March 1 was the second anniversary of the day the world lost one of the greatest-ever champions of liberty, one of the most brilliant and underrated intellectuals of all-time (it’s a little-known fact, probably because he wasn’t the type to brag about such things, that he had a 160 genius-level I.Q.), and I lost the greatest man I’ve ever known: Harry Browne.
Harry’s work will undoubtedly continue to touch the lives of many people for many years to come, especially thanks to the Internet. But, two years after his passing, previously-unpublished work of his is emerging to touch still more people — including those of us already familiar with his work.
The Art of Profitable Living
In 1967, Harry gave an eight-week course in Hollywood and Long Beach, California, called The Art of Profitable Living. The course was intended to help people examine their lives, starting from zero (a concept we’ll examine later); to shake them awake from blindly following others, and to get them to think for themselves; and to show them how to take responsibility for their own lives and make their lives into whatever they want them to be.
The ultimate goal of all of this, of course, was to teach people how to maximize their personal happiness by helping them construct their own code of conduct based on consciously examining all major aspects of life.
Harry intended for his students to leave the course knowing their answers to all of life’s major questions — regardless of whether their answers agreed with his.
Harry wrote in original advertisements for the course, "I put your principles on the block to see if they hold up on the foundation on which they’re based. I pin your beliefs against the wall, invade your mind, and disturb your views of religion, freedom, marriage, etc.
"I examine why these principles are true, make applications, and then see how they work in areas of decision making, religion, love, marriage, sex, working for freedom, parent/child relationships, unraveling complicated decisions, etc."
Fortunately for us, Harry had those lectures recorded when he gave them in 1967, and he saved the reel-to-reel tapes for the rest of his life.
His widow, Pamela, found the tapes last year, and had them digitally remastered onto CDs, which she released in December, 2007, as a 20-CD course called Rule Your World! Finding Freedom and Living Profitably.
This is a review of the CD course, which you can order at the end of the article.
Harry’s position near the top of the all-time intellectual giants is further solidified not only by this course, but by the fact that he began developing its deep, profound insights in 1953, when he was only 19—20 years old.
However, we all constantly learn things from others, and Harry acknowledged that some of the course’s content was undoubtedly not his original thoughts, but was picked up here and there, from sources he could no longer remember.
And he specifically acknowledged receiving direct input from Mildred Krogar, Ayn Rand, LRC columnist Alvin Lowi, and Marian Landers; and being indirectly influenced by Tom Sanders, Joan Hall, Andrew Galambos, and David Curry.
How I Found Freedom in an Unfree World
Harry’s obviously drew on the material he presented in this course when he wrote his classic self-help book, How I Found Freedom in an Unfree World, seven years later.
But, if you’ve read that book, please don’t think you have nothing to gain from this course; I’ve read the book so many times that I literally almost have it memorized, and I would put my knowledge of it up against anyone’s, yet I learned a great deal of new information and insights from the course. Harry obviously cut a lot of this course’s material when he wrote the book, probably due to space limitations.
Besides, he was a natural teacher and it’s fun listening to him discuss these ideas.
And each session includes his post-lecture question-and-answer session with the audience, which are also fun to hear.
Hearing the Course
Listening to the course, numerous times my eyes filled with tears and I was overwhelmed by a feeling of weightless euphoria at Harry’s breathtakingly brilliant insights on life.
In preparation for this article, I made notes as I went through the course. The course is so full of profound observations that I finished it having made 56 pages of single-spaced notes; that’s enough for a book, so it’s too bad for me that this isn’t my material!
But I doubt anyone wants to read a book-length article, and I know Pamela Browne doesn’t want me to give everything away and remove most of the incentive for people to buy the course. So today, on the second anniversary of his untimely passing, we’ll briefly examine some of the course’s main points and some of Harry’s most insightful comments.
However, this is also my review of the course. So, to avoid confusion, unless I specifically attribute something to Harry, you should assume the statement is my take on the course material.
Some of the points in this article will seem redundant because, as Harry said, the course represents an integrated philosophy that’s a whole concept, so there are common threads that run through the entire course. But this is a case where redundancy is good, because it shows how many different areas of your life can be improved by any one of Harry’s basic principles.
And, for the record, I don’t receive a penny for promoting the course.
Let’s look at some of the course’s main concepts.
The Silver Rule
Nearly everyone is familiar with The Golden Rule, also known as the Ethic of Reciprocity: Do Unto Others As You Would Have Them Do Unto You; in other words, treat others as you would like to be treated. This lesson is present in ancient Greek philosophy and in all major religions, and it’s also regarded as a fundamental tenet of morality and human rights. Probably most people — including me — like to think they live by this credo. In my experience, it’s the foundation of empathy; and following it as closely as possible will allow you to avoid most of life’s problems.
However, The Golden Rule is one of those vague notions that can be difficult to define precisely. What exactly does it mean to treat others as you would like to be treated? And why should you? Because it’s "right" or "moral?" Who says? And why is that person an authority — especially for the whole world? How do you know? How can you tell whether someone is living by The Golden Rule? Maybe someone who treats others shabbily thinks he is living by The Golden Rule; maybe he’s a sadist because he’s also a masochist.
Besides being hard to define precisely, The Golden Rule also starts to break down when examined closely.
For example, I’d like strangers to walk up to me and hand me money for no reason. (So feel free to send a PayPal donation to my email address if that sounds like a good idea to you too.) By the logic of The Golden Rule, that means I should go around giving strangers my money for no reason. If I did that, I’d be bankrupt in no time, and it would be unrealistic for me to expect those funds to be replenished by someone treating me the same way.
