Habemus oculos!

I feel super happy and blessed because February 13, 2015 I had eye surgery with laser to correct my myopia and now I see! My eyes work!

my-eyes-after-lasik-surgeryIf like me you have been myopic for an entire life, and also with a quite high degree of myopia (I had 5.75 myopia at the right eye, 6.00 myopia + 0.25 astigmatism at the left eye), you can probably understand why this seems like a miracle to me. I’ve been using glasses -which I’ve always hated- and contact lenses since I was a teenager, and now all of a sudden I just open my eyes in the morning and I see everything around me! It makes me so happy, and I feel lucky and grateful that it worked so well.

Why I did it in Barcelona

I decided to have the surgery at the Corachan clinic in Barcelona.

While I still consider Rome as my base location, lately Barcelona has become a sort of second home for me, and this year I’m planning to spend few months here. The possibility of staying away from home, in this case even for a rather long period, is one of the many benefits I’m enjoying since I decoupled my job from where I work. I’m loving it.

The reason why I opted for having my surgery here is very simple: my friend in Barcelona Gerard had it not long time ago, so he knew a good clinic in the city, and a doctor he trusted. I could listen to his experience and understand how it worked for him. In Rome, instead, I don’t have any close friend who had this eye surgery recently, apart from acquantainces who had it more than ten years ago. But then the technology was not even as developed as it is today, and I’m not in contact with those guys anymore.

Another reason is that my friends in Barcelona encouraged me a lot. I was very scared of the surgery, even if many people consider it a routine these days, and do it without too much stress. But my friends told me many times not to focus on the surgery itself, but on the idea of having my eyesight back. This has been, for me, a big motivation to overcome the fear.

In addition, I must admit that not having my family around was also a bonus in this case. They’re wonderful, but in a situation like this they would have unloaded on me all their worries and doubts, and I didn’t want to add theirs to mine.

At the end, I just decided to have faith that everything would have gone well.

First appointment: the preliminary exams

In my previous trips to Barcelona I flirted with the idea of having the surgery, discussing the intention with my friends and gathering information. But since those were typically short trips (few days to few weeks) there was never a real chance to concretely start the process. This time instead, since I’m staying for so long, the chance appeared.

So I told myself “Ok, let’s just do the preliminary exams at the clinic and see what they say. I can decide later.” After all, the exams were very cheap, and I didn’t even know if I was eligible for the surgery (not everybody is, it depends on a series of parameters, like the thickness of the cornea). Of course, inside of me I was really hoping I was eligible.

The first appointment at the clinic was January 26, 2015. I had a series of tests with different doctors which lasted a couple of hours in total, considered also the waiting times. They took my graduation, measured the thickness of my cornea, and inspected my retina. To inspect my retina they put on me those eye drops that dilatate the pupil, and the effect lasted well over the duration of the visit. In fact, for three days my eyes were almost all pupil and no iris, making me look like a drug addict!

As it turned out, the results of the exams were good. My myopia was within the limit that can be treated with lasik (that’s the name of the laser used to correct the vision’s defect), which is around 8 degrees. My cornea had a good thickness, and therefore a thin layer of it could be vaporized to reshape the eye lens. My retina was healthy too. As the doctor said: “Your eyes are in very good shape. They’re just the typical myopic eyes.“.

Second appointment: meeting with the doctor

The second visit was February 3, 2015. I talked with the doctor who was going to perform the surgery on me, doctor Carlos. He was very nice and professional, like everyone else I met in the clinic.

The doctor didn’t make any test this time, apart from measuring my eye pressure. Instead, he explained how the surgery was going to work, the times, the recovery process. He made everything sound very easy, as it eventually was. He answered few of my questions and then checked the results of my previous exams, confirming that the surgery was possible. Great.

At that day, I already knew the basic functioning of this refractive surgery. First, a flap in the cornea is created and lifted (similarly to when you open a tuna can…!), second, while keeping the flap lifted, the laser called lasik is applied to a deeper layer of the cornea. For myopic eyes like mine, lasik vaporizes a thin layer of corneal tissue (“ablation”) to reshape the lens of the eye, positioning the focus of the images exactly on the retina.

The fun thing is that, probably with educational intent, in the doctor’s office there was a tv on a wall showing one of these eye surgeries. So while I was listening to him talking, behind his shoulders I had this eye in the screen, wide open, that was being treated. I am very, very uncomfortable with those videos! There are many also in Youtube, but I’ve never been able to watch more than few seconds, because I find them super creepy. My cornea is going to be opened like a tuna can? Fine, but don’t make me see how you’ll do it! Fortunately the doctor turned the tv off, to help me relax.

At this point I had already decided to go on, and have the surgery.

The doctor proposed me two different options for the surgery, regarding how the corneal flap is created. This put a little extra stress on me, because I was actually hoping not to have to decide anything about the procedure.

The first option was the microkeratome: the cut on the cornea is done with a mechanical blade. The second option was the femtolaser: in this case there is no blade involved, but also the cut is done with a laser. So, with this second option, the surgery would consist of lasers only: the femtolaser to create the corneal flap, and then the lasik to ablate the internal tissue.

The doctor explained me that both techniques usually have very good results, so I shouldn’t have worried a lot about this choice. The microkeratome has been around for many years and it’s a bit cheaper. Many people have perfect results with it. The femtolaser, on the other hand, is gradually becoming the new standard. It helps creating more precise flaps and it’s a bit more expensive.

I heard about the femtolaser’s technique already some years ago, so the first instinct was in its direction. Also, psychologically, the idea of my cornea being cut by an impalpable laser felt much better than the idea of some hard blade. In the next two days at home I searched a little in internet the comparison “microkeratome vs femtolaser”, and the results seemed to converge in favor of the femtolaser.

These was the difference of price, of course, but it really didn’t justify going for the option that I considered the less attractive. For something as important as my eyesight, I would have been very happy to spend even 100 times more, if somehow that could have given me the guarantee of good results in advance.

So it was decided, the first session available was ten days later: a friday 13. I booked it.

Third appointment: the surgery

February 13, 2015 arrived. My appointment was at 10.00 am.

As recommended by the clinic, the day before I had used antibacterial wipes on my eyelids, and taken the first eye drops of a long series. By my own initiative, I was also coming from two days of a healthier-than-usual diet (zero refined carbs, and lots of colored fruits and vegetables), to have my body as in good shape as possible. I felt ready for the surgery, and not even as nervous as I thought I would have been.

But there was a trick: the mirage of the Valium was boosting my courage.

Valium is a psychoactive drug, one that people take to calm anxiety or panic attacks. During my first conversations on the topic with Gerard, I discovered that he took Valium before his eye surgery. He said he felt fantastic with it: “I was singing in the metro going to the clinic for my surgery, completely relaxed!“. I thought that it would have been great to be in the same state for my own surgery, because for me this was such a “big thing” that I thought I could have been excessively tense in a non-sedated condition.

