"That's not what happened", Wood Cutter interrupted Thorny as we speculated about the beginning of Burning Man. Then Cutter proceeded to set us straight...
"The way I heard it, there was this guy in San Francisco who's life was just about perfect - he was in love with his wife and his work was going well. Then he came home one afternoon and found her in bed with another guy.
That did it. Everything change. He walked out and went down to the beach. And he stayed there. He didn't go home. He didn't go back to work. He was trying to decide who to kill - his wife, her lover or himself. But that would just cause a ruckus.
After the second day of just sitting in the sand, he gathered some wood and created an image of his nemesis - the guy he had found in his bed, and the focus of his troubles.
About this time some of his friends who had been out looking, found him on the beach just staring at his wooden man. They tried to get him to go home but he said no. For another couple of days he sat on the beach and worked on the man now and then. Later one evening after his friends came back, he surprised them all by setting fire to his wooden man. The Man lit up the sky in a blazed. It helped. He felt better looking at the ashes.
The next morning, he went back to work. He didn't bother with his wife. He made a new home. He went on with his life. The following year he went down to the beach on that same day. He built another wooden man. His friends helped him this time. They all watched it burn. The next year others joined in. Soon there was an annual gathering to "Burn the Man" on the beach.
About that time, the party got too big for the beach. The cops said, "Leave". When this party looked around for an alternative, they realized they had gotten too big for San Francisco. Hell, they were even too big for California. So they moved to Nevada. In the Black Rock desert they found a space big enough to Burn the Man in peace. They've been doing it ever since." - Wood Cutter at my breakfast table on July 7th, 2007.
And since Larry Harvey can't remember (or won't admit) exactly how it got started, I figure Cutter's story is as good as any other.
And better than most.
Thorny enjoyed it, and asked that I write it down for Cutter. So here it is for the world to read.
And for all of you I haven't seen seen in a while, I'll be on the playa after Friday at Club Verboten (or People's Bar #5 - I'm not sure which sign is going on the outside of the tent). The club tent will be in the same place as last year (or very near), at the 3:00 Keyhole, very close to the Esplandnade.
The Zen Tyvekian Radiation Shield should be easy to spot at 25% longer. Instead of checkered, this year is will have blue sides with a silver top. You may see our new art car (SMOU 17) parked out front.
Stop by the motor-home under the Shield and tell me what it all means. I'll be well prepared, rested and open to understanding the myriad expression I may encounter. Or not. Stop by anyway.
SMOU 17 (State Mobile Observation Unit 17) is done.
Mylar Surprise is ready to engage.
"YUM!" is the word.
... seeking simple answers to complex problems, and in the process, disrupting the status quo in technology, art and behavior.
Thursday, August 23, 2007
Friday, August 17, 2007
This was written a few weeks ago but I'm just now getting it posted...
There it is again today - "The Iraq War has it's lowest popularity yet". When did wars get their own tracking numbers? And since when do we make war by public opinion? Since Viet Nam I guess. But first things first...
I have a problem with this "war". No, it's not what you think. I'm actually in favor of the invasion of Iraq and the fighting there. I think we did the right thing (deposed Hussein), for the wrong reason (Bush family beef). But it's still the right thing, however it gets done.
My guess is the anti-war types will stop reading right about HERE...
But if you're open-minded, I hope you'll read a bit farther. You might be surprised (or even more outraged). Who knows, you may even agree with some of my points. Besides, the open-minded are the only ones I'm writing for anyway.
As I've said, I'm in favor of the Iraq war. I just have a problem with it being CALLED a "war". It's far less of a conflict than most wars in our history. Our presense in Iraq is about as much of a "war" as our invasion of Korea was a "police action" as an inverse.
Our political leaders (and media) have a tendency to marshal resources by using dramatic terms. Or the inverse. There are lots of examples - War on Drugs, War on Poverty, War on Crime. Not one of those campaigns were an actual war, nor is this thing in Iraq. I think it's more like baby-sitting angry children, some of whom happen to have guns and bombs. If it become's an actual war, politicians will deny it, as was done in the Korea example above.
