(2019) by Giorgios Kallis



intro – why limits


know no limits.. all limits are self imposed.. you are your only limit.. don’t tell me sky is limit when there are footprints on the moon.. these are few of maxims when search ‘limits’..

western culture is infatuated w the dream of overcoming limits. at same time.. overwhelmed by ultimate limit.. our own death.. death of wester civ.. at stake if we don’t act now..

how and why have we come to think about limits the way we do? what role has idea of limits played in the development of modern thought from econ to environmentalism.. do societies need limits? and if so what kinds..? thee are some of questions entertained in this book.. i aim to reclaim/refine and defend the notion of limits..

i want to dissociate limits from what in scholarly jargon we call malthusianism.. a set of ideas dating back to 1798..and an essay written by cleric turned economist..


to face global warming, we desperately need a culture of limits.. this book is an effort to go in such a direction

why limits – i am an environmentalist and limits are the central idea of environmentalism..


my thesis is that it is only when we begin to accept the world as abundant that we can contemplate limiting our wants and delimiting a safe space for our freedom.. this notion may appear counterintuitive, but that’s because we tend to think of limits in the malthusian terms of scarcity. this book develops a diff view of limits, one of limits as self limitation..

i argue that malthus discovered not natural limits but unlimited wants.. far from a prophet of doom, malthus invoked doom so as to galvanize the pursuit of growth.. we’ll see that malthus is still w us thanks to modern econ, which was founded on this myth of eternal scarcity and a call for perpetual growth..


i will follow the novelist’s advice to write less about what i know and more about what interests me and what i want to know more about.. (in chapters that i talk about limits of my own defense of limits)

first job.. at european parliament.. worked on revision of eu laws that placed limits on water pollution.. working at uc berkley with dick norgaard.. came to appreciate how difficult it is to define eco limits.. as limits are always a function of our intentions.. dick wrote: limits are not about something out there but about limiting our negative impacts on each other and the environments with which we interact


i learned about the violence perpetuated in the name of limits and the power relations hidden behind seemingly innocent claims aobu nature and its limits

corneilius castoriadis distinguished between heteronomy – limits that we attribute to god or nature and that restrict our freedom – and autonomy, limits that we consciously set for ourselves.. that distinction is the kernel of this book..


free\dom ness

the debate about limits has political implications. the green idea that there should be limits to growth seems to choke on the progressive ideal of universal betterment.. in a culture intolerant of limits.. limiting fossil fuels and the comforts they sustain seems impossible. my intention here is to open up an intellectual and political space for rethinking limits..

growing up.. parents made point of not imposing strict rules at home.. first experience of school was antiauthoritarian kindergarten self org’d by mothers/fathers.. growing up i was never told what time to come home.. but i did come back in time.. et al.. my moderation became a matter of family /personal pride.. but.. my moderation .. is my home and my prison.. there are social limits i have bowed to unaware.. and limits i have unwillingly put on my shoulder as i internalized the expectations of my parents and my own idea of who i was supposed to be

ie: supposed to’s.. of school/work

maté parenting law

a raised eyebrow et al

i want to consciously choose which limits to keep because they liberate me, decide which limits are part of our life in common and that i must accept, and determine which limits i or others have imposed on myself unjustly and from which i want to be free..

1 – why malthus was wrong


the adjective ‘malthusian’ is reserved today for hose who believe natural resources are limited and thus put a limit on growth and on our numbers

but not everyone agrees w this reading of malthus and his essay


something doesn’t square.. a prophet of overpopulation who wants population to grow.. a prophet of limits who doesn’t believe in limits.. my interest is not to revise the history of ideas.. i am interested in malthus because the way he framed limits is still with us.. understanding what he did (actually) and why opens a window onto understanding how we imagine limits.. a necessary step if we are to construct a new understanding of limits


like me, malthus had intellectual, political and personal motives.. he wanted to put the math and logic he learned at cambridge to use, to prove the folly of revolutionaries.. he believed that a society of equal was logically impossible.. and that in trying to establish it revolutionaries would cause more harm that good… ”no from of social org can possibly create or preserve a just and equitable society

this org could: 2 convers as infra

core of malthus’s argument: our ability to produce children will always outstrip our ability to provide for their survival..

only if we perpetuate us all as ie: whales in sea world


m argues .. humans have 2 basic needs: food and sex

rather.. maté basic needs

m conceives of a world that is naturally limited because the needs of our bodies are naturally unlimited.. here is the conception of nature that lies at the heart of modern econ and to an extent environmentalism

poverty is a manifestation of scarcity, m then explains.. poverty, m argues, follows naturally from libido and hunger.. this is a natural law.. revolutionary ambitions to eradicate poverty go against science..


contrary to his iconic status as a prophet of limits.. m was in fact a prophet of growth..


m not an advocate of limits.. but someone who invoked the specter of limits to justify ineq and call for growth..


scarcity and productivity go hand in hand.. the suffering brought on by checks.. propels us to work and produce more.. labor would not be performed w/o the goad of necessity.. necessity (scarcity) is the mother of invention..

helping the poor, m argues, reduces suffering, but suffering is necessary because this si how god makes us industrious.. if we didn’t suffer, we wouldn’t work

supposed to’s.. of school/work et al


the poor laws, malthus’s political target, make everyone, including the poor, worse off.. they entitle the poor to leisure for which they haven’t worked .. they kill the spirit of industry.. and diminsh the will to save and accumulate.. because the needs of the p;oor are now taken care of

that is what happens when legit needs are taken care of .. we diminish the myth that we need to save/accumulate

testart storage law et al

malthus here rehearses arguments economists would polish in the future..


more malthus: ineq is inevitable.. but it is not bad.. it si the motor of growth.. can’t have a society w a middle class alone because ‘extreme parts could not be diminished w/o lessening that animated exertion throughout the middle parts.. if no man could hope to rise.. or fear to fall.. if industry did not bring w it its reward and idleness its punishment, the middle parts would not certainly be wha they now are’

economists tell us malthus was wrong.. was a false prophet.. population didn’t collapse and food availability increased faster than population.. malthus underestimated tech, the story goes.. he undervalued our ‘intelligence, imagination and wonder’.. and those who today call for limits of fossil fuels and greenhouse gases are also false prophets.. tech will do job.. no need for limits..