I also found that I could have got the Valium directly from the clinic, on the day of my operation. I immediately decided I wanted it. In general I am very adverse to pshychoactive drugs and I’ve never taken one before in my life, but this time it seemed just fine to be in a lower status of consciousness and let the doctors do what they had to do. Basically, it was the idea itself, the idea that I would have been sedated during the surgery, that helped me a lot in the morning not to become anxious, while I was heading to the clinic.

In fact, it turned out that the Valium was useful, but mostly as a placebo. While I was waiting for my turn at the clinic, I had already succeeded in enterering a “state of grace”, and I was already feeling very calm before taking the drug. I swallowed the pill anyway (approx. fourty minutes before the surgery), but I really didn’t notice any shift in my mood, or in my state of relaxation.

There were something like 7-8 people having eye surgery in the same session. I realized that this surgery is basically done in pipeline these days.

I went in around 11.20 am. First, an assistant doctor checked my graduation again. Then I waited for ten minuted in a room, where they put some drops on my eyes, probably the anesthetic. I think they were calibrating the machines in the meanwhile, because I was the first patient that day having the surgery with the femtolaser.

I finally entered the surgery room, where 4-5 people were busy around the machines, coordinated by doctor Carlos. The procedure itself lasted around ten minutes. I laid down in a bed, face up, and they operated my right eye first. All I could see then was through my right eye, because I had a paper mask on my face with a single opening just in corrispondence of that eye.

In the first phase (the creation of the flap on the cornea) I felt something like a circular frame being laid down on my eye, applying some pressure. Then the flap was created, but I really didn’t understand much. All I was seing were white lights, moving. After that part was completed, the bed where I was lying was shifted under a second portion of the machine, and there the actual correction of my myopia happened with the lasik.

They had instructed me to look at a “red light” while the lasik was in function, and that’s what I did for few minutes. I was expecting a red dot, instead there were two lights: red and green. And they were dispersed lights, rather that sharp points. This part lasted around three minutes, during which I diligently kept on following the light in movement. I could definitely tell that my cornea was being vaporized there: it smelled of burnt!

In five minutes my right eye was done. The doctor confirmed that all went well, and replicated the procedure for my left eye. Everything went exactly the same way, the only difference is that this time I felt more pressure applied to the eye in the first phase, the creation of the flap on the cornea, and that felt a bit uncomfortable, slightly painful. For the rest, the procedure was really identical.

Out of the surgery room

Right after the surgery, I opened my eyes and I was already seeing. And I was seing precisely the way the assistant who introduced me to the surgery room had anticipated: “You’ll see well, but with a sort of cloud in front of you.“. Yes, I had the cloud. But I could tell that beyond that cloud things were already looking much better than before.

I was super happy! There was just a little bad news waiting for me at check-out: they didn’t make a video of my surgery! I was really hoping to get the record of it, and I thought the record was done by default for every surgery. Instead I found out I should have asked for it in advance, something I had not done. Pity!! According to my friend Gerard, during one of the previous visits they even asked me if I wanted the video, and he says that I replied no. -_- I honestly don’t remember that ever happening, but if that is the case, it would be a great trophy to how crappy my comprehension of the Spanish language still is.

Anyway, all was done. I got out of the clinic, happy and relieved. Since there was no sun that day, I could already walk in the street without even using sunglasses. Everything seemed so easy, and when my friends proposed that maybe we could have stopped for a coffee before returning home, I was like “Sure, why not! Let’s search for a bar in this area!“.

Ah, lovely optimism. I was still under the effect of the anesthetic. Two minutes more and I was saying “Hmm, I’m struggling to keep my eyes open. And even if I close them, it feels like if there’s too much light.“. Other two minutes and “Guys quick! Call a taxi, I want to go home right now!“.

I arrived at home with a solid headache and a strong sensation of discomfort at my eyes. I ate something, drinked water, applied several eye drops -which was challenging, considering that I was struggling to keep my eyes opened even for few seconds-. Then I taped to my face the protective goggles that I received from the clinic, to prevent unintentional scratches during sleep. In fact, I went to bed hoping to fall sleep and wake up later, without pain, but unfortunately it didn’t happen.

That afternoon, for the following 4-5 hours, I felt very bad. I kept on rolling in bed, suffering. I don’t want to make it sound too dramatic, as I actually felt even worse in other occasions when I was sick with fever. However, it was definitely not pleasant. I kept on drinking water and tried to focus on breathing while I was in bed, which I think helped a lot.

Finally, around 19.00 I started feeling better, and I even had a nap of half an hour. Then I got up, had a light dinner, put more eye drops, and then I returned in bed with my phone on my side, which was playing videos with relaxing sounds. Eventually, two or three hours later, I fell asleep. And I slept for about ten hours.

That was it. The day after I was already feeling very good, so all the post-surgery pain and discomfort were limited to the same day of the surgery. I heard stories from people who had lasik 10+ years ago, who had to stay locked in the house for days after the surgery, in the dark, with a lot of discomfort and “sand in the eyes” sensation. Luckily my recovery has been much easier than this. I guess it’s the same for a lot of people today, thanks to the advancement in the technology.

Post-surgery care

The clinic instructed me well about what to do after the surgery. My post-surgery care consisted mostly of three things: a lot of eye drops, dietary supplements, and protective goggles.

For one week after the surgery, I used eye drops with different functions: antibacterial, anti-inflammatory and lubricant. After that week I quit the first two, and continued with the lubricant only (which I am still using daily at the present, up to completing a period of three months). This has been an easy activity but it kept me quite busy, as I had to take the antibacterial and anti-inflammatory three times a day, and the lubricant five times a day.

In addition to the drops, I had a prescription for a dietary supplement, one pill a day for a month. Nutrients useful for the vision. I’ve never checked the composition of the pill in detail.

And then the protective goggles. Here’s me before going to bed, a picture I took one of the nights after my surgery:

my-protective-goggles-after-lasikUntil the cornea has healed from the wound created by the femtolaser/lasik, it’s better not to touch the eyes at all. One of the main risks is to stratch the eyes at night, unintentionally during sleep. So these goggles kept my eyes safe. They are actually two separate lenses that I taped each time to my face -with a super sticky tape- for nine nights after my surgery. The clinic recommended me to use them for one week, but I added a couple of extra nights to be cautious, as often I move around a lot in bed at night.

Post-surgery visits

February 14, 2015 in the morning, not even 24 hours after the surgery, I already had a first check in the clinic. I was already self-sufficient, so I went there alone with a combination of metro and taxi. Just having the ability to move independently in the city felt super! I couldn’t have done that in my presurgery life, without using lenses.

A young doctor took my graduation and inspected the surface of my eyes. There was definitely a bit of vision still missing, as I was struggling also with some letters of average size, but she confirmed that it was normal at that early stage. The surface of my eyes looked good. The visit lasted just ten minutes, and after that I returned home.

During the following days I didn’t work at all, I mostly rested, cooked, spent time with my friends, and had walks around Barcelona. I limited a lot the use of the computer and tv, and didn’t read any book. My vision was already very good, but not perfect. Probably around 90% perfect. Almost flawless with daylight, I only had some trouble with the smaller letters far away. But at night, or in darker places like the metro tunnels, I could tell that the quality of the images I was seeing was definitely worse. I had halos around lights, which I knew were a frequent post-lasik issue.

