The Rebel's Guide to Freedom

Rebel's Guide to Freedom

In the United States, during its two and a half centuries of existence as a federated country, most Americans have experienced eras of great personal freedom — such as the first 90 years after the signing of the American Declaration of Independence — as well as eras of oppressive restrictions — such as the War between the States, the two subsequent world wars, and much more recently the COVID-19 lockdowns. During the early 1970s, as the cultural clashes between the World War II generation and the hippie generation simmered down, there were clear signs that many people sought greater personal freedom, and they often spoke of seeking "self-actualization" and "enlightenment". Yet years of interracial strife, inner-city rioting, increasing divorce rates, and protests against the seemingly-endless Vietnam War, prompted some people to seek their freedom independently of organized religion, political partisanship, and traditional marriages.

Into this milieu, in 1973, was published a book that quietly became a beloved classic: How I Found Freedom In an Unfree World: A Handbook for Personal Liberty, written by Harry Browne, an investment advisor and libertarian author who on two occasions ran as the Presidential nominee for the Libertarian Party. The marketing copy in the 25th edition notes that "he shows that you don't have to convince others to let you be free. The decisions are entirely yours. He explains how to make plans and set goals that rely only on your actions — that don't depend on others for their success." In other words, he vigorously argued that each one of us can find liberty without having to get permission from others or fruitlessly trying to change systems or traditions more powerful than ourselves.

Well, here we are now, almost half a century later. As regards to personal freedom, are we better off? In what respects has liberty advanced, and where has it suffered setbacks? More importantly, what can we do as individuals — and perhaps as groups of like-minded individuals, working together — to find liberty in our lifetime? Addressing these important topics is a new book, The Rebel's Guide to Freedom: Becoming Resilient, Owning Your Life, and Thriving, written by Kevin Koskella. On his website, he describes himself as "a lifelong adventurer, free-thinker, author, host of the Freedom Lovin' podcast". He is also an observant world traveler, having visited more than 50 countries and commented on many of them on his podcast.

The book's introduction, whose subtitle is "How Did We Get Here?", doesn't actually answer that question (which would require presenting considerable history and cultural analysis), but it does state that the purpose of the book is "to bridge the gap that exists in the world between the personal, political, and psychological freedoms we have, and give solutions and practical ideas to do what it takes to maximize freedom at an individual level, which will, in turn, have huge ramifications for the world." In addition, Kevin warns that, to achieve this goal, each of us must channel our inner rebel, change from within, and be willing to reconsider many of our long-held beliefs — which for the majority of people can be disconcerting.

The first chapter, "Are You Free?", challenges the reader to answer that question for themselves. Kevin defines freedom as "the ability to make our own choices — to do what we want to do", and then outlines several ways in which we limit those choices, often unknowingly: conforming to societal norms, expecting others to change to match our needs, expecting politicians to serve us instead of themselves, hoping institutions will wisely balance costs and benefits (largely ignored during the COVID-19 lockdown disaster), restricting oneself with self-imposed limitations (in one's career, relationships, and aspirational dreams), and missing out on travel and adventure due to patriotic narrow-mindedness. The only statement I would challenge is "we choose a path with the most stability, the most rewarding short-term consequences, and forget that life is not supposed to be this way. This is not freedom." While just about everyone would agree that focusing on short-term planning is not smart (despite countless people not living by that principle), I suspect a large portion of humanity would counter that a life of maximum stability — which they interpret as safety — is exactly the sort of life they want, providing them with freedom from fear. Furthermore, for those of us who do not believe in a life purpose mandated by an imaginary deity, it is not clear that life is ever "supposed to be" one way or another. Nonetheless, Kevin may instead be referring to life's potential (for happiness, etc.) and not an externally-specified purpose.

Using his former marriage as an example, Kevin discusses the importance of truly understanding one's own relationship needs and how they won't be satisfied if one or both parties is not communicating fully and honestly. This material arguably should instead be located in the later chapter on relationships. Kevin briefly describes what Harry Browne referred to as the "Identity Trap", which is an anxiety-inducing combination of not knowing who you really want to be, pretending to others that you are someone that you're not, and presuming that people will behave the way you would. Kevin then introduces the reader to psychologist Ken Wilber's color-coded stages of development, and notes their relationship to the different cultures of the United States during the 1950s versus the 1960s. Kevin shifts gears again, and tells of his experiences as a competitive swimmer, when he unintentionally trapped himself in the identity of a "winner" collecting ribbons and medals. So many of us, when lacking in true self-esteem, can end up trying to fill the void by running on a conventional treadmill of self-imposed duties. Institutions can then distort this need by trying to promote false self-esteem, through such misguided policies as squashing needed criticism and giving "participation trophies" to everyone, thereby making them meaningless. This chapter, like all subsequent ones, concludes with several tasks and questions to encourage the reader to consider aspects of their life that could be better, especially those related to personal growth.