OK, I'll grant you that for the first few weeks after we invaded, Iraq was more like a war - tanks rolling in and airplanes bombing. But soon things were secure enough for it to just be called a very hostile environment, which it remains in various places to various degrees.
But Iraq is not just ANY hostile environment. It's a very VALUABLE hostile environment - I like to call it a Shit Magnet. Here's why it's so valuable...
When our troops first rolled across Iraq, it looked like things would be over fast. I remember during those few days when the Iraqi Defense Minister said on TV, "America is about to encounter a kind of war they have never seen, and will never be able to win", or something to that effect. A bold statement indeed, and largely spoken out of desperation.
He was of course talking about the coming insurgency. He knew the call had gone out, and weapons had been stored to carry out this long-term campaign of troop harassment.
His objective was to tap into the American media's soon to be warmed over Viet Nam script. You know the one. It's all about body bags and getting bogged down in un-win-able wars. He was looking for a political solution when the military one was already lost. And of course most American media signed right up for his cause. And they continue to soldier on largely in his behalf. But back to the topic at hand.
Ever swat a fly on the sidewalk and noticed another one landing on the carcus? When you swat that one, two more land? Pretty soon you've killed off all the flys in the area without even getting out of your chair. My cousin Dave did this very same thing with rats, one at a time using a .22 rifle. And he never left his postion on the porch.
Immediately after the "war" started, Iraq became a place to defeat "American Imperialism". Fundamentalist Muslims from all over the world began to funnel into Iraq through a cooperative Syria, and plant bombs. Falluja became a hot-bed of action with terrorist from as far away as Indonesia and even America. At one point it's reported that more foreigners were fighting Americans in Iraq, than Iraqis! If so, it proves my point.
When we finally went in and cleaned out Falluja, we killed more terrorist in a shorter period, than we ever could have done chasing them around the world one at a time. And just like the flies and rats, this process continues.
There are those in the world who hate western culture while selectively enjoying it - go figure. Whatever their reason, they are gathering in Iraq to take a shot at Uncle Sam. That's why I call Iraq a shit magnet - an it's an effective one. It brings our enemies to one location where we can do our target practicing on OUR terms and away from America.
I believe this shit magnet is the main reason we've had less trouble here at home. It's far better facing these guys in Iraq instead of Omaha, Atlanta or Portland. The "war" in Iraq is a major success for this reason alone.
But wait! There's more! It slices! It dices!
We've been very lucky in Iraq. Our losses have been relatively light for a "war". The troops have performed well and are learning to do even better.
Three thousand dead out of a typical of 150,000 deployed over four years is still on the same order of magnitude as training losses for comparably intense training.
I once spent two weeks in the desert at Fort Irwin, California. I was there with tens of thousands of other GIs doing military exercises. Our death rate was exactly one per week, and this wasn't even LIVE fire training! One was shot with a flare gun and died. The other was backed over with some piece of equiment, having the same result.
But light or not, death is a pretty heavy cost when it's you or your loved one. Each death is a tragedy somewhere. War is hell, even if it isn't a real war. But it's what these soldiers sign up for. Every recruit has that very risk in mind when they take the oath. It speaks volumes about their courage. It's a sad part of the job, but a part none the less. The key is to minimize the casualities and provide good medical care when they happen. In this area, the U.S. Army is probably the best in the world. And getting better specifically BECAUSE of this war. Which gets to the real point of this post...
At the beginning of most wars, troops are green and losses are high. Only after a few battles do the veterans emerge, and the army become mores effective. Losses decrease. This is well known to students of military history.
So how do we create veterans BEFORE the next real war starts? That too has a standard answer - training. But normal training can only take you so far.
As Winston Churchill said, "There is nothing so exhilarating as being shot at and missed.". THAT experience is the key to creating true veterans. That's right. Live-fire is ultimately the best kind of training. And it's even more effective when someone's shooting back. This is why Iraq is helping to make the U.S. military a much better fighting force.
