What is the utility of the bank?

Probably you are used to the presence of the banks in the society. And you are used to bring the money you earn to a bank. To withdraw the banknotes from the cash machines of the bank. To ask them for a loan, if you have to buy a house.

In short, you see it since forever… you use it since forever… but did you ever ask yourself exactly what is a bank? And what is its utility? Today I try to explain it to you, casting a new light on its nature and making you understand why, actually, the bank represents mostly a problem for the modern society.

a-cosa-serve-la-banca-copertinaFor some aspects, nothing special

For some aspects, a bank is a commercial activity similar to all the others, in fact it’s a company that works with the purpose of making money.

From this point of view, it is perfectly identical to the butcher, the barber, the bar in the neighborhood. In the morning the employees of the bank wake up, executive, cashier, financial advisor, and they go to the office to give their labor contribution to make the bank earn more money, in change of a salary.

For one aspect, slightly special

But a bank often doesn’t have only one office, it has many offices, in different cities and often also in different nations. In fact it’s a corporation, a huge company, tentacular. And this is already a first remarkable difference with the little shop of the butcher.

But so far there’s not even anything too strange: there are a lot of corporations in the modern globalized world. For example, in addition to the banking corporations there are other types: food corporations (eg. mcdonalds, ferrero), fashion corporations (eg. versace, dolce e gabbana), consultancy corporations (eg. accenture, ibm), technology corporations (eg. apple, samsung).

For one aspect, SUPER SPECIAL

But there is one characteristic that makes the bank unique, absolutely unique.

All the other activities, from the little shop to the big non-banking corporations, earn money because they provide goods or services in return. The butcher provides meat. The barber provides the haircut service. The fashion corporation provides clothes. The supermarket provides food. The bar provides coffee. And so on.

What does the bank provide? The answer is: a gigantic nothing. The banking activity is the only one in which money is earned without providing any good or service in return. All the bank does is moving money. So the bank earns money… to move money! If you think about it it’s a very weird characteristic, that surely no other company in the world has.

It’s weird, in fact, that while all the other commercial activities revolve around “something” (meat, shoes, clothes…) with the desire of earning money, the banking activity revolves exactly around money, with the desire of earning money. It is very close to this object, for the very own nature of its activity.

This proximity gave birth to some really interesting situations.

They earn money with your money

A first interesting situation is the fact that the banking corporations have become so powerful, with time, that they influenced the approval of laws that give them huge advantages. These laws would probably be considered “scandalous” if made for any other commercial activity… that is not the banking one.

A notable example is the fractional reserve, i.e. the bank has the duty of maintaining in its office only a small fraction of the money you deposit, they can use all the rest the way they like: making loans to other people (earning money on it) and do speculations of all types.

The bank puts in circulation money that is not theirs to earn money, and this is the reason why, if you go to the bank and ask to withdraw 10.000 of your dollars from your account, two things happen.

First: you have to reserve them. The reason is simply that they don’t have that money in the office. Second: they’ll make up a lot of stories when they receive a request of this type. The reason is that, for them, that amount is worth much more than it is worth for you: by making loans with that money n times, since often after each loan the money comes back in the bank deposited by someone else, they can “magically” multiply the amount.

Paper money

Another interestinf fact is that the central object of the banking business, i.e. the money itself, it’s been transformed with time. For the worse.

Some time ago, the bank had some duties regarding money, meaning that they could only put in circulation banknotes if they had a corrispondence in gold in their safes. Let’s say that they could issue a banknote of 100 only if they really had 100 pieces of gold in their safes.

Now, this duty has been eliminated: money has become fiat, meaning that it doesn’t have any bond with gold anymore. The bank issues big quantities of banknotes, without having in their safes gold that actually covers those banknotes. This means that the banknotes are really just some pieces of paper, and their values is based now just on the reputation. A reputation that exists only until there is the ignorance, in the masses, of what money really is.

I want to clarify why it is important, in a negative way, that the banks got rid of the duty to own gold that corresponds to the banknotes they issue.

Gold is very different from the paper banknotes. Gold has intrinsic value, meaning that it has physical characteristics that make it perfect for medical, technological, industrial applications. Real life applications, that can improve people’s life. Instead, with paper you can’t do much more than lighting up a fire.

