Naked Capitalism Bursts the Bubble

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A great story from Naked Capitalism by Lambert Strether:

Has the Burning Man Bubble Burst?

It’s worth reading in its entirety, they’ve broken down the Tin Principles. Even if you don’t agree with their interpretation, they bring up some great things to think about:

So what to make of it all? Of course, the About page’s claim that “To truly understand this event, one must participate” is silly; that’s like saying that to understand Napoleon’s march on Moscow, you have to have been a member of the Grand Armée. In fact, people with the advantages of time and distance from that event — historians, say — are probably better equipped to understand that event than participants, who necessarily had very partial and limited views. But we don’t have to argue about that; the About page gives us a perfectly valid method of “truly” understanding: The 10 Principles. So we can lay reports against the principles, and see how well they match. So here we go.

Full story here.

Some highlights from the comments:


 

Burning Man is, and has always been, a superficial, self-important load of crap.


Those Burning Man people have a sly sense of humour Lambert. Putting on their own upper class Festivel of the Outre on Labor Day Weekend. (Do the Sherpas get Monday off?)


Your assessment is spot on. What began as a counter-cultural event is now a main stream affair, nudity optional. In fact nudity is the only thing still tolerated outside the law. I chalk that up to the huge law enforcement presence–every local, state, and federal agency is more than adequately represented–who enjoy this distraction. The efficiency of this event in encouraging lawbreakers to congregate and pay large fines they can afford is not lost on the law enforcement hosts.

I knew the event turned a corner when everyone I knew who hated the radical idea of this event and the bizarre set that it attracted suddenly became participants buying and renting bigger and bigger motor home to shut out the elements–other people and the environment.
Yes, it is still a great spectacle and one worth experiencing, but it’s not pointing us in any direction for the future except endless amusement.


I’ve been three times, and the event is, in its entirety, a study in hypocrisy. I was bullied by the thuggish “rangers,” there is petty theft everywhere, the official law enforcement is constantly roving to collect on-the-spot fines, and the constant techno music and club drugs will sap your will to live. So many jaw-grinding e-heads stumbling around, and then the frat boys show up near the end to ogle boobies and catcall. If anything, it’s a concentration of white, privileged people flashing their peacock feathers at one another, and not much else. Interesting anthropologically, in any case.


How can the bubble burst on a venture that monetizes jumping the shark? Oh, let me see. It must have something to do with that “monetizes” term. And the bigger fool dynamic embodied in the term “jumping the shark”.

So far they have not run out of bigger fools with ever increasing amounts of money. When it turns into Davos in the Desert they might reach their limit.

It has now reached the phase of commercialized envy; it must end soon or the phase of commercialized nostalgia can never begin. The “I remember when….” stratification of oldies is already beginning


Walked into a Denny’s in Las Vegas one night and bumped into one of the organizers for Burning Man. This was back in 2004. After talking for awhile, he gave me a personal invitation to Burning Man. He invited me out there and told me to go there before it is ruined. By “ruined”, he meant exactly this. The rich were invading yet another space that the lower class made. They need their “cool” points


Is it possible for the “Ten Principles” of Burning Man to be more insufferably vapid and hypocritical, especially when laid against its transparently bogus claims of “radical inclusivity” and “self-sufficiency?”

So typical of the unmindful sense of privilege of the lumpen bourgeoisie – youthful, white sub-demographic – which will return from this resource-importing circle jerk/test market, to continue colonizing a handful of bubble-driven cities and resort Valhallas, while the rest of the country turns into Detroit or West Virginia…


The principles are contradictory. Radical self reliance is in conflict with reality and community building. No one is radically self reliant. A person who is not cared for as a baby and young child will not survive to have the illusion that he is self made.

Putting a large encampment with enormous amounts of vehicles and giant art projects is not leaving the desert pristine. It may look “pristine” afterwards to people who don’t look very hard but it is not pristine to the wildlife during the experience.

A community that keeps out the riff raff and has servants to do their work is not about sharing both work and play in common.

I think it is great that people with money use it for a creative purpose. But Burning man cannot achieve some of its better goals simply because it excludes so many people from its “community”. We desperately need a place of interaction between rich and poor. That is something our society rarely creates. Occupy did this in some places. It is that very creation that will best allow real creativity to flourish.

All the TEDs, the Hollyhocks etc. would benefit from a radical infusion of actual outsiders to the elite income class. Yet these events will not be transformative because they deny class divisions, participate in creating more of them, and thus exactly mirror what is wrong with our society.