but malthus object was to prove there is not enough .. not that there are limits to growth..


what malthus refused to allow for was not that we could limit our numbers, but that we could limit our numbers and be happy.. preventive checks to malthus were terrible/misery.. not natural.. meaning.. not via god’s – go populate ness..


malthus was wrong because he did not want to entertain the idea that we could limit our numbers and be happy.. that we can have sex,, fun and enjoy life w/o having scores of children and w/o being immoral/unnatural while doing so


he (m) did not see limits to resources but an eternal limit to the satisfaction of our limitless wants..


engels and marx – overcoming scarcity by increasing production..

a focus on growth accepts the myth of scarcity.. a legitimizing metanarrative for dominant institutions, which position themselves as the only ones who can confront scarcity..


the genius of his (m) idea was that he managed to make scarcity compatible w growth, limits w no limits..

2 – econ: scarcity w/o limits


according to lionel robbins 1932 – scarcity is why we economize.. and economics is the science of economizing.. homo economicus – a modern day robinson crusoe who strives to get most out of his limited time..


in old world.. nature was the limit.. in the new world.. there is no absolute limit. only alt uses of our time..

malthus’s work.. like that of many economists today, was ideo-logical ‘proving’ logically the political thesis .. or belief.. that a society of equals is impossible.. but more importantly malthus developed the core idea of the new discipline: scarcity


the question m first sought to explain away remained relevant.. why is there still poverty amid so much wealth? if there are no limits why do most of us still experienced insuperable limits? when will we have enough for everyone?

‘never’ was and is the answer of the dismal science.. but to maintain this answer… economists had to adapt m’s old theory to new times


m’s scarcity.. did not stem from limits to food but from the unlimited sexual drive of humans.. our world is limited because our wants are unlimited.. in this limited world, only scarcity knows no limits


story of scarcity.. however.. is tautological.. it begins w an assumption that what people want to do/have has no limits.. with the invention of scarcity.. growth was naturalized/sacralized.. it was *inscribed in human nature (growth is what people, no economists or th eowners o capital want).. underlying assumption.. people want as much as possible.. and the conclusion is.. they should..

*in whales in sea world

pluralistic ignorance et al

universal/natural scarcity .. justifying the perpetuation of limitless growth.. an objective that otherwise makes no sense..

even in heaven.. would still suffer from scarcity.. because wouldn’t be able to do more than one thing at once.. to be abundant.. heaven should have an infinite width, not length , of time.. gordon argues.. suppressing infinity into a unique moment.. short of this infinite moment.. we will always face scarcity..


only from this peculiar perspective, which economists take for granted, does the strange idea of ‘opportunity cost’ .. a founding concept of the discipline, make sense.. in simple words.. everything we do has a cost.. the cost of not doing something else instead.. this makes sense if we assume, as robbins does, that we want to do an unlimited number of things and we can’t be content w doing only one thing at a time..

just because none of us are doing (or even knows) what we truly want

and too.. we could do the dance of more than one thing.. i mean the labeling/defining of the one ness of a thing is also a problem.. ie: multiple levels of things; changing mind everyday; et al.. this is why curiosity over decision making matters

the thing(s) you can’t not do ness


no doubt it is in our nature to want many diff things.. and doing one thing means not doing another.. but it is also our nature to choose or to search for and put up a limit, to be at peace w what we have.. (in fact, there is no animal that limitlessly procreates or works to produce more and more).. this frenetic ‘reality’ of the econ model, however, is becoming more and more our lived experiences..

again.. i think we can do more than one ‘thing’ at once.. i think we can’t not..

and yes.. i do believe it’s in our nature to know what enough is.. but i’m not sure that comes from choosing or searching.. (seems that just perpetuates the scarcity ness of the ever thirsty whales in sea world).. but rather.. it (knowing what enough is) comes from listening..


modern american environmentalism was born in the lat 60s in ‘a malthusian moment’ of fear aobu population growth.. garret hardin and paul ehrlich – who argued population can’t grow expo because disastrous check will keep it at bay – became household names


the drive (donella meadows limits to growth et al) for change was not desire, but survival in the face of looming collapse



if by cutting trees today we’ll be better off economically tomorrow.. so be it

my point here is not to revisit arguments about who is right/wrong in this endless debate about whether there are limits to growth, but rather to question its framing

good thing you said that.. otherwise

all about scarcity

w/in this m framework, the ecological question is reduced to an economic one of how to sustain optimum output give scarcity constraints.. which in turn opens the way to market solutions for problems that are in essence social..


the call to limit growth, a call that i will argue expresses an ancestral angst over hubris and a desire to live and find meaning in a diff way, is reduced to a sterile scientific dispute, bets included, of how growth can be sustained and for how long

in adopting m’s framework, environmentalists stumbled upon the limits of their own idea of limits.. but things didn’t have to be that way

3 – the limits of environmentalism


romantic anarchists (emma goldman et al) vs m

romantics: nature is scarce only if nature are excessive wants.. nature becomes abundant when we enjoy what it has to offer, limiting our wants..

on getting us back/to us first.. so we legit know what we want..

not just good poetry.. but anthropological ie: hunter gatherers et al

affluence w/o abundance et al


this yearning for limits is at the heart of western environmentalism.. rachel carson’s silent spring, the book that launched modern environmentalism.. for ie.. as not about a scarce nature running out of space to absorb chemicals.. carson wanted us to place a limit on despoiling a nature full of life.. her call to limit the use of pesticides was nota sacrifice form her perspective.. (and not only because there are organic alts).. rather.. limiting a damaging kind of production was the path to abetter future full of bird songs


diff between silent spring and limits to growth is subtle but important.. limits also pointed to a looming disaster and called for a change of course.. but limits did not claim only that growth, like pesticide use, has terrible consequences; rather, it predicted that growth will come to an end.. and that this would be a terrible consequence.. (meadows and other did however push the limits argument in own work in a direction very similar to that of silent spring, calling for an end of growth and a change of politics/values.. this is in fact closer to the take on limits i defend below.)