This example is absurd in order to make the point, but one could easily think of 10 real-life, much more subtle examples. If a moral principle isn’t true 100% of the time, then how do you know when to follow it and when not to? And how can you expect someone to follow it in the same situations in which you would? If it’s okay for you to break the rule when you deem it’s necessary, why isn’t it okay for others to do so when they deem it necessary?
Harry rejected The Golden Rule as an unrealistic, trite platitude. Here are the three basic justifications for following it that Harry saw, followed by his responses:
- It inspires you to treat others better.
No, it causes you to waste resources trying to change people’s fixed natures, either by persuasion or force, instead of figuring out how to deal with others as they are.
- You’re creating a better world.
What does that mean? How do you know? Even if you’re right, the population of the earth is about six billion (adjusted to 2008), so my share of that "better world" is one/six-billionth, which is not a worthwhile return on my investment. And I’m not here to create a better world; I’m here to make the most of my own life.
- It’s "right," so you "should."
Harry never heard a deeper reasoning than this; it begs the questions I asked earlier.
So Harry created what he called The Silver Rule. In my view, it’s not a rejection of The Golden Rule as much as an improvement, to make it and the reasoning behind it much more precise. The rule is this: be the kind of person with whom you wish to associate, because that’s how you attract those types of people into your life.
As an example, if you want to associate with — and don’t want to repel — honest people who don’t steal, and you don’t want to associate with — and do want to repel — thieves, then you should refrain from stealing and let others know, when it comes up, that you don’t steal and won’t associate with those who do.
This is much more precise reasoning than vague philosophical terms like "right" and "wrong," which nearly everyone agrees on, but with few can precisely define.
It’s also more precise than "because you wouldn’t want someone to do that to you," because that answer isn’t necessarily as self-evident as it seems. But even a sociopath can see the value to himself in the reasoning behind Harry’s Silver Rule.
This creates a clear, subjective view of "right" and "wrong:" what kind of people are you looking to attract?
And that subjective definition clearly answers many questions that would otherwise be subject to lengthy philosophical discussions and disagreements over vague terms like "right" and "wrong." For example, the question of whether it would be "right" to shoot a trespasser (for simplicity, let’s assume trespassing is all he’s doing) is answered by whether you would want to associate with someone who overreacts in such a way to such a minor problem. If you wouldn’t, then it would be wrong by your standards to shoot him.
You don’t have to reject the concept of objective morality to live by and apply the Silver Rule; Harry believed that there might be an objective morality, but he also believed that it doesn’t matter if there is, because everyone perceives everything — even the objective — subjectively.
Regarding this, Harry said, "At the very least, understanding the subjective nature of perception will spare you a lot of effort and despair. There’s no reason to ever lose your temper, because you won’t expect from others what they don’t have to give, or to be frustrated because you expected someone to react from your standards or knowledge. This fact about other people is a facet of reality, whether you like it or choose to accept it. If you fight it or deny it, it’ll cause problems for you."
And the beauty of the Silver Rule is it applies to virtually everyone, regardless of their beliefs.
For example, if you’re a Christian, you’re unlikely to convince an atheist not to steal because God commanded it, and He will punish people who disobey; even if you’re right, the atheist doesn’t believe it. You have about as much chance of convincing him not to steal based on God’s commandments as he would have trying to convince you not to steal based on his belief of there not being a God.
But no one — regardless of their religion or lack thereof, age, race, background, belief in subjective or objective morality, etc. — wants anyone to steal from them, so everyone can see the sense in not stealing in order to attract into their lives people who don’t steal, and to repel thieves, whom they want nothing to do with.
Harry advised following the Silver Rule at all times, because you never know when someone might be watching you.
That includes not compromising your standards because of your environment, unless it’s to avoid worse consequences (for example, you might steal or trespass if you were in a situation where you truly feared you might die otherwise, but you would still expect to suffer the consequences of your actions — including the damage to your reputation). So don’t justify your conduct to someone as being due to your environment at the time, such as being swayed by peer pressure. How does the other person know what you’d be like in another environment? Why are you even in that environment at all if it doesn’t suit you?
No One Owes You Anything
Understanding this lesson so deeply that your emotions conform to it in almost all situations is one of the marks of a mature person, and understanding it to that depth will save you an indescribable amount of grief in life. You don’t control others; you can only control yourself and your reactions to what they do.
Harry discussed this idea in his syndicated newspaper column around the time he gave the course. The article, A Gift For My Daughter, ran on Christmas Day, 1966, and was dedicated to his then-nine-year-old daughter. Harry resurrected the article in 2002, on my suggestion. He also read and discussed it on his last radio show before Christmas in 2002 and 2003.
No one "has" to give you anything — including love, friendship, courtesy, common sense, good judgment, empathy, intelligence, or anything else — just because you want it or because you think they "should." Some people don’t even have those things to give, even if they wanted to. Maybe you’re right that the other person "should," but if the other disagrees, what good is your claim?
Even if you can manage to somehow cajole or guilt people into doing what you want, they’ll only do so reluctantly, so you’ll get nothing but a hollow victory — not the full value you’d get from someone enthusiastically doing what you want because they truly want to.