It is hard to create fundamentally anarchic community in a fundamentally capitalist society but, still, there is a nostalgia for at least the illusion of freedom and I think Burning Man supplies that and I don’t see any problem with it–it’s still a sort of Club Med for vacationers with bad weather.

Anyway, what interests me is the vision of Burning Man and the fact they haven’t been able to create that vision. In fact, anarchic projects have to be, by definition, spontaneous not planned. Woodstock is the classic example and those that participated in it felt very liberated more than those who I’ve talked to who have gone to Burning Man. We are meant to function in a world that is more humane as per the guidelines of Burning Man but unless we change our values on the elemental level, i.e., that materialism and selfishness are not virtues but vices, we cannot do anything but create temporary theme parks that give us an illusion of liberation. At present Burning Man is no more in the service of human liberation than any other theme park and to expect it to be anything more is absurd. It is yet another temple to conspicuous consumption and status seeking.

 

googlegangasta

What Do Google and Gangsters Have In Common?

Google's Eric Schmidt at Burning Man 2007

Google’s Eric Schmidt at Burning Man 2007. Check out the bandanna, does he wear that shit in Oakland? If he’s gangsta, he’s a Blood not a Crip

The idea that Google and Gangsters have some things in common is cautiously expressed in a fascinating article from Makeshift Magazine, which quotes from a book “The Misfit Economy”. Forbes introduces it with their own article and headline, highlighting Makeshift and the revolutionary new movement called “Maker” that underpins them, and this whole new economy.

Is this Steve Forbes taking a pot shot at Google, while its founders are out on the Playa, by suggesting they are “gangsta” and connected to the shadow economy? We know for a fact they’re closely connected to the NSA and the ruling oligarchy’s Bildeberg Group, “the most influential group in the world”.

Google were the first company to culturally appropriate Burner culture, using Burning Man’s logo to launch their own “doodle” in 1998.

google doodle

At that time, Google didn’t have a business model, it was a completely free service. A text box with search results. Adding graphics was a big, bold step for them. They deliberately linked their brand with Burning Man, in an effort to appear “hip” to their Stanford classmates and the fledging dot-com industry that was booming up around them in San Francisco. But it was more than just a symbol that they were cool – it was also symbolic of them becoming a company, just like Burning Man had before them. Larry and Sergey returned from the Playa and incorporated their company immediately upon their return from Burning Man. Burning Man, this Pagan fire ritual, was the symbol used to mark the corporate birth of Google.

How much money did they make since this commercial exploit of Burner culture? Not much, only about $400 billion.

They’ve boasted about their links to Burning Man ever since, with the help of Stanford professors. They used Burning Man to prototype Google Maps, among other technologies. Whoever knows exactly what other experimentation they’ve been conducting in this big desert petri dish, isn’t telling.

Google have more than a billion customers, and read half a billion peoples’ email looking for “keywords”. That’s mostly how they make money, selling that keyword information to advertisers.

zombie glassholeThis company, staffed with many Burners, is trying to put cameras connected to the Internet on everyone’s face, as well as monitoring our behavior in our homes with the Internet of Things. It is making robotic self driving cars, and calls its operating system “Android”. The guy in charge of all this believes that humans will merge with machines and live for centuries or longer – thus creating another, superior, dominant species: and relegating Man to the status of an animal. This is called Transhumanism and his name is Ray Kurzweil, if you’d like to look any of this up for yourself.

Recently Google acquired Boston Dynamics, the maker of some of the world’s most advanced military robots. Thousands of their robots have already been used in combat zones.

Page+brin_by_origaNothing to worry about, right? We all know SkyNet is good. And Google are Burners so they must be good! Right? Their motto is “Don’t be evil”, after all. What’s evil? There’s no book on it, according to CEO Eric Schmidt. “Evil is whatever Sergei says is Evil”. These days the CEO says “don’t be evil” is the stupidest rule ever, and the motto has changed to “You can make money without doing evil”. It’s the 6th of their 10 Principles Things, and there’s no further part that says “…and therefore, that’s the only way you’re allowed to make money”.

Lately, the Billionaire Burners from Google are talking about having their own Burning Man-style Autonomous Zones. Maybe we will start to see more robotic art cars on the Playa, on top of the hundreds of drones and famous glassholes.


 

First the introduction, from Forbes magazine:

According to an upcoming book and Kickstarter project, The Misfit Economy, it appears that Google and gangsters have more than a few things in common. The shadow economy, hidden economy, and informal trade are all names for what some also call the black market. It is that “place” where trade happens illegally, but these terms would not capture the full story of changes in the world’s economy.

Makeshift magazine writes about this undercover, below the surface, movement if you could call it a movement. I call it reality.