self limitation

coreilius castoriadis’s notion of self limitation is useful here.. again (as in intro) his distinction between heteronomy (law via outside society) and autonomy (law via inside – not subservient to institutions.. self limitation is autonomy



crnrelius traces the idea of autonomy to classical athenian democracy.. but incomplete.. western democracies increasingly regress to sources of truth that connot be questions.. whether science, tech or free market..

yeah.. like democracy ness (and all its red flags)

democracy and capitalism appeared together in the 17th cent.. democracy is at odds w capitalism because capitalism’s imperative to expand cannot be questioned..

capitalsim ness


capitalist civilization has generated a set of wants for its members.. who learn life is not worth living w/o satisfying them

ie: supposed to’s.. of school/work


questioning what we want is what autonomy and democracy area all about

well .. democracy is more about choosing what we want.. from a finite set of choices

this is a defense of self imposed limits (autonomy) not limits that we imagine are forced on us by nature or the way society supposedly is (heteronomy)..

black science of people/whales law

the case for self limitation rests on the negative consequence/risks of not limiting ourselves; and on the freedom of setting limits to our own powers/intentions.. limits w/o which freedom loses its meaning

free\dom ness


rather than liberating, limitless possibility can be debilitating and a constant source of frustrating

well.. unless we let those limits approach/reach infinity.. ie: daily curiosity

which we’ve not yet ever done

simplifying choice by settin our own limits and by choosing ‘not to’.. can be liberating 

yeah.. i think this is huge.. and why we keep missing it.. not about choice.. but about curiosity.. (limitless choice)

ie of app you can use to block yourself from email/sites so can dedicate self freely to writing.. in our productivity obsesses era, freedom is not the ability to do more, but the power to limit our self destructive pursuit of more

yeah on productivity killing us..

but issue of limits is still framed here in a false setting (whales ness)

the pursuit of more.. is coming from the assumption/mandate that we have to operate from a finite set of choices.. rather than curiosity – that would self ‘limit’.. but in different ways.. every second

beyond consequences and freedom lies a third reason for self limitations, on that is not captured by castoriadis, goldman, .. this is justice, or care for the other.. ghandi: ‘we should live simply so others can simply live’

if 8b people are living in legit free\dom.. that just happens

ie: ‘in undisturbed ecosystems ..the average individual, species, or population, left to its own devices, behaves in ways that serve and stabilize the whole..’ –Dana Meadows

if we start calculating/expecting/limiting it into being.. we compromise the individual .. and then we’re right back to the scarcity/hoarding/tragedy ness whales in sea world..


the problem w environmental limits

limits we (environmentalists) often claim, are dictated by mother nature.. we have to adapt whether we like it or not.. (and then we go on to add that living w/in limits doesn’t have to be terrible and can be liberating.. do less harm)

this is a very heteronomous way of making the case for autonomous limits.. as castoriadis insists, ‘ecology isn’t ‘love of nature’: it’s the need for self limitation (which is true freedom) of human beings w respect to the planet on which they happen to exist by change, and which they are now destroying’

in limits (meadow) logic – we can limit selves and preempt the gods.. do what they want us to on our own terms before they have to make us do it on heres..


self limitation according to this narrative, is dictate by survival, not by desire..

like supposed self directed ness in school/work

i’d add.. by choice (survival) rather than by curiosity/itch-in-soul (desire)

to the extent that wants are questioned, they are questioned only instrumentally in terms of our own survival

yeah.. like thinking we’re really listening to legit voice.. when we’re really listening to the supposed to voice.. engrained into us .. about some assumed means of survival (ironic as it is actually killing us)

ie: we ask people how they feel about ed/health/econ systems.. rather than asking them what they are curious about.. (which would make the ed/health/econ systems irrelevant/nonexistent)

there is nothing natural in framing such external conditions as limits.. gravity is a fact, not a limit.. a limit presupposes a goal. gravity, then, is a limit if you want to jump form the rooftop of a building and arrive on the ground intact. it is not if you want to commit suicide.. seawater is life for fish but death for humans.. *the limit resides in the subject and the intention, not in nature, which is indifferent to our intentions.. and it our intentions that should be ***limited..

*and the non legit data (ie: thinking we’re whales)

**i don’t think nature is indifferent to our legit intentions (fittingness)

rather.. **reset.. unleashed.. freed


by thinking of limits as something objective out there, we disguise that they are ultimately about us (ie: if we want clean air.. et al) and our own wants, thereby reproducing the m view that nature doesn’t let us do everything we want to


five problems w ascribing limits to nature rather than taking responsibility for them

i’d say responsibility ness is a red flag as well.. it’s too much like a supposed to

1\ turns environmentalists into prophets of doom.. rather than bearers of an aspirational vision of radical simplicity


2\ risk in framing as crises that threatens a collective ‘us’.. all in same boat.. disguising fact that we are not all in it equally.. better to ask what we want to construct and for whom.. not how to conform w pre given reality dictated by nature


3\ idea of limited, shrinking space easily morphs into an argument for keeping others out or expanding into their territory.. if not enough.. someone must be in excess.. it will be not ‘me or you’ but .. ‘the other’.. so ie: nations close borders because of supposed limits..


4\ bogged down in endless scientific arguments about precise defn of eco limits.. limits can’t be defined independently of purpose.. closely linked to #2 scientification produces passive public that sees solution as a job for experts (objective out there that only few can know).. when need everyone..


