by Ethan Glover, Mon, Jan 06, 2014 - (Edited) Sun, Sep 10, 2017
In reading "How I Found Freedom in an Unfree World" (PDF)(Amazon) by Harry Browne I thought I'd post a few thoughts on the idea of an "identity trap". A lot of the things mentioned in this book are not new or unique. Rather, things everybody knows but often forgets. I've written about such things before in Online Civility but in a different form. I've gone over the ideas by taking Interpersonal Communication courses and reading Art of Manliness. Yet, it is very hard to find others who follow the ideals, which is why, despite there being multiple sources, How I Found Freedom is a welcome and recommended read.
The book goes over fourteen "traps", these are elements and ways of thinking to avoid that helps a person be free. The first of which is the identity trap. The first way to fall into an "identity trap" is by expecting someone to be something they aren't, know something they don't, or think in the way that you do. This can often be seen in online discussions in which two people go at each others throats while embarrassingly missing each others points and making no effort to have a real conversation. Quite often they're more concerned with changing people and trying to force circles into square holes than actually expressing themselves. There is nothing you, or anyone else can do to change the mind of another. You can tell others what you believe in, and if they choose to believe also; that is their choice, not yours. They must be willing to change and willing to learn by their own decision beforehand. Quite simply, people are incapable of becoming someone else through the actions of others.
When you attempt to control others and how they think, you tend to lose self-control. This means things like getting frustrated because "nobody understands you" or getting mad because someone doesn't believe in the same thing you do. There's nothing you can do to control people or what they think. Any attempts to do so quite often results in no change at all, except in your own mood. The fact is, you can only control how you deal with people if you do at all.
These ideas go both ways. There's no reason to act like anybody else has the right, or obligation to change who you are. People may tell you what you should do, or what will make you happy, but they'll most likely get it wrong. This is the biggest problem I come across in online interaction if you get to challenging the beliefs of others by asking them questions too much. Many of them will get mad and begin to tell you who you are. I think most of us has had to put up with this. Communists try to tell you what capitalism is, ignoring what you've got to say on the matter in order to weaken your arguments. The average Joe may look at your news comments and say that you're obviously another misguided "Paulbot" ignoring whether you subscribe to any Paul's ideas or not. You may get appeals to morality saying that "we" need the welfare system because it's the "right" thing to do, and any other opinions or solutions are heartless and evil. Whether this is true or not is up to each individual.
Harry Browne's definition of truth is, "information that leads to predictable results". It is from this definition that we can easily begin to build a tolerance to the beliefs of others. I've mentioned before that I have no problem with competing government by talking about the idea of Open Source Government. If socialists think they can predict the results of their society, there's nothing wrong with them getting together to build that society and making it exclusive to people who won't try to destroy it as a way to get out of it. If something works for you personally, it is truth enough. There's no need to look for "universal truths" when you can look at things rationally and seek cooperation with like minded people. Instead of trying to tell people what is "right" and what is "wrong", or allowing people to tell you what is "right" and "wrong", develop for yourself what that is, and aim to find your peers, not your enemies.
In the same way that you shouldn't try to force people to see things the way you do, or allow others to try and force their ideals on you, there's no reason to act interested in something, or maintain a certain image because it's "popular" or even "trendy". I'm all for seeking different points of view, but the point here is to not wear a mask because you want to be normal, if you want to belong to a particular group, or even just because you want what people say to be true. As an example, you don't have to choose democrat or republican because those two seem like your only choices, nor should you do so. You shouldn't choose to be a libertarian merely because it gets a lot of "alternative" attention and seems like a good way to rebel. And you shouldn't try to be a communist just because you want to believe them when they say in their world markets and crime wouldn't exist at all.
In the book, Browne explains the point of acting in particular ways by saying that you shouldn't go to church, visit your parents, care for the environment, donate, etc. just because you've been told it's the right thing to do. Indeed, he is correct. These points are not just of a political nature. They expand to all parts of life. Taking responsibility over your own thoughts and actions is a principle worth holding, no matter who you are. Browne notes that when people say what, or who you should be, they are saying this based on what would make them happy, not you.
So yes, when you advertise anarcho-capitalism, that is based on the ideas of what would make you happy, the kind of society you want. When someone talks of the liberal society it is based on what they would like to see. Is there any reason that either person should have to choose one? Nope. But there is plenty of reason that neither one should use the threat of force to make people live in their idea of society over the others.
In order to summarize things Harry Browne outlines four principles that one can utilize in order to avoid the identity trap, and to help you be your own person living your own happiness. The first says that you are a unique individual, different from all other human beings. This is to say that no matter how good other people's ideas sound, you have to take those ideas and build something for yourself that works specifically for you. Nobody on earth can possibly live by blindly following another. At some point, that system is going to crash. There is no such thing as "equality", people must discover themselves by themselves and through their own exploration of the world and others.
The second principle says that each individual is acting from his own knowledge in ways he believes will bring him happiness. This shows that it is impossible to try and apply what you believe as right to others. In Austrian economics, it is known that the values people place on objects can not be compared or added together to create one "meta-value". It doesn't make sense to talk about doing so. In the same way, it doesn't make sense to talk about a government that applies to and helps everyone. It will harm most people, not just the minority. Any other instance is an impossibility. Voluntary societies, on the other hand, affect only those who freely choose to be a part of them, and we can say with confidence that most people in them did so because they wanted to join them.
Our third principle says that you have to treat things and people in accordance with their own identities in order to get what you want from them. This of course means showing a little understanding and appreciation for other peoples beliefs, and skills. Or it can simply mean recognizing the properties of objects in order to use them properly. Would you use a rock to quench your thirst? Of course not. Would you speak of economics to a communist? What for? They reject all modern economics. That's what defines them, what would you expect to get out of that anyways? The conversation will not be pleasant. We've already established that you can't change them unless they approach you with the intention of being changed. There's simply no point.
Finally, our last principle says that you view the world subjectively, colored by your own experience, interpretation, and limits of perception. Yes, some people believe in some really stupid things and mislead themselves, sometimes for their entire lives. But, that is not your problem. It people want to view the world through a narrow perception, or if they think one thing will make them happy over another, let ‘em do it. As long as they're not harming the right of others to seek their own happiness there's no reason to force your subjective opinions and visions on others. You have to recognize yourself as an individual and realize that most people are never going to agree with your point of view.
These principles and the ideas I've laid out above, as I said, are ones that I've gone over previously and continue to do so. Explaining who would build the roads over and over to me is useless because the fact is people who complain about the idea of private roads don't want them to work. They're uncomfortable with the idea for whatever personal reason and unless they come to me asking questions, looking to understand, there's no reason to try and change who they are. On the other hand, the ideas of tolerance are worth speaking about. It is an idea that is lost on most people and something I see in all political leanings. The lack of tolerance is why I made the move from liberal to conservative to libertarian to anarcho-capitalism. I sought out a philosophy that attempts to allow people to live their lives as they see fit and that's exactly what I've found. You don't have to believe in capitalism to embrace the idea of anarchy. You don't even have to believe in anarchy to embrace the idea of anarchy. All you have to do is avoid force and allow people to go about their own business.
Libertarianism has an image problem. And there's a simple solution.