Not only does Iraq train our toops, it's also driving the development of new technology in urban warfare by improving armor and sniper detection, as well as tactics in separating the good Iraqis from the bad ones and learning to fight in an urban environment. The U.S. military couldn't BUY that kind of training resource anywhere in the world. In Iraq we get it for free, except for it's obvious costs.
I know this post is going to challenge the sensibilities of some of my Burning Man friends, and I welcome their comments. You might think I'm some kind of war monger, but the opposite is true. I think war is actually an obsolete aspect of human behavior - right up there with jealousy, rage and selfishness. Unfortunately, not everyone has gotten the memo. And until they do, we must maintain an effective military. For all it's cost, Iraq is helping us do just that.
And if a truely new democracy comes into existance in Iraq, that will be a bonus. We've given these people a chance. Now they need to take advantage of it. It happened in South Korea, creating an amazing contrast with North Korea even Kim Jung Il can't deny.
And as far as Americans being "Imperialist", one need only look to Germany, Japan or Korea with their true democracies, freedom and standard of living to realize we're an ultimately benevolent force.
If we can do the same in Iraq, those three thousand GIs will certainly not have died in vain.
I for one would like to see each of them count for something noble.
And I believe they will.
Where am I wrong?
Please leave your comment below.
Tuesday, August 14, 2007
Not going to Burning Man?
Here's how to enjoy Burning Man from the comfort of your own home...
Pay an escort of your preference to not bathe for five days, cover
themselves in glitter, dust, and sunscreen, wear a skanky neon wig,
dance naked, then say they have a lover back home at the end of the
Tear down your house. Put it in a truck. Drive 10 hours in any
direction. Put the house back together.
Invite everyone you meet to come over and party. When they leave,
follow them back to their homes, drink all their booze,
and break things.
Stack all your fans in one corner of the living room.
Put on your most fabulous outfit.
Turn the fans on full blast.
Dump a vacuum cleaner bag in front of them.
Buy a new set of expensive camping gear.
Lean back in a chair until that point where you're just about to
fall over, but you catch yourself at the last moment.
Hold that position for 9 hours.
Only use the toilet in a house that is at least 3 blocks away.
Drain all the water from the toilet. Only flush it every 3 days.
Hide all the toilet paper.
Set your house thermostat so it's 50 degrees for the first hour
of sleep and 100 degrees the rest of the night.
Before eating any food, drop it in a sandbox and lick a battery.
Spend thousands of dollars and several months of your life building
a deeply personal art work. Hide it in a funhouse on the edge of
Hire people to come by and alternate saying "I love it" and "dude,
this sucks". Then burn it.
Set up a DJ system downwind of a three alarm fire. Play a short
loop of drum'n'bass until the embers are cold.
Make a list of all the things you'll do different next year.
Never look at it.
Have a 3 a.m. soul baring conversation with a drag nun in platforms,
a crocodile and Bugs Bunny. Be unable to tell if you're hallucinating.
Lust after Bugs Bunny.
Cut, burn, electrocute, bruise, and sunburn various parts of your body.
Forget how you did it. Don't go to a doctor.
"Downsize" last year's camp by adding two geodesic domes, a new sound
system, art car, and 20 newbies.
Don't sleep for 5 days. Take a wide variety of hallucinogenic/emotion
altering drugs. Pick a fight with your boyfriend/girlfriend, or both.
Spend a whole year rummaging through thrift stores for the perfect,
most outrageous costume. Forget to pack it.
Shop at Wal-mart, Cost-Co, and Home Depot until your car is completely
packed with stuff.
Tell everyone that you're going to a "Leave-No-Trace" event.
Empty your car into a dumpster.
Listen to music you hate for 168 hours straight, or until you
think you are going to scream. Scream.
Realize you'll love the music for the rest of your life.
Spend 5 months planning a "theme camp" like it's the
invasion of Normandy.
Spend Monday-Wednesday building the camp.
Spend Thurs-Sunday nowhere near camp because you're sick of it
or can't find it.
Walk around your neighborhood and knock on doors until someone
offers you cocktails and dinner.
