Freedom and Individualism Notes

Harry Browne's Freedom Principles

"If you are waiting for the government to change, or society to change, or for some program or movement to be successful to find freedom, you will never be free."

[Adapted from an original article by Frederick Mann, the EscapeArtist.com]

Harry Browne defines freedom as living your life as you want to live it. He claims that you can enjoy a high degree of freedom right now. He indicates that:

Hoping to be free, many people engage in continual social combat—joining movements, urging political action, writing letters to editors and Congressmen, trying to educate people. They hope that someday it will all prove to have been worthwhile.

But as the years go by they see little overall change. Small victories are won; defeats set them back. The world seems to continue on its path to wherever it's going. Until they die, the hopeful remain just as enslaved as they've always been. The plans, the movements, the crusades—none of these things has worked. And so the unfree man continues to dream, to condemn, and to remain where he is.

There must be a better way.

Fortunately, there is such a way.

There's a way that depends entirely upon what you choose to do. You can live your life as you want to live it—no matter what others decide to do with their lives.

By trying to change others in order to become free you're always trying to do something out of your control. On the other hand, you can use methods to free yourself that are completely under your control.

There are two basic reasons why most people remain enslaved:

1. They're unaware of the many options and alternatives available to them;

2. They accept without challenge certain assumptions that restrict their freedom.

Harry calls these assumptions traps. As long as you don't challenge these assumptions, they can keep you enslaved.

If you want to increase your freedom, Harry Browne's How I Found Freedom in an Unfree World is must reading. I don't know of any other book that even comes close to providing you with such powerful self-liberating information. Here I can only present you with a brief overview.

Assumption Traps That Can Restrict Your Freedom

  • Identity Trap #1: The belief that you should be someone other than yourself. You need to be true to yourself. Find out who you are; be yourself; do things your own way.

  • Identity Trap #2: The assumption that others will do things the way you would. You can't control others, but you can control how you deal with them. Harry Browne says, "you have tremendous control over your life, but you give up that control when you try to control others."

  • Intellectual Trap: The belief that your emotions should conform to an intellectually preconceived standard. Emotions are best regarded as signals that tell you how you're doing.

  • Emotional Trap: The belief that you can make important decisions when you're feeling strong emotions.

  • Morality Trap: The belief that you must obey a moral code created by someone else. In order to become more competent (and free) you need to strengthen your understanding of the cognitive links between your actions and the consequences you produce. Morality is basically a set of very general rules concerning what to do and what not to do, generally involving large consequences. Blindly using someone else's moral code, tends to reduce your competence, because it prevents the forming of proper cognitive links between actions and consequences. To be free you need to create your own moral code.

  • Unselfishness Trap: The belief that you must put the happiness of others ahead of your own. A world of maximum value is a function of the total of maximum individual value. You know yourself and what you value far better than you know others and what they value. Therefore, you are much more competent to increase your own value than that of others. So, maximum value is achieved by each individual maximizing his or her own personal value.

    Because we live in an "expanding-pie" world, it's possible to maximize personal value while at the same time adding to the value of others. We maximize personal value by creating values for others to freely choose. The assumptions that "selfishness" and "greed" are evil need to be questioned.

  • Group Trap: The belief that you can accomplish more by sharing responsibilities, efforts, and rewards with others than you can by acting on your own; the belief that anyone can speak on behalf of another.

    To overcome the Group Trap organizations can be organized in such a manner that the links between actions, results, and rewards are as direct as possible. For example, instead of hiring additional personnel, work can be subcontracted.

  • Government Trap #1: The belief that governments perform socially useful functions that deserve your support.

  • Government Trap #2: The belief that you have a duty to obey laws.

  • Government Trap #3: The belief that the government can be counted upon to carry out a social reform you favor.

  • Government Trap #4: The fear that the government is so powerful that it can prevent you from being free.

    Obviously, the vast majority of people believe that the noises and scribbles of government people constitute "the law." There are also hordes of bureaucrats, police, and judges who regard "the law" as sacrosanct. If they suspect you disrespect their "law," they tend to feel very threatened and may become extremely vindictive. There are times when your freedom depends on your ability to convince them that you respect the noises and scribbles they call "the law."