Harry said, "No one owes you anything, because no one is living for your happiness; he is living for his own purposes. This means that individuals are going to act in some pretty strange ways — as far as your standards are concerned. No one owes you moral conduct, friendship, respect, intelligence, anything.
"What you think is ‘moral conduct’ is just some strange, mystical philosophy to that other fellow, and he has no more reason to act upon your morality than you do to adopt his code of conduct. If you recognize this clearly, you’ll be far better equipped to deal with his so-called ‘immoral’ behavior. He will act as he does because he is acting in a way that he believes will bring him happiness. He doesn’t have to live by your standards, because he doesn’t owe you anything.
"When you judge him, realize that you are simply saying, ‘Now, if he were I, he would act differently.’
"But he isn’t you! He is himself, acting from his own standards, so quit expecting him to be you; he never will be you, and he will never act upon the knowledge that you have.
"Neither does he owe you his friendship. No matter how likable you have made yourself, no one has to like you. You will be liked only if he sees you as an instrument to his happiness. He will decide for himself, and his standards may be totally foreign to yours.
"So why be upset if he decides to dislike you, after all you have done for him?
"And no one has to respect you, either. A man may treat you contemptuously, may bump into you disrespectively on the street. He’s doing what’s meaningful to him, and although you don’t like it and you consider it ‘wrong’ — to you, the answer is not to decide that he ‘owes’ you respect, not to consider that he ‘ought’ to act from your premises, but rather to take this into consideration as it is, and deal with the reality as it is. Act accordingly, recognizing that he is not going to respect you, that there is no basis upon which you can make him respect you.
"I will not be able to deal properly with others until I realize that no one owes me anything. This is true by the very nature of life itself, so I am only deceiving myself if I try to live in a dreamworld of rights and expectations. Each person has only one obligation: to live his life in such a way as to bring maximum happiness to himself.
"I’m not saying that that’s the way it should be, or that that’s the way I want to make the world; that is the way it is, and until I recognize that, I will not be capable of dealing with it.
"Now, if this appears to make you helpless among all of these greedy and grasping creatures, don’t let it bother you; we’ll get into some highly sophisticated concepts regarding mutually profitable exchanges next week.
"But lets carry this a step further right now.
"You can say, as you view the apparently irrational acts of others, ‘But that individual would be happier if he would act in the way that I tell him to. He’s only hurting himself, making himself unhappy, by doing the things that he does. I’m only asking him to do what is ultimately in his own self-interest.’ In other words, you’re saying that he should act more intelligently.
"But the fact of the matter, which you must realize, is that he doesn’t owe it to you to act intelligently either. It’s his life, and as long as he’s got it, the plain fact of the matter is he can be just as stupid with it as his knowledge and standards lead him to be. Not just that he can — he will."
Harry summarized this idea beautifully with this sentence: No one owes you anything, because you have no way to make him pay it.
You Can’t Control Other People
Harry advised accepting others as they are and concerning yourself with how to deal with them on that basis. If you don’t like how someone is, arrange your own association with him so that his drawbacks don’t affect you. If that’s not possible, or if you feel the drawbacks of knowing him outweigh the benefits, then don’t associate with him at all. But don’t waste time and energy complaining about how he is or trying to change him; if you do, you’re virtually guaranteed to accomplish nothing but to frustrate yourself.
People can change, but they usually do so when they decide that their previous ways aren’t bringing them the kinds of results they want in life, not because someone else tries to coerce them into it.
Harry believed that the nature of others is deeply embedded. Yes, everyone makes mistakes that are out of character for them. But if you see something in someone — either good or bad — enough to see a pattern (generally, at least three times), you should assume such behavior is in the person’s nature; you should expect him to continue behaving in such a way in the future, and decide how or whether to deal with him in the future by considering that aspect of his nature.
Harry said, "Don’t forget how deeply embedded the nature of others is; he will rebel against your attempts to change him. It may appear superficially that people make sudden, drastic changes in their lives, but that’s not so. There’s a thread that runs through a person’s life that begins early and carries through all aspects of life.
"Look back over your life. You’ve had changes, but you were rebelling against things you were brought up in that didn’t suit you, etc. You changed when you became aware of a better alternative, and you were probably waiting unconsciously all along for it to arrive. Changes in your life don’t mean your nature has changed. The nature of others is fixed and deeply embedded."
It’s difficult to describe the euphoric sense of weightlessness that comes from accepting this idea so deeply that your emotions automatically conform to it almost all of the time. But it’s well worth working to attain such a mentality. In my experience, doing so only requires repetition until it becomes a reflex, like anything else.
The first step in making this mentality reflexive is becoming consciously aware of this idea and of the fact that it makes sense to you.
Once that happens, every time someone hurts you, disappoints you, or otherwise acts in a way contrary to what you want, make the conscious effort to remind yourself that you can’t control others; if you want something from someone, you have to make it worth their while to give it to you; and you do control yourself, so if you’re going to get mad at anyone, it should be at yourself for making yourself vulnerable to someone else in such a way.
If you still feel that the person is worth associating with, then accept the fact that you’re paying a necessary price for the benefits you get from knowing that person, and stop complaining about his drawbacks, which you can’t change or control.
When you consciously and repetitiously think of such things in this way, the mentality will eventually become automatic and ingrained in your subconscious, at which point your emotions should conform to it too — not 100% of the time, because you’re not perfect; but every step closer you get to 100% is an improvement.