They are not, from my perspective, seeking to cover or promote solely illegal activity (such as drug dealing), but the innovation that takes place when resources are scarce. One could argue that people get into dealing drugs or trading illicit/illegal products do so because of a lack of education or resources or any variety of reasons, however, the reality is some of the rules are bound up in cultural rules that those on the fringe of mainstream society do not find relevant or fair or useful.

The fascinating part about this new magazine is that it has citizen journalists, blogger/travelers, who are finding and sharing unique approaches to commerce and innovative solutions to common problems…there are new rules of capitalism andMakeshift is catching that long tail in a new economy.

Read the rest of the introduction here.

From Makeshift:

What do gangsters and Google have in common?

Two young drug dealers marvel at the ingenuity of their Chicken McNuggets and imagine the innovator who must have become incredibly rich off his invention. An older, more experienced dealer, D’Angelo Barksdale, mocks their naiveté, explaining that the man who invented the McNugget is an unknown at the very bottom of the McDonald’s corporate ladder who dreamed up a moneymaking idea for those at the top. What does this story tell you? It’s essentially a debate on the provenance of innovation: is it driven from the top, by the big hitters? Or from the bottom, from the unknown, underground “misfits”?

This scene—one of the best in The Wire (if you could ever choose)—captures the essence of perhaps the most prevalent myth of innovation: that it comes only from those at the top, within the closed doors of corporate, Silicon Valley, and Ivy League labs across the globe. Most, like the young drug dealer, still believe the engine of the economy is fueled by innovators working in the formal world and on the pages of Harvard Business Review.

The Misfit Economy, an upcoming book and growing movement, is dispelling this myth. The “itch” to innovate also comes from the ships of pirates, the underground world of hackers, the havens of Mexican drug lords, and the enterprising underworld of Mumbai. Misfit innovators operating outside of the formal economy are a vital part of our economic history (consider how Johannes Guttenberg, Nikola Tesla, and even street peddlers shaped modern cities). And they are a part of our economic future: by 2050, one third of the world’s workers will be employed by the informal economy. If you combine the annual income of informal markets across the globe, it comes to a staggering USD 10 trillion.

…Gang life…is not all hip hop and Pimp My Ride. It’s also teeming with practical ingenuity… like every forward-thinking manager, [gangs strive] to create a culture of entrepreneurialism. Consider Google’s now-famous 20 percent rule. As the company grew more hierarchical, it sought to maintain its enterprising start-up feel. So it continued to encourage its employees to spend 20 percent of their time working on their own ventures, many of which became formal and indispensable Google products like Gmail and Google Talk.

In gang life, as in the corporate world, entrepreneurial spirit or the drive to “get ahead” can also threaten those in power. The pursuit of recognition and esteem drives progress yet can also be disruptive. But there are notable differences too. While whistle blowers in companies are often penalized, many within gangs constantly face opportunities to rat out colleagues. And the odds are, the bigger the gang, the higher probability there will be a rat. For this reason, gangs have had to radically downsize in recent years to ensure loyalty.

The art of loyalty is something Google knows well. In an effort to recruit and retain employees, Google is notorious for creating a “sticky” culture. The company is known for a culture of play and experimentation. Successful gangs are similar. They understand that culture is the number one value proposition. 

And in 1996, …[a gang] overhauled their vision and brand, transitioning from a “street gang” to a “street organization” with a more mission-centric focus. The [gang] involved themselves in political demonstrations while still maintaining its “sacred cows”…

Read the entire article here, and the Forbes introduction here.

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Also check out this interesting infographic from Makeshift:

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Video

FTP: Now That’s What I Call A Burn

google doodle

Hope Sergei and Larry and Eric and all the rest of the Googlers and Nooglers are having a spiffing time out on the Playa.

For everyone else, there’s this:

android_s2-noogler_pre

Shark-Jumping: OK, VIPs and Music Guides: Not OK

Burning Man’s Founders held a press conference yesterday, for the 360 or so journalists who are attending – some of whom got press tickets.

The topic of discussion was not the tragic death of a Burner. Instead, it was the Anti-Rich sentiment, and the widespread allegations that Burning Man has now jumped the shark. Rather than disputing the latter, it seems the founders are totally cool with it. It’s all part of the plan. How will they cope with gentrification? By re-educating the rich, so that they better conform to BMOrg’s thinking and comply with all their “unwritten” rules.

From TechCrunch:

The stories of billionaires flying into Burning Man on private jets with hired sherpas, body guards turning people away from VIP art cars and private glamp camps going for $25K in dues seems to be on everyone’s lips at the annual festival in the desert. While this is not the norm, it’s a reality and it has many asking if Burning Man has jumped the shark.

