Friday, September 21, 2012

Book Review – “How I Found Freedom in an Unfree World,” by Harry Browne

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

That’s the first line and paragraph of the Prologue to Harry Browne’s book, How I Found Freedom in an Unfree World Harry Browne had his book first published in 1973, the year I was discharged from the U.S. Air Force and regained my freedom. Okay, I have to be honest, yes, I was bound to a four year active duty contract, but my life in the Air Force was not only not bad, it was pretty darn good. Of course, I had to learn to live on next to nothing. But, then again, I had just completed four years of college, a year of graduate school and a year of part-time teaching and part-time audio freelancing, so I was quite adept at living on nothing.

I learned about Browne’s book from another blogger, Glenn Morrissette, who blogs of his own freedom and nomadic wanderings in his To Simplify blog. After buying the Kindle version and reading it, I truly wish I had found Browne’s book when it first came out and I was leaving the Air Force and embarking on my own life . . . FINALLY.

How different my life would have ended up had I found this book back then. But, I didn’t and so the woulda, coulda, shoulda factors don’t matter now, because I didn’t find the book. As a matter of fact, I wasn’t even looking for books of this nature back then. I was hell-bent down an entrepreneurial track to build a dynamic, multi-media corporation. That dream began in graduate school when I was already running my small (freelance) audio recording business and discovered tape duplication. The paper that I submitted to complete my master’s degree in Television & Radio was the business plan I had submitted to a venture capital firm in central New York to build the first of its kind multi-media production and duplication business in central New York. Unfortunately, the aforementioned invitation from my Uncle Sam precluded those plans.

So, while in the Air Force, I continued planning to venture into the world of multi-media production, tape duplication and several other related areas of the industry. The commercial office space was leased, furnished and equipped three months prior to my five-month early release from the Air Force. So, I simply moved from one office/studio to another office/studio from one day to the next. I had also made a commitment to get married and thus, I had drawn the preliminary plan for my life and launched it.

Now, here’s the irony of it all. So much of what I read in Browne’s book was really where my head and heart were subliminally. I didn’t realize it because my vision of freedom was to be in business for myself and not be someone else’s wage slave. Even my unconscious views on marriage and relationships didn’t conform to the mainstream, traditional views of the time, nor did housing and lifestyle. But, I was the product of a typical, dysfunctional, middle-class American upbringing well seasoned by a strong religious influence from the American Baptist denomination. My ways of thinking (which is pretty much why they remained in my subconscious world) were pretty blasphemous. So, while pushing the edge of conformity, I still looked and acted fairly mainstream and traditional. Looking back, I realize I had been fighting my own true nature. I was living a lie by denying myself my own right to live free as I wanted to, but couldn’t express.

So, 35 years later, I finally figured out that it was time to follow Shakespeare’s admonition, “To thine own self be true.” It was another three and a half years after that when I discovered How I Found Freedom in an Unfree World and realized that all along it was the basic ideas and concepts committed to writing 38 years earlier by Browne that described my own true nature.

So, that’s how I got to this point. Browne’s simple opening line, “Freedom is the opportunity to live your life as you want to live it.” Immediately resonated. Simple words, but they had great impact. I relate that to when I finally read M. Scott Peck’s best selling and classic book, The Road Less Traveled, again, beginning with just a few simple words that go directly to the heart of the matter, “Life is difficult.” Sometimes we come to the realization that our lives belong to us and they are our responsibility to live as we see fit as long as we don’t infringe on anyone else’s rights or hurt anyone else intentionally.

It’s important at this juncture that I point out that I don’t agree 100% with everything that Browne lays out in his book. I also don’t agree with all of Ayn Rand’s philosophies or M. Scott Peck’s or Eckhart Tolle’s or the human authors’ of the Bible or any other philosophical authors’, past or contemporary, treatises on how to live my life. That is one of the most basic fundamental ideas of personal, human freedom. We are each responsible for living our own lives and should take that responsibility from the earliest possible time. And, yet, I find it interesting that there are so many individuals and movements that attempt to convince us that we must follow their lead because we don’t know what is right for our own individual lives . . . but they do?