As Harry said, "”What do you have to fear from people who would turn your friends against you by making unproven accusations? Do your friends act upon unproven statements? If they do, why do you refer to them as your ‘friends?’ Why do you try to hang on to someone who would respond to an unproven accusation against you?”
“What kind of people is it you want to deal with? If some people seem to respond to a so-called unscrupulous competitor, are those really the people you wanted to deal with? If others turn against you because of rumors that are uttered behind your back, what have you lost? If your wife suddenly becomes infatuated with a gigolo, are you sure this is the woman you wanted to be your wife?”
Accept others for what they are, because you have no control over it; concern yourself with what you do control, which is how to deal with it.
The point of any decision is to attain ultimate well-being for yourself. Harry offers his brilliant, elaborate method for making important decisions; his method involves identifying the six components of any decision, the three areas of any decision, and the 10 ways a decision can be perverted, plus three bonus perversions.
As an example of the insights in this portion of the course, one of the ten ways Harry believed a decision could be perverted was to decide a certain way because you’re trying to prove something to someone else; acts have natural, automatic consequences, so you don’t need to waste your limited resources trying to "prove" to people that the things they’re doing are wrong.
If someone asks your opinion, you can tell him what you really think. But don’t waste time or energy telling people who didn’t ask you that what they’re doing is wrong.
Besides, when people ask for "advice," they usually do so only to have their decisions or beliefs enforced, so don’t expect them to listen to you — and don’t get upset when they don’t.
For example, if you think someone is stupid, don’t waste time and energy trying to convince him of it. He’ll run up against the negative consequences of his stupidity eventually, regardless of what you do — and, if you care about him, this is the best thing for him, because it’s the only way he’ll learn (although he may still not, but that’s his problem).
The obvious objection is: What if he doesn’t suffer any negative consequences for his acts? Harry’s response to this question is one of the most brilliant and insightful observations about life that I’ve ever heard, and they’re the reason I chose this example to share:
First you don’t know that he’s not suffering any negative consequences, because you don’t see everything that happens to him; even if it’s your spouse, you’re not with that person 24 hours a day. And even if he brags that he suffers no consequences, he may be lying or may not be bright enough to connect the bad things happening in his life — which you may not know about — with his acts.
Second, if he really isn’t experiencing any negative consequences from his actions, then on what basis could you possibly even hope to convince him that what he’s doing is wrong — even if you’re correct?
Besides, if he’s so stupid, why are you involved with him at all? Why do you make yourself vulnerable to his stupidity, or even put yourself in a position where you have to see it?
This is another part of the course that made me feel emotionally weightless and almost made me cry with joy; for some reason, on the rare occasion that someone manages to upset me and I strongly feel that I’ve been wronged, I often have an irrational desire to "prove" it to him and to get him to admit that he was wrong — and it never gets me anywhere. Hopefully Harry’s brilliant, joyous advice will help me get over this. What an insight!
As Harry said, "I have all I can do just trying to take care of myself; I don’t have time to waste precious resources trying to prove anything to anyone else. And, because I control only myself, I have no assurance that my efforts to prove something to someone would even succeed. Besides, even if they did, what good would it do me? If anything, I know relatively certainly that the effort of trying to prove it would be uncomfortable to me."
Another aspect of this section of the course deals with the aftermath of decisions; once you make a decision and you’re convinced that you chose correctly, Harry advises not reopening the decision unless new information becomes available that would change the risk or reward of the decision substantially enough to make it worth reconsidering, and unless the decision is still revocable.
But one piece of new information that’s irrelevant to reconsidering your decision is the reactions of other people, because you should’ve taken into consideration when you made the decision that one unknown was what others would think of it or how they would react to it. We’ll examine dealing with unknowns later.
If you apply the Silver Rule to the dilemma of whether to change your decisions due to the reactions of others, you’ll see that it’s usually no dilemma: if others react in a hostile manner to a decision you know is right for you, it’s an indication that those aren’t the kinds of people with whom you want to associate, not that you should change your course of action to suit them.
Harry believed, as many people do, that acts have automatic consequences. Some call this God’s will or karma; Harry called it natural justice.
If you believe in this, then you don’t have to worry about anyone getting away with anything — even if you don’t see, or even hear about, their comeuppance; all you have to do is to worry about yourself and those you care about, to arrange your own affairs to make yourself as invulnerable as possible to people harming you. Beyond that, you can rest assured that people who harm others will get what’s coming to them, without you doing anything — and even if you don’t see it.
More importantly, when someone harms you, understanding the lesson of natural justice deeply enough will allow you to focus on what you control, which is to learn a lesson from it to reduce your vulnerability to such a thing happening to you again, rather than trying to circumvent natural justice by seeking revenge on the person yourself — which may bring bad consequences to you.
Harry said, "What about your life? Is it so arranged that you are vulnerable to, or dependent upon, people you consider to be evil, stupid, malicious, careless, or in any way harmful to you? If it is, then it’s your vulnerability to these people that must be changed, not the people involved. This applies in your job, your family, your personal relationships, your property.
"If it seems too hopeless a task to unravel these areas of vulnerability and dissatisfaction, if you feel that some areas of your life are just so far gone that you’re going to have to tolerate a disagreeable situation, then please sit tight for the next eight weeks as we go into ways of putting one’s life in order.
"There’s no value in cursing someone’s actions after the fact, because that accomplishes nothing for you.