Bust your ass for a "community." See all the attention get focused
on the drama queen crybaby.
Get so drunk you can't recognize your own house.
Walk slowly around the block for 5 hours.
Tell your boss you aren't coming to work this week but he should
"gift" you a paycheck anyway. When he refuses accuse him of not
loving the "community".
Search alleys until you find a couch so unbelievably tacky and
nasty filthy that a state college frat house wouldn't want it.
Take a nap on the couch and sleep like you are king of the world.
Ask your most annoying neighbor to interrupt your fun several
times a day with third hand gossip about every horrible thing
that's happened in the last 24 hours.
Have them wear khaki.
Go to a museum. Find one of Salvador Dali's more disturbing,
but beautiful paintings.
Climb inside it.
Wednesday, August 01, 2007
OK. I admit it. I haven't had time to read ALL the comments on this topic so don't bother to flame. I have too much to get done in the next 30 days as it is, but I'll state my opinion anyway.
I'm not down with this Green Man theme. Not only is it a bit dated, it's far too politically polarizing for the playa. It's almost like having a theme of the Iraq War. Besides, lots of "Green" stuff is simply flaky.
For instance, I think carbon offsets are a first class commercial scam. They are offered so the worst offenders can pay someone ELSE to clean up THEIR mess. It reminds me of how rich kids bought their way out of the Civil War draft, paying others to die for them. Or how the Pope sold "indulgences" in the 16th century so those who could afford it could go on sinning.
As to all the rest of this energy stuff, I think it's cool. When truly green technology can stand on it's own merits, THEN we'll have a real solution. For me the playa is about sharing ideas - what better ones to share?
And even if I didn't like what's being put at the Green Man pavilion, I wouldn't object. If this is what Larry Harvey wants to do, I think he should be allowed to express himself like anyone else even if it IS on a larger scale than most of us can afford. Cut the man some slack - chill. He's earned the right. Let's see where he goes with it.
And yes, he (and everyone else) have built a brand - I don't think we could have stopped it. When you get this much psychic energy going in one direction (or many directions as in the case of Burning Man), a brand will come into existence whether you slap a label on it or not. It's in people's heads. After that, it's just a matter of what you do with the label. And so far I think Larry's managing the label pretty well.
I for one am looking forward to visiting the pavilion. So if he wants to show off windmills, buy carbon offsets or even sign his name to the playa in big black letters, I'd help him.
I like the way he writes...
Here's the link in case you missed it.
(You DO have to scroll down some)
What the hell. Here's his text...
The following post was intended as a response to an entry in the blog of Robert Kozinets entitled, Burning Man's Sold Out! (http://kozinets.net/archives/25). I think my mini-essay may have overburdened his website. It wasn't accepted, so I decided to post it here. You see, we really do care about the ePlayans!
Thank you for your thoughtful essay. Thanks also for the following statement, "I've been researching and writing about Burning Man with the permission of great people like Larry Harvey, Marian Goodell, Jim Graham, Lee Gilmore, and Jess Bobier for almost a decade (my first burn was 1999). I have never heard them talk about Burning Man as a brand."What you say is correct. We, the organizers of Burning Man, never speak (or even think, I'll boldly add) of Burning Man as a brand. I'll admit, however, that I have participated in an act of branding. This took place some years ago on the playa. One night a red hot branding iron was applied to the hide of Dale Scott, a good friend of mine and one of the original carpenters who helped construct the Man. I held the flashlight. I took this for a fairly radical act of self-expression. It produced an ugly welt (apologies to Dale) that roughly resembled our logo.
As a general rule, however, I hold that only cattle should be branded, not human beings. Commercial 'branding', like the branding of livestock, comes from without. It is imposed on consumers by the apparatus of marketing. It advances the seductive image of a 'lifestyle', shrewdly associated with purchasable goods and services, at the expense of a more authentic kind of identity: a mode of being and belonging that's produced by acts of self-expression that we freely share with others. Unlike commercial branding, real identity can only issue from within. Its agency is deeply personal participation in a culture, not psychological manipulation.