I was a litte anxious about that missing 10%. My eyesight would have improved further, or that was it? For few days I was constantly testing my eyes with signs and letters in the street, without significant improvements. The third day a little scar under the iris of my left eye appeared (or maybe I had not noticed it before). Then, fortunately, the fourth day a noticeable improvement came. Some of the street signs I was using as reference became clearer. That happened just in time for the second check at the clinic, which was five days after the surgery.

A young doctor, a guy this time, took my graduation once again. Right eye, almost perfect. Left eye, a bit lazy. I had to “guess” many letters. He reassured me, anyway, that everything was going very well, and that in the next week or two further improvements were very likely. Another doctor checked the surface of my eyes again, and again confirmed that my eyes were healing perfectly.

After this visit I was seeing around 95% perfect. I was super happy about it, definitely a great result. Anyway, here is where I started to realize that this good vision was coming mostly from my right eye, while my left eye was definitely not as good. In the following weeks my eyesight pretty much stabilized this way. Then, around week three, my left eye seemed to get slightly worse.

In the third check at the clinic, one month after the surgery, it was confirmed that I have a “souvenir” of 0.5 astigmatism at my left eye. While very happy in general about the results, I expressed a bit of concern about my left eye with the doctor, and he suggested me to have an extra visit in two of three months to check the situation again.

How I see now

Here is the situation today, five weeks after my surgery.

In general, I see very well. The improvement I had with the lasik surgery is gigantic.

My vision is not perfect. I am very aware that I don’t see as well as I did before with glasses/contact lenses.

There’s a substantial difference between how I see in the daylight and how I see at night. With daylight, my vision is almost flawless. I can read even the smallest signs far away. At night instead, or in darker places like the metro tunnels, the quality of the images becomes considerably worse. The problem is more evident with sharp contrasts, like with the street signs that are written white on black.

The difference between my right eye and my left eye remains. To me, the situation seems stable at this point, but the doctor said there is still some hope for late improvements to the left eye. We’ll see. I know that some patients do touch ups when the first surgery doesn’t produce perfect results, but I’d really like to avoid that. I feel that my cornea has already been burnt enough.

During this month, I experienced most of the post-lasik issues that are frequently reported in the various forums in internet: increased sensibility to bright lights, halos, eye floaters. Of these, the one that bothered me the most, and still does to date, is the increased sensibility to bright lights, as I was already very sensible to bright lights even before the surgery (I also have the photic sneeze reflex). But I want to remark that for me these are not important issues, when compared to the miracle of seeing again.

Another thing, that I noticed only in thast few days, is that occasionally the pupil of my left eye is bigger than the pupil of my right eye. I found that this condition is called Anisocoria. This is not causing me any particular problem, but I’m monitoring it to see if it disappears.

How I feel

In general, I am very, very happy about the results. Would I do it again? Yes.

The most important thing is that the quality of my life improved considerably. And I really feel blessed for this.

My eyes feel “fresher” than when I was using contact lenses, there’s not anymore that patina between them and the outside. Sometimes I still have the instinct of searching for glasses when I wake up in the morning, and sometimes my mind reminds me “you have to remove your contact lenses” before going to sleep, which is funny. It’s fantastic that finally I don’t need those routines anymore.

I admit that I’m a bit disappointed that my vision didn’t come out perfect after the surgery. I was really hoping to be one of those cases where they get 20/20 with the laser, but unfortunately it didn’t happen for my left eye. In my next visit at the clinic I’ll listen to what the doctor suggests about it. However, even if my vision stays like this and there won’t be further improvements, I think I can live with it. I’d rather not to stress my eye with a second surgery.

All in all, it’s surely been a positive experience, and I feel I made a good move.


Last but definitely not least: I can’t say a thank you big enough to my friends Gerard and Roberto, for encouraging me, for helping me through the entire process, and for being there with me the day of the surgery. And a thank you from the heart to Cristina, for assisting me like a mother when I was feeling bad after the surgery, checking that I had everything I needed.

You’re really awesome guys.

Che cos’è il “sistema”?

Il sistema è essenzialmente fatto da tre parti. È importante che le identifichi, prima che tu possa liberarti dalla loro azione combinata.

ministri-governo1. il GOVERNO. Molti di noi crescono in una società in cui il governo è considerato qualcosa di necessario, utile, che merita molta attenzione. Si assume comunemente che i politici nel governo abbiano il ruolo più importante nella società, perché sono visti come “quelli” che sono responsabili di produrre cambiamenti positivi, e di creare condizioni di vita migliori per i cittadini. Io penso che queste aspettative siano fortemente ingiustificate.

Si, i politici impattano molte cose con le loro decisioni, ma la natura del loro ruolo viene comunemente fraintesa, e l’ importanza del loro ruolo viene eccessivamente enfatizzata.

I politici sono dei semplici spostatori di risorse. Tutto quello che fanno è raccogliere denaro pubblico attraverso le tasse e, dopo averne trattenuta una frazione per pagare i loro comodi stipendi, ridistribuiscono quel denaro ai vari settori, usando certi criteri (per esempio danno 20% a esercito, 15% educazione, 16% salute, 17% turismo…). Questo è il loro lavoro, spiegato semplicemente. Analogamente a router internet che instradano dati a vari computer, i politici instradano denaro pubblico a vari settori.

Così la domanda importante è: che criteri usano per assegnare il denaro? Come decidono quale settore merita di più, e quale settore merita di meno?

Se hanno buone intenzioni (lavorano provando a servire i cittadini), assegnano il denaro in accordo con quel che pensano essere il meglio per i cittadini. Ma anche in questo caso, la loro percezione di quello di cui i cittadini hanno bisogno è usualmente distorta. Molti politici passano tantissime ore in palazzi pomposi, si immergono tra le carte, si perdono nella burocrazia. Più tempo spendono nel macchinario del governo, più diventano distanti dai cittadini. E non solo si perdono nella burocrazia, si perdono anche in ideologie (“noi siamo di sinistra e voi siete di destra”), e si perdono nell’ ego (“noi abbiamo ragione e voi avete torto”), come risultato la loro azione diventa altamente inefficace.

Poi ci sono quelli che non hanno buone intenzioni, e questo non è un caso raro. Molti politici entrano nel governo pagati dai cittadini per servire i cittadini, ma finiscono a lavorare per servire sé stessi, invece. Così il criterio che adottano per instradare il denaro pubblico è ottenere quanti più vantaggi personali possibile. Danno di più alle istituzioni che lavorano danneggiando i cittadini (per esempio finanziando lotterie, produttori di sigarette, corporazioni alimentari che usano additivi chimici dannosi), sottraendo risorse alle istituzioni che lavorano per i cittadini (come ospedali e scuole). In questo modo ottengono “favori”, solitamente denaro e potere, dalle istituzioni che lavorano danneggiando i cittadini.