A room full of bloggers, reporters and photographers from all over the world gathered together at the center of camp yesterday to ask Burning Man main co-founder Larry Harvey and Black Rock City manager Harley Dubois that very question.

Burning Man has jumped the shark, at least in the sense that it is now much different than the way it started and how it’s perceived, according to Dubois. But she says that’s not necessarily a bad thing, ”Change is inevitable. Our world keeps changing and our event is going to keep changing because our world is changing.” She then joked that Burning Man is actually different every year.

Larry Harvey panel at Burning Man

Burning Man now has cell service. Four towers were set up around Black Rock City this year so that those with Verizon or AT&T can sends texts and call friends from one end of camp to the other…at least most of the time. Some camps also carry in their own Wi-Fi, but that’s mostly available for those just within that camp.

…”the culture does change with the people, but that’s okay”, Harvey noted. “There’s this idea about the celebrities and billionaires but then there’s the other 99 percent. It’s not a quantitative problem it’s a qualitative problem.” He also notes that just a few years ago this event was mostly men. “Now our census says the percentage of men and women, Republicans to Democrats, is at a national norm now.” 

Well, that’s the main thing to be a counter-culture festival, isn’t it – to have both Default World political parties as evenly distributed as they are in the mainstream. Perhaps that’s why they have both Republican and Democrat big names flying in to give speeches this year.

I’m not sure which year Larry is talking about, when the event was mostly men. Maybe it’s the year he wandered into Comfort and Joy for their Circle Jerk?

The Burning Man founders have pledged to get ahead of the news and be more proactive now that there’s been so much coverage, particularly in tech.

“If we just sat back and did nothing it could be a bad thing, but when you get people with greater diversity. If we can change corporate America then we really can have an impact. It’s a dialogue that is happening between the new people that are coming and the old people who’ve been coming awhile,” said Dubois.

Dubois tells me that tech people are welcome and bring in innovation. But she also admitted there was a certain VIP element happening.

“That’s not okay,” she says. “It’s not in the spirit of Burning Man but we try to do what we can. Some people are just misinformed about what this is about. It’s hard for us to reach everyone.”

So a bunch of dusty hippies who throw a party that brings kids and fetish models and hallucinogenic drugs all together at once, are now going to be proactive and change corporate America for good. How? By putting in more cellphone towers, and invitation-only Wi-Fi. By teaching those who can afford to stay in nice RVs, and create employment opportunities for lower-income Burners, that it’s not OK for them to be VIPs, no matter how much Gifting they provide for the rest of us. Err, good luck with that…and be careful what you wish for. Those wealthy Burners might just get in their private planes and fly to Burning Mogul instead.

MoneyIt’s their party, and if BMOrg think that Burning Man will become better by naming and shaming major sound camps who donate international artists to their ever-pricier event, well, so be it. Burners aren’t the owners, and have no say in the direction of the event. If BMOrg think that the way to discourage Plug-And-Play camping is to say it’s OK and make movies about it, what can the rest of us do? It’s not like Burners make the party or anything, it’s solely  BMOrg. What they say is law, and if the law applies one way to their friends and another way to people they don’t know, that’s their prerogative. Stupid Burners just get in the way of the money scooping machine anyway, with all their pesky ideas like gifting the world’s best DJs or spending 6-figure sums on art installations to share with everyone. “Why won’t they accept that it’s BMOrg’s $10k art grants that make the party, not Burner funding?” When the shark gets jumped, Burner funding is no longer relevant, and whatever money Burners want to contribute should be donated directly to their tax-free non-profit, or failing that should only be applied in the way BMOrg dictates.

The Burnier-Than-Thou mantra used to be “if you’re in an RV, you’re doing it wrong”. Now it’s “if you’re rich, you’re doing it wrong”. Talk about biting the hand that feeds you! In my opinion, if someone is successful, it’s a clear sign that they’re doing it right. If one of the world’s coolest parties has jumped the shark, that’s not an affirmation of how great it’s becoming now. If your counter-culture event jumped the shark, you’re doing it wrong.

 

What Dreams May Come – Part I

Mutant Vehicle at Afrika Burn

Mutant Vehicle at Afrika Burn

When superstar DJ Paul Oakenfold announced the 2014 lineup at White Ocean, I was over the moon – even though I’m not at Burning Man this year. We declared it “victory for ravers”. It seems Burnier-Than-Thous didn’t see it the same way, and White Ocean got slammed. Why? Because they made a flyer with the acts listed, and it looked a little too commercial. Never mind that most of the other sound camps also made flyers, and have been doing that for years. White Ocean had to issue an apology.

