Cosmos Café [2/5] - TANSTAAFL or There Ain't No Such Thing As A Free Lunch

@achronon introduction begins at 12:30

From the anger and rage driving much of the populous to the practical consequences of a shift to a planetary perspective, there is still a topic lurking in the background – an elephant in the room, if you will – that needs to be addressed, namely money in particular, or economics in general. The everyday question is how do we pay for it all?

The world is facing incredible challenges, be it the decimation of the coral reefs, be it the larger crises of global warming and climate change, but also the threat posed by automation and AI to the world of work and employment as we know it, not to mention the ever-increasing disparity between rich and poor. Most of us remember Warren Buffet’s 2006 quote, “There’s class warfare, all right, but it’s my class, the rich class, that’s making war, and we’re winning.” This simple, but central, fact is unimaginably complicating an already exceedingly complex and delicate cluster of issues.

The reactions of everyday people to all of this is certainly contributing to the rise in anger/rage levels worldwide, not just as exhibited by the myriad distress stories from American government employees resulting from the recent shutdown, but also as expressed now-almost-forgotten Occupy Movement or more recently the Yellow Vests in France, or the recent political eruptions in Brazil and the current malaise in Venezuela. The established government reaction to all these events is the same: militarized, massive police repression. Well, any psychologist worth their salt will tell you, repression is never an answer. Our own CCafé regular Mark Jabbour sees a new civil war brewing in America. And Europe, with the impending Brexit, the austerity pressures coming from Brussels, and the appearance of Steve Bannon as advisor to and collaborator with populist, far-right parties there, could well implode reinstituting the militant warful traditions of the past.

What everyone knows but never gets really talked about, is how (and who) is going to pay for all the reforms, all the shifts in point-of-view and attitudes that, are essential if we are to generate a sufficient hope that we can survive as a species. But where and what are the alternatives? What can be done? Can anything be done? What will be needed to develop effective strategies for dealing with what lies ahead? Can we get off the global “road to hell” that we appear to be on and which is not paved as many of the others are with good intentions.

These are the ideas and trajectories that I’d like us to explore in our illustrious round next Tuesday.

Though prompted by the most recent CCafé sessions on the 2016 US election and our shift to the Anthropocene. There is not a CCafé session that I can think of that is irrelevant to the discussion I envision. How we think, what we feel, what we believe, what we assume, what we know, what we envision and whoever we think can help us with any of these is pertinent to this get-together. This discussion is about seeking ways to concretize all those things, and I think we need all the help we can get.

Reading / Watching / Listening

Seed Questions

  • How do you envision and feel about the relationship between economics and politics?
  • Do you think it is even possible to get out of the rut that we seem to be in?
  • Do you think democracy is even a viable option politically? Is it realizable in the ways Varoufakis imagines?
  • What/where is true power these days, and how can/may/might it be exercised most properly? (In other words, is it just about money, or is there more at the heart of the matter?)
  • What role does the “nation state” play in all of this (after all, money as currently conceived) is transnational, and democracy tends toward the local. Is it a viable notion anymore?

Context, Backstory, and Related Topics

Everybody has their own feelings about the “dismal science”, Thomas Carlyle’s description of economics, but it has become a major factor in all of our lives. Openly or subversively, consciously or unconsciously, it drives much of our political thinking, to be sure, but it makes its presence known in every facet of our modern (or post-modern, if such is your wont) lives.

One thing I would like to avoid is a knock-down-drag-out between money-is-power believers and neoliberalism-is-the-end-of-us-all detractors. There is no doubt that money is power and neoliberalism is a sham. But both of these elements are currently part of the mix, and what I’m most interested in is how much of what we’ve talked about in these cafés over the past couple of years, along with interesting contributions from other IC channels, need to/can be brought to bear on this discussion.

The focus, if you will, is about money and power. Things are one way now, but…

Original references

It is not clear to me that there is a wide-spread, sound understanding of the field, – let’s face it, most of us avoid it like the plague – but it is one that everyone should know something about. Some potentially helpful references might include:

  • Robert L. Heilbronner, The Worldly Philosophers: The Lives, Times, and Ideas of the Great Economic Thinkers
  • Karl Polanyi, The Great Transformation: The Political and Economic Origins of Our Time
  • E.F. Schumacher, Small is Beautiful: Economics as if People Mattered
  • Yanis Varoufakis, Talking to my Daughter about the Economy: A Brief History of Capitalism
  • Richard Wolff & Stefan Resnick, Contending Economic Theories

Additional references

(These were mentioned or referenced in the online discussion, or should have been.)

