Burning Man: sympathy for the turnkey satan


Essentially the most attention-grabbing factor about Burning Man, says me, is that it’s a testbed for a post-scarcity society. The irony after all is that such a testbed requires huge quantities of cash and assets, in a extremely hostile and inaccessible atmosphere. That’s how far it’s important to go to get away from the financial / shortage hierarchies of our world.

It’s lots of different issues, after all: the world’s greatest, craziest, and most spectacular occasion, an enormous EDM pageant, an enormous out of doors artwork gallery (each ephemeral and everlasting — museum curators go on the market to examine the work with an eye fixed in direction of including to their collections), an experimental neighborhood, a secular pagan ritual, a set & setting for psychedelics, a vacation / reunion with one’s mates, etcetera etcetera. Amusingly it’s extensively misunderstood as a hippie occasion, when its flamethrowers:guitars ratio is roughly 100:1 and its mottos embody “Security Third” and “Preserve Burning Man Doubtlessly Deadly.” It is usually even, typically, very weirdly, misinterpreted as some form of holiday-hackathon extension of Silicon Valley.

That final misunderstanding is instructive. The record of occasions this yr included a so-called ‘VC/entrepreneur networking occasion and pitch session.’ I didn’t attend, however a detailed buddy did, and reported “it was the final word Poe’s Legislation occasion … many individuals have been genuinely crestfallen once they realized it was a joke.” Plainly the idea of a spot that isn’t a lot opposed to exterior social hierarchies as it’s, way more curiously, orthogonal to them — that’s a tough one for some individuals to to wrap their heads round.

It’s true that Burning Man could be very influential within the Valley, as this wonderful Stanford Information piece discusses. It’s true that there’s a lot of wonderful expertise on the market — this yr featured an excellent swarm/murmuration of 600(!) drones, paired twenty-foot Tesla coils, a complete panoply of robots, and so on. However its makers go to point out off what they’ve constructed to their neighborhood, not within the hopes of filthy lucre.

Don’t get me improper. This experimental desert neighborhood very a lot has its personal hierarchies, its personal social capital, its personal parasites, its personal textbook stuffed with unwritten guidelines, its personal completely acceptable (certainly, proudly championed) logos. However the thought, not less than, is: everybody works; everybody builds (if solely a tent); everybody fights, and loses to, the mud; everybody amasses social capital by giving issues and experiences quite than incomes them; and everybody — whether or not driving atop an enormous fire-breathing artwork automobile, or huddled in a mini-tent within the camp allotted to these bus riders who’ve nowhere else to go — is equally a participant, whether or not simply serving to and collaborating with these strangers in your quick neighborhood, or constructing some large artwork/tech venture for all to take pleasure in.

This orthogonality to exterior hierarchies, this competitors to offer quite than to take, is what makes it an enchanting de facto testbed for a post-scarcity society, amongst different types of experimental neighborhood. And possibly that’s why those that come however don’t take part in any neighborhood in any respect are so deeply scorned, loathed, and despised.

I refer after all to the notorious “turnkey camps” of (usually very) rich individuals who pay cash to have their hexayurts erected, their meals supplied, their expertise guided and curated — to be spectators on the spectacle, principally. To exist in another way from everybody else on the occasion. To carry their hierarchical upper-tier existence from the skin world to the playa; to contaminate our testbed with boring outdated capitalism.

It’s true that wealthy individuals, particularly from the Valley, have been coming to Burning Man and having fun with costly luxuries there for a really very long time. In 2001, Larry and Sergey selected Eric Schmidt as Google’s CEO partially as a result of he was the one candidate who had been to Burning Man. Mark Zuckerberg as soon as choppered in and spent a day making a gift of grilled cheese sandwiches. Elon Musk dismissed the TV present “Silicon Valley” as a result of it didn’t replicate the facet of the Valley he noticed at Burning Man. However they nonetheless made that occur themselves. It’s solely been over the previous few years that the expertise has — allegedly — been on the market as a package deal deal.

This makes individuals very offended. Principally, I feel, as a result of they’re afraid. Capitalism is principally the Borg; it infects and subsumes all the things it touches. Burning Man will change into simply one other massive occasion pageant, is the worry, not an experimental neighborhood, a lot much less a post-scarcity testbed.

And but. I occurred to spend Saturday night time surrounded by a bunch of very clear, very rich individuals from a turnkey camp. There have been outdated males in civilian shorts; younger males in fully spotless, glittering, top-end multi-thousand-dollar burnerwear; a girl in a don’t-look-at-me-I’m-totally-not-a-celebrity customized full-face golden masks. They acted as a basic tour group, besides as an alternative of following a flag, their lead sherpa held a ten-foot size of quarter-inch rebar topped with a blinking LED coronary heart.

And what I felt most, after I received over my preliminary resentment, was how sorry I used to be for them. I had solo camped in dusty squalor within the aforementioned bus camp … and I had clearly had a much more attention-grabbing and pleasing time. Granted, I’m (comparatively talking) a crusty veteran of the occasion, however I believe I’d have had I been a virgin, too. And I feel, as they appeared round on the seventy thousand souls round them, lots of whom have been additionally very rich and will have bought the turnkey expertise, however as an alternative selected to pour in an unlimited quantity of effort and experimentation, to assemble colossal and/or intricate machines and/or monumental artworks, as a result of they anticipated the rewards to be nice — I feel these much-loathed vacationers knew this too.

So by no means thoughts their invasion. I count on Burning Man to stay remarkably proof against capitalism’s Borg, and due to this fact an attention-grabbing experimental proving floor — for cultures, communities, and applied sciences — for the foreseeable future. (In addition to a totally ridiculous occasion populated by fully ridiculous individuals, which can be very a lot one in every of its faces.) I don’t count on the turnkey vacationers to transform. They’re too dedicated to their very own hierarchies. However I do assume we stay in a really attention-grabbing time of technology-enabled cultural and neighborhood experimentation, and, as foolish and over-the-top as Burning Man can appear and be, these experiments there are genuinely worthwhile.

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