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Harry Browne on Identity Traps

From Harry Browne's How I Found Freedom in an Unfree World:

There are two identity traps: (1) The believe that you should be someone other than yourself; and (2) the assumption that others will do things in the way that you would.

These are the basic traps, of which many others are variations. In the first trap, you necessarily forfeit your freedom by requiring yourself to live in a stereotyped, predetermined way that doesn't consider your own desires, feelings and objectives.

The second trap is more subtle, but just as harmful to your freedom. When you expect someone to have the same ideas, attitudes, and feelings that you have, you expect him to act in a ways that aren't in keeping with his nature. As a result, you'll expect and hope that people will do things they're not capable of doing.

There are people here suffering from both, whether on this site, or in your "real" lives out in the physical world. What comes up for you in reading this?

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Garan's picture

My Biggest Mistakes Correspond with Trap #2

My biggest mistakes in judgement came from assuming people are aware of what they are doing ..to me.

When people do things that are terrible or blatantly unethical, I am left to assume the worse, that they have evil intent.

In retrospect, it turns out most of these people were merely stupid (to be blunt).
Without going into it too much, 1.5 years of partnership litigation ended with a devastated business and personal finances, yet with winning 11 out of 12 claims and counter claims, if you can call that a victory.

..all because the opposing parties could not see the truth in a notarized document proving mismanagement of funds (the tip of the iceberg). Instead they went to war with their partners; making themselves look like conspirators. It turns out they were unable to see the proof placed right in front of their face. Unbelievable. So, I feel justified in saying something I rarely say of others, they were simply stupid.

Now, I try to remind myself that adults are often simply acting like children.

..and my skills and abilities will build once again, without children at the helm.

Very helpful.

This is a very helpful piece for all of us that see the world for what it currently is, and what it could be.

Thanks again Michael for the positive food for thought.

"Good intentions will always be pleaded for every assumption of authority. It is hardly too strong to say that the Constitution was made to guard the people against the dangers of good intentions. There are men in all ages who mean to govern well, but the

1) identity crisis & 2) narcissism

Harry quite pragmatically lays out the pitfalls. Wow, what a great book!

My best buddy is a #1. He's absolutely insecure. He always feels the need to "figure out who he is" before he can do something. It has never occurred to him to do something and figure himself out in the wake of having done something.

My best girlfriend is a #2, which makes me question why I used the term "best". :D

This book

This book is what really set me on my path, and got me thinking about life in a completely new way. Harry Browne is truly one of the greats

*Advancing the Ideas of Liberty Daily*

Cyril's picture

Well, I just wholeheartedly agree. :)

Well, I just wholeheartedly agree. :) (He was a great man, seemingly. I noticed the other Youtube about him, whom I didn't know before.)

Indeed, I'm 100% positive I cannot possibly be someone else than who I am - in flaws or qualities.

And likewise, just as 100% positive that most people would never think to see or do things my way - sometimes, allegedly, "randomly"... since the wife says so, that should tell! ;p

More seriously, why the hell such common sense of his (or Dr. Paul's) has been disappearing so fast in America over the last 3 or so decades?!

That's the greatest, saddest American paradox perceived from this end. :/

"Cyril" pronounced "see real". I code stuff.


"To study and not think is a waste. To think and not study is dangerous." -- Confucius

Jan Helfeld's picture

More fundamental analysis of traps

The essential aspect of a human being is his character, values , habits and personality. Since these depend on his free choices with in any particular context or circumstances, human beings are essentially self made, their character is their own responsibility, they are what they make themselves to be. Thus, you always are, who you are.

If you think you should be someone else or change your essential character, you may or may not be right, depending on what you are changing. Thus, in this sense, it is not always wrong to try to be someone else for example if you are a rotten SOB you should change.

You need to figure out how to optimize the possibility of a happy life, what principles to follow, and habituate yourself to following them. You need an integrated philosophy based on reality.

With regard to the second trap, it is often a mistake to assume people will react or feel the way you do. As I said before, it depends on their character. Also, as implied before, there are right ways to act and wrong ways, based on what we do all share: a basic human nature. So there are things that are good in principle for everyone, but that doesn't mean that every choice must be the same for all people, because we are different in many ways as well, apart from our basic human nature. For example, you may like chocolate and I don't. There is nothing right or wrong about either choice. On the other hand, it is wrong to be a murderer.