  • Margaret Atwood, Payback: Debt and the Shadow Side of Wealth
  • Phillipe Descola, Beyond Culture and Nature
  • Paul Feyerabend, Against Method and Philosophy of Nature
  • David Graeber, Debt: The First 5,000 Years
  • Stephen Greenblatt, Tyrant: Shakespeare on Power
  • Michael Polanyi, The Tacit Dimension

Agenda items

  • Welcome and introduction
  • Administrative issues, if any
  • Initial reactions and questions
  • Deeper discussion and potential answers
  • Wrap-up and look-ahead

So @achronon, I’ll be there come hell or high water, or, in the happenstance of if hell freezes over … Thanks for a great intro into that which matters … but, I admit to not reading all (any) of the suggested references. But, I’ve been around …

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Greetings Ed and belated Happy New Year everyone!

As usual, I won’t be able to attend, but I will await the video with anticipation and interest.

I’m in one of my too-much-history, democracy-is-doomed funks as of late :worried: and am quite curious as to what other thinkers think…
(Yes, money is power. Money is also security though, and that to me suggests there certainly is “more at the heart of the matter”.) More later, I hope, as I navigate my own security concerns… LOL!


That is obvious, but Varoufakis’ talk – I’m certainly not a big TED-Talk fan – is only 20 minutes and sums up one of the central points on the table. It’s one of those talks that depending where you are coming from can take you to places you haven’t been yet.

Oddly enough, I plan to be there too, regardless of the weather or temps. :grin:

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Heh, heh, heh … a lot of folks are in a democracy is doomed funk because they don’t know/appreciate enough history, but as we all know, as Mr. Santayana (I believe) put it, if we don’t learn from it, we’re condemned to repeat it. Learning, however, means changing, and that might be the true stumbling block.

Trust, however, that you’re year is unfolding according to plan. Good to hear from you again. Hang in there.


I hear you, TJ, and it is good to hear from you. I was afraid we had frighted you away. Most sensitive people are in a funk these days, as one fifth of the coral reef has died in the last three years. That inconvenient fact, reported recently in the New York Times, along with a myriad of little things that I trip over in my mental hygiene, has really sent me into a funk, too.

I have been trying to catch up on my macro-history, a weakness of mine, and I had hopes you could share some of your expertise with us. Sri Aurobindo was a tough one. We are doing Gregory Bateson, now, led my Geoffrey, exploring the law of the excluded muddle.I do hope you and your family are still playing excellent chess. Don’t be a stranger!


I sense that what you are identifying is the structure of a triple bind. We cant deal with this except by including the excluded middle, which of course is forbidden by classical Aristotelian logic. We need a new kind of logic, with a third ear, listening close to the ground.

Neo-liberalism is driven by competition and winner takes all. There are signs that this is crumbling.

We act as if we are living in the 1850s when the Modern began. Marx was identifying features of the landscape that applied back then. He was turning Hegel upside down. That kind of logical trick is not useful now as the means of production, and the relationships that made them possible are radically different now. Getting caught up in Marxist jargon is a dead end, just as Freud, who modeled the mind upon the hydraulics metaphors, is a dead end. They used metaphors that have died for us and we can visit that museum if we want but we have much more tangible effects of climate change and binaries of all shapes and sizes to give attention to. If we can disentangle our attention from this Left/Right divide, promoted by a two party syndrome, and big bucks, we might find a place for us.

I dont think we need to focus attention on macro-politics, without focusing on Micro-dynamics, close to home and embrace our interdependence. And as we focused in the last Cafe, the Neo-liberal assumptions that we can conquer and divide and monetize one another to keep the beast quiet is not tenable. It is a form of nihilism that runs deep. We have a few decades to get some alternatives hobbled together. It wont be pretty. A general strike, as outlined in William Connolly’s book is one such possibility. A civil war, in a world with drones, seems unlikely to attract much traction.