  • Despair Trap: The belief that other people can prevent you from being free. You are always free to move on and start a new life.

  • Rights Trap: The belief that your rights will make you free. The U.S.A. is supposed to be a country where certain individual rights are guaranteed by the Constitution and government officials are supposed to swear an oath to uphold the Constitution. Yet there are thefts, robberies, rapes, murders, etc. every day. Furthermore, government officials violate individual rights with abandon in the form of taxation, regulation, more taxation, and more regulation.

    In choosing your actions, you are far better off carefully considering the consequences to yourself, rather than acting in accordance with your "rights." As Max Stirner said, "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."

  • Utopia Trap: The belief that you must create better conditions in society before you can be free. You're far better off and much more powerful if you concentrate on changing and improving yourself—and creating your own personal utopia of freedom and wealth—rather than trying to transform society.

    As Harry writes:

    "The world-changers are powerless. They dream of remaking the world; but they can't, and so they've placed their emphasis where they have no power at all.

    "Free men recognize that they can't change the world. and so they concentrate on the power they do have—which is enormous. They realize that they can choose not to be involved in situations that don't suit them.

    "So they look for situations that do suit them. And they discover far more opportunities for such situations than most people imagine exist.

    "A free person doesn't try to remake the world or his friends or his family. He merely appraises every situation by the simple standard: Is this what I want for myself? If it isn't, he looks elsewhere. If it is, he relaxes and enjoys it—without the problems most other people take for granted.

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

    "The power of choice. You have it. But you forfeit it when you imagine that you can choose for others. You can't.

    "But you can choose for yourself—from hundreds of exciting, happiness-producing alternatives.

    "Why not use that power?"

  • Burning Issue Trap: The belief that there are compelling social issues that require your participation.

  • Previous-Investment Trap: The belief that time, effort, and money spent in the past must be considered when making a decision in the present. You know the old saying, "Don't throw good money after bad."

    Harry Browne says:

    "In every case, the question is: With what you have now, what is the best way to use that to get the most in the future?" What you've paid to get where you are now is irrelevant; those resources are gone and can't be retrieved, no matter what you do."

  • Box Trap: A box is any uncomfortable situation that restrains your freedom. The box trap is the belief that the cost of getting out of a box is too high to consider. The problems associated with maintaining a false image are part of the box trap. To get out of a box, consider three factors, that is, the disadvantages of the box: The price you pay for remaining stuck in the box; The cost of escaping from the box; and What you could do after escaping the box, that is, the benefits you gain by escaping the box.

    Obviously, a marriage could be a box. There's a very important principle: the sooner you pay the price to get out of a box, the less it costs you. In other words, the longer you stay in a box the more it costs you.

  • Certainty Trap: The urge to act as if your information were totally certain. Firstly, our perception is limited and subject to error. Secondly, information evolves continuously. Tomorrow we'll know more than today. Some of what we know today will be proved wrong by what we discover tomorrow.

    Because we always act on incomplete or on at best partially correct information, we take risks in everything we do.

    Harry Browne says:

    "The individual who ignores these risks can lose his freedom in three important ways:

    "1. He's likely to take risks that would be unacceptable if he were to recognize them; and by acting rashly he can get himself into boxes that restrict his freedom.

    "2. When things don't go his way, his previous certainty can turn quickly to despair and depression: after all, he was "so sure." Now that he's discouraged, his emotions can tempt him to run from his bad consequences into a worse situation. In other words, he's fallen into the Emotional Trap.

    "3. By accepting opinions as absolute fact, he can allow his freedom to be restricted by information that may not be true."

Harry Browne identifies five "information principles":

  1. Popularity isn't proof. The fact "everybody knows" could mean little or nothing.

  2. Be skeptical about new information.

  3. Don't expect to have an explanation for everything. To some extent, you always have to act in the dark.

  4. You can't see everything; recognize that you see only part of the picture.

  5. Recognize the risks and liabilities. Action always involves risk.

Harry writes:

"You are the sovereign authority for your life. You are the ruler who makes the decisions regarding how you will act, what information you will accept. You do it anyway—but if you recognize that you do it, you can gain much greater control over your future."

[Harry Browne passed away in March of 2006. You can learn more about Harry at the website maintained by his wife Pamela.]