The above expresses our ideals, but we are now accused of violating these principles. So, let me address what I believe to be the two immediate causes of the ruckus that has recently ensued. The first, of course, is the article in Business 2.0. We announced our plans for the Green Man pavilion back in February. Somewhat disappointingly, it generated very little public comment. However, the current controversy over the pavilion and the role of corporations at Burning Man was incited by that article. So let me start by pointing out that Business 2.0 is, very obviously, a business magazine that addresses business people. The author of this piece, Chris Taylor, was apparently trying to translate the values of our culture into business-speak.
For example, you cite four "lessons from the counterculture" that are contained in a sidebar. Each one of these so-called lessons revolves around a statement that I made to Chris Taylor. Lesson number one quotes me as saying, "People contribute [to Burning Man] because they feel that Black Rock City is them, not a source of entertainment. That's an enormous motivator". However the headline which summarizes the lesson supposedly derived from my remarks reads, "Make your customers feel like owners." This reeks of manipulation. I was speaking of people - volunteers, theme campers, artists, nearly everyone at Burning Man -- who feel that their identity's enhanced by their involvement in the culture of our city. Making 'customers' feel like 'owners' sounds like Nike attempting to persuade consumers that they have a swoosh in their souls. As you suggest, a great deal was lost in translation.
However, I, like you, nearly jumped out of my seat when I read the fragment of a sentence that you quote: "Branding's important." Important to whom? To us? To them? Branding is inimical to nearly everything we've stood for over 22 years, and to see this phrase glaring back at me felt positively aberrant. I have never used the b-word in relation to Burning Man, in public or in private. What could she have meant? Was she offering up Black Rock City as a testing ground for viral marketing? Is this the beginning of that famous slippery slope - you know, the one whereby we gradually sell out and retire to pleasure spas?
I am quite certain that Marian regrets ever having said, "Branding's important..."
This statement, more than anything else, is the match that lit the fuse that exploded a firecracker. I think she may have been trying to make her language rhyme or resonate with that of the reporter. However, another clue to understanding what she meant to express is contained in the remainder of her sentence, spoken in the very same breath: "... but there's a middle ground between having it all over the place and just knowing that it's Current TV and feeling good about the way they're treating you. That's a very interesting potential for companies that see a value in Burning Man culture."
The "interesting potential" of a "middle ground" that she refers to concerns Current TV's netcast in 2006. We've always welcomed media at Burning Man. We're eager to communicate what we are doing. We believe that we can change the way the world does business, and in this case, we did. They distributed cameras to participants (allowing them to produce the content), erased their logo, ran the programming commercial-free, and for one week became an interactive participant-driven news service. Frankly, I would love to see more companies behave in this way. Did this segment gain them more viewers? Maybe (though much of this potential audience was at the burn). If they continue to produce more programming in this fashion -- and make it commercial-free - will they deserve attention? I am inclined to think they will. Did we make any money by allowing them to film? Absolutely not.
The same is true of our relationship with Google. In the magazine article, I am quoted as saying, "A lot of Google people come to the event. And the reason is that their corporate culture has similarities to ours. They do what they're interested in. They have fun and worry about monetizing it later." I was referring to Burning Man Earth, a version of which we hope to house in this year's Green Man pavilion. We are working with Google to create a three-dimensional model of Black Rock City as it actually exists from year to year. Participants will be invited to map themselves, their artworks and their camps into this digital environment, just as they create things on the playa. What is the point? This is what I asked when I was first approached with this idea. Is this some sort of hermetic game environment, a passive and masturbatory entertainment, a substitute for immediate experience? Far from it. People who enter into this digital realm we be able to travel -- eventually, it's hoped -- down every street of Black Rock City. They'll also be enabled to make contact with every participant who chooses to become a settler in this on-screen metropolis.