5\ scarcity is essential for capitalism.. can’t operate under abundance.. so .. unintentionally.. this limits ness plays into resource/land enclosures..


problem w eco footprint and planetary boundaries

doughnut ness

forget for the moment the scientific acrobatics necessary for turning everything into its land use equiv.. no matter how good the intentions.. this framing reproduces a m vision of a limited earth.. the foot print message makes for headlines, but it is apolitical, as it puts us all in the same boat.. also disempowering..


planetary boundaries frame more sci sophisticated.. but it too can reproduce the myth of a limited world.. there are 9 boundaries of earth system, planetary scientists tell us, and if we transgress them we risk abrupt, catastrophic, nonlinear change.. but. they are boundaries only if we want to label them as such.. (and i agree we should) but there is also no reason why we can’t continue living on a hotter earth or survive in a world w polluted ecosystems.. life would be worse.. but it would be life.. the boundaries, as kate raworth argues, are not given; they are boundaries of a collective good life, which we should choose..


the act of making boundaries seem natural, inscribing them in planetary geophysics, has political implications because it makes the issue seem technical – then think we can keep growing as long as have tech.. limits in their narrative.. used to make the case for no limits..


climate change cannot be just a matter of tastes and dollar costs and benefits;


increasingly problematic to think of civilization and nature as two separate entities.. in which external nature puts boundaries on human activity.. we are as much a part of nature as any other species..


diff (between mtn and mall) is not a matter of naturalness (humans always creating new natures).. it is a matter of judgment.. (we have tendency to call ‘natural’ whatever we like and don’t want to see change.. at other times, we use ‘natural’ to describe what we do not like but want to ‘civilize’ in short, we hide our judgments behind versions of the idea ‘nature’)

it is when we realize that in a certain sense there are no external limits, that we should limit ourselves.. it is because of our seemingly unlimited power – creative and destructive – and because nature is not something outside of us, that we have to limit our actions and choose not to do everything that seems doable..

if there are no longer clear boundaries between humans and nature, then when we set limits we become nature defending itself – as climate justice activists put it – as much as we are humans defending humanity agains itself..

i think being in defense mode is not a healthy option.. we can do better


but can a society go about limiting itself in the nam of the good life? and if so how? we now turn to that question by looking at *one society that did just that

*has to be all of us.. in sync.. and yes we can.. if we let go of the supposed to’s (ie: defending; responsibility; even saying.. ‘want a better world’ is a form of supposed to ness) enough to get us back to our natural selves..

 not part\ial.. for (blank)’s sake .. theres a nother way

4 – a culture of limits


richard seaford’s seminal work on the invention of money.. his thesis is that much of greek culture and philosophy was shaped in reaction to money’s seemingly limitless character


i use greece as a heuristic.. w no intention to sanctify it.. many other societies also exploited women/strangers.. but no other society has had a democracy in which the question of self limitation was so central.. this is what interests me here.. how did the greeks come to have a culture of limit and what form did this culture take

the short answer to first question .. or origins.. is money and democracy.. greeks were first to experience the power of general purpose money.. greek culture can be read as a reaction to the unlimited power of money that was just beginning to be unleashed


athenian democracy was not founded on some sacred scripture; the collective source of athens’s law was the sovereign people


in making decision for polis.. greeks did not ask advice of the gods..

but how do people decide on norms in a regime that knows no external norms

wrong question.. life isn’t about deciding norms.. that’s democracy.. not living alive..

‘in a democracy’ castoriadis writes ‘people can do anything and must know they ought not to do just anything’.. greek culture.. constructed around this principle of individual and collective moderation, or self limitation

the notion of hubris is central here.. hubris for greeks did not just mean arrogance and overreach.. rather, as castoriadis point out, hubris was transgression of previously undefined limits.. it was not about disobeying a limit already set by the gods, but about excess – taking to much of something and removing it from its rep gods.. hubris means that ‘limits, boundaries, cannot be set in advance – that’s why phronesis, cautiousness, is required.. the boundaries to exist, and when we will have crossed them it will be too late, by defn.. the heroes of ancient tragedy only learn that they are inhabited by hubris, by excess, once the catastrophe has taken place’


institutions of self limitation


tragedy was not just a cultural form but a medium thru which greek society gave meaning to its acts and reproduced itself.. tragedies exhibited the effects of hubris, reminding audiences that collective and individual self limitation was necessary for democratic cohabitation

so.. just like all the other scare/fear tactics you’ve been citing.. no? how is that self limitation..? voluntary compliance at best.. dang

both tragedy and democracy were instituted around 510 bce.. a generation or so after coinage began to be used in athens.. athenian democracy was to an extent founded as a response to the problems created b the unlimited growth of money.. its core institutions were meant to limit the accumulation of money and power

this is your ie?

black science of people/whales law

the invention of lending money w interest threatened athenian society w civil war.. solon canceled debts, abolish slavery for insolvency, gave peasants political rights, curbed aristocratic privilege and limited dowries.. his logic was not that of justice but of keeping the rich from excessive accumulation.. solon’s maxims was inscribed in the delphic oracle: ‘meden agan’.. nothing in excess

unlike us.. the greeks did not think that individuals create wealth.. the gods gave wealth and the city distributed it to individuals

heard that (promises of no slavery/debt et al) before.. even if it were true/happened.. not getting at root.. ie: they still thought of wealth.. which has nothing to do (in the positive sense) of getting us to legit self limitation..


had private wealth in athens .. but was less than public wealth.. and not concentrated like today.. rich men were required to finance some of city’s expenses..

wow.. sounds like book is just a push for taxing wealthy?

citizens got money for theater and meat was distributed free

and ubi.. ubs

each citizen could propose a law.. but to self limit abuse.. one could be accused of unlawfulness.. so people could bring each other to trial and vote


as michel foucault shows in his fascinating study of sexuality in ancient greece, the greek population internalize this political ethos of moderation, which governed personal desire.. moderation did not imply a golden mean or the avoidance of extremes but, as solon put it ‘hidden measure (of intelligence) that holds the limits of all things’..


the greeks accepted all desires.. in contrast to m.. the offense was not the desire itself but the temptation to exceed the natural amount.. to do more.. greeks didn’t not distinguish good/bad desires.. they worked instead to develop an art of management – controlling, limiting and apportioning pleasurable activity in the right manner, *forming themselves as subjects in control of their conduct