From the SF Bay Guardian:

white-ocean-burning-man-2014-lineup“As you know, a few weeks ago the entire White Ocean line up went public, in a relatively big way. To add insult to injury, it also listed ‘Presenting’ parties in the most un-Burner like fashion! We know that this greatly upset each and everyone of you, and for good reason! We agree this is a huge failure, on our part! There’s no excuse!!!”

The post went on to say the camp had hired a mainstream promoter, who “proceeded to create and implement a full promotions campaign, as if he was working for some music festival in Europe. That was his perception of Burning Man, an elaborately modified festival in the desert that doesn’t sell beer.”

I mean, really – they bring Dave Seaman AND Juno Reactor to the Playa – FOR FREE – and they have to APOLOGIZE?

This shit is getting ridiculous.

Hot-Chicks-at-Burning-Man-18burners were forced to confront the question, “Are we actually becoming just a music festival in the desert that doesn’t sell beer?” As a nightlife writer, I’ve been getting emails for years touting different pre-BM fundraisers, innovative theme camp designs, and dance performances. But it’s only been in the past couple that I’ve been getting press releases from record labels announcing artists “appearing one night only!” at Burning Man. DJs routinely brag about multiple BM experiences. (One PR person even accidentally offered me press tickets!)

“It’s true that the current generation does see Burning Man mostly through the prism of music,” Syd Gris of the music-powerhouse Opulent Temple camp told me over the phone. “Most of the draw now may be not for the original communal experience, but the mind-blowing spectacle of seeing so many of the world’s biggest DJs playing on giant fire sculptures.

“Ever since the music festival circuit became such a huge thing in the past decade, there’s been the possibility that Burning Man may end up just another stop on it.”

Even Maid Marian seems to realize it. She goes to festivals all around the world, she knows what’s going on. Her words in the BRC Weekly look like back-pedalling to me.

sound camp lineup ban

They’re “blaming” White Ocean for interest in the OMG sale? That doesn’t even make sense.

Rockstar Librarian’s music guide this year runs to 34 pages. Music is a huge reason why people come to Burning Man. Is Larry really going to “un-welcome” all of those camps? The event is not sold out because of TED talks and the Souk.

Is this why Robot Heart published their yoga schedule, but not their music one?

2014robot heart

2014 robot heart

Why is this allowed, but the DJ lineup isn’t? What fucking “harm” comes from a DJ lineup? Surely “40% Virgins” and a $40 tax is more harmful than knowing where and when the world’s best DJs are playing.

Billionaire Burner (and BMP Director) Chris Bently spent more than $25,000 just on the door to his Nautilus

Billionaire Burner (and BMP Director) Chris Bently spent more than $25,000 just on the door to his Nautilus art car. Did he ruin Burning Man?

Meanwhile we have this “rich people are ruining Burning Man” meme. Where the fuck did this come from? Rich people have always been going to Burning Man. How do you think major camps can hand out free drinks to thousands of people? People spend tens or hundreds of thousands of dollars on Art Cars that only get used for one week out of the year. These aren’t poor people. You know all those flames you see? Every time one goes off, that’s costing someone money. What about the really big flames, shooting high into the sky? They’re costing more money.

Where does this money come from? It’s certainly not from BMOrg, I hope by now we’ve demonstrated that clearly to our readers. Burners fund Burning Man, not BMOrg. Sure, there are Kickstarters for camps and art projects, and people contribute to them. What kind of people give money to a Burning Man Kickstarter art project? People so rich that they can afford to just give their money away, for art and entertainment. They never get thanks or credit for this, and they’re not seeking it. Most of the world does not have enough money to piss away on a party – so how rich is rich?

diddy robot heart insideMore than half of Black Rock City’s citizens make more than US$50,000 per year. That’s enough to put them in the top 0.3% of wealth in the entire world. By definition, Burners are rich – rich enough to affored a ticket, provisions for a week in the desert, shelter and transportation costs, plus drugs. The main thing being burned at this event is money.

What’s really ruining Burning Man is the “Me” generation, and these Burnier-Than-Thou rule enforcers. Larry Harvey is quick to dismiss the anarchists and punks. He and his partner Jerry James brought their kids to the very first Burning Man. The kids radically participated by building an effigy of a dog, which they also burned. It’s clear that Larry is more interested in creating a family-friendly event than throwing the world’s best rave.

Which is a shame, because he’s throwing the world’s best rave.

Can Burning Man continue on its current trajectory? Absolutely. CBS News anchors want to come, now that they’ve heard about the gourmet chefs and sherpas. It’s very succcessful, it’s world famous, and there’