about your freedom and happiness. They aren't the whole world, and they don't have all the answers.


There is a better world to find when you're free to look for it.


Little souls wish you to be unhappy. It aggravates them to have you joyous, efficient and free. They like to feel that fate is disciplining you. It gives their egos wings if yours are clipped. You can ruin your life in an hour by listening to their puerile opinions. 




THE RIGHTS TRAP is the belief that your rights will make you free.


It's not hard to fall into this trap and become preoccupied with your rights as a way of getting what you want. You've probably heard since childhood that you have certain rights—to life, liberty, property, the freedom to pursue your happiness.


In addition, it's easy to feel that someone owes you certain things in a relationship—such as respect, honesty, or fair play.


Unfortunately, rights exist only in theory. In practice, they don't accomplish much—no matter how much people may discuss them.


By implication, a right to something means that someone else must provide that something, whether or not he wants to. A right to your property, for instance, means that you should be allowed to keep your property—even if others want to take it. A right to a job means that someone must provide a job for you even if he prefers not to.


Rights are invoked only when there's a conflict of interest. Otherwise, there's no need for them.


One reason it's so easy to walk into the Rights Trap is that it sometimes seems to be the only way to deal with a conflict. But that's only one of three methods of handling such situations. You can:


     1. Rely upon your rights to get you what you want.

     2. Find a way to make it in the other person's self-interest to provide what you want.

     3. Find a way of getting what you want without his being involved.


In my experience, I've been involved in many situations in which the second or the third method has worked for me. But I've never found a situation in which the first method has been useful.


We've seen that an individual acts in ways that he believes will provide the most happiness for himself, based upon his own knowledge of the alternatives available. He'll do what you want him to do only when he thinks that's the best alternative for him. If he thinks there are better alternatives for him, he won't do what you want.


     It's as simple as that.


You have so much control over your life, it would be a shame to throw it away. But you do just that if you hope to get what you want by involving your rights or by trying to change others.


By using the control you do have, you can reduce your taxes, adopt the lifestyle you want, and establish valuable relationships that won't bring problems. There are numerous direct alternatives available to you—many of which will be suggested as we go along.


No one owes you anything; everyone you deal with will choose the best alternatives for himself.


Try forgetting about your rights. They haven't made you free. They didn't bring you the good things you've achieved in your life. Why count on them in the future?


There are far easier ways to get what you want.


We are much beholden to Machiavel and others, that write what men do, and not what they ought to do.


Might is a fine thing, and useful for many purposes; for "one goes further with a handful of might than with a bagful of right."





This is the belief that you must create better conditions in society before you can be free. The Identity Trap is the assumption that someone else will react as you would. The Utopia Trap is that assumption carried to its logical conclusion—the expectation that you can make the rest of the world correspond to your dreams.


You can't. And when you try to do so, you succeed only in throwing away the very real opportunities for freedom that you already possess.


A free man uses his tremendous power of choice to make a comfortable life for himself.

Posted By Acombfosho at 01:50 AM


Tags: freedom



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