*sure doesn’t sound like it

sounds like me growing up.. goody two shoes .. because i was afraid of getting in trouble.. no idea what my legit desires were.. just that i had to please everyone .. i had to not get in trouble


only to avoid excess and hubris.. no unified, coherent system was imposed on everyone in the same manner.. point was not to eradicate but to be aware of desires and cultivate control of any that were potentially violent/self-destructive

sounds both violent and self destructive


greeks: self mastery brought freedom.. not as independence of free will. but from pleasure’s domination.. control did not mean renunciation of denial of desire.. but reflection and the mastery that was necessary quality for leadership.. the wise leader is first master of self.. his self rule moderating his rule over others

how can you have self limiting people and leaders

morals and stories the greeks .. influenced my own moral structure..

the metaphysics of limits


what human culture generally does.. is to limit the unlimited.. and kind of ordering or creation (painting, lawmaking, or the building of a table) entails limiting the unlimited.. it’s just that this fact acquired special importance in the newly monetized society of the greeks.. where fore thirst time a humanly created unlimited was threatening to destroy the polis..


this greek ontology/culture has features in common with egalitarian societies of hunter gatherers.. who live in a world of limits w/in limitlessness.. they see nature as unlimited, but they respond to it w limits.. like the greeks, they create institutions to curb the accumulation of resources and power.. reprimanding successful hunters et al.. also share an animist view of universe.. nature is humanized.. no boundary between human and nonhuman.. this unity seen as reason for prudence.. rather than exploitation

death is ultimate limit.. and not farfetched to think that human fear of limits has to do w fear of dying..


a culture of limits must be one that accepts death, not one, like ours, that tries to hide it or push it away.. unlike greeks who worried about the unlimited.. our principal anxiety today is that we might be reaching a limit.. death…


western societies consider high life expectancy to be the ultimate indicator o social wellbeing.. we use it ito justify growth.. take care of ourselves in order to live as many years as possible.. but why..


in refusing death we are only able to react to death thru violence.. we attempt to overcome it by subduing nature or by shifting death onto others..

civilization has a built in destructive drive, .. but (in contrast to what m thought) it can be controlled.. we can have less suffering instead of destruction, to the extent that we can institute mechs that help us reflect on our wants and prudently manage those that are excessive.. at the level of the individual, this is the mission of psychoanalysis; at the level of the collective, castoriadis argued, this is the role of democracy..


after ww1 and 2.. we increased limits.. after 1980.. deregulated and removed limits to money flows and accumulation et al.. all in pursuit of limitless expansion; senselessness in search of sense..

we moderns have never needed a culture of limits as much as we do now.. at same time.. may never have been so hostile to limits as we are now


bradley cooper movie – limitless.. drug to help him pump out novels in an instant.. but needs to keep increasing dose and if he stops he dies.. but.. cooper secures his own unlimited supply .. and learns to weather the side effects.. hubris and immorality go unpunished.. glorified.. same macho pathology of new breed of rulers who take pride in their lack of moderation..


we must go further than the greeks and the moderns to establish a genuine democracy os self limitation under contemporary conditions

not democracy man.. let go

cure ios city

we can take pride in the limits that we have managed to institute that they did not .. but progress today may mean stopping..


yeah.. let’s take this rare global pause and reset

art (by day/light) and sleep (by night/dark) as re\set.. to fittingness/undisturbed ecosystem

5 – the limits of limits


until now i have been arguing for limits as part of a desire for freedom, justice, sustainability.. i follow some loose threads that allow me to examine the limits of my own case for limits.. the sections that follow are tentative answers (provocations rather than certainties) to questions i have faced while defending my case for limits

limits on whom – i focused on self limits but not on limiting others


claims for limiting the other go hand in hand w power and control, if not violence, exercised by the limiters.. in other cases.. it is the wak/marginalized who draw lmits to stop others form encrouching on thier space

telling people what to do ness

how can we distinguish un/reasonable claims to limits.. limits that protect against the common good are problematic.. but diff groups may have diff views of what constitutes the common good and who is included in it..

even limits ‘we’ set on ourselves may still involve oppressing a minority among ‘us’ who do not want these limits.. there is no easy way out here

well there is.. but the hard part (seemingly) is letting go enough of the in/visible control

we have to trust the dance/limits of 8b free people


limits to what – i haven’t specified what precise limits i have in mind

democracies already have laws/limits.. do i want limits to everything.. limits to good things like clean energy or education too?

ed is good?

things we should limit: tech, money, power, accumulation,..


limiting, or rather reshaping, material wants will be part and parcel of such change..

let’s focus on that.. let’s focus on 8b people listening deep enough.. to know what enough is

limits also require more porfoudn democracy to restrict teh acuumulation of power: shorter terms .. direct participation by all citizens.. ubi..

how about no terms.. and legit live people (rather than whales participating in sea world)

 let’s try/code money (any form of measuring/accounting) as the planned obsolescence

w/ubi as temp placebo.. needs met w/o money.. until people forget about measuring

politics of self limitation – given current state of politics.. above changes seem utopian..

lack of viable path to implementation might be seen as a drawback to my case for limits.. but.. we will never know if a culture of limits is possible if we begin w premise they are not

i wouldn’t call it a culture/case for limits.. but we do have a path .. to betterness.. ie: cure ios city.. there is a nother way..

and like you said.. it’s all about our ‘will’ .. to let go


self limitation cannot be a project of individual or small group change; it must have a universal, political ambition to change the structure that prevent people form *living w/in limits..

or rather *living free

and yeah not part\ial.. for (blank)’s sake

imagine a turtle.. costello screen\service law.. et al.. begs a leap

a project of self limitation would be impossible w/o the working class and all those who live w/in limits that are not of their own choosing..

which is really all of us.. ie: none of us are free if one of us is chained .. et al


as emma goldman saw, to escape its entrapment, the working class must master those wants that fuel the system of exploitation, not insist that they should be satisfied..

begs a detox embed – a means to undo our hierarchical listening ie: 2 convers as infra

limiting oneself so as to be liberated from oppression is diff from accepting unjust limits..

yeah.. but today .. there’s a nother option.. beyond accepting/fighting/escaping limits..

limits, sharing, and equality – m limits go w ineq.. self limitation rests on equality.. but only when ‘all in this together’

what we need is equity – everyone getting a go everyday


m’s limits explained away enclosures; self limitation instead justifies sharing the commons..