Connolly suggested that we pay attention to the gay movement, a struggle that I was engaged in, at a grass roots level, keeping together large groups of stressed out people in flux was not easy. And as the Arab Spring should remind us, the age of the Internet is not bringing us instant results. Anyone who wants to stay comfortable will boil to death, like that poor frog in the pot. And I have always wondered who put that poor frog in the pot anyway?

Before we make meaning, perhaps we could start making sense? As a gay man, who was able to bridge many gaps, we were able to make meaning collaboratively because me made collective good sense. And we paid exquisite attention to the very subtle, the cracks, the in-between, the sick, the crazy, the Gnostic voices among us, those that had been thrown out of the village. We welcomed them with loving arms! Never underestimate what a handful of depressed and oppressed people can do. But we did not put new wine in old wine skins. We, who had been denied the pursuit of happiness, drew upon a radical, underground, anarchistic epistemology. We broke the law and we changed the law. That We that we are becoming is a very powerful We.

“There is no doubt that money is power and neo- liberalism is a sham.”

And chunk down and chunk slow…

And when there is no doubt, what happens next? And where abouts is that sham? And does that sham have a size or a shape?

I hope we can bring some tender sobriety to our conversation and touch the latent capacities for generosity and kindness and vision that we have been able to draw upon in previous conversations. Know what triggers you and when you get triggered notice that and acknowledge that. Listen with the third ear. Change occurs because of an atmosphere. Can you feel that? It is somatic. Not just a theory floating above your head. I hope we can develop some sensory acuity as we try to patch together some alternative maps that may be just beginning to emerge. If we could get off the drama triangle that would be great but if drama arises, let’s find the gift in that drama.

We may no longer need masters or slaves. That is a condition none of us know very much about. We may be toast. But the conditions for a future people is possible if we pay attention.

Two gunslingers at high noon face off. Nether one wants to get shot or to shoot the other. One of them slowly takes his gun out and drops it to the ground. They are both relieved and decide to go into the saloon and buy some drinks. But another guy on the roof pulls out a rifle and says," I will shoot the guy who refuses to fight."

And then what happens?


I’ll get to it before Tuesday, hopefully.

Just as the Magic and Mythic structures of consciousness were perhaps most relevant to the times of their dominance, it would be a mistake, I think, to believe that we no longer needed them, particularly their efficient modes. Marx, too, has a strong historical dimension, but much of what he says is relevant today for the simple reason that his analysis applies just as directly to the core tenets of neoliberalism in place today. Not everyone has left that particular reality. To gain allies, it is sometimes necessary to speak to them in terms they currently understand, then new understandings can follow.

Getting caught up in any jargon is a dead end, so I would like as jargon-free a discussion as possible.

One of the the things that I find attractive about Connolly’s book is that he digs up a number of older thinkers who have allegedly lost their relevance, but he makes them relevant to the point he is trying to make. I think the test, which he passes well, is to show where and how that relevance is helpful in deciding what our next steps might be.

Also, you don’t need a two-party system or syndrome to devolve into a Left/Right divide. (We have six parties represented in the Bundestag (German parliament), and that L/R red herring is wielded constantly.) To my mind it is merely one manifestation of the Rational structure of consciousness that many of us are trying to overcome (überwinden actually … it’s more “go” than “come”).

My goal – if that’s even the best word to describe it – for this Café is more clarity, not necessarily potential solutions; likely directions, not necessarily destinations. We’re a bit of motley crew and we’re all in very different and most likely of very different minds as to what underlies the particular topic we’re exploring, which is precisely why I encourage all of us to bring all we have to bear on this particular nut. May the Crows be with us.


I am glad you find Connolly useful here. I am also aware we will bring differences to a text and that these differences if we can give them a voice can make a difference. I wonder if you could serve the group dynamic at the next Cafe by bring out that relevance. I know this is a difficult thing to do, as there are so many differences we can make explicit.

German politics, since you live there, may have resonance for us, who are preparing for another shut down.

Great! That is a worthy goal. I value clarity as well as gravity. We need to acknowledge that we are in grave danger. Then, I also believe, we can open up to what might happen next. We are Janus faced Beings, we are looking into the Future and the Past, the Inside and the Outside, at the same time. We need, in my humble opinion, some metaphors that work for us. Silence=Death under a pink triangle, galvanized people, as did the rainbow flag. We can draw and we can dance, even the most aesthetically challenged among us. How with this rage, shall beauty hold a plea, whose action is no stronger than a flower?