In entrambi i casi considera che il governo funziona secondo il principio della coscienza di gruppo: ci sarà sempre un numero delle sue decisioni che andranno contro i tuoi interessi. Come conseguenza, spostare molta sovranità da te stesso al governo, sperando che renderà le cose giuste per te, è una strategia perdente.

distorsioni-media2. i MEDIA. Molti dei media principali lavorano in simbiosi estremamente profonda con il governo. Infatti, la ragione per cui molti di noi tendono a considerare il governo così importante e utile è che, sin da quando eravamo bambini, abbiamo guardato i suoi politici nei notiziari, costantemente.

Pensaci: quando accendi la tv, quali notizie vengono date per prime? Solitamente è qualcosa riguardo al governo. Il presidente ha detto questo. Il primo ministro ha detto quello. L’opposizione ha detto quell’altra cosa. Dibattito su una nuova legge. Veniamo costantemente informati su quello che sta facendo il governo, e questo implicitamente crea dentro di noi la mentalità “sapere quello che il governo sta facendo è importante”.

I media principali mettono insistentemente il governo sotto i riflettori, e spesso usando una luce molto benevola: le ineguadezze del governo vengono trascurate, i suoi scarsi risultati amplificati. Perché? Perché si scambiano favori, sicuro. I media che ritagliano le notizie in una maniera utile al governo ottengono fondi, posti di lavoro, leggi favorevoli (tutto finanziato dai cittadini con le loro tasse). In ritorno il governo può continuare la sua azione, dato che i suoi politici continuano ad apparire in giacca e cravatta nei notiziari ogni giorno.

Anche negli altri settori, gli eventi presentati dai media sono raramente dipinti obiettivamente per informare gli spettatori, ma sono manipolati per produrre una reazione desiderata invece, per portare avanti un’agenda. Gran parte delle persone guardano i notiziari in tv e diventano conseguentemente indignati, spaventati, scoraggiati, senza nemmeno realizzare che quella è esattamente la risposta emozionale che voleva la persona che ha confezionato le notizie.

Il processo di selezionare quali eventi mostrare e quali eventi non mostrare è cruciale. Perché guerre che producono centinaia di morti vengono mostrate e dibattute per mesi, mentre altre che ne producono molte migliaia vengono ignorate? Perché studi che provano la sicurezza di un additivo chimico alimentare vengono mostrati, mentre altri che ne espongono i rischi per la salute vengono ignorati? Solitamente è perché qualche lobby fa più soldi con le prime opzioni.

Si può obiettare che fatti puri, obiettivi, non esistono, e che chiunque dovesse assemblare i notiziari dovrebbe fare una selezione, aggiungendo inevitabilmente la sua faziosità personale e portando avanti la sua propria agenda. Sono d’accordo con questo, ma allora penso che sia molto importante provare a capire qual’è l’agenda in ciascun caso. Quando leggi un articolo o guardi il notiziario, leggendo tra le righe vedi l’intenzione di informare gli spettatori o di manipolarli? E in entrambi i casi, perché? Ti incoraggio ad esercitare il tuo senso critico per rispondere a queste domande.

Una nota finale importante: è un falso mito che sia importante controllare le notizie regolarmente per “restare aggiornati”. A dir la verità io considero controllare le notizie regolarmente come un’abitudine molto controproducente. La ragione è che gran parte delle notizie dei media principali riguardano eventi che non fanno altro che spaventarti, problemi rispetto cui non puoi fare nulla, o cose che non hanno niente a che fare con te. Nel migliore dei casi sono una fonte di distrazione, nel peggiore dei casi ti renderanno seriamente depresso.

corporazioni-bancarie3. le CORPORAZIONI. Queste sono grandi compagnie che lavorano per profitti, usualmente con uffici/negozi in molti paesi diversi attorno al globo.

Le corporazioni esistono in quasi tutti i settori, dalle banche al cibo, giocattoli, vestiario, arredamento, elettronica, automobili, tabacco. Con un enorme fuoco sul fare soldi e il potere derivato dalle loro gigantesche dimensioni, molte di queste corporazioni hanno sviluppato un comportamento predatorio e hanno smesso di vedere le persone come persone, ma come “consumatori”. Spingono un modello di sviluppo non sostenibile che alla fine è destinto a esplodere.

Le corporazioni sono profondamente interconnesse con le altre due parti del sistema: i loro dirigenti hanno incontri frequenti con i capi dei governi, e comprano abbondante spazio nei media per pubblicizzare i loro prodotti.

È importante notare che gran parte dei cittadini di una nazione non realizzano che dietro le decisioni del loro governo c’è frequentemente una corporazione. Vedono solo il governo stesso, che è la parte più visibile del sistema, senza considerare che i suoi politici sono spesso forzati ad aver a che fare con corporazioni per tutte le decisioni più grandi. Forzati, certo, quando non sono essi stessi uomini piazzati lì dalle corporazioni.

Ci sono corporazioni abbastanza potenti da controllare i governi delle nazioni? Di sicuro: la banche. Le banche sono il tipo di corporazione più potente senza alcun dubbio, e hanno costruito un sistema finanziario complesso che è molto difficile da capire per il cittadino medio, e che dà loro vantaggi competitivi enormi nel mercato. Questo senza fornire alcun valore utile in cambio.

Naturalmente non tutte le corporazioni sono così potenti, e non tutte loro vendono prodotti di valore così falso come i soldi di carta. Nonostante ciò, vendere cose di dubbio valore con l’appoggio dei governi e usando trucchi di marketing nei media è un tratto comune a molte corporazioni del mondo moderno.

L’appoggio dei governi spiega perché succedono cose pazzesche sotto un modello di globalizzazione. Per esempio nel mio paese, Italia (attualmente il maggior produttore mondiale di kiwi), trovo spesso nei supermercati kiwi provenienti dalla Nuova Zelanda. C’è chiaramente qualcuno che ha deciso che è più conveniente -per loro- trasportare kiwi dall’altro lato del pianeta piuttosto che dall’agricoltore vicino.

E riguardo i trucchi di marketing, devi solo accendere la tv per vedere la pletora di pubblicità relative a snack pieni di zucchero raffinato e “esaltatori” di sapore, vestiti e scarpe che ci rendono “belli”, prestiti che ci permettono di diventare proprietari di case e automobili che sono degli status symbol, ultime versioni di gadget elettronici che rendono i nostri precedenti obsoleti, e così via.

Io credo che questo modello consumistico, spinto dalle corporazioni, non durerà. Ma anche finché dura, crea molti problemi perché diffonde l’illusione che diventiamo felici aggiungendo oggetti alle nostre vite. Invece, è vero esattamente l’opposto: “le cose migliori nella vita non sono cose“.

Note: il modello non sostenibile di sviluppo spinto dalle corporazioni è spiegato molto bene nel documentario “La storia delle cose“.

Relativi: Come liberarti dal sistema

What is the “system”?

The system is essentially made of three parts. It is important that you identify them, before you can free yourself from their combined action.

government-ministers1. the GOVERNMENT. Many of us grow in a society where the government is considered something necessary, useful, worth a lot of attention. It’s commonly assumed that the politicians in the government have the most important role in the society, because they are seen as “the ones” who are responsible to produce positive changes, and to create better life conditions for the citizens. I think that these expectations are largely unjustified.