The second chapter, "Freedom vs. Safety", explains the hidden dangers of overprotecting and spoiling children, thereby depriving them of the healthy adventures and deep-learned lessons afforded only by the "school of hard knocks". Governmental mandates regarding COVID-19 vaccination illustrated the mistake of trying fruitlessly to eliminate all risks and blindly obeying authorities. Even loved ones can be sources of attempts at unthinking control. Kevin warns against the common lack of discussion about "whether or not that law is helpful or beneficial, or who ratified it" (I would add: when did we consent to it?). The only flaw in this narrative is the misuse of the term "protectionism" (the use of tariffs, quotas, and other methods to protect domestic industry against foreign competition) to mean an excessive emphasis on protecting ourselves against all possible threats in life. Kevin correctly notes the need to balance freedom and safety, especially in an environment where institutions, such as government and media, are biased toward unlimited control and hubris.

The next couple chapters, "Choosing Your Life" and "Your Personal Prison", may be two of the most valuable in the book, because they address several critical ideas: living one's life beyond the limitations of what may have been an awful upbringing; one's inner rebel can be tempted to make the mistake of always going against societal norms, even when doing so would be unwise, yet you can still enjoy small acts of defiance and even whimsy; the superiority of intrinsic motivation (as opposed to rewards and punishments); the superiority of handling problems responsively (as opposed to reactively), with several examples presented; avoiding the pitfalls of societal programming, in its many forms. Kevin next details his journey from tech startup employee to entrepreneur creating an online business that developed swim training plans for prospective triathletes, exemplifying the genuine sense of satisfaction in escaping the employee treadmill, even if one's first steps are modest. He introduces sentence completion exercises and a form of psychotherapy called Internal Family Systems, apparently helpful in better integrating one's self. Then he discusses why one should avoid unchosen obligations (including mindless patriotism), why accepting and actively embracing change will invariably increase the risks one faces but also the possibility of rewards, and why it's important to avoid falling into the trap of conventional "success".

Anyone who has seen their stock portfolio or real estate investments devastated by major corrections, could understandably view their finances as "The Money Minefield", the title of the fifth chapter. Kevin recounts the losses and stresses of owning half a dozen homes for investment purposes, and how simplification set him on the right path. He mentions the dangers of pooling financial resources with other people (at least without strict agreement beforehand), the downsides of public property ("the tragedy of the commons"), the misstep of yielding to groupthink in choosing what success means to you, the value of money in increasing your options, various strategies for achieving financial freedom, and the trap of giving up one's freedom to build an enormous nest egg that may not pay off in later enjoyment. In the second part of the chapter, Kevin explains how a key factor hindering our attempts to build wealth is government theft through the Federal Reserve's monetary inflation, and then outlines a diversified portfolio to minimize the damage, including the use of Bitcoin.

Interpersonal relationships can have a profound impact upon one's options and freedom in life, and they are the focus of Chapter 6, "The Relationship Web", which speaks to a few topics: effective versus ineffective communication, self-ownership, relationship roles and expectations, Non-Violent Communication (NVC), the power of empathy, and considerations for clarifying your relationships with others. I disagree with only two statements in this chapter: If it were true that "Love can only exist where there is freedom", then we would not have the phrase "Stockholm syndrome". Secondly, I disagree that "fear is the opposite of love", because arguably the opposite of love is hate, and the opposite of fear is a complete sense of safety.

The next chapter, "Freeing Your Mind from Mediocrity", briefly explores some of the problems of allowing one's thoughts to be molded by everyday conformity spewed forth by the corporate media and Big Tech social media companies, as well as one's parents, friends, teachers, and other sources of influence in one's life. (Note that the Tom Woods podcast intro does not use the phrase "Going against the index card of allowable opinion" but rather "Prepare to set fire to…".) Kevin provides some challenging questions and other material — much of it based on personal experience — to prompt the reader to break out of the mold of conventional mental programming.

Chapter 8, "Loosening the Reins of Control?" essentially continues the discussion of unconventional living, with emphasis on melding planning with spontaneity, the pitfalls of homeownership, the value of spontaneity and taking chances, but also balancing that through responsible choice. The only questionable claim is that change can "keep you engaged so time doesn't seem to whiz by". Actually, the more engaged you are with your work and personal activities, the more time does seem to whiz by; but when you are bored, time drags. Kevin reminds us of the importance of living in the present and not becoming ignorant of technological progress and how modern tools can help one to build a business.