"To have to avoid bad is not an inconvenience, because you have no claim on anyone else. Put yourself in a position where bad things can’t happen to you. Once you avoid bad people, you don’t have to know who all of them are. Once you decide that someone can’t contribute anything positive to your life, accept him for what he is and avoid him. It also does nothing for you to point out badness to others, unless they ask your advice, because everyone has to decide for himself.
"If you won’t be satisfied until you know justice has triumphed, understand justice: certain acts produce certain consequences, and nature punishes people who go against reality
"Realize that everyone is subject to the same cause-and-effect relationships that you are, and you can’t see everything that happens to others. What more concern about justice can there be?
"Justice isn’t something you invent; it’s the natural, inevitable consequence that follows every act. People who go against reality will face consequences, regardless of whether you ever see it happen. This is mightily important. You can make substantial changes in your own life if you stop worrying that others are getting away with something.
"If someone steals from you, for example, he’ll face consequences, regardless of what you do. Worry about your own mistake, which was to make yourself vulnerable to it, and to learn a lesson to make it less likely to happen again.
"Leave justice to nature; it’s in the business."
If you accept Harry’s sensible premise that there is a natural justice in the world, which is the automatic consequences of acts, then man-made justice ("government") is, by definition, either redundant or an attempt to circumvent natural justice. Either possibility renders government unnecessary. This is borne out by the fact that most government "law enforcement" consists of either persecuting people for victimless crimes against the State, or for real crimes motivated by government-imposed distortions in the economy, like black markets.
In the course, Harry describes in depth what he saw as the three evils of the man-made justice system.
But the fact is, necessary or not, governments exist, and the individual has to find ways of dealing with them — which Harry also addresses in depth in the course.
Harry said, "On your level, your daily life would be the same under a free society or under a government — you have to take measures on your own to protect yourself, your property, deal with honest people in business, etc.
"A ‘free society’ is another form of government, because agencies more powerful than you, with the ability to coerce you, will always arise.
"You are all alone in this world, so you better face it. You’re going to have to be responsible for your own happiness, protection, income, etc. No one can construct a society where you would be freed from such responsibilities.
"A ‘free society’ isn’t possible; all that’s possible is individual freedom. Freedom is the opportunity to act on one’s own morality.
"The freedom others want for themselves may be different than the freedom you want for yourself.
"You can’t say others can only have the freedom to act as you want; if others are to be free, then they must be totally unrestricted to do as they please and experience the natural consequences of their own acts. That doesn’t mean you have to be vulnerable to their actions, but your concern should be with insulating yourself from it, not with exercising prior restraint on others.
"If someone objects that this is license rather than freedom, it’s a semantic argument; this person defines freedom incorrectly as ‘the freedom of others to act as I think best.’ Freedom and license are the same thing.
"The concept of ‘freedom with responsibility’ is meaningless, because of questions like: whose responsibility, who decides, how it is enforced, etc.
"You can’t create a world where things like thieves and murderers don’t exist. Someone else may even decide that you’re a thief or a murder by their standard, and a system you helped erect to punish people you thought were thieves and murderers may turn against you someday.
"In the real world, you have to protect yourself, and it’s your individual, personal responsibility, just like you have to eat, sleep, breathe, etc.
"Some people feel they have to coerce to get what they want, and you have to deal with that as part of reality.
"Should you coerce? According to The Silver Rule, not unless you want to attract into your life people who will coerce you. But the only relevant question is: should I coerce? The question: should others coerce? is irrelevant, because you don’t control others.
"The conduct of others is the result of their happiness-seeking natures, and no one owes you anything. Others live for themselves and from their own knowledge and standards. Accept that people do what they want, including coerce, and concentrate on what you control, which is to insulate yourself from it.
"Should you deal with the government? You can’t always see all consequences ahead of time, but you can have a general idea of what consequences probably are.
"If you live, you will have to deal with the government in some ways, but that doesn’t mean you have to deal with it in many ways or all ways. You can choose to drive on roads, but that doesn’t mean you have to sue someone, etc. Don’t try to flout natural justice through a man-made system.
"The Oliver Wendell Holmes quote is true, but not as people who agree with it think it is: You have to pay taxes if you want to live in civilization. Period. It doesn’t matter if it’s right or wrong or even if government is destroying civilization. The tax system still exists.
"It’s not that life wouldn’t be better without government; it’s that some problems in life are inherent — even some attributed to government. And, even if life would be better without government, you have no power to make it disappear."
Harry advised total honesty with everyone at all times.
I agree, except I would allow exceptions in cases where you believe the consequences to you of telling the truth are worse than the consequences of lying . But, in such cases, you should still expect to suffer the automatic, negative consequences that come from lying; when they appear, know that you’re paying the necessary price to avoid the worse consequences of telling the truth.
In my experience, you will reduce the price required to fix a problem or a mistake to the minimum possible 99% of the time if you’re totally honest with everyone all of the time. The other 1% consists of situations where the consequences of telling the truth are worse than the consequences of lying, such as lying to save your life — but again, in such cases, you should still expect to suffer the bad consequences that automatically come from lying.
But liars don’t see it this way. They think that by lying, they can get away with something, reduce the consequences of a mistake to zero. But they’re just making the problem worse, by adding the additional consequences of lying — which are often worse than the consequences of the original act, especially if it was an honest mistake — to the consequences of the original act. Eventually the problem will become so large that it has to be dealt with — and the price required to fix it then will be much, much higher than the price for just the original act, had it been dealt with swiftly and honestly. And by the time the problem grows so large that it can no longer be ignored, it may no longer be fixable — which itself is a very heavy price.