Yes, the politicians impact a lot of things with their decisions, but the nature of their role is commonly misunderstood, and the importance of their role is excessively emphasized.

The politicians are mere movers of resources. All they do is to gather public money through the taxes and, after keeping a fraction to pay their comfortable salaries, they redistridute that money to the various sectors, using certain criteria (for example they give 20% to army, 15% education, 16% health care, 17% tourism…). This is their job, simply explained. Similarly to internet routers that route data to various computers, the politicians route public money to various sectors.

So the important question is: what criteria do they use to assign the money? How do they decide which sector deserves more, and which sector deserves less?

If they have good intentions (they work trying to serve the citizens), they assign the money according to what they think it’s best for the citizens. But even in this case, their perception of what the citizens need is usually distorted. Many politicians spend long hours in pompous palaces, do massive paperwork, get lost in the bureocracy. The more time they spend inside the government’s machinery, the more they get distant from the citizens. And not only they get lost in the bureocracy, they also get lost in ideologies (“we are democrats and you are republicans“), and get lost in the ego (“we and right and you are wrong“), as result their action becomes highly ineffective.

Then there are those who don’t have good intentions, and this is not a rare case. Many politicians enter the government paid by the citizens to serve the citizens, but end up working to serve themselves, instead. So the criteria they adopt to route the public money is to get as many personal advantages as possible. They give more to the institutions who work damaging the citizens (for example financing lotteries, cigarette producers, food corporations that use harmful chemicals), subtracting resources to the institutions who work for the citizens (like hospitals and schools). This way they get “favors”, usually money and power, from the institutions who work damaging the citizens.

In both cases consider that the government works on the principle of group consciousness: there will always be a number of its decisions that will go against your interests. As consequence, shifting a lot of sovereignity from yourself to the government, hoping that it will make things right for you, is a losing strategy.

media-distortion2. the MEDIA. Most mainstream media work in extremely deep symbiosis with the government. In fact, the reason why many of us tend to consider the government so important and useful is that, since we were kids, we have been watching its politicians in the news, constantly.

Think about it: when you turn on the tv, what news are given first? Usually it’s something about the government. The president said this. The prime minister said that. The opposition said that other thing. Debate over a new law. We are constantly informed about what the government is doing, and this implicitely creates inside of us the mindset “knowing what the government is doing is important”.

Mainstream media insistently put the government under the spotlight, and often using a very benevolent light: the government’s inadequacies are overlooked, its scarce results magnified. Why? Because they exchange favors, of course. The media that tailor the news in a way useful for the government obtain funds, jobs, favorable laws (all financed by the citizens with their taxes). In return the government can continue its action, as its politicians keep on appearing with suits and ties in the news every day.

Also in the other sectors, the events presented by the media are rarely depicted objectively to inform the audience, but are manipulated to produce a desired reaction instead, to carry an agenda. Most people watch the news on tv and get consequently indignant, scared, discouraged, without even realizing that that’s exactly the emotional response that the person who packaged the news wanted.

The process of selecting which events to show and which events not to show is crucial. Why wars that produce hundreds of deaths are shown and debated for months, while others that produce many thousands are ignored? Why studies that prove the safety of a food chemical are shown, while others that expose its health hazards are ignored? Usually it’s because some lobby makes more money with the first options.

It can argued that pure, objective facts don’t exist, and that everyone who would have to assemble the news would have to do a selection, inevitably adding his personal bias and carrying his own agenda. I agree with this, but then I think it’s very important to try to understand what is the agenda in each case. When you read an article or watch the news, do you see behind the lines the intention of informing the audience, or the intention of manipulating the audience? And in both cases, why? I encourage you to exercise your own critical thinking to answer these questions.

One final, important note: it’s a false myth that it’s important to check the news regularly “to stay updated”. I actually consider checking the news regularly as a very counterproductive habit. The reason is that most news by the mainstream media are about events that will only scare you, issues you can’t do anything about, or things that have nothing to do with you. In the best case they’re a source of distraction, in the worst case they’ll make you seriously depressed.

banking-corporations3. the CORPORATIONS. These are big companies that work for profits, usually with offices/shops in many different countries around the globe.

Corporations exist in almost every sector, from banks to food, toys, clothing, furniture, electronics, cars, tobacco. With a huge focus on making money and the power derived from their gigantic dimensions, many of these corporations developed a predatory behaviour and stopped seing people as people, but as “consumers”. They push a model of non sustainable development which is eventually destined to crash.

The corporations are deeply interconnected with the other two parts of the system: their executives have frequent meetings with the heads of the governments, and they buy plenty of media space to advertise their products.

It’s important to notice that most citizens of a nation don’t realize that behind the decisions of their government there’s frequently a corporation. They only see the government itself, which is the most visible part of the system, without considering that its politicians are often forced to deal with corporations for all the major decisions. Forced, of course, when they are not men put there from the corporations themselves.

Are there corporations powerful enough to control the governments of the nations? Of course: banks. Banks are the most powerful type of corporation without any doubt, and they built a complex financial system which is very hard to understand for the average citizen, and that gives them huge competitive advantages in the market. This without providing any useful value in return.

Of course not all the corporations are this powerful, and not of all them market products of such fake value as paper money. However, selling stuff of questionable value with the endorsement of the governments and using marketing tricks in the media is a common trait of many corporations in the modern world.

The endorsement of the governments explain why crazy things happen under a model of globalization. For example in my country, Italy (currently the world’s largest kiwifruit producer), I often encounter kiwis coming from New Zealand in the supermarket. There’s clearly someone who decided it’s more convenient -for them- to carry kiwis from the other side of the planet rather than from the farmer nearby.

And about the marketing tricks, you just need to turn on the tv to see the plethora of ads related to snacks full of refined sugar and flavor “enhancers”, clothes and shoes that make us “beautiful”, loans that allow us to be owners of houses and cars that are status symbols, latest versions of electronic gadgets that make our previous ones obsolete, and so on.

I think that this consumistic model, pushed by the corporations, will not last. But even until it does, it creates a lot of problems because it spreads the illusion that we become happy by adding objects to our lives. Instead, just the opposite is true: “the best things in life aren’t things”.

Notes: more about the non sustainable model of development pushed by the corporations is explained very well in the documentary “The story of stuff”.

Related: How to free yourself from the system

My tombstone

dont-cry-because-its-over-smile-because-it-happenedI was thinking that if I’ll die one day (very unlikely: I suspect I am immortal), I’d like my tombstone to look something like this! It would be so appropriate!

How I found freedom

how-i-found-freedom-in-an-unfree-world-harry-browneIn this article I’ll discuss the book How I found freedom in an unfree world written by the American Harry Browne. This book is about personal freedom, a topic that often receives too little attention, in my opinion.

Loren Howe defined How I found freedom in an unfree world as “probably the most dangerous book ever written”, and I agree. In fact I’ve known about the existence of this book listening to that premise, I put my hands on it, I read it, and it was true: the power and the beauty of the ideas it contains not only hit me like a train, but they also brought meaningful changes to the way I think -first- and to my practical daily life -then-.