To speak of aesthetics and then dump in that illustration, John, is somewhat disjointed, is it not? :wink:


Beauty is in the third eye of the Beholder!


Perhaps, as Rep. Octavia-Cortes observes, in the interview video I posted above, that we can break out of the Left/Right impasse by starting to think Top/Bottom. Most people are on the bottom of a very high pyramid. Women of color and queer folk and young persons entering an unfair workplace are aware of this Top/Bottom dynamic and they are the vast majority. As she is now overseeing the Banks and Wall Street, she has opened the books and is asking some obvious questions that have not been asked before. Who has been receiving the Free Lunch?

With all due respect, to the white guys among us, we should probably admit that the Patriarchs have fucked up and we need the voices of the young who are at the Bottom to express themselves. The waters are heating up.

And we can also start to stop the pernicious effects of rigid materialist myopia which has gripped the minds of the elites for generations. We have never been disenchanted. Vast populations have never been on board with the Mental Deficient programmers, pointing to their abstract flow charts, signifying nothing.


It is hard for me to have clarity without complexity. I need to put that on the table. I think clarity is great, but it doesn’t happen, if we are forced to dance to someone else’s tune. I hope we can have some polyphonic shapes, some feeling-tones, blending together. Solos can be effective in a group when everyone gets a chance to develop one! I think we can oscillate between different kinds of presentation. A good singer sings behind the music, not in front of it.

“The principal role in this quest for a perfect homeostasis falls to the shaman. In the first place, he intervenes constantly in human subsistence activities to ensure that they do not imperil the reproduction of nonhumans. The shaman will thus personally check the quantity and degree of concentration of the plant poison prepared for fishing in a particular segment of the river, or he will rule upon how many individual animals may be killed when a herd of peccaries is located. Furthermore, the rituals that accompany such hunts for food will present occasions for stocktaking, for weighing costs and benefits, and for the eventual redistribution of resources. In these circumstances, the shaman’s book-keeping shows the general system of inputs and outputs.” Phillipe Descola

We need more shamans and fewer CEOs. Such shamanic thinking is not complicated, it is complex. And the desire to live ecologically is driven by aesthetics not profits for the few. We have been developing a Second Order Culture in many of our calls as we co-create double descriptions, drawings, poetry. I look at someone’s drawing/gesture with a third eye. I look at where the drawing is coming from.I hope we can use all of our knowledge and use all of it well. We might learn how to say what no one has said before. We can take the nails out of our forked tongues.


She, AOC, is so clueless (or maybe not).
I have no say/sway whether you do, or don’t read my book. It’s up to you. I recommend you read it, but hey, whatever. Here is an excerpt (page 267):
“What caught me this morning [November 8, 2016] watching the reporters interview voters in the coffee shops, was that some people–the deciders, the undecideds–still hadn’t made up their minds on who they were going to vote vote for. That realization is frightening, that the fate of the world_ might hinge on the minds of people who can’t make up their mind.”
You are being being hoodwinked, manipulated, and bamboozled for the interest of self-serving power. Just saying …

I assume you are speaking to me, Mark, although you may just be talking out loud. I know you mentioned you had a friend who committed suicide recently and I want to be very, very careful. DO NO HARM.

Once, when I was traveling across country, back to Manhattan, from L.A, the bus stopped for a couple of hours in Cheyenne, Wyoming. As I got out to stretch my legs, I was greeted by one of the locals, a solid looking guy with a cowboy hat, and he and I took a walk. I was young, lanky, long hair, parted down the middle. It was in 1979, warm, clear, summer night. As we passed a bar, I heard men shouting and cheering and expressed curiosity about what was going on in there.

My companion, who admitted he was gay, too, warned me not to go in there. He told me that they would tear me to pieces. He then asked me to stop by his place. He had a truck. I declined his invitation but I did sit with him in a coffee shop and ate a baked potato. He played footsie with me under the table.

I got on the bus and that was the last time I thought about Cheyenne, until years later when I heard about the tragic death of Matthew Shepherd. He probably visited the same saloon, and was lured into a truck and was tortured and murdered by some straight guys, who claimed he had made a pass at one of them. I thought then about that lonely gay guy who tried to connect. My instincts are pretty good. I am sensitive to mixed messages.