In other words, one needn't just ogle on Google. This is not intended to be a spectator environment. It will be possible to see behind the scenes, to knock on the door (or scratch at the tent flap) of anyone who has elected to participate. It's never possible to experience all of Black Rock City. It really isn't feasible to see even 5% of Burning Man. But, once we've gathered up successive years of the event, once people have lovingly labored to recreate what they have done in the desert, it will be possible to witness something like the fullness, the spatial-temporal plenum, of the Burning Man experience. But, again, the crucial point is that people will be able to make direct contact with other people, to visit their websites worldwide and communicate with them via email.
It is notoriously difficult to describe Black Rock City to people who have never attended the event, and efforts to evoke it too often reduce down to descriptions of spectacle. Burning Man Earth will allow participants to peel back the spectacle and reveal the lives, knowledge and the aspirations of fellow burners. In other words, we hope to engineer, with the help of our community, one of the largest fully (and deeply) interactive social environments ever contemplated. Did you see something on the playa that you'd like to emulate or understand? Soon (well, relatively soon and with a whole lot of work on our part), you will be able to go to the source. Just ask people why and how they've done things. Burners being burners, they will probably tell you.
So, what is Google getting out of this - a lucrative demographic, a valuable branding opportunity? Hardly. They're very rich and we (I don't want to offend anyone who thinks that Burning Man is the center of the known universe) are really very small. The truth, instead, is that we're near and dear. The founders of Google have attended Burning Man for years. They feel they're part of our community. Many of Google's employees are participants, too. People put it in their resumes. Entire walls at their headquarters a papered with Burning Man photos. Are we being paid off? No. Are they making money? Well, no. They are offering resources as a gift. Does this large cooperation covet your business? Not really. They have plenty of business (and most of you, in point of fact, are probably their customers, already). Both parties simply thought it would be fun to work together. We've signed no contracts. We have done no deals. And we don't envision advertising as a feature of Burning Man Earth. We regard this collaborative effort as a purely culture-bearing enterprise.
What I've been describing is a process of benign detournement whereby one reuses or repurposes well-known media to create a new work with a different message that's conditioned by the context of authentic culture. This is a form of decommodification, and it applies directly to the Green Man pavilion. After all the ballyhoo, -- the howls of execration and denunciations -- let me describe the ground-floor reality of this effort. Currently, about 30 different parties are contributing installations to the Green Man pavilion. The majority of these projects are DIY affairs undertaken by veteran burners. These are attempts at self-expression by individuals and groups who care passionately about the environment. They have no commercial profile. This also applies to three or four non-profits that are exhibiting.
What is left reduces down to a handful of mom and pop entrepreneurs who've accepted all of the remarkable restrictions that we've placed on marketing. We banned, as you note in your essay, the use of logos, the display of brands and any sort of sales representation. They were willing to participate in a festival of ideas that focuses on green technology. Will witnessing a solar carport, stripped of its commercial context, interfere with anyone's experience? Will it substitute passive consumption for an immediate act of encounter? Or will it function as a motivator that inspires folks to go back home and re-examine how they lead their lives? Our theme this year is educational. The purpose of the Green Man pavilion is to display environmental technology, some of which might help to change the world. This is not a sly attempt at marginal or viral marketing. I really can't imagine that an anonymous carport is going to corrupt anyone.
The Business 2.0 article induced some people to assume that we were frolicking with corporate colossi, doing secret deals, accepting sponsorships, but none of this is true. It is true that we talked to some large corporations about exhibiting their wares at the pavilion. However, when faced with all the strictures we applied to marketing, these big boys chose to walk away. In the end, the pavilion project will host only two businesses that can be said to represent capital in a significant way. The first involves the installation of a very large (and beautiful) solar array that will power both the Man and the pavilion. After the conclusion of the event, we intend to install portions of it, at our expense, in the small Nevada towns of Gerlach and Lovelock. It will provide power to a public school and hospital, respectively.
The company that's doing this brokers solar power deals, mostly for large institutions. They make their money from clean energy tax rebates that are offered by the government. Neither we, nor our participants, can be said to represent their target demographic. They are accustomed to much larger operations. What, then, is their motive? They were simply tickled by the notion that, over time, the tiny town of Gerlach could become the first municipality in America that employs solar power to produce more energy than it consumes. I've no problem if our partners in this project want to claim the bragging rights for eventually doing this. Last year, we distributed $91,000 in charitable contributions to local communities in Nevada. For us, this is simply a continuation of that practice.