But gold is limited in the world: there is a certain amount and not more, and extracting it is also complicated. Paper instead is very easy to produce. So the move with which the banks got rid of the obligation to issue banknotes only if covered by the gold that they own, gave them the opportunity to create wealth for themselves… based on nothing.

More powerful than governments

A second situation is that with time the banks have become even more powerful than the governments of the nations. This is valid also for other types of corporations today, but the banks are definitely first in line.

The situation evolved in a way that today many heads of the governments, when they have to take decisions, almost always have to consult the bankers. Even more: often they have to ask permission to the bankers… and sometimes they even have to obey to the bankers.

When you hear in the news that the debt grows constantly (did you ever hear that the debt is diminishing?), the creditor of that debt are the banks. The reason is that these pieces of paper that we use to pay stuff, they print it and they lend it to the government, and the government commits to return it in the future with the interests.

But… how will the government pay the interests, if money is printed by the banks only, and it only has the money it borrowed previously? Simple: it will ask to more money to borrow, making other debt, always more debt. Debt that can’t ever be repaid.

This is the reason why it’s said, maybe you heard this already, that “money is debt”. They’re the same thing. Take a banknote in your hand and look at it. That banknote has been lent by the banks to your government, with the agreement that your government, one day, will give back as much as it’s written on the banknote… more the interests.

The bank doesn’t produce anything

I want to repeat and remark the central message of this article: the bank doesn’t produce any useful value for the society. At best, it can be defined as a freeloader that makes money thanks to the job of other people, a parasite. What people really need is food, clothes, medicine, technology, culture, art, and not a circus that make useless paper spin around.

The most humble workers, like the shoe repairer, or the farmer who grows potatoes, they produce an immense value for the society compared to that of the bank, whose concrete action is just to move money around.

Do you work in a bank?

Every morning millions of people in the world wake up, jump in the car and go to work for a bank. Lines at the bank offices, computers munching data, executives doing meeting, it would be nice to have an animation that could show daily how much motion is produced by the banking system in the globe. To realize, indeed, how much energy is sucked by this industry that produces the galactic nothing, apart from moving money. It would be comic and tragic at the same time.

Now, and if you’re inside this industry? And if you’re an employee who works at a branch? What if you’re an accountant? Or you’re the head of a branch? Or you’re a super-head of the european central bank? Or you even come from a family of bankers?

In this case I would say that there are two possibilities.

The first is that you’re in that place because you are unaware of the real nature of the company you’re working for every day (or at least you were before reading this). This unawareness is very frequent at the “lowest” levels of the chain, but I am sure that also many executives work for a bank without being fully aware of what is the real meaning of the company they work for.

I’ve been part of this group. I found myself working for a bank in the past. Actually as an external consultant, for few years, and in the technologic sector, but I’ve been definitely a small active part of this industry.

Those were the years when I understood what “bank” means, and that comprehension has been for me one of the strongest motivations to leave that job. I like to think that I can give, with my job, a contribution to make the world a better place, to help others, to produce something that can have a true impact of the life of people.

The idea of using my time -and my labor talent- in a circus that makes useless paper spin around is really depressing for me. I like what the professor of dead poet society says: life is a big poem, in which each of us has the chance of adding a verse. I surely don’t want that my verse is to have spent 40 years manipulating useless pieces of paper. Today I can imagine a million other ways to give more value to the society than I would do working in a bank. An example is providing education, writing articles like this.

The second possibility is that you live in denial. You know how the banking system really works, but you silence every voice that tells you that you’re contributing, with your work, to a futile cause.

The resources that your bank uses could be used to create concrete wellbeing, to make people happy, rather than load them with debt? You prefer not to think about it. You put your tie on and go to work without asking yourself too many questions. Similarly to those paople who eat meat produced industrially, when you ask them “but do you know how that is produced?” they reply “oh I don’t want to know, otherwise I will end up eating nothing”. Blue pill.

What is the adtantage of knowing this?

I want to clarify one thing: the people who understand how the banking system works and what is the utility of the banks (a big nothing) are a minority today, and will be minority still for quite a while. The majority of people are still unable to understand this mechanism, or they’re not interested in understanding it.

If you, instead, are among those who have reached this comprehension, and I hope I have given a little contribution, then in what position are you?