In "Breaking Free through Your Personal Ceiling", the penultimate chapter, he briefly explores the clash of collectivism and individualism in our culture, the importance of choosing one's friends carefully, and the downsides of assuming that the crowd is always right. (Incidentally, the statement that "a few hundred years ago, nearly everyone thought the world was flat" is a common misconception.) People can also be derailed by the myth of the optimal morning routine, by mindlessly following a formula for "happiness" that might work only for others (e.g., one-night stands in fast succession), by being manipulated by corporate or governmental propaganda, and by risking stagnation through excessive adherence to routine. Lastly, Kevin discusses some of the more common forms of collective action, most of which deliver far less liberation than one may hope: voting, nondefensive violence, ineffective civil disobedience, and centralization (e.g., fiat currencies). The only glaring flaw in this chapter is the claim that "Movement expands the perception of time, according to physics; the faster you move, the more time you have, as time literally slows down as you approach the speed of light." Actually, you gain no extra time through physical movement; rather, in accordance with special relativity, the passage of time seems unchanged within your frame of reference, but to an outside observer your time seems to pass slower (and your space seems compressed, in your direction of motion).

The final chapter, "Staying Free", briefly sums up the gist of the book, as well as discussing the importance of maintaining a pro-liberty lifestyle over the long run. This is a hurdle touched on during the book's virtual launch: When asked what is the most challenging part of following the advice of his book, Kevin replied that it is a lack of consistency, with the pressure to adapt to the continual change of a freedom-oriented life. In his book, he notes that change itself can alleviate problems, because no matter how bad one's current situation, it will assuredly remain in flux. He warns of the dangers of a victim mentality and making excuses to quit something worthwhile — illustrating the lesson by recounting his own experience overcoming sickness when in Varna preparing for a difficult swim through the Bosporus Strait. (Note that "self-destructing habits" would be habits that destroy themselves. He probably meant "self-destructive habits", which destroy the individual.) He encourages the reader to "debug" their brain, by erasing bad habits such as pointless social media use. Returning to the topic of how to avoid slipping back into old habits, he recommends psychotherapy (Internal Family Systems and psychedelics), as well as spending time with the sort of people who will lift you up and not bring you down. Kevin concludes his book with an epilogue summarizing his "Vision of an Abundant World".

As of this writing, the book only appears to be available on Amazon, as either a Kindle download or a paperback (of 202 pages in length), but not a hardback as implied on the copyright page. Actually, it would be more accurate to refer to it as the "Copyleft" page, since the book is presented to the world as educational material that can be reproduced and shared with others.

For a first edition of a self-published book, this one contains remarkably few errors of spelling, grammar, or diction. In Chapter 1, the phrase "birth rite" should instead read "birthright". In Chapter 2, we find "is does", and the sentence after it contains two verbs. In Chapter 3, we find "there never many". In Chapter 4, we find "we are stay". In Chapter 5, "lied in" should instead read "lay in", and we find "doesn't get take[n] away", "issues scale[d] to the societal/community level", and "creating [your] life" (my corrections in square brackets). In Chapter 8, we find "you would [not] expect others to do the same", and "pdf" should instead read "PDF file". In Chapter 9, "social medias" should be singular, "crown consensus" should read "crowd consensus", "moving the opposite direction" is missing an "in", and "try and understand" should instead read "try to understand". There were a few places where complete clauses were separated by commas or dashes, and not semicolons or periods. Lastly, the narrative would sound more credible if there were far fewer exclamation marks. Yet all of these flaws are unimportant. The writing style of the book is informal and the overall message is clear.

There are some areas for possible improvement, beginning with the flow and organization of the material — within passages and within chapters. As for the former, the narrative often seemed a bit disjointed, shifting gears abruptly. A thorough editing, with an eye for adding smooth transitions, could have avoided that problem. As for the organization of the topics, it didn't seem to follow a logical plan (progressing from one major idea to the next, and building up a thesis). Perhaps the book was written without strict adherence to a well-planned outline, and instead written more as an energetic brain dump (as are most works in this genre). But the main problem is that much of the narrative consists of high-level statements about the virtue of freedom, and not much concrete actionable advice relative to the length of the book. This is even more pronounced with the personal anecdotes, each of which might illustrate one idea but span many paragraphs of text.

Nonetheless, this assessment does not diminish the utility of this book to other potential readers, especially anyone for whom these ideas would be quite new, if not radical. For those people, The Rebel's Guide to Freedom could be remarkably inspiring, helping them to seriously reevaluate and improve their lives — much like Harry Browne's contrarian work did for myriad people five decades ago. In a similar manner, Kevin's passion for personal liberty shines through and is a welcome addition to the growing movement against thoughtless conformity in our own lives and a resigned acceptance of external control by others. His contribution contains advice, encouragement, and resource recommendations that make it worthy of one's time.

Copyright © 2022 Michael J. Ross. All rights reserved.
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