“What makes you happy will depend upon your own personal nature – which is different in many ways from that of any other human being.” Harry Browne

Finding Freedom in Three Parts

Browne wrote the book in three parts. Each part is written to give you clear insight into why most people have little freedom, what each individual can do about gaining the freedom they desire and then living a free lifestyle.

Part One is about “Why You Are Not Free.” In this section the author describes fourteen traps people fall into. I dare say there is no one who hasn’t fallen into several of these traps and most likely most or all of them during some period in one’s life.

Part Two is about is about “How You Can Be Free.” In this part of the book Browne discusses how to be free eleven aspects of your life that restrict, restrain, control, regulate, legislate and deprive you of the freedom you deserve

Part Three is about “A New Life.” This is he life you dream of. It’s the life you’d live if you weren’t in many or all of the fourteen traps and restrained by the eleven aspects of life controlled by sources and forces outside of yourself.

The Fourteen Traps

 Here is a list of the fourteen traps, Brown describes. If you see a check mark after the trap, that’s because I’ve been in that trap.

  1. The Identity Trapa
  2. The Intellectual Trap a
  3. The Emotional Trap a
  4. The Morality Trap a
  5. The Unselfishness Trap a
  6. The Group Trap a
  7. The Government Traps
  8. The Despair Trap a
  9. The Rights Trap a
  10. The Utopia Trap
  11. The Burning Issue Trap a
  12. The Previous-Investment Trap a
  13. The Box Trap a
  14. The Certainty Trap a

I won’t go into any detail on these fourteen traps at this time. But, I’m sure you noticed that I didn’t check The Government Trap or The Utopia Track. Please don’t mistake that for ego or to make you believe I’m any different then anyone else. Simply stated, and please don’t ask me to explain why, I have never put a lot of credence in any level of government. I’ve simply accepted that in any orderly society there needs to be some level of governance. While I fully realize that the votes I cast for elected servants (after all, they are supposed to represent me/us and serve our interests above all else) have seldom ever meant that my views and attitudes would be served, I am in the trap of believing that it is a civil responsibility and obligation, almost sacred, if you will. I often state that my sole reason for voting is to preserve my “bitching” rights. I’ve pretty much let the bitching rights go by the wayside since even that doesn’t resolve or change anything. I do everything in my power to avoid any involvement at any level with any government person, elected, appointed or a “hired hand” – i.e. a civil servant. In my view, any government involvement is some form of dependency and that’s the last thing I want.

As far as The Utopia Trap goes, you’ll need to read that chapter to fully understand what the trap is, but I long ago gave up on the belief that I – me, personally – must create better conditions in society before I can be free. Now, some may say that’s a bit contradictory on my part since I state that my main life mission statement is to “leave the campground (Earth) a little better then I found it.” But, in fact, it’s actually quite in line. I don’t feel obligated to create changes that will impact a local, national or global community in such a way as to make everyone’s life better in general. I simply mean that as I go about my business of being as free and happy as I can be, if some of it rubs off on a few others and their lives’ are better for it, then I’ve accomplished my mission statement without the idea of creating some utopian society.

“It’s easy to believe that you came into the world with a prearranged program you must follow. After all, long before you arrived, other people figured out how you should live, what laws you should obey, what your obligations are, the whole structure for a “proper” life. Most people accept that program.” Harry Browne

How You Can Be Free                                                                                  

Now, here are the eleven aspects of our lives that we need to take control over in order to realize our personal freedom and happiness according to Harry Browne.

  1. Freedom from Government
  2. Freedom from Social Restrictions
  3. Freedom from Bad Relationships
  4. Freedom from Marriage Problems
  5. Freedom from Jealousy Problems
  6. Freedom from Family Problems
  7. Freedom from Business Problems
  8. Freedom from Insecurity
  9. Freedom from Exploitation
  10. Freedom from the Treadmill
  11. Freedom from Pretense

Those are almost self-explanatory. I doubt that there's a single person, including you, who reads this review who can’t instantly name at least one (and most likely several) situation involving each of these eleven aspects of daily life.