Well, you continue to play in a world where the bank is part of the rules. It’s unlikely that you will be able to do anything without entering in contact with the bank. The job salary is sent directly to the bank. You have to make bank cheques to buy a house. Everybody keeps on considering paper banknotes valuable objects, so they will ask you for them in return for any good or service.

But you can do several things. First, if like me you think that the meaning of life is to give to the world your unique and wonderful talents, you will stop employing these talents in a bank, if you work there.

Some time ago I watched an interview to some personality, I don’t remember who it was, who was asked “what would you do if you’d be elected president of the Federal Reserve?” and replied “I would shut it down”. I thought it was a great answer, because it’s exactly what I would do if I’d be put in command of such a mega-banking association.

Other thing, you can stop subsidizing this useless circus with your savings. Aware that the entire world sits on a giant paper ball that could burn in any moment, you can turn your savings into commodities (like gold and silver) that preserve their value with time, rather than keep on focusing on modern money that loses value gradually, every day, because its value depends on the decisions of the government and the banks.

Understanding how volatile the value of money is will free you from an enormous distraction. It will make you assign more value to other things, for example your time. It will help you understand that the indoctrination that you received since you were a kid, telling you that money is so important, is just an indoctrination. As soon as you reassign the proper importance to your time, you can use it in activities that make life more enjoyable and adventurous. And this looks like a big advantage to me.

Useful readings

To better understand the banking system I recomment two great books: the real story of money, health and religion by Loren Howe and you can profit from a monetary crisis by Harry Browne, that contains very intelligent advice on how to manage your savings. In the first book, instead, there’s a famous quotation that I write here too:

It is well enough that people of the nation do not understand our banking and monetary system, for if they did, I believe there would be a revolution before tomorrow morning. -Henry Ford-

It says a lot. A lot!

Notes: Translated from the corresponding article written in Italian, published in this blog on September 12, 2014.

Related: What is the “system”?, Inside an intensive pig farm

How to free yourself from the system

I observed that many people live their lives aware that there are several limitations to their freedom. For example, some extremely common limitations are the lack of free time, being trapped in an unfulfilling job, the financial scarcity due to taxes/mortgages.

how-to-free-yourself-from-the-system-frontMost of these people understand that the limitations exist because an oppressive entity exists, something usually referred to as “the system“. However, often the system is identified with the government only, while I think it’s important to take into account two other factors that are main parts of the problem as well: mainstream media and corporations. That’s why I wrote the previous article What is the system?, to help you see a complete picture of who is causing the limitations.

Now it’s time to search for solutions. Despite what chronic pessimists will tell you, freeing yourself from the system is possible. All it takes is to do things differently from the mass.

In fact, I am about to analyze a list of four different reactions to the system that people can have. What I want to show is that, while the first three reactions of this list are way more popular, a fourth option exists – one that very few people consider- and it “works” better than all the others.

1. Complaining, but keeping on being exploited

This is by far the most widespread reaction, I see this behavior all of the time.

It’s full of people who have strong negative feelings against the frontmen of the system (typically the politicians who are more exposed by the media), and who complain endlessly about their conduct.

These people express disappointment and disgust in every conversation related to the government’s decisions, grumble in front of the television, write angry posts in the social networks. But then, the next day they show up at work and slave on. By doing this, they actually nourish those same people they complain about.

In fact, the corrupted members of the government, media and corporations do not feed on people’s appreciacion: they feed on people’s work. They don’t care much about the insults, their ego is usually big enough. As long as those same people who insult them keep on showing up at work, providing them money (through the taxes) and especially goods and services (that they’d never want to provide working at unpleasant jobs), they’re perfectly fine.

A corrupted minister in the government will probably not resign for the affronts he receives in the social networks. A website of online news won’t stop its propaganda just because people accuse it to lie in the comments section. And the head of a corporation will not stop destroying the environment simply because people say she is immoral.

They will stop only when the citizens will stop this dual behavior of complaining about them and also funding them with their job.

Now, If you really like to complain, don’t worry: you are in good company. You can join the majority and complain everyday about how immoral the politicians are, and how outrageous their conduct is. You can feel satisfied of being brave enough to use a computer’s keyboard to insult your politicians via internet. Then you’re ready for another day of slavery. Just be aware of one thing: you’re in the group that makes the vital lymph of the system.

