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

I just let my Imagination play with the given Reality​:joy::joy::joy::joy::joy:also I’ve come to engage in a seeing-feeling synaesthesia of seeing with feeling my eyeballs & a seeing my feeling with insight.This is my way of including the two & seeing-feeling beyond my needed sense of safety to Freedom,& more Wiggle Room!


When any single “investor” acquires 20% or more of a company’s stock, it must be registered with the SEC for it is deemed “controlling interest” though “controlling influence” might be more appropriate. That investor does not control anything, but sure has influence. But, there are other influences as well, not just financial ones, so we’ve got – I believe – more room to maneuver than we often give ourselves credit for.


I believe something very similar and I am happy to believe that we both share a belief that might be of use in the days and weeks and months to come, in an electoral year with very high stakes for the human and other than human worlds we are entangled with.

William James, the great pragmatist, asked of theory, " If this were true what difference would it make?" At the time, this was a very odd question to ask.

Gregory Bateson, following up on that pragmatic trend, wondered about the Laws of the Excluded Middle and tended to think they make an unnecessary muddle out of everything. He was a student of the double bind, and I consider myself a student of his. I have studied double and triple binds since I was three years old.

And so we are in the great battle field of a war between gigantic forces…

Isn’t it great? This is Cosmic Theater. And we are going, as Bateson said, where Angels fear to tread!


Once again, thanks to everyone who showed up and helped make the couple of hours time well spent.

On the administrative side of things, I’d like to point out that I modified the" Context and Backstory, and Related Topics" section above to include the original references (that is, those listed before today’s session) and an “Additional References” subsection where we can include those texts which were referenced or mentioned (or should have been) during our conversation.

No, I didn’t include Adam Smith’s Wealth of Nations. I think Heilbronner’s treatment is enough for most mortals; no need to overdo it, I say. As for the others, I added:

  • Atwood and Graeber can be considered together. If you want the full and fully researched, scholarly argued case regarding “debt”, then Graeber’s your guy. If you want to wade through the muck and mire of the topic in a lively and insightful (and sometimes even humorous) way, then Atwood’s your gal.

  • Greenblatt’s Tyrant is a brilliant look at the notion of “tyrant” through Shakespeare’s eyes. It’s written by a person who not only knows his Shakespeare, but one who recognizes that Shakespeare when he sees him on TV. It is a literary view of a phenomenon that most of the world is confronted with at the moment.

  • Polanyi’s Tacit Dimension can be summed up as: we know more than we can say, but as was mentioned in our talk, how that plays out in real life can be very different and far-reaching. Beware, however: it is a short book, a mere three “lectures” encompassing fewer than 90 pages, but it’s a mind-bender. Be prepared.

Not to be a nuisance, but I trust @johnnydavis54 will remember to add his as well.

Oh, and one other little fun fact I failed to bring up in our talk: I found it synchronistically fascinating that Varoufakis, in his TED talk, thought that “cosmos” would be a good name for his universal currency. If he only knew …


The works I mentioned

Beyond Culture and Nature by Phillipe Descola

Against Method and Philosophy of Nature by Paul Feyerabend

Scale by Geoffrey West

Sonnet 65
Since brass, nor stone, nor earth, nor boundless sea,
But sad mortality o’ersways their power,
How with this rage shall beauty hold a plea,
Whose action is no stronger than a flower?
O! how shall summer’s honey breath hold out,
Against the wrackful siege of battering days,
When rocks impregnable are not so stout,
Nor gates of steel so strong but Time decays?
O fearful meditation! where, alack,
Shall Time’s best jewel from Time’s chest lie hid?
Or what strong hand can hold his swift foot back?
Or who his spoil of beauty can forbid?
O! none, unless this miracle have might,
That in black ink my love may still shine bright.
William Shakespeare

Thanks again for the lively Cafe!


Halfway through the conversation. Thank you for taking this on @achronon! I think all of our money problems have been solved with this conversation! But, really…I do appreciate the gentle approach towards clarity. I am liking how the various individual inputs have a way of weaving this behemoth of an idea into something can be understood. A token of appreciation to all of you that threw in your two cents. :money_with_wings:

Not to add another load of readings your way, just an observation to those interested. Prickly Paradigm Press might interest a few individuals here. I located it after researching Phillipe Descola’s Beyond Culture and Nature (the four ontologies work sounds useful)…found another title of his, The Ecology of Others, which sounds right up @johnnydavis54 ecological alley. A few other names (Latour, Haraway) have titles in the Prickly Press. Also available for free download is David Graeber’s Fragments of an Anarchist Anthropology who is also referenced above.