You should also be honest with others about who you are. If you lie to others about what you really are, you’re probably doing so to be like everyone else — in which case you’re robbing yourself of being liked for what you really are by someone with whom you’re truly compatible, and you’re making almost everyone else your competitor for the attention of others. But if you’re honest with everyone, you’ll have the market for your real traits cornered, and some day, someone is going to respond enthusiastically and gratefully at finding a kindred soul.
And you can’t be honest with others if you don’t know yourself well enough to know what the truth about yourself is. So before you can be honest with others, you must be honest with yourself.
Harry said, "’Honesty is the best policy’ is a meaningless cliché. Being honest starts with being honest with yourself; you can’t be honest with others until you know what you believe. Once you’ve recognized what you are, be what you are. Be totally honest with others at all times. Decide that you’d rather face the consequences of being blunt than face the consequences of lying. Then you can work on being more diplomatic, if you want. This all gets back again to the Silver Rule."
Harry saw two main negative consequences from lying:
- Lying solidifies imperfection.
Harry said, "How can a problem improve if you won’t acknowledge it — to yourself or others?
"If you’re concerned that truth will hurt him, consider that he will be hurt by many things, and it’s not your responsibility to make sure he’s never hurt by anything in life."
- You destroy your own credibility by lying.
Harry said, "There are always consequences from lying. Don’t put yourself in the position that you feel so vulnerable that you have to protect something by lying."
This adds another dimension to my earlier statement that, in my view, it’s okay to lie in (the hopefully very limited) situations where you’ve analyzed a situation and decided that the consequences to you of telling the truth are worse than the consequences to you of lying. But regardless of whether you agree with me, as Harry said, it’s best to avoid getting into such situations in the first place.
Starting From Zero
This is another concept, like the Silver Rule, that permeates the course. Harry believed one of the most valuable techniques for improving your life is what he called Starting From Zero. It involves reversing the usual method for making decisions, which is to figure our what you want to change, starting where you are now; Harry’s method is to forget everything in your present life and think only about what you want from life and how you can get it, without taking into consideration anything about your present life, including your present obligations and commitments.
Harry discusses this concept in depth in this area of the course, and applies it in many other areas of the course.
As an example from his own life of how powerful the method is: at the time he gave the course, he and a couple of others owned a small business with several employees that sold features to newspapers across the United States.
After owning the business for a couple of years, he had several full-time employees, needed 200 man-hours a week to run it — including 80 hours a week from himself, and the business was in the red. Starting from where he was then, it seemed like everything about his present situation was vital to running the business, so he was considering closing it since it was losing money and it seemed that no significant expenses could be cut.
But, starting from zero, he was able to make the business profitable with only 25 man-hours, including cutting his own work-week from 80 hours to 15; and was able to eliminate all of his employees but one, who came in just one day a week, and use the eliminated employees as independent contractors, which also freed him from other burdens, like payroll taxes. It turned out that hardly anything he thought was necessary for operating the business really was, but he couldn’t see that until he cleared his mind of all of his preconceptions.
If you want to improve your life, don’t start mentally from where you are now; your present mentality is how you originally got into whatever mess you’re in now. So instead, start mentally only with what you want, then only consider what you have to do to get it.
Dealing with Unknowns
Unknowns are present in virtually every decision. Harry discusses at length how to deal with this aspect of reality, including identifying the most common mistakes people make when confronting unknowns.
One aspect of unknowns is that you can’t always identify every unknown ahead of time; as a quick way to make a decision and deal with this, Harry advised not trying to imagine every possible thing that could happen with each option, but instead evaluating your vulnerability to the worst possible thing you could imagine happening with each course of action.
Here’s an example Harry gave: Imagine that you’re running late and you realize you might run out of gas before you get to your destination.
So the decision you’re faced with is whether to stop for gas and make yourself a little later for sure; or to keep going, in which case you might make it and not be as late as if you’d stopped, but you also risk running out of gas and making yourself much later than if you’d stopped.
First, realize that you made yourself vulnerable to this; if you had budgeted your time better or not let your tank run so low, you wouldn’t be in this situation. So you should learn a lesson for the future to prevent this from happening again.
But you are in this situation now, so you have to deal with it.
Here are the obvious unknowns:
- Exactly how much gas is left in the tank?
- Even if you knew that, how far would that take you? And exactly how far is it to your destination?
Now identify what you do know:
- If you stop for gas when you didn’t have to, let’s say you figure it will cost you up to 15 minutes.
- But if you don’t stop and run out of gas, let’s say it’ll cost you up to 30 minutes to walk to gas station, back to car, etc.
Now use what you do know to determine your vulnerability to the worst thing you think could happen with each decision:
Let’s say being even five minutes late in this situation would ruin the appointment — maybe you’re meeting someone whom you know well enough that you know even being five minutes late would anger him so much that the appointment would be ruined, or maybe you’re on your way to a show and they don’t seat people after a certain time. In these examples, being five minutes late is the same as being an hour late, so you’d risk it and drive through, unless you think the burden of walking for gas is worse than missing the appointment.
But if you decide that it’s better to be five minutes late than 30 minutes late, you’d probably stop and get gas.
So consider everything you know, and every unknown you can think of, and pick what seems to offer the best consequences to you.
There are all kinds of prices to be paid in life; money is just one. Like with lying, avoiding a problem — meaning avoiding paying the necessary price to fix a problem in your life — just compounds the problem in the long-run, making the price necessary to fix it, which you can avoid paying forever, much larger than if you had faced the problem immediately.