2. Fighting the system

Fighting the system is a second possible reaction. Not as popular as just complaining as most people do (preferably behind the screen of a computer), but it’s still an approach that is very appealing to many.

The desire to fight the system is a healthy indicator that some people don’t accept passively to be exploited by government, media and corporations. They understand that typing some insults in internet, or grumbling in front of the news, won’t serve any practical purpose. So they actively organize to produce change, and the main route they usually choose for pursuing this goal is politics.

Unfortunately, as “brave and generous” as this approach is generally considered, there are several reasons why I don’t consider it a smart option.

The first reason is that, if you decide to fight the system, you give away a lot of your personal time and energy -both limited and precious- in doing so. This time and energy are subtracted from the time/energy you could actually use to enjoy your freedom.

Many people decide to do the sacrifice anyway, because they feel they are fighting for others as well, but often they are just living in an utopia: the belief that their fellow citizens want to be freed, as much as they want.

If you’ll spend as many years as I did trying to free people from the different limitations caused by the system (for example explaining why most corporate jobs are modern forms of slavery, or contrasting the misinformation spread by the media), you will eventually conclude that a lot of people just don’t want to be free. They theorize about being free -yes- they will encourage you enthusiastically to fight, and they will even applaude you. But then they will search for a boss to work for.

For many people freedom is a beautiful theory, and they want it to stay like that: just a theory.

In addition, I don’t think that sacrificing your time/energy makes sense also because the decision to fight the system is based on a wrong assumption: that the system is exclusively localized in the trio government-media-corporations.

Of course, these structures are the three highest expressions of the system, and you should definitely keep a close eye on them. But the mindset of cheating and lying that make government-media-corporations such oppressive entities belongs also to the “common” citizens, the same citizens who encourage you to fight.

Usually, the main difference between many citizens and the politicians is that the politicians are up there, in positions of power, just because they’re more astute. But for the rest, those citizens cheat and lie in the same way, just on a smaller scale. So they applaude you if you fight for them -they’re happy, of course, if you help them not being exploited anymore- but they’re not so available to become virtuous themselves. Are you sure you want to sacrifice for them?

And last significant disadvantage: if you organize trying to knock down the system, if you adhere to a political party or some other structure, you gain size. If you become big, it will be easier for the system to notice you, and therefore it will defend itself, and it will attack you back.

I don’t deny that important victories can be achieved reacting this way. But I see a disproportion between these victories and the huge amount of resources (time/energy) that fighting the system requires you. This disproportion, to me, doesn’t resemble much like freedom.

3. Joining the system

If you can’t beat them, join them.” says a common proverb. It’s not arguable that by joining the system, even if just at the lower levels, you put yourself in a favorable position.

You can get a job in one of those institutions that produce little or no value for the society, and make a living by predating those who do produce value. For example, in my previous articles I explained that I consider the political and the banking estabilishments big circuses that consume huge amounts of resources and produce almost nothing.

You can enter these establishments and, without necessarily having to reach the top of their hierarchies, you will enjoy benefits that the workers who have similar job duties, but in different sectors, will never have.

As much as it costs me to admit it, this approach does work in giving you notable advantages. In genereal, there is more money to be made. More recognition. More financial stability.

But I can’t avoid to steer into phylosophy here, with a personal perspective. For me, chosing to be part of the system is, if not “immoral” (a word I don’t like to use, as I understand that for each person morality is different), quite depressing. I would not chose this solution because I like to work to create something useful and beautiful for me and for other people too, rather than just parasite what other people produce.

Consider also two more practical and important cons of this choice. Working as part of the system, for example by doing an unproductive job for the government, some mainstream media, or a banking corporation, means actively working to the cause of these trouble makers. And the troubles will affect someone for sure, sooner or later. If it’s not gonna be this generation, it’s gonna be the next ones.

Even if you don’t care about the next generations, there’s another reason why I don’t recommend joining the system as a good way to reach freedom: it doesn’t put you in an indipendent position. You always depend from that part of the population that does produce (concrete goods and services).

And then, of course, there is a part of the population that you can never reach in your parasitic mission, because they are very elusive. Those who react as follows.