I want to remark that this is not the typical self-help book, in fact, as Browne himself explains in the introduction, he choosed the title “How I found freedom” rather than “How to find freedom” to clearly show that the ideas he talks about are not abstract, but they are achievable and possible because there is at least one person in history who put them in practice: him. He succeeded in increasing significantly his level of personal freedom. Now, with me I’d say we are at least two. But I’ll talk about me later.

how-i-found-freedom-frontWhy should you care about freedom?

The first thing to notice is that very few people care of increasing their level of personal freedom. Almost everybody accepts as inevitable a series of limitations that are imposed by the society, the government, the economy, the public moral, the parents, the friends, the common beliefs. All these causes can limit our freedom in several ways, creating what Harry Browne calls traps. Traps into which, in a certain point of our lives, we get caught.

A very valid point that Browne presents is in the affirmation that, it’s true, a life 100% free from the conditioning of these actors is unrealizable in the real world. On the other hand, it’s also true that today a lot of people accept to live with a degree of freedom of 20%, of 30%, while increasing it to 80%, to 90% is possible. It is possible. And such an increase in the degree of freedom brings huge positive consequences in life.

For this reason the author analyzes in his book the traps, one by one, those in which more frequently we find ourselves trapped and those that oppress us more significantly, explaining with an extraordinary simplicity that there is no reason to remain stuck inside of them: being free is as easy as opening the traps and fly away.

Create your own personal free world

Before commenting some of the most remarkable traps that Browne debunks in his book, I want to try to summarize the global message of How I found freedom in an unfree world, the way I understand it. The message is the following:

Do not wait that the whole world changes, before you can be free. Do not try you to change the whole world, before you can be free. Even in a planet full of problems, unfree people, dogmas and control structures that are huge and appearently very powerful, you can be free now: all you have to do is to create around you a subset of this planet in which you minimize the intervention (or in which you completely exclude the intervention, when possible) of those subjects that decrease your freedom.

You can be free even if the rest of the world is not, which is in fact the title of the book.

Consider that in the world there will still be wars, corrupted governments, unhappy families, abusive relationships, injustices for a long while. Maybe for ever. It makes no sense to live life repeating “if it wasn’t for the taxes/my wife/the job/the prejudice… then I would be free”. What makes sense instead, once identified a cause that limits your freedom, is to take positive decisions that allow you to reduce as much as possible the influence of that cause over your personal world, a world that you can populate mainly with people and structures that act according with your values.

This is a crucial point: we cannot decide how our familiars, our friends, our colleagues, our bank, our government deal with us. But we can surely decide how we deal with them. In particular, we can make choices that regulate the intensity with which these subjects are present and influent in our life.

And we can do this regulation because we have available a tool of enormous power: the power to take positive decisions.

What is a positive decision?

A positive decision is the one where you choose among alternatives in a way that maximizes you happiness. One example could be the one where you choose if you’d be happier going to the movies or to theatre.

Instead, a negative decision is the one where you choose among alternatives in a way that minimizes your unhappiness. One example could be the one where you choose betweeen repairing your roof, with a leak, and emptying your bank account.

As Browne writes, the typical characteristic of a free person is that he spends most of his time taking positive decisions.

Unfortunately instead, the large majority of people spend most of their time taking negative decisions, evaluating what alternatives are the less displeasant, trying not to make things get worse.

the reason why many insist in taking this second type of decisions is that they stuck in the traps. Common beliefs, that are taught to us and repeated to us since we are kids, but that really make no sense. These traps exist until exists the unawareness of having many different alternatives available, every time we make a choice.

Let’s see some of my favorites then, in the following I reformulate the ideas from the book and add my interpretations.

1. The previous investment trap

The previous investment trap is the belief that since in the past you invested a certain amount of resources (time, money, efforts) in an activity, in a relationship, in acquiring an object, that investment made in the past must condition the way you handle the activity/relationship/object also in the present.

The truth, the resources only have value until they’re not spent.Once that they are spent, they become completely ininfluent.

Here I immediately use a personal example: my career. I spent years at the university to get a difficult degreewhich is highly considered in the job market: engineering. I studied so many hours, spent money to buy books and to pay the university taxes. After graduating, following the common trend (“graduate and then go out and search for a job”), I found a job in a prestigious corporation, obtaining what at that time I considered a dream job.

Instead, despite the benefits, despite the career possibilities, despite everybody kept on repeating how lucky I was, after some years I realized it, that type of job made me unhappy. I had nothing to do with that environment, nothing to do with the people were working in it, nothing to do with the common values in the sector. In addition, I understood that even if I considered -and still consider- what I learned in my engineering studies very useful, I wanted to work in another sector.

If I stayd in the previous investment trap, I shouldn’t have abandoned that career because otherwise I would have “throwned away” all those years of study. This is infact what relatives, friends and acquantances repeated.

But the question is, exactly, in what way continuing to do a job I hated would have resurrected those years of studying? Would I have got back the hours spent on the books, or the money for the universitary taxes? No. Once I realized that the job was a source of unhappiness, the choice was simply between adding other years of unhappiness or peacefully accept that I took the wrong path, resign and start from that point a new path more in line with my values and where more likely I could find happiness.

Other examples are easy.

If you invested 20 years in a marriage and now you realize that the marriage makes you unhappy, should you stay in it to not “waste” the time you invested previously? No: it makes more sense to accept the new situation, save yourself other years of suffering and close. Maybe life has in store for you another relationship, and you can be happy at least from that moment on.

If you spent time, money and effort to buy and them rework a house, and after many years you notice that for whatever reason you’re not happy in that house, do you have to continue living in it to “legitimate” the resources you invested in the past? Those resources are lost anyway: you can sell the house and go to live somewhere else, where you can be happy from that moment on.

2. The utopia trap

The utopia trap is the belief that it’s necessary to change the world, aligning it with our standards of pleasant place, and changing others, convincing them to agree with our ideas, before we can be free.

It’s easy to fall into this trap because very often we see things that we consider wrong, for example: iniquitous laws that are approved, malicious behaviour by those who have the power, lies that are spread. Our reaction often is to fight to contrast these things, animatedly discussing with others, doing debates, jumping on the stages to rally people, doing protest marches. In fact, politics is the most classical destination for those who are trapped in the utopia trap.

What we typically try to do is to convince others to embrace our positions, because we want to create a better world, where we could finally feel free.

Well, the truth is that this behaviour not only leads us very often to frustrations, not only makes you waste a lot of your precious time, that you could use to enjoy your personal freedom instead, but more than anything else it’s not necessary.

Why trying to convince others is not the best strategy? Simply because we’re all different and each one of us see the world in a different way. It doesn’t matter how much an argument seems right, true and reasonable to you. It doesn’t even matter how solid and evident are the proofs that support your position. You will find a quantity of people who will ignore your argument or will even contrast it, no matter how good you are at explaining your thesis.

Thinking that what is true for you is true also for the others means to fall into another trap, the identity trap, which is the error of thinking that other people interpret the facts in the same way you do.

I spent a lot of time inside the utopia trap, and I had plenty of experience of the frustration it leads to. For example, I spent years trying to convince relatives and friends to adopt an healthy diet, to make them avoid self-injurious behaviours (like smoking), to agree on my political, phylosophical, spiritual views. And each time, after providing with emphasis proofs, motivations and explainations, I was definitely surprised, negatively, of how little my suggestions were received.

What I understood with time, and of which I had definitive confirmation reading Browne’s book, is that changing the opinions and the behaviours of people is yes possible, but there are two different approaches of doing it, and the first is less intelligent, the second is more intelligent.

The less intelligent method to produce change is all in this phrase: trying to convince others. Rarely it brings results. People don’t change simply because you push them to change. Some people will never change during their life, others change, but only when they will be ready and it will be their moment.

The second method is definitely a better strategy, and explains why some paragraphs ago I wrote that creating the ideal world, an utopia, to be free is not necessary.

This method consists of mainly taking care of our own freedom, ensuring that we are happy and fully satisfied. Living according to our principles and enjoy the consequent benefits. After that, instead of making pressure to convince others, give them some indications. Maybe just even with our own example.

Those who will be interested to the indications we give, will probably follow them. If we’ll be lucky we will have the chance to enter in relationship with those people and enjoy the similarity of views. Instead, it doesn’t make sense to waste our time and energies trying to deliver those messages to who’s not ready to receive them.

If one day the world will reach the stage when a critical mass of people, individually, will be ready to understand a certain message that is valid for us, then probably there will be a global change in the direction that seems “good” to us. But in the meanwhile, it’s important to give priority to our personal freedom, without continuously postponing it waiting for an utopia to happen.

Politics produces change?

Note, as consequence of the utopia trap, that politics is a method to achieve change that is often very inefficient, since it’s founded on the ability to convince others. The job of the politician itself, especially in democracies, starts only after a certain amount of people have been convinced to give their vote to this or that other party.

I think that the role of politics is misunderstood by many, and especially that often it is credited to it an exxaggerated importance compared to other factors that are more determinant to produce changes in the society.

3. The government trap

Harry Browne defines the government a “fascinating topic”. I guess he kept his focus mainly on the operations of his own government, the American one. I think that if he saw the operations of the Italian one he would have probably written the same things more or less, but I wonder if he could have resisted to add a comic vein, considered the big number of dwarfes, jugglers, burlesque and sluts that populate the political scene in Italy.

What Browne writes in How I found freedom in an unfree world can even be shocking at the first reading, especially considering that for ever we have been used to the fact that there is a government, to turn to the government when we have problems, to believe that the government performs socially useful actions.

But is it true? The government adds or subtracts value from our lives?

Browne writes it rather clearly: usually the government creates problems, rather than solving them. If a government that today is composed of n representatives tomorrow doubles its dimension and become of 2n representatives, not only the problems would not diminish, probably a lot of new problems would born.

Why should this happen? Simply because the government intervenes on the free market, the place where the citizens trade goods and services according with their desires, walking over their will and “doping” the supplies. This is in synthesis what a government does: it performs an action which is coercive for the individuals.

Just to make a practical example, related to the period in which I’m writing this article, in Italy there is an airline that doesn’t work at all in the market. The customers prefer to fly with other companies, that are cheaper and that satisfy their needs better. Despite this, the Italian government continues to subsidize this malfunctioning airline, at loss since many years, using the money from the taxes. This way it protects the interests of few groups of powers connected to it.

As a fact, the free market is indicating that this airline must go out of business. If there would not be the doping intervention of the government, the inefficient airline would close and new opportunities would arise for new realities in the sector of air transportation, that could bring innovation and provide a better service for the customers.

A lot of examples of this type can be made, they all lead to the same conclusion: the government is a group of people that doesn’t know exactly what the single citizen wants, or it’s just not interested in solving his problems, or it’s not able to.

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

The brilliant point that Browne develops is about how to defend ourselves from the coercive actions of the government.Often it looks to us as an entity so big and powerful that we have no chance to be free from its restrictions, its obligations, its taxes.

So here there is an important concept, which is valid not only for the government, but also for all the other oppressive structures of big dimensions: these structures of control that try to limit our personal freedom are big and slow, while we as individuals are small and fast. Using this characteristic of being small and fast, we can still succeed well in our mission of living in a predominantly free world.

We must always remember in fact that we have the possibility of taking positive decisions. For example, to avoid the high taxes that a government imposes, we don’t necessarily have to evade them or to commit in political action to reduce them: we can simply choose a job in which the taxation level is lower, or choose a country where the taxes are lower.

For example I that the tendency that the media have -to give merits and write in positive terms of the entrepreneurs who “resist” with their activity in Italy, despite the Italian government applies very high taxes to entrepreneurs- doesn’t make sense. These entrepreneurs have to carry on their activity with many more efforts and working harder.

What the media do, in reality, is to praise the attitude to slavery of there entrepreneurs who resist. Frankly, I don’t see much sense in keeping on hitting the wall with the head, staying connected to a government that becomes progressively more abusive, in the name of “continuing to produce in Italy”.

Instead I see much more sense in the choice that other entrepreneurs do (on these the media point a negative light, of course) to go outside of Italy, bringing the production estabilishments in countries where the taxation is more favorable.

The latter looks much more like a positive decision.

4. The unselfishness trap

No one knows you as well as you do. Not your mother. Not your children. Not your wife. Not your friends. Not the bank. Not the government. You are the one who knows yourself better.

What descends from this statement? That no one in the world knows better than you what you need to be happy. You are the best person to turn to. Focusing instead on others, your wife or the government, expecting that they act in altruistic way and make you happy is a strategy that doesn’t make much sense. Even if they’re moved from the real desire to make you happy, they have less chances than yourself to succeed, simply because they are not you.

This is valid also in the other direction: we’ve been instructed to be altruistic and not be selfish, when the opposite makes sense. Living your life putting before indiscriminately the happines of others to your own personal happiness, not only will make you unhappy, but very often will not even make the others happy. Because the others need different things, from the things you think, to be happy.

I observed that often is much more pleasant to stay around people who are focused on their own happiness, like kids. Kids have not been trained yet to make choices that go against their own interests to avoid being considered selfish.

This doesn’t mean that sometimes it’s not pleasant to act in a way to make happy the people we have around, especially because later we can also benefit from their happiness, but what surely doesn’t make sense is to do it indiscriminately and with the fear of appearing selfish, otherwise.

5. The box trap

With box Harry Browne means every situation of discomfort you are in and that limits your personal freedom.

It could be a job you don’t like anymore, a ritual lunch with tedious relatives, a social obligation you feel you have to partecipate to.

The point made about this trap is very simple, and it’s not even a schocking revelation, but it’s the prominence that is given to the following concept, that I find very appropriate.

The concept is this: everything has a price. There’s a price for changing things and coming out of the box, but there’s also a price for not changing things and staying inside the box. You pay this second price in instalments, day after day, for all the time you stay inside.

What happens is that a lot of people accepts a limitation to their personal freedom because they think that the price to pay for coming out of the box is too high, but I think that the real reason why they stay closed inside is that they fail to see the real identity of the price.