Harry deals with identifying and paying prices in detail in the course, but he summed it up when he said, “Every mistake you make will be paid for ultimately, but the price of that mistake will depend upon your attitude toward it. If you face it squarely and quickly, the price can be relatively cheap. But if you try to cover it up, you are simply making mistake number two, and then number three, and on and on and on. And all of those mistakes will have to be paid for eventually. And the price can get to be pretty tremendous. And that to me is the meaning in the old saw, ‘the mistakes we make two-by-two are paid for one-by-one,’ because you will have to pay for them one at a time. But it’s very easy to arrange them or to pile them up two at a time, simply by one covering up the other.
"Once again, mental well-being, not the hiding of your mistakes, is the goal.
"If you’re willing to pay a price, there’s nothing you can’t earn."
Now How Much Would You Pay? Don’t Answer Yet; There’s Still More!
No, the course doesn’t come with a set of Ginsu knives that can slice through a shoe and still slice a tomato razor-thin, nor does it come with a miraculously-absorbent shammy that can soak up five gallons of water in 8.2 seconds.
But you will also receive Harry’s in-depth analysis of other major life issues, including: morality; attaining personal freedom, which is different than freedom from government; accepting your own nature, rather than trying to fight it; economics; Harry believed that preoccupation with irrelevancies was one of the major obstacles to personal achievement and happiness, so he describes in detail how to determine what is and isn’t relevant in your life; romantic love, including how to distinguish real, durable romantic love from mere physical attraction or temporary infatuation; marriage, including suggestions for arranging the details of your living situation with your spouse to avoid conflicts to the greatest degree possible, and how to end the marriage as amicably as possible, if it becomes necessary; the decision of whether to have children, and, if so, how to raise them successfully, so that you can have a mutual, honest, value-for-value relationship with your children, and how to raise them successfully to become independent adults; religion; prayer; determining the existence of God; certainty; plus much more.
Successfully implementing all of the course’s concepts will start you on your way to becoming a true individualist. The following is Harry’s description of such a person; the quote is lengthy, but it’s beautiful.
Harry said, “To me, the individualist is one who has had the courage to respect his own mind, to determine for himself the nature of life. He has determined for himself the premises upon which he will construct his philosophy of life and his code of conduct.
"But he also recognizes that everyone else in this world is going to do exactly the same thing, no matter how sloppily or thoughtlessly they may go about it. But that means he expects others to go their own ways in seeking happiness. He expects others to act from different premises. He expects others to have their own moralities. And he makes no attempt to condemn them as being unfit, because he realizes that he is not condemning them from their own standards by which they’ve been acting. The individualist accepts all of this and expects nothing else, because he knows nothing else would be realistic.
"He knows that no one owes him anything because he can’t make anybody pay it. He is starting out all alone in this world, and he knows it. He doesn’t kid himself into thinking that someone else is living for his happiness. Rather, he makes it his business to arrange the kind of relationships wherein it will be profitable to others to help him get his happiness.
"And so he’s a rare individual who can enter a personal relationship on a truly realistic basis. He recognizes the true sovereignty of the other person involved, and he doesn’t enter the relationship with the idea in mind that he’s going to mold that other person to suit his wishes.
"And he knows that the other person is judging him from the other person’s standards, and will find it profitable or not continue."
"The individualist, then, doesn’t look down on others or look up at others. He recognizes them for what they are — individuals, each of whom is a world unto himself, and the highest authority in that world. So he knows that any shortcoming that another individual may have by his standards is undoubtedly accompanied by a shortcoming in him, according to the other person’s standards.
"He doesn’t expect people to buy from him unless he is offering those people something they want, no matter how much he thinks he knows what is good for them.
"He doesn’t expect his spouse to love him, without earning that love — by her standards, not his.
"He doesn’t expect anyone to respect him unless he is contributing something positive to the happiness they seek in their lives — by their concept of what will bring them happiness.
"He does not have to enter any of these relationships, but he knows that they won’t exist unless the other participants are satisfied too. So what is the point of ever ignoring their profit motives? In fact, he would actually be embarrassed if he caught himself condemning someone else for not acting by his standards, since he knows that those standards only apply to himself.
"He doesn’t lose his balance, because he is not counting on what cannot be. He has no temper tantrums because there just isn’t anyone who’s a proper target for his anger, and he knows it.
"He is not racked with uncertainty or quiet doubts that eat silently away at his constitution, because he has faced reality as it is and incorporated it into his decisions, and acted upon what he wants and knows he can realistically have.
"He suffers no overwhelming disappointments because he knows what will remain unknown to him, and adds up his vulnerabilities instead of just hoping that everything will go away.
"He is not besieged by the three evils that Ayn Rand identified as pain, fear and guilt.
"What is there to be pained about? He has arranged his life realistically, so that his small mistakes are not going to compound themselves into gigantic consequences. And he pays prices for the small mistakes, knowing what he’s paying for. And so, even when he must suffer in a small way, he knows why, and he is willing to do it for the greater happiness it will ultimately bring him, rather than compounding the suffering by trying to ignore it. In this way, he actually steps outside of the suffering, treats it impersonally and prevents it from throwing him for a loss.
"What is there to be afraid of? Life is an adventure. No one owes the individualist anything, so he doesn’t have to be scared to death that they aren’t going to pay it.