Thanks, Doug , for the references. I found a quote from Graeber that resonates with my sentiments exactly. Some people ( I am one of them) don’t think money is the most important thing in the world. I rank community way ahead of making money.

" the universal assumption had been that economies without money or markets had operated by means of “barter”; they were trying to engage in market behavior (acquire useful goods and services at the least cost to themselves, get rich if possible…), they just hadn’t yet developed very sophisticated ways of going about it. Mauss demonstrated that in fact, such economies were really “gift economies.” They were not based on calculation, but on a refusal to calculate; they were rooted in an ethical system which consciously rejected most of what we would consider the basic principles of economics. It was not that they had not yet learned to seek profit through the most efficient means. They would have found the very premise that the point of an economic transaction—at least, one with someone who was not your enemy—was to seek the greatest profit deeply offensive. "


Mauss has been on my radar. Simondon was influenced by Mauss too, by his general theory of magic (I am still supposed to get back to Ed on the connection to Gebserian magic, if any…good luck on that!)

I wanted to use his book The Gift (which is available for free online) to tie in with the gift economy for a future Cafe. Jury duty has me behind on this research…I am enjoying the momentum from afar though. Maybe we can work this topic in for the February 19th Cafe? Or a Thursday session @madrush…or both?


Someone who makes sense on alternate ontologies is Jeffrey Kripal, who outlines a theory of the Imagination. Perhaps we can develop this theme in the future cafe. We are in an evolutionary process. A real/unreal zone.


Man, I love you guys! Thanks to all participants for a great talk and much to mull over. Still processing things, but I’ll offer some stray musings.

As usual, a rain of well-expressed images and thought-paths from John:
Money is (or has become) a symbol, an idea; true wealth is a healthy imagination.
The problem is that pain is public and gain is private - no wonder we are seeing a “politics of resentment”.
Church and state have been separated, it is now necessary to separate “Science” (the god with a capital S that has taken the place of the efficacious scientific method in the popular mind) and state.
Value vs. vision.

I think the triad that replaces ‘land - labor - capital’ that Ed and Geoffrey got to by the end is ‘resources - people - surplus’ and I concur. Nothing stands out for me in this talk more than the importance of what we believe we see when we see.
“All over the world people tend to confuse international finance with economics. The first is - at least in the foreseeable future - truly international, with moneys flowing rather freely across frontiers…; but then, capital has become increasingly abstract, and the more abstract money becomes, the less durable it is. Economics, on the other hand - in its proper, old, original meaning - refers to the husbanding of one’s household assets, in the Greek and biblical (and also German: Wirtschaft) sense of the word. … Capitalism, as well as parliamentary liberalism, were nineteenth-century phenomena with very little relevance to the twenty-first, with its current material realities being obscured by an outdated vocabulary of economists, their definitions meaning less and less.”
John Lukacs The End of the Twentieth Century and the End of the Modern Age (New York, 1993), p. 149

It may not so much be that capitalism will destroy democracy but that developmentalism (maximize profits as if resources are infinite) will destroy the free market - and the human biosphere - IWLI (if we let it). I haven’t made it through The Wealth of Nations but I did remember that the ‘invisible hand’ only showed up once (LOL). There truly has been a replacement - and a relatively recent one at that - of a system primarily designed to exchange goods and services in a straightforward way to a deficient-rational quantification of the increasingly abstract indeed. Ultimately it’s madness but short-term interests are being served. Michael Mann (The Sources of Social Power, 1986 - a book I keep coming back to) would note that there is no need to ‘connect’ political, economic, and ideological power structures; they find each other quite well in “civilizations” and what the powerful believe must be taken into account. As Ed said, the “organized institutional response” is always telling of how hard a nerve has been struck. Maybe the powerful will realize that creating a critical mass of those with nothing to lose defeats their power; maybe they will not. Or maybe today’s powerless will just start asking sane, reasonable questions en masse… (The plebeians of Rome, so the story goes, once simply walked away, seceding from the state as it were - and got major concessions from the patricians without violence, as the latter clearly saw their need for workers, soldiers, and taxes.)

Michael’s wave crest / Geoffrey’s knife edge speak to my (amateur!) historian’s refusal to predict.
But I can and will hope.