Jan Helfeld

deacon's picture

Reads to me

that 1 and 2 are the same,with 2 being an extension of the first.
be yourself,no one else wants the job.

If we deny truth before your very eyes,then the rest of what we have to say,is of little consequence

People can fall in this mind set from their personal expierences

They can fall into this trap by allowing themselves to put an others head above or below their own. Once you start to think of others as above you, you think of others as below you. Some people are impressed by a title, position, or some authority position. You can admire and respect their accomplishment without a feeling of being inferior or conversely feel superior to anyone because of their seemingly menial job or place in society.

jrd3820's picture

What about the other trap..

Wanting to be someone other than yourself, but not because you don't like yourself or you want to be what other people what you to be, but wanting to be someone other than yourself because you always want to be a better person so anything you do you want to improve on the next time.

Is that not being true to your self identity?

“I like nonsense, it wakes up the brain cells. Fantasy is a necessary ingredient in living.”
― Dr. Seuss

Michael Nystrom's picture

That is a good one


He's the man.

I dunno...

I've read some random stuff by Browne and it all seems really dated to me. I get a sense of bitterness, defeatism, and self- sabotage from his writings. I get the total opposite sense from a Rothbard or a Ron Paul. As far as exploring this " identity trap" concept, I would recommend Tim Leary's Tune in Turn On Drop Out instead. All the self exploration and a good bit of positivity. Just my opinion.

Michael Nystrom's picture

Tune in Turn On Drop Out

Tune in Turn On Drop Out. Interesting. I've never read it.

Timothy Leary was with Ram Das and with Dr. Andrew Weil in the early LSD experiments at Harvard. I think all three of them were kicked out.

He's the man.


Finding that place within me that wishes to be respectful of others as well as respectful of self.

The outside chatter and visual dance that evokes heightened emotions by bombarding my animal instincts of fight or flight takes a toll on my sense of self but by realizing that this is a War on our minds and sanity, causes me to stop and consider the source.

Who I am, How I wish to be is really up to me. Do not give in or give up, your sense of self.

Love and share but be prepared to stand alone if the masses move on.

"We can see with our eyes, hear with our ears and feel with our touch, but we understand with our hearts."

Michael Nystrom's picture


you are a pillar of this place. You are silent but you have such power when you speak.

He's the man.

What comes up for me?


I joined the LP in 76 under the influence of NORML ads in my Dad's Playboy magazine. Harry Browne and "How I found Freedom in an Unfree World" was a "survival manual" of sorts. My paperback copy was falling apart when I lost it in the 80s moving from college to corporate life (short lived experience but worth it to see it for what it is first hand)..

For the anarchists there was Hoffman's "Steal this Book", which I had two copies stolen from me LOL,, but Browne's book, How I became Free in and Unfree World" was like the working libertarian's survival manual. I remain a huge fan of Browne.. I wanted him and not Ron Paul for the 88 nomination, and truth be told I was upset when the LP nominated REPUBLICAN Ron Paul. Took me years to see the LP was nothing but a tide pool for conservatives with outside mainstream ideas, like ending the war on drugs.

Michael Nystrom's picture

And now what, Granger

Very interesting story, by the way.

Interesting, to see it from that perspective. Ron Paul was like the Gary Johnson, the R they download into the party. Interesting.

How about now, is ending the war on drugs a conservative idea now?

And then what happened to Browne? I know he ran for president at some point. 1996 & 2000, according to Wikipedia. " He received 485,798 votes or 0.5% of the vote in 1996 and 384,516 votes or 0.4% of the vote in 2000." Not bad. He did us a service there, by serving as a measuring stick. So half of one percent of those who bother to vote believe in his ideas.

Prior to his death, he was also working on a book called The War Racket: The Lies, Myths, and Propaganda that Feed the American War Machine. War, he contended, was just another government program, and was essentially flawed because "government never solves anything." According to Jim Babka, "As Harry explained to me, the book was unlike any other he had ever written. Harry was well-read in his history, but after starting on the project he realized that 'well-read' wasn't enough." According to Browne's wife, Pamela, he collected over 400 books, read almost all of them, and made copious notes. He was struggling with the book's structure at the time of his death.[8]


And he wrote this on September 12, 2001

I wonder what he thought about all the 'inside job' theories.