So, if you want to continue in this way, Mark, calling me deluded, etc, you can do that. I, however, am not sure that this is going to further a dialogue that has been set up by Ed. As I respect the space that many of us have tried to create together to sponsor others, and offer support, I want that to happen.

I cannot be the only one that wants that to happen. It is my intention to show up tomorrow at the Cafe and be open to the group dynamic, and I will be mindful of differences. I mentioned, previously, that I value a tender sobriety. I still hope that can happen. And I will not be silenced or intimidated by you or anyone else.

Just sayin…




Penalty on the defense. Ad hominem.

There ain’t no such thing as a discussion forum without guidelines, dude.


10-yard penalty. Still 4th down.


Mark said, “You are being being hoodwinked, manipulated, and bamboozled for the interest of self-serving power. Just saying”

John said, “I assume you are speaking to me, Mark, although you may just be talking out loud.”

Could be, but I’m takin it as talking out loud, for I sort of feel spoken to too. My initial reaction was, “Well, aren’t we all? So what?”

We’re having a tough time of it these days because we are being subjected to a carpet-bombing of crap from all sides. We wee folks hardly stand a chance, but some of us are trying to persevere nevertheless. Don’t mistake this for a conspiratorial rant. That’s a simple, and I think obvious observation.

On- or offline, we’re subjected to a never-ending stream of advertising, which many think they somehow manage to filter out, which I doubt, and everyone but the most naive among us know that it’s a stream of non-truths. We’ve had actors in white smocks telling us what’s healthy or not harmful, including cigarettes, for those of you who are old enough to remember, and it has come to light that the purveyors found their own “scientists” who conducted “studies” to prove their points. We suspected then, but we know now it was a charade. We didn’t have “fake news” then … well, we did, but we didn’t have a name for it.

And some suspected, and in the meantime, it has become clear for anyone who wants to admit it that the US – just as an example, because they are the most blatant – lied their way into every war since WW2, from Korea to Vietnam to Kuwait to Iraq, spreading terror and destruction without the slightest regard for human life – the "enemies’ or our own (e.g., Agent Orange) and all in the name of “democracy” which they don’t practice themselves. These were cheered on by the mainstream media – until the pressure from below became more than they were willing to let flip – all of which are owned, and in recent decades consolidated in the hands of precisely those people who will benefit most from their distortion of fact and skewing of discourse. We shouldn’t forget that the ground text for what we call PR today, was Bernays’ Propaganda. If it’s on glossy enough paper, more than enough will find it respectable anymore. What has happened with the advent of the internet, world-wide web, and social media is that a whole new layer of complexity has been added to the mix. We now live in a world in which the notion of “alternative facts” was established without a whimper.

The more things change, the more they stay the same. It sounds to me like a lot of hoodwinking, manipulating, and bamboozling to me. So, so what? It’s not new. To me, there was no new information in the statement, so it really didn’t get us any farther, and I’m very interested in finding out whether anyone – in this case, our tiny motley crew – has got any ideas on how we wee folk might deal with our plight or situation or circumstance or whatever it is any of you want to call the place where we find ourselves.

To be perfectly honest, I don’t follow American politics all that closely. From my vantage point a broad brush is fine enough. Consequently, I know little, if anything, about Ms. Octavia-Cortez. She seems well-meaning enough, is gutsy, and faced with enormous obstacles as well. I find her fascinating in so far as a very young, freshman congress-person can cause such a disturbance amongst allegedly mature men. Recently there was a tither on my FB newsfeed. One of my “friends” posted a meme (allegedly) from Ben Stein (of "Buehler? Buehler? … Buehler? fame) which compared her to Hitler, Stalin and Mao-Tse-Tung in one fell swoop, one of the fastest manifestations of Godwin’s Law that I’ve ever seen. Stein said that the things she wants are the same things that those guys wanted. I was surprised at the level of apoplexy she generated, when, truth be told, what those three guys had in common is that they wanted to make their countries great again. History doesn’t matter; digging deeper doesn’t matter; sifting and sorting doesn’t matter … in some circles, but I still hope it matters in ours.

So, while we’re all subject to the patently obvious hoodwinking, manipulating, and bamboozling, it is equally obvious to me that no two of us – in our motley crew or even beyond – are going to draw the same conclusions. In some regards and on some issues some of us may be closer to agreement than on others or with others, but isn’t that what discussions are all about?