There’s no rush … as it would appear, the whole notion of magic keeps weaving in and out of these threads.

One of the undertones of this rather mundane thread is the magic of money and power. I don’t think the topic’s going away, so it’ll manifest when the time is right.


As you note John noted:

The divinized science of which you speak is known more generally as scientism. I mention this for Gebser, among others, says much about -isms in general and their debilitating effects in particular. The same applies to neoliberalism, which may be even more pernicious given the radical absence of anything even closely resembling vision. It was mentioned in our discussion that economics, as a discipline, arose out of philosophy in general, moral philosophy in particular, but if anything has taken on a religious air, then it is our currently reigning economic ideology. One of the more interesting, though disturbing developments in this regard is how readily and deeply evangelical Christians, for the most part but not exclusively, have redefined their own credos to legitimize this particular economic approach. And these thoughts are very much related to your key observation, namely

This has long been an interest and focus of mine. It has to do with my insistence on examining ones fundamental assumptions and presuppositions, whereby I know full well that to examine these means to challenge what anyone of us believes we fundamentally are. This is dangerous ground to tread upon, yet it is absolutely essential, in my mind, that we – every chance we get – remind and confront ourselves and our discussion partners – here and elsewhere – with what appear to be such fundamental assumptions.

Yesterday Germany celebrated the 100th anniversary of the founding of the Weimar Republic, Germany’s first foray into a democratic system of government. Reeling from the effects of the war and the irrational Treaty of Versailles by the early 1920s $1 would buy you 23tr (that is 23,000,000,000,000) Reichmarks. Municipalities were literally stamping out money, one-sided on scraps of typing paper, to keep up with inflation, until the paper was worth more than the currency denomination stamped on it. We all know where that misery ultimately ended, once a small, toothbrush-mustachioed, democratically elected chancellor decided he wanted to make his country great again.

Most Americans believe their dollar today is unassailable, that such a thing as Weimar can’t happen to them, but few Americans realize just how tenuous the dollar’s existence is. The Chinese have long declared that they intend to replace the dollar with the yuan as the international currency of exchange (or international reserve currency, if you will). We should never forget that Saddam Hussein, who we all know never had WMDs, spoke his own death sentence when he declared he would no longer accept dollars in payment for his oil, he wanted euros, as did Muammar Gaddafi when he publicly declared his intent to create a gold-back African currency to compete with the dollar. In both of these cases the potential threat was enough to unleash unprecedented violent reactions. What happens when a real threat makes its appearance on the horizon?

For example, China (depending on who’s counting is the largest or second-largest national economy in the world) holds about 5% of the current US debt (~$22tr … and the US, like Japan, Italy, and Singapore (Greece was once on this list, but look what was done to them), has debt in excess of their GDP … they are truly living beyond their means). Foreign countries in total are holding almost 20% of US debt. What if they (the Chinese or all of them) called it in? Yes, collapse … but the knock-on effects at the moment would negatively impact the Chinese in particular as well (even though their debt is only about 44% of its GDP – well within their means), so other absorbing factors must be in place before that could happen. But what happens when those factors (perceived or real!) are in place?

(Just for comparison purposes, Russia is the world’s 12th largest economy with a GDP around $1.7tr. Their debt worth only about 13% of its GDP. Mere drops in the bucket compared to the US. Economically, they are irrelevant. But, they’re the US’s most serious threat (well, after south-of-the-border immigrants, that is)? The only reason we still talk about Russia at all is because they do have one thing as big as the US: a nuclear arsenal, and that’s what chaps America’s hide. Of course America is still fighting the Cold War which truly ended decades ago; everyone else has moved on to other machinations, and they’re not necessarily military in nature.)

Sorry for the longish digression, but all of this is directly relevant to “the importance of what we believe we see when we see.” And it’s in this particular context that your reference to the plebians of Rome takes on all the more relevance today. The more things change, the more they stay the same.


Hey TJ! We miss you!

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We love you, too, TJ! Your comments and reflections are deeply appreciated. In these turbulent times we need to learn how to communicate effectively our more complex ideas. After a fair hearing we can revise and re-organize and go out into the social worlds with some hope and perhaps inspiration that all is not lost, that others in history have overcome impossible obstacles, and that we can touch with the heart-mind a vast intelligence. And if we don’t do it, who will? At the very least, when we are laid to our rest, we can say, honestly," I gave everything I had to give." Then we can get ready for what happens next.