yeah.. i don’t think justifies is a good word for commoning.. i don’t think we can take it apart like that.. otherwise you end up with people telling other people what to do.. like where does justification come into a picture that is just about commoning? i don’t think it can.. i think that thought perpetuates tragedy of the non common


1\ undisturbed ecosystem (common\ing) can happen

2\ if we create a way to ground the chaos of 8b free people

m claimed there is not enough for everyone to have a decent share.. self limitation thesis instead is that there will be enough for everyone only when we limit ourselves to our fair share

yeah.. ‘fair’ – much like justification.. too much measuring going on there for the dance of commoning to happen.. we need to let go of any form of measuring/accounting

w/o limits there will never be enough

ah.. yes.. but with imposed limits (which your self-limiting seems to be infiltrated with).. we will never know what enough is..

get us all to enough ness first.. then the natural limiting will just flow/emerge

and w/o sharing, there will always be those who will have less and feel they do not have enough

again.. the issue isn’t sharing.. so people feel they have enough.. the issue is setting up conditions so that people know what enough is..

sharing so that people fell they have enough.. is a form of measuring/accounting..

let go

self limitation for sharing a limited resource is the essence of the theory and forms of organization call ‘the commons’

yeah.. maybe in history.. but that’s history of whales in sea world.. not of legit free people that know what enough is..

the essence of legit commoning.. is unconditional ness (which we just can’t seem to trust – for other people.. we could for ourselves maybe)

otherwise people won’t be themselves.. and that’s what we need most.. the energy of 8b alive/authentic people

scholars studying actual commons have shown how users come together to *devise collective system that limit their use **of a common resource, given the consequences of not doing so

yeah.. to that.. i’d say.. we’ve never had actual commons/commoning to study.. for the very reason we keep thinking we have to *’devise a collective system that limits’ people .. public consensus always oppresses someone(s)

not to mention we keep trying to partial the commons ie: **’of a common resource’.. has to be everything or it won’t work

limits and freedom – do limits intrude freedom

yes.. (krishnamurti partial law).. but if you have legit (100%) free\dom.. limits happen naturally.. because in that space (has to be all of us in sync) of legit freedom.. people can hear what enough is

an individual who rides free in a commons harms the freedom of others

i’d say.. that’s not about ‘free riding’ it’s about the space not being legit free in the first place.. ie: (from experience experimenting w live people) if someone is judging who’s free riding .. space isn’t legit free.. we can’t see w our hearts.. so we just have to assume good.. trust there are no free riders..


a ‘limitarian’ as opposed to a liberal/libertarian approach begins w a *principle of prudence and moderation.. i have argued that this does not go against personal freedom, which is not freedom to do whatever you want but freedom from want..

yeah.. that’s just *people telling people what to do .. not freedom..

what we need is freedom to do whatever we legit want.. what we want deeply.. the thing(s) we can’t not do/be.. that’s where enough ness.. and doing anything to give your art away ness.. comes in..

otherwise.. we’re just spinning our wheels as whales in sea world and perpetuating tragedy of the non common

freedom in a limitarian sense is not the unobstructed pursuit of desires, but the conscious reflection on, mastery, and liberation of them

legit free\dom has to be 100% unobstructed.. or it’s not freedom.. and if it’s not freedom.. people won’t legit know what enough (aka: legit/deep desires) is.. (which is already in/on each heart.. we just need time/space to listen deeper to that)

mastery ness.. and even conscious reflection.. in this setting.. sound like red flags

who is to tell us, though, that our desires are wrong and that we should limit them.. to this standard concern of liberalism our answer should always be no one..

yeah.. no one

not however in the sense that we should not be limited.. but that it is we who should judge and limit ourselves..

which we can’t/won’t do (in a legit way to dance the dance) unless we feel unlimited (no conditions)

focus needs to be on listening for our ongoing fittingness.. not on judging and limiting.. even ourselves..

wilde not-us law et al

any project in common, including a state, involves rules and self limitations.. participants must internalize rules or the costs of enforcement make it impossible to govern

this is not freedom.. this (even though it may sound nice/r) is structural violence.. (so you won’t get free people who know what enough is)

this is not trusting people.. this is telling people what to do ness

freedom cannot mean the liberation of the self from all internal/external constrains, because w/o such limits a *society cannot function.. in a functional society, **members must see as legit the limits that society ***demands of them..

i think that kind of statement is based on what we know of a *society of whales in sea world.. i think we have no idea what legit free people are like.. together.. in an undisturbed ecosystem

**brown belonging law

***structural violence

law and prohibition fuel desire.. my hypothesis is that he more we come to reflect on the law and *accept its logic as our own.. the less likely we will be to desire to transgress it..

*that’s voluntary compliance

but transgressing it also we must, occasionally at least, unless the law is to ossify into oppression

so.. now if we’re talking legit freedom.. that would be wasted energy.. irrelevant.. a distraction


when autonomy becomes heteronomy –

maté trump law – that’s the dance we should be focusing on .. making sure heteronomy ness (subject to law outside self) doesn’t happen.. because again.. opp of belonging is fitting in.. (not legit belonging/attachment.. if not legit authenticity)

if govt is govt of the people, then admin limits are limits of he people.. not only does democracy need limits; limits also needs democracy

but truly alive/free people.. don’t need the baggage/pkd-deal of democracy

indeed, self limitation requires institution at higher levels to secure the endurance of agreed limits..


1\ then that’s not legit self.. in a legit dance 2\ agreed limits are too permanent.. alive people need to be able to change their mind whenever..

it’s a matter of scale.. limitations at one level are often enforced by an authority at a higher level charges w the power to sanction those who defy the limits lower down the chain

wtf? how is this not what we have now? aka: structural violence

users of a forest commons, for ie, will reach agreements as to how to limit their logging and then establish an authority or mech at group level to ensure everyone respects these limits..

again.. statement based on what we know of a *society of whales in sea world.. i think we have no idea what legit free people are like.. together.. in an undisturbed ecosystem

and we’ll never know if we keep ‘establishing authority’ et al.. that’s the cancer.. trying to tell us to let go.. or it will kill us


scaling up limits controls free riding and absolves individuals from have to be ever vigilant of their conduct.. i don’t want to wonder constantly whether i should consume this or that.. i want govt to tell me what we have agreed not to consume

holy cos

red flag man.. telling people ness.. let go

*good parents set boundaries w/in which their children can act freely.. w/o limits children find themselves in an infinite world where their freedom turns into **fear

oh my..

just oh my..