"What is there to be guilty of? He is responsible to no one but himself. No one’s acts but his own could make him feel guilty. He is not going to chastise himself for someone else’s actions, for someone else’s unhappiness — even if those actions appear to be reactions to his. And even his own mistakes are only a part of the history upon which he has to build at any given moment. So he always starts from where he is right now, learning from the past, but living in the present and the future.
"The individualist doesn’t build societal structures; he builds himself. Society depends upon too many other individuals acting in just the right way to make it work — and he doesn’t control others; he controls only himself.
"He doesn’t try to change others; he protects himself from those who would harm him. He knows that even the thief is acting from his own limited knowledge of what will bring him happiness — the same basis from which the individualist is acting. It is only that the individualist feels that he has found a better way of obtaining happiness. But he knows that there is no way he can compel the thief to go his way, to give up his code and adopt the individualist’s. And so he really believes that others have the right to determine their own lives for themselves, whereas many just talk about it.
"He doesn’t have to wonder about the nature of evil, or fear it or dissect it. He can be totally preoccupied with building his own happiness with his limited resources. And because he knows his resources are limited, he has no time for crusades or movements or maybes or ‘Wouldn’t it be better if we all did this?’, or anything of the sort. He is not all, and he knows it; he is only one, but he is going to make the most of that one life.
"Most of all, the individualist can say ‘I.’ He has recognized that no one can think for him but himself, and that he will have to experience the consequences for everything that that ‘I’ does. And so he is the one individual who can say ‘I think’ or ‘I believe’ or ‘I want,’ and know that it will stick, because he really means what he says because he has discovered the nature of himself. He has discovered who the ‘I’ is, and so he can use the word properly. When he says ‘I love you,’ he knows that he means it, and he doesn’t have to worry whether he will love this person the next day or the next week.
"He has taken the trouble to think for himself. He has stood his mental ground against the most overbearing intellectuals and pseudo-intellectuals, and had the courage to say, ‘I’m not comfortable with your logic; I think I’ll find the answer for myself.’ And, having found the answers for himself, he can then say ‘I.’ He can speak authoritatively because he is speaking for someone with whom he is now acquainted, someone he really knows.
"All of these ramifications of the individualist flow from one central view of life that he has. To me, the individualist is unique because he has caught sight of something very significant that escapes most people: An individualist, to me, is someone who recognizes the subjective nature of perception, knowledge and morality. And if there is one thing that sets him apart from others, it is this: He knows that, despite the fact that there is apparently a fixed nature to reality, there is no one individual who can claim to read it for anyone else.
"And this central realization has a multitude of ramifications. He is capable of being himself because he realizes that only he can discover that self. And he is capable of comprehending the individuality of every other human being, which is an awfully hard thing to do at first, to actually comprehend the individuality of others. There really aren’t many people that I’ve run into in this world that can do that, who can actually stand back and look at another individual and recognize the subjective nature of that other individual, the fact that that person is in a completely different world and is acting from different knowledge, and therefore has come to a different view of perception, and therefore is acting from a different code of conduct.
"But because he is capable of doing this, he gets far better results than most people. And when you talk about things like empathy, for instance, I believe that only an individualist, by this definition, can really have empathy. For anyone else, it’s nothing but a bunch of crocodile tears. The individualist is capable of having the empathy, capable of recognizing the position from which the other person is standing, and identifying with that position to a certain extent — never completely, of course, but at least to a certain extent. The person who doesn’t recognize this subjective nature cannot have empathy, because all he will do is transform or transpose his own ideas, his own framework, onto the other person, and think that he is having some identification with that other person, think that he is feeling something like what the other is feeling and putting himself somewhat in their place. But he’s not capable of doing so until he recognizes that the other person is really someone apart from himself."
Ordering the Course & Supporting LRC
Rule Your World! Finding Freedom and Living Profitably is available here (LRC AUDIO STORE LINK) for only $159.99, which includes free shipping in the U.S. Through a special arrangement between Pamela Browne and Lew Rockwell, ordering from this link will earn LewRockwell.com a commission from the sale. So, in addition to receiving life-changing information and supporting Harry Browne’s work, you’ll also be supporting LewRockwell.com.
You’ll receive 20 one-hour CDs, each embossed with the name of the course and disc number, in a handsome, compact, dust-proof case with the name of the course and two beautiful photos of Harry, one from 1967 and the other from 1995, on the cover.
You’ll also receive a 12-page syllabus, largely written by Harry, in a spiral binder. The booklet includes Harry’s advice for implementing the course’s material in your own life and Harry’s glossary, defining many of the terms he uses in the course.
Despite being taken from 40-year-old reel-to-reel tapes, the audio is crisp, loud, and of superb quality.
Is $159.99 too much to pay to learn insights that have the potential to massively improve your life, as well as to support HarryBrowne.org and LewRockwell.com? If it seems so, consider this final piece of advice from Harry: "Don’t you think it’s a small investment for what is at stake — which, of course, is your life and your happiness?"
P.S.: "The Economics of Success and Freedom" course
Harry gave another course in the ’60s called "The Economics of Success and Freedom." Pamela Browne also has reel-to-reel audio tapes of that course, and she’d like to release that course on CDs too. But she won’t bother if the demand isn’t great enough — and she’s gauging the demand by how well this course sells. So if this Rule Your World course sounds appealing, the existence of another course is another reason not to procrastinate in buying this one.
Thanks to Pamela Browne for her valuable input for this article.