Forums such as ours, after lots of trials and errors, can prove to be a great benefit. The many points of views and alternate ways of knowing the better. What I like is when the group process can reflect upon its own process. I imagine that if we can find some creative flows and some surprising connections happening here that this capacity scale up to other social arrangements that are wanting to happen around the globe. Inside/Outside, Pasts/Futures is happening in our forums.

Catch a falling star and put it in your pocket! The imagination ( books, literature, music) teaches us how to think BIG! If we only try to adapt to the pre-given we will surely end up on the junk heap of history.

I sense that we are at the threshold for such a shift. And when we have collectively made a push and have gotten through that impasse we can recognize that we are sort of like in a sweeping narrative that we have been trying to get right for many generations. Each of us is weaving this event together in mysterious liminal ways, in dreams, reflections, and lots of lucky guesses.

You may have seen the last Cafe focused on Connolly’s book on Planetary Futures. He endorses the idea of a nation wide strike, sort of like what the ancient Roman underclass did. These collective refusals to collude with the elites are powerful.

Thanks again for your review!


Octavia-Cortez holds the crowd spellbound as she exposes the corruption. I would offer this as evidence that things are changing. Notice how skillfully she takes a meta-perspective.


Hehehe. Makes one wonder if voting against all incumbent politicians (both parties) or refusing to purchase products from the worst identified corporate offenders is the way to go… not that either would really begin to address the oligarchic heart of the beast, but it would be nice to be able to send such a strong message on a consistent basis, wouldn’t it?
I wish Ocasio-Cortez well. I do wish our current culture wasn’t based so much on flavor-of-the-month celebrity though.
Knife edges…


The only thing her opponents care about is the bottom line, they are clueless-and we should never deny the power of boycotts. I do feel there is a tension between her and the Oligarchs and with the Ultra-Realist Pelosi, who sold out her ecological dreams long ago. Pelosi is a tough and can stand up to a bully but she is often stiff and out of touch. And the Oligarchs will be dying off soon, thank God. The 1% is looking more lunatic each day. The New Green Deal, a bill that AOC is sponsoring is hugely ambitious, as reported in NY Times today. Such outrageous optimism could only come from a candidate who took no Corporate contributions. Ecological changes are popular, especially with the young. She is shining a light on the manufactured politics of the current regime, and she has a skill I have rarely seen in one so young. Like a great performer, she has a warm heart and a cool head. This is a winning combination and the old guard don’t know how to fit her into their scheme. Others who came before her, who did not succeed, may have set the stage for generational shift. She may be offering something too late, but who knows? Americans like performers and she has a lot of talent! She knows how to create a bind for her opponents. And she has a future, which you can’t say for Trump or Pelosi.


I certainly can’t argue with that while using public facilities in this country today. :wink:

This is the thing to remember. Whatever happens, it is good to know that those who will be inheriting the political and ecological mess we’ve made will be calling the shots in the decades to come. My sons and their friends are among those who don’t always let on that they are watching, but they are watching. The oldest refers to most political speeches now as “filler”. (LOL) [I referred to his preference for the direct in my chess essay.] He is the keenest of us all on recycling.

Good counter-observation to my ‘celebrity of the month’ fear! Of course time will tell - but if she knows her real audience is not the old guards of today then hers is a pretty far-sighted “cluelessness”…


Oh I dont think she is clueless at all but the Oligarchs are a dud. What I like about her is that she has a vision. She is looking towards her unborn children’s future and she isn’t faking it. You can tell she means what she says. That is not what I get from any of the cynical villains on the stage with her. That your children are watching is a good sign. My age group was formed by Vietnam and Nixon. Every generation gets a big mess to take care of. We muddle on through the best way we can. That your kids are watching and paying attention, I am sure, has something to do with their Dad.


One of my earliest school memories (2nd grade?) was a big hallway poster that said “PEACE” celebrating the end of the Vietnam War. Nixon’s name came up a lot in the adult conversations around me, but of course they went over my head. My little bubble of toys and books was fairly quiet; the Iran hostage crisis was the biggest “event” I can think of, and that wasn’t exactly an age-group forming thing (as traumatic an ordeal as it must have been for the victims). I often wonder if my proclivity for the taciturn stems from having missed the Summer of Love and maturing before 9/11.
IIRC, there is a Chinese curse: “May you live in interesting times.” The times are interesting again, that’s for sure. Perhaps it is just as well that each generation gets fresh eyes for old problems never before experienced.