*maté parenting law.. (we have no idea)

**we did that to them.. safety addiction et al..

even hg child model goes against that statement .. (that you referenced earlier.. but not here.. and i say even because i don’t think hg’s were commoning/free enough)

child development is a process in which children find/apropirate their limits, and teh external, heteronomous authority of the parent is an eseential ingredient in this process

dang.. (but explains your reasoning through out book.. where you’re coming from)

what you really are referencing here is whale development/compliance/coercion/oppress\ion/violence et al

the dispossessed – sci fi – to think about limits


w the passing of time and the need for stability, autonomy inevitably tilts toward heteronomy.. rather than viewing autonomy and heteronomy as polar opposites, one good and other bad, we might need to think in terms of a synthesis.. not of an in between state but rather of processes that sustain a creative tension .. a contradiction


zoom dance ness.. but heteronomy ness still unsettles my gut

the dispossessedursula le guin – et al: p316: ‘we have been denying people that right. we’ve been saying, more and more often, you must work w the others, you must accept the rule of the majority. but any rule is tyranny. the duty of the individual is to accept no rule, to be the initiator of his own acts, to be responsible.. revolution is in the individual spirit, or it is nowhere.. it is for all, or it is nothing

adventure and limits

on getting lost on a bike adventure when he was 9.. and that he had to stay in boundaries for years after that.. all this after saying how much stricter we are today w ie: not letting kids roam free

the response to the getting home after midnight and the fear in stomach.. how much was fear of being in trouble.. and how much of the parents response was the fear we’ve taught them to have from ie: safety addiction

an adventure that is constant is no adventure.. (but) it is the experiences at the limit.. experiences that presuppose the presence of a limit – that brings joy..

? says who? not everyone.. not awake people

dionysian outbursts and feasts make sense if your *normal life is **sober.. the dream of a constant dionysian delirium, a hidden desire that fuels our civilization, is not only self destructive; it is not fun

again.. based on what we know of a *society of whales in sea world.. i think we have no idea what legit free people are like.. together.. in an undisturbed ecosystem

ie: what is a *normal life? what is **sobriety?

crazywise (doc) et al

anthropology of limits


moderation then ‘is not wisdom or balance, but deeply set in passion and contradiction’.. a sober life punctuated by outbursts

? i don’t think so


(then ie’s are based on money/spending et al).. power and money begin to accumulate a no apparent limit.. limitation requires and occasional release, an unproductive expenditure that exhaust the potential for growth

? why looking at money (cancerous to humanity) to determine limits and come away with ie: splurges are a good idea? (am i reading this right?)

research ness

living w/in limits – something to be sought as part of the good life

what would they look like at personal level..

one observation is that we should liberate our imagination from the countercultural downshifter living off the grid as stereotype of living w/in limits.. self imposed limits.. that respect limits of planet.. but it is even more interesting to think of the more mundane people and places were on can find seeds of a full life lived w/in limits: the believer who practices a sober life; the urban dweller content w their work don’t seek power/higher salaries; the pensioners who become environmental activist after retiring..

wow – whales in sea world pretending to be happy/alive.. just coping.. that’s what we want? that’s our ie of how limits are good for you..?


the ability to limit oneself, in a society that pushes us to pursue w/o limit lest we fall into a condition of limits that are not of our own choosing, is a privilege.. think of the unemployed worker.. the peasant, the child in africa.. they do not have an option to limit themselves – society limits them..

to be able to live well off the grid, to enjoy family/friends w /o having to overwork and compete w your colleagues.. to live off your farm or retire in peace: unless you are rich or born into a rich fam.. all these depend on *hard won rights of access to public commons, such as public heath/retirement/ed… living w/in limits then is not an individual endeavor but a collective project..

whoa.. so disappointing

perpetuate ing our broken feedback loop

let go of that *hard won ness – it’s killing us.. and it’s not a part of legit common\ing


(on the dispossessed modeling sharing and equity because wanting less et al) .. for limits to be shared/spread, on needs both a personal and an ethical stance.. .. like that of early christians, which creates a culture of limits; then too is needed a political project that secure the conditions and the institution which make living w/in such limits possible

wording a bit unsettling.. but seems what you’re saying is we need an infra to hold to for this to happen.. even though your other words keep seeming to say .. you don’t believe it could happen..

whatever.. i believe there is a way/means to that utopian/leguin vision ie: 2 convers as infra

2 most common critiques of case i make for self limitation: 1\ there are external limits 2\ there are no limits and should not be any whatsoever

my short review of book (critique):

i do see limiting ness happening at the self level.. but.. i see it not so much about the act of limiting as the grokking of enough ness

huge diff.. 1st is always cradled in telling other people what to do ness.. rather than listening deep enough to see

ecological limits, once again

my environ friends: surely can’t mean there are no eco limits”.. and i respond.. no i do not think there are external limits.. the limit resides in our intention to live a life fueled by carbon, and it is the intention that we should limit.. water contamination is a limit if we want clean public supply available to all; it is not a limit if we are fine w a world where everyone had to buy expensive bottled water.. the limit is a matter of choice, determined by type of world we want to create and pass on.. we don’t gain anything by ascribing this choice to nature

or by assuming everyone feels same about ie: climate.. we need 8b people to focus on something that already resonates w 8b people


it is when there are no limits that we have to limit ourselves.. and it is when we truly believe that the world is abundant that we will limit ourselves.

again.. not about limiting.. wrong focus.. won’t get us to enough ness.. it’s about realizing/believing that legit free people grok enoughness (rather than the myth we keep selling)

we have no idea what legit free people would be like – willard soul hunger law et al

limits w/o limits – (ie’s are just of power and wealth – so of course bad)


ie: greeks didn’t espouse limits to save forests/rivers or to leave space for phoenicians.. but because they saw how self destructive and void of meaning the unlimited pursuit of money was.. i too have argued for self limitation as a prereq for freedom and the search for the good or meaningful life..