Having said all that, I would like to reiterate something I’ve said more than once and which I believe every bit as much now as I did the first time I said it: I don’t view these Cafés as debates. Nobody’s right, though everybody is right about something sometimes. I tried to frame the one this evening in the most open, inclusive, discussion-centered way I knew how. (I doubt I succeeded, but that simply goes with the territory.) The topic, the teaser text, the background, the sources all reflect that, I believe, so I don’t know what to add, other than I hope to see as many of our IC community as has time and interest to participate.


Thanks, Ed, for the sobering remarks. A brief response.

I wonder what you mean by wee?

little, small, tiny, minute, miniature, small-scale, compact, mini, undersized, diminutive, dwarf, midget, Lilliputian, infinitesimal, microscopic, nanoscopic, minuscule, bijou, toy…

Octavia-Cortes was a wee person I suppose. She was a bartender from the Bronx a year ago. Now she is overseeing the Banks and Wall Street.

Hitler I heard was once a house painter…

In principle, at least, who is on top and who is on bottom who is in the middle can shift quite a bit in our volatile social worlds. I have never held high office but I have been intensely engaged in the political, which is much more about theater than it is about solid arguments from rational subjects who know their place in the scheme of things.

So, I dont want to be included in a group that considers itself unimportant and ineffectual. And I dont think that is what you intended, Ed. I just point out that you have an idiosyncratic way of using words, as do I. We all have our vocabulary that is in flux. And we have very different associations. I expect and welcome cognitive blends from diverse conceptual frames. I have advocated that we do a better job of framing these discourse events and I celebrate that you are taking the lead.

I would prefer curiosity, rather than contempt, simply because, it creates conditions for people to learn something. I also try to recognize that there is a person underneath the obnoxious behavior and that I want to address the person rather than the defense and the posturing and snark.

Having said that, I admit I am not tolerant of intolerant people. Enough harm has been done. I have been hit over the head with a garbage can. You can’t negotiate in a violent situation. Hence, my response to Mark and to the group. This is your group. If you want to see it torn to pieces really fast, and have it posted on Youtube, that is fine with me. But as a member of the audience, I can suggest that there may be other shows to watch.

I plan on being there today as I have much to say about what is happening in my neck of the woods, and I am eager to learn what others have on their minds. I look forward to more curiosity than contempt, knowing that is not always what others most value.

I appreciate the label, Marco, and the guidelines. May all of us pay attention!

Ad hominem (Latin for “to the person”) , is a fallacious argumentative strategy whereby genuine discussion of the topic at hand is avoided by instead attacking the character, motive, or other attribute of the person making the argument, or persons associated with the argument,


In a certain regard, all of the above, though I would preface your list with “perceived as” for that would come closer to what I mean, and would have added some words like "unimportant, irrelevant, insignificant, not-so-threatening, easy-to-ignore, and (here’s an idiosyncratic one (taking your observation as a compliment :wink: ) overseeable …

Nor do I, John, which is why I would have liked to have seen the words “perceived as” prefacing your list above. Who does the perceiving and considering is as important as anything else.

As far as I know, he wanted to be an artist … a picture painter … but he wasn’t very good at it.

It can shift quite a bit in any of our other worlds as well, and that is something that concerns me personally. Given the propensity toward violence that we humans seem to have and given the fact that we should know better but apparently don’t, prospects are a bit bleak for those of us who would like to be more significant and effective … not merely personally, but together with others.

And here I would beg to differ. The Café, and as far as I’m concerned, any individual session thereof, and any related or other discussion thread in which any of us participate is OUR group, by default. I was asked and I agreed to organize and moderate a session, which I have done and will try to do to the best of my ability. I realized from the onset that the topic was potentially more volatile and contentious than most we talk about. I believe(d) that we were mature enough individuals to meet to discuss it, for I sincerely believe that it is essential that we also talk about these things as well. Maybe we’re not ready for prime time. That’s possible. Like you, simple curiosity – not a perverse one – motivated my approach. I think that is reflected in the framing I have attempted, which may not have been enough, but it was as much as I was willing to offer. It’s not about me. It’s not my group. But, should it go sour, I’ll more than gladly take the blame, for the simple reason that I instigated it.