The second large-scale pavilion project involves an array of wind turbines that will be installed along the Y3K light circle that surrounds the Man. In this case, we were able to go around the marketing departments of various companies and approach the scientists themselves. Scratch a scientist, I've often said, and you will find an artist. These folks felt that exhibiting their beautifully engineered handiwork would be 'cool'. They've been motivated by a kind of passion - radical self-expression, if you will. They have no intention of selling these large objects to our 'customers', any more that Jim Mason, the artist who is creating the Mechabolic -- a massive mobile slug-like object powered by organic refuse -- has any intention of selling Mechabolics to 'consumers'. (Although, I almost wish he would. I'd like to imagine that the roadways of America will some day teem with giant fire-spewing slugs.)
After reviewing all that I have said about the pavilion, I think it's clear that we are doing nothing that betrays our values. Specifically, we are not violating the principle of decommodification. This is the third of our Ten Principles. It states, "In order to preserve the spirit of gifting, our community seeks to create social environments that are unmediated by commercial sponsorships, transactions, or advertising. We stand ready to protect our culture from such exploitation. We resist the substitution of consumption for participatory experience." Nothing that I have described violates this tenet. It's said that he who sups with devil must dine with a very long spoon. However, in this case, I think its clear that we're not supping with the devil; we're not even doing brunch.
This talk of deviltry brings me to my last point and to what I think is the second cause of controversy. After the Business 2.0 article, talk of corporate involvement struck a visceral nerve in our community. Many of those who bitterly protested the Green Man pavilion seemed to feel that we were trying to inject some sort evil corporate bacillus straight into the heart of Black Rock City (though others, gratifyingly, had faith that we would never do this). But why were so many ready to impute a bad intention? It seems to me that, as consumers, we are tempted to assume that there is a law of spiritual entropy, a force inherent in the 'default world', that drags us down, that makes us all 'sell out'.
This can sometimes generate a callow cynicism, a half-baked knowingness, a virulent sense of distrust. It can lead people to say that the Org, the BMORG or, my favorite, the BORG conceals deeply sinister motives. We are imagined, in this scenario, to be a profit-driven Juggernaut: a heedless corporation, an impenetrable bureaucracy that ignores the needs of the community. In reality, we are a very small corporation that employs only 30 full-time people. The majority of participants in our community, on the other hand, probably work for much larger corporations - certainly ones that do not publish letters such as this. This sometimes makes me wonder if we're being offered up upon an altar as a sacrifice to pay for other people's economic sins.
The disgruntled tone of some of what has recently been said about the Burning Man Project speaks to me, at times, of a deep-seated malaise. Only a consumer of mass-marketed products would assume that objects such as turbines and carports can be mysteriously instilled with meaning at the factory. This, after all, is what consumers often seem to feel they're getting when they buy a 'life-style'. Furthermore, only a dispirited consumer could yearn for deliverance, for some kind of absolution in a city that they imagine to be a moneyless utopia that's unconnected to the word-at-large. The truth is that the Project, as a corporation, spends millions of dollars to create Black Rock City, and our participants spend many millions more in a capitalist marketplace in order to inhabit this city. Once that occurs, however, it is entirely up to all of us to actively instill these goods with meaning. That is what identity is all about.
We believe that our community can change the 'default world'. This is what the Green Man theme aspires to accomplish. We know that this is possible because the Project has already begun to help insert Burning Man's culture back into everyday life -- without selling out. For those who'd like a progress report on these efforts, I suggest you consult this year's Burning Man Journal and, in particular, a front page article entitled, The Default World. It may accessed at our website (http://burningman.com/preparation/newsletters/2007-summer/07_news_sum 1.html). I also suggest that people read the featured article in last year's Journal, Commerce and Community (http://www.burningman.com/whatisburningman/2006/06_news_sum1.html). It might help to put these issues in perspective.