4. Leaving the system

You will be able to free yourself if you act individually, like a small and fast fish.

leaving-the-systemThe fish that adopt the reaction 1 (complaining) will stay in the net forever, without even trying to escape the trap.

The fish that adopt the reaction 2 (fighting) are fish who try to convince other fish to push against the net, to destroy it. But by aggregating they become like big and slow fish, that the net keeps trapped even more tightly.

The fish that adopt the reaction 3 (joining) are working for the fishermen. They need to search for preys, continuously. In the short run they have some benefits, but in the long run they, or their successive generations, will suffer for the damages caused to the sea.

The fish that adopt the reaction 4 (leaving) are a net minority, they act individually, they take the less beaten track, and they are those with the highest rates of success in reaching freedom.

How to leave the system

Be small and fast. Take advantage of these characteristics. Take care of freeing yourself first. Don’t organize and avoid confronting the system openly. As a first step, start by recognizing the mistakes the other people are making.

This is important, because those first three behaviors that I described above are so widespread, so many people adopt them in reaction to the system, that you have to do an effort to realize that -no matter how many people react those ways- they are not the smartest strategies.

Next step, you have to realize that the most valuable thing you can offer, as a person, is your work. What you do with your time. And your work is what the system really craves. It’s not money: the heads of the system know that money, eventually, is just a mental construct. They want the goods and services you produce by working dozens of hours per week at boring, stressing, hard jobs that are heavily taxed. They don’t want to do those jobs, they prefer that you do them, and that you put on the market the resulting goods/services for few pieces of paper (that they produce and control).

Many people let them do it, but you can make different choices.

It’s often said that in most employee jobs you pay so many taxes that you end up working 5-6 month per year just to feed the government (that will feed, in cascade, its media and corporation allies), and only the rest of the year for yourself. I don’t know if the proportions are this bad, but they seem close to reality to me. And I think it’s too much.

You are not forced to be exploited this way. Open your eyes and you’ll see alternatives that the mass usually is too blind to see. You can chose a job which is taxed less, especially of entrepreneurial type. You can generate income through passive streams. You can move to a different country with less abusive institutions.

If you leave a job that you don’t enjoy, a job which is heavily taxed by a government that doesn’t provide any decent value in return, there are some really positive effetcs.

You immediately subtract a resource from the system. This is really the biggest damage you can do to it, even more than fighting it through political action. The lymph of the system is the work the citizens offer to it. It’s the flow of employees who wake up every morning, drink coffe, rush out of the house, get in the traffic queue, and spend 8 hours a day producing goods/services that the will be put on the market for just some pieces of paper.

But what would happen if more and more people would quit this routine, up to reaching a critical mass? The system would collapse for starvation. That’s not gonna happen soon probably, but by detaching yourself from this model you give your contribution in this direction. In the meanwhile, stay focused on your personal situation.

Recognize that what you do with your time, your “job”, is a treasure. Make sure that this treasure consists of a creative activity, that you enjoy doing, that fullfills you, that produces concrete value for your customers. And make sure you are the main beneficiary of this activity, not the lazy politicians or bankers who print paper rectangles.

Remember that not all the jobs are taxed at the same level: chose those in which the tax load is lighter then. And if the situation really gets too oppressive in your country, and it’s too difficult to avoid working many months per year for the system, then go working in another country that allows you to thrive. Vote with your feet.

Act alone, now, without waiting for the others to wake up. If you try to free everyone else with you, indiscriminately, you’ll become big and slow like the institutions you’re trying to free yourself from. You’ll lose the advantage of being the small and fast fish.

Isn’t it a too selfish behavior?

I think just the opposite is true.

Not everyone who is exploited by the system is ready to leave, and swim towards freedom. Most people don’t even see the system, just feel the pain. And among those who see the system, many insist in adopting the reactions 1, 2 and 3.

But there is a fraction of people who are ready for a further step, who are ready for freedom. Indicate them the way, show them how you make it. Giving an inspiring example is definitely the most generous thing you can do!

Notes: For this article I’ve been inspired by the experience in Italy of the “five star movement”, the movie the Matrix, the allegory of the cave by Plato, and as usual by the beautiful ideas of Loren Howe and Harry Browne.

Related: What is the “system”?

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.

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!