self limitation as a pre req for freedom?

whether limits to material consumption will come naturally isan empirical question.. my *reading of the evidence says they will not, and even if they did they would be too little too late.. young people may stop buying cars.. but they buy resource intensive iphones every 2yrs.. we may add cleaner energies to the mix of our energy system, but i doubt we will take out fossil fuels **w/o legal and enforceable limits

not the point.. patterns of material consumption in history (of whales in sea world) is your *evidence.. ? you’re missing the point..

dang *then quit calling it (saying it’s about) self limitation


true.. limits are relative, defined in relation to a socitey’s wants

yeah.. i’d say if we set limits per society rather than per individual.. we’re doing it wrong..

the limits we currently encounter are related to material wants constructed under capitalism. a diff econ system (was talking about socialism would also face limits) w diff wants would not necessarily face the same limits.. but if wanted to satisfy material wants similar to those o f capitalism.. would (end up w) same catastrophic consequences.. the atmosphere is indifferent to whether a carbon emitting factory is owned by workers or by capitalists..

this is why i think the above is wrong.. it’s not about limits w/in some narrow/unnatural system.. it’s about living freely in an undisturbed ecosystem and trusting us to know what enough is.. to know what our deep wants are


the need for a culture of limits holds independently of the org of society.. no system, socialist or otheriwse, can exist w/o limits; the question is wha tlimts it will have, and how such limits will be set..

yeah.. i don’t buy that.. that’s just what we think we know

let’s try this org: cure ios city

those who think they have found the secret to a society of eternal *luxury that will know no limits can only be **fooling themselves..

like many other words in this book.. i’m thinking we have diff views of *luxury

and wow.. put any dreamers (or actual experimenters) to **shame.. good way to end a book on limits.. on self limitation.. ha

wish you could hear – deeper

epilogue: in defense of limits

(section on piano w/ abandon as toddler.. then hating lessons but doing them to please parents.. then 30 yrs later.. parsing self limitation and what parents needed him to be)


ever since m, we think of our wants as unlimited and the world as limited.. waging war to dominate.. or building tech to take us elsewhere


a limitless expansion in a limited world is a fantasy peculiar to our civilization/capitalism.. because capitalism needs expansion.. limits are part and parcel of limitless colonization.. it is the systems’ inability to share the abundance it produces that creates a constant impetus to move outward in the direction of more..

if we agree this is self destructive.. the our response can’t be to expect a future when we will have more and share it better.. because that day will never come and the belief it will perpetuated the current fantasy that drives expansion.

the only response is that everyone will have enough once we limit ourselves and share what we already have.. only when we accept that our wants are limited and can be satisfied will we finally enjoy an abundant life

i’d say once we listen deeper.. than once we limit ourselves.. otherwise unnatural limiting


my case for self limitation is not only, and not principally environmental

and i’d say .. not a case for self limitation

it is also an ethics of care, a case against colonizing other humans and non humans

of legit self limitation.. yeah.. but what i read/got from your words is imposed limitation.. so colonizing

it is also anthropological, resting on the intuition that a life w/o limits does not make sense.. limiting and shaping our wants and desires is what makes us human

and others doing the limiting/shaping for us (even by us thinking it’s what they want – like your piano lessons) is what makes us whales in sea world

i listening for the itch-in-the-soul is what makes us human.. naturally limited wants (aka: enough ness) .. not actually looking at a desire and limiting it.. it’s more like listening deep enough to know what the iirrelevants are

each new generation want to transgress the limits posed by its ancestors.. institutional or parental limits fuel the desire for transgression..

those are all imposed limits.. should be questioned.. shouldn’t even be an issue really.. having it be an issue is a distraction

.. those who know no limits accumulate power that allows them to dominate, violently if need by, those living w/in limits

maybe in your assumed world – but not if 8b people were legit free.. then ie: accumulation of power; violence; domination; .. would all be non existent

it is necessary, i insist, to find away to defend collective limits, w/o accepting unjust ones

ie: cure ios city

but you can’t hear me.. and if you could.. you wouldn’t believe/hear me


the environmentalism i espouse here.. is of people who have the wisdom to love/care for the planet they live in, embracing its limits and the limits of their own lives.. not fleeing form them..

m was wrong.. our wants are not unlimited, and unlimited wants are not our nature..

potential is unlimited.. we need to be in a space that is unlimited.. but true.. our natural wants are not unlimited..

our ability to reason/reflect on and respond to what it us we desire is essential to our humanity.. we liberate ourselves by *controlling those instincts that would enslave us or threaten to destroy us

i see that as what got us in the dire situation of now.. *this is like self bureaucracy.. meaning self imposed buys work..

what we need is to listen deeper to the natural/enough (limited if you want to use that word) ness that is already in each one of us

frustrating read.. but will probably just put on books to read list





If you haven’t come by this book by Giorgos yet, it is brilliant and absolutely worth reading.  Check out this thread for a glimpse of the argument.

Original Tweet:

the actual ideology that Malthus was a proud father of – the ideology, which tells us that we can (and should) never limit our wants. And that the only thing we can do is work hard and have technology save the day / 22

What I argue also in my book is that the best environmentalism is anti-Malthusian in that it puts in question the theological & liberal assumption that our wants are unlimited and our means limited – questioning the foundational (for capitalist civilization) myth of scarcity. /24

We have come to see environmental battles as ones between ‘prophets and wizards’, in @CharlesCMann ’s beautiful formulation. My point is that this very division is part of the problem, as it frames the issue as one of scarcity, to which we should succumb or always overcome /27

Instead, many (most?) environmentalists are not just prophets and/or wizards – they are ‘doctors’ and ‘nurses’, ‘poets’ and ‘pianists’. They recognize limits (death, keyboard), and want us to live well, creatively and abundantly within these limits / 28

In my book I defend this romantic, and somewhat anarcho-feminist spirit of radical environmentalism.



of math and men

calculus ish