So, not only are we dealing with several, if not a lot of the traps from Part One of the book, but we’re also coping with situations from several or most of these daily life challenges. And, doesn’t it always seem when you have just put out a fire in one camp another flares up in another of these camps. What’s the old saying? “There is never a dull moment.” However, every one of these keeps you from experiencing the freedom, peace and happiness you seek, or once sought, but may have just given up and accepted M. Scott Peck’s admonition that “Life is difficult.”

I think it’s remarkable that in a world with all the advances in technology, housing, transportation, entertainment, extracurricular activities, medicine and work to mention only a few things that there are so many different kinds of anti-depressants and anxiety drugs on the market. But, worse yet, there are so many people taking them on a daily basis just to cope with day-to-day living. Of course, the darkest side of this depression and anxiety are those people who reach the point of not coping and take their own lives. How much of the cause of these senseless suicides are from external expectations carried on their shoulders from family, jobs, business and other facets of society?

“It’s too easy to rationalize every part of your present existence as being necessary –“ Harry Browne

A New Life

At last, Part Three of the book lays out a basic path for you to take towards creating a new life and attaining the freedom and happiness you are seeking. I have to add that if you’re already given up and simply accept life as being that as directed by the many external forces, then this is likely to have no impact you or your future. However, it would seem that if you’ve made it this far, you’re most likely hungry for ideas to help you attain your freedom.

Everyone is different. There is no exact pattern, steps or course to navigate. You, like everyone else, have to determine exactly what freedom is for you and how much you are willing to give up of the “prearranged program” that you were born into and how much freedom you desire. Like everything else, there are degrees. Some people will always be content and get by with a small patch of green called their yard, two weeks of vacation – probably one of which will be staycation taking care of the patch of green and the security of the batch of sticks and bricks called home. This might represent 10% from on a scale of 1% to 100%. Others will choose a completely nomadic life with the least amount of “baggage” – physical, emotional, intellectual, governmental, professional and so on. Perhaps, they might aspire to 80% to 90% freedom on that same scale. Others will be somewhere between those extremes. Whatever degree of freedom one chooses and is willing to pay the price and make the necessary compromises and sacrifices for is perfectly fine.

“Don’t settle for less than the kind of life you need to make it worth having lived.” Harry Browne

In this part of the book Harry Browne puts you to work. Actually, this is where I really felt closely akin to Browne (who passed away in 2006). As you go through these pages you’ll discover just about all of my 12 Steps for Living Free. Interestingly, I didn’t even hear about this book or Harry Browne until well after I had created my own 12-step program for living free. This is the shortest section of the book, but it gets down to business and lays our some basic ground rules for changing your life. Here he discusses:

  1. Who Are You?
  2. Your Own Morality.
  3. Is Your Life What You Want It to Be?
  4. A Fresh Start
  5. A Fresh Start (Part II)

While this takes you to the conclusion of the formal parts of the book, there are still nearly 25 additional pages after this with other support information and resources.


Allow me to make just a closing note. While I bought into Harry Browne’s book nearly 100%, I have to be candid and say there were things that set me back a few steps. That’s not unusual, however. That relates to our individuality. It’s perfectly acceptable to find things that you or I will have differing opinions about. Perhaps, during successive readings, I will gain a deeper understanding of those issues I differ with Browne on. So, should you read the book, and I commend it to you, expect to find things that may jar your thinking and even your sensibilities somewhat. Don’t stop reading at that point. There is way too much good stuff.

I have included a link to the Kindle version of the book for your convenience. Apparently there are no new print versions of the book available at this time. I hope you take advantage of the convenience and use the link I gave you. Simply click on the image of the book at the top of this review. Yes, I am an Amazon affiliate and, yes, if you order the book through my link, Amazon will place a small stipend in my affiliate account. I certainly can’t live the life of Riley on these small commissions, however, since I’ve chosen this frugal, simple, minimalist, nomadic lifestyle, having several small income streams helps keep the wolves away from “My McVansion’s” door and affords me a tiny bit more freedom. It won’t cost you anymore if you use my affiliate link than if you go directly to Amazon, So, thank you for your consideration and know that it’s appreciated.


Pat said...

I bought it after Glenn mentioned it too. I should reread it. I agreed with a lot of what he had to say, but not all.

Ed Helvey - Professional Nomad said...

And that's the way it should be, Pat. We have to be discerning as to what we accept based on our own values and expectations.