He's the man.

And yeah

I was like 31 and so sure the LP was THE key.

I fully believe the only reason Harry Browne ran in 96/Y2K is because so many of us left the LP, went indy and worked with Nader to open ballots and debates. It was a way to draw us back, after all, it's not like we agreed with Nader on all his issues. Not at all, but he was reknown for fighting government, and that's what we wanted more than anything.. still do.. and maybe now you can understand better my facination with DP, because it's like watching it all over again. I had nothing to lose by joining the GOP because after 33 combined years as a libertarian and indy.. what did we win? Law suits.

Don't forget, the net was not what it is back then. It's not like Harry Browne was a household name back then.. He was great because he stood for counter culture in a professional way without being corporate.. and Ron Paul did the same in 07- 12.

Harry Browne's foreign policy sounds a lot like Ron Paul's.

Running back and forth

I hope that you can make the time to watch that documentary I linked you in the thread where you mentioned Pranksters.. Edge City is a great documentary.. produced by Kesey's wife 2006.. very down to earth, good story, great film footage from back when it was happening.. you've got an interest in the culture.. Edge City Merry Pranksters

I read this book about thirty

I read this book about thirty years ago and was surprised when Harry was running as the libertarian presidential candidate, didn't quite fit the advice in the book.

#2 was my trap of non-choice for a while, learned better over time.

Michael Nystrom's picture

Good for you gregroberts

How didn't he fit the advice in the book? Gurus often have a hard time following their own principles. I think that is why they write the book in the first place - as manuals for themselves first and foremost.

He's the man.

"How didn't he fit the advice

"How didn't he fit the advice in the book?"

It was a while ago but I thought he said not to run for any political office?

He does essentially say that in the book...

which I found to be an interesting irony but it in no way took away from the power of his ideas, for me at least. I really love how his ideas create a template that can be applied to all aspects of life. It's an essential read for any Liberty-minded person.

Good points...

...although the caveat to the second would be that when it comes to things like murder and theft and violations of natural law or Love in general, we shouldn't just completely ignore that and say, oh well that murderer just has different ideas, feelings and attitudes about his nature than I. Or, oh well, this President who is a warmongerer has different ideas, feelings and attitudes about the nature of things.

But there is the need to be careful how we go about encouraging others to act in different ways. The old warning to take the log out of your own eye before obsessing over the speck in your brother's eye.

Michael Nystrom's picture

Yes, that log is a pesky log

Do you have any memories of Harry Browne?

He's the man.

Just vague...

...memories of him being a Libertarian candidate. That was back when I just dismissed libertarianism without having really given it a proper examination. I was attuned to Pat Buchanan's Reform Party attempts in '96 and suckered into the whole 'compassionate conservative' meme of Bush in 2000 -- Browne was just a name on the ballot to me, really. I'm still filling in gaps -- didn't even know who Rothbard was until a couple years ago. :)

Actually had an eye exam today -- no logs, thankfully; just some annoying floaters. :)

added to wishlist

added to wishlist

Southern Agrarian

jrd3820's picture

I'm going to say something better about this tomorrow

But right now I'm involved in a high stakes word game which I am currently losing, but this is not the hour for me to be contemplating such thoughts.

“I like nonsense, it wakes up the brain cells. Fantasy is a necessary ingredient in living.”
― Dr. Seuss

Michael Nystrom's picture

Get used to losing

That's all I can say.

But it is way better than Words With Friends! Did you ever play that on Facebook?

Jon's site:

He's the man.

This brief synopsis describes most of my family.

One half went to college and got corporate careers and the other half started oil recycling businesses (with clean hands I might add).

Defeat the panda-industrial complex

I am dusk icon. anagram me.

jrd3820's picture

No I never played words with friends I don't have fb

This guy is oddly quick, I think I could maybe have a bit of a higher score (not a lot, maybe just a bit) if I didn't feel rushed.

I'm not just losing. I'm loooossssing.

“I like nonsense, it wakes up the brain cells. Fantasy is a necessary ingredient in living.”
― Dr. Seuss