I use again my personal example of leaving my previous career. When I was evaluating if leaving or not, I took some time to reflect on the scenario I would have faced if really I had taken the decision of leaving. I understood that the heavier price -for me- necessary to get free of the job I hated was not the uncertainty of what to do after, or the possible economic difficulties I would have faced, but the strong opposition I would have had from relatives and friends, and the suffering I would have caused to my parents.

After some thinking, I decided that I was definitely available to pay this price to get free of my box. In fact, I clarified with myself that I gave so much value to the possibility of managing my own time and to do a job I was passionate for, that I would have paid much more than this.

This is again a professional example, but it’s easy to extend to other fields: romantic relationships, social obligations, moral obligations and so on.

In general, as Browne suggests, when you’re evaluating if coming out of a box, it’s conveniente to anticipate mentally the possible scenarios that could realize in this operation, all of them, and evaluate how to reach in front of each of them.

There are always many, many different prices that can be paid to get out of the boxes in ways that increase significantly our personal freedom: cultivate the art of searching for the prices each time you are in a situation of discomfort.

6. The rights trap

The rights trap is a concept where Harry Browne really shines, because he expresses a very simple and a very original idea, that I found definitely intelligent.

The rights trap consists in believing that your rights will make you obtain what you desire. Classic example: how often we hear discussions about civil rights? And how many of us are grown with the idea of having the right to property, the right to be treated with respect, or to have a job?

The most interesting point about rights is this: they imply the existence of someone who doesn’t want to give those rights to us. Otherwise, we would not even talk about it.

An homosexual couple would not invoke civil rights, if there weren’t other people who don’t want that the same-sex marriage is approved. A precarious worker would not invoke the right of having a job, if there wasn’t the entrepreneur who would want to fire him. A tenant would not invoke the right to have a house, if there wasn’t the owner who wants him to leave his house.

Browne considers three different ways to obtain what we want:

  1. Invoke our rights
  2. Act in a way that what we want is also in the interest of the other person
  3. Obtain what we want without involving at all the other person in the situation

In agreement with the author, I also found myself in situations where I experienced that the second and third method work better. Invoking our rights often means searching for support from the government, the associations, consumers groups, that produce unsatisfactory results (sometimes even null results), especially considering, in fact, the efforts spent in the “battle for the recognition of rights”.

A very fitting exaple is the marriage for homosexual couples. In Italy and at the moment of writing for example, it’s still not recognized legally. Periodically and fruitlessly, the debate starts between those who want a law to have it approved (“it would be a sign of civilty”), and those who oppose because not acceptable according to their values. Every tot of time there is a protest march, a manifestation, a talk show in television where the flame burns again.

Actually, for homosexual couples who want to get married there is a simpler solution (which makes perfectly sense also for heterosexual couples) that belongs to modality 3: obtaining the marriage without letting the opposer get in the situation at all. Possible? Totally.

Thinking about it, it would make sense if marriage would a contract of two, because two are the people in love and who want to get married.

Instead, with marriage a lot of people try to give birth to a contract of three, sometimes even of four. The contract of three involves the spouses plus a religious entity, or the spouses plus an governative entity. The contract of four involves the spouses plus the religious entity plus the governative entity (pure masochism?).

There is no need to involve in the marriage the religion or the government: if you want to get married do it, with a party in front of your friends, of your relatives, of those who love you, without any need from an external entity who give you “permission” or his approval to be united. You could let a kid, or a friend who knows you and loves you, celebrate the marriage. Wouldn’t he have more authority for you than a stranger in uniform?

Behind the request of a law that approves homosexual marriage is often hidden, by homosexuaol people, the hope that after the approval of such law their identity would get recognized and the intolerance and homophobic behaviours would decrease, but it’s not like this. If you’re homosexual, who hates you for being homosexual will keep on doing it even if homosexual marriage becomes legal. It’s very likely that you will not make him stop by claiming your rights, on the other hand you have great chances of excluding him from your life.

Isn’t it wonderful?

The other traps

There are several other traps, typical limitations to our personal freedom, that Harry Browne discusses intelligently in How I found freedom in an unfree world.

Many of these descend from two main traps:

the identity trap, that the author actually presents first in the book, it consists in the belief that you have to be someone different from yourself, and in the assumption that others will do things in the same way you would do them.

the group trap, the belief that you can reach your goals better if you share responsibility, efforts and rewards with others, compared to what you can do acting alone.

I avoid to enter in the details of all the traps because, on the wave of the enthusiasm that I have for this book -that I consider very precious-, I would probably end up writing a second version. I close instead, beside with the suggestion of putting your hands on it as soon as possible, with a last message that I consider important.

Your freedom is your own task

In this article I associated often the adjective “personal” to the word freedom for a precise reason: the responsible for your freedom is you and no one else. Don’t consign it to the government, to your children, to your partner, to none of the people closer to you.

You arrive on this world and you find in it some programs, some structures, some thought patterns already pre-packed by those who passed on the world before you. You find a government done in a certain way, a public morality intended in a certain way, social relationships conceived in a certain way.

You have no duty to accept these ways.

Freedom means living your life the way you want to live it. It doesn’t mean living it the way I, Paolo, tell you, how Harry Browne tells you, or anyone else. You can know yourself better than anyone else (know yourself, enormous wisdom from ancient Greece): use this knowledge to select the part of the world that you need to be free.

Good luck!

… and I?

I read How I found freedom in an unfree world several years ago now. As i wrote at the beginning, its ideas brought evident changes to my way of seeing and doing things. Some of these changes are:

– I quit my corporate job to become an entrepreneur, today I focus mostly on jobs I am passionated about, always being careful to have a good amount of free time. I can peacefully say that I prefer to work few hours a day, without feeling guilty because I’m not “productive”, a sort of obligation I felt until some time ago instead.

– I diminished the time spent trying to convince others, stressing myself, and I made peace with the idea that a lot of people simply don’t want to be helped. I still enjoy political and social activism, but I do it with a different spirit, and more targeted.

– I consciously loosened some relationships with long time friends and acquaintances, not very interested to be free, and I had the luck to start new ones with people who are closer to my values. I also learned that no matter how much, a lot, I love my parents, my sister, my closest friends, sometimes they are the most insidious obstacles between me and my freedom. I learned to fight them with determination, when I recognize that their advice is based on fear.

– I oserve what the government does with interest, and I talk with my friends and joke about it… but in the meanwhile I go on with my projects.

– I increased considerably my level of honesty, even if for now I’m still far from the 100% level of honesty I aspire to. Harry Browne’s book made me understand, even more, how being ourselves is one of the most powerful tools to get to freedom, but also one of the most rarely used in the planet. This is a very big work in progress for me, in which I’m working (hitting my head on the wall a lot).

In general, I recognize that reading the book had on me the ffect that now I do more introspection, I listen more to my intuition, and certainly I developed a healthy critical sense regarding the big institutions, especially politicals, banks, pharmaceuticals, religious.

Let’s say it clear, I still have a lot of work to do. A lot. Increasing personal freedom in fact means hard work. But I use this book as a guide, and it helps me a lot.

Notes: Translated from the original article in Italian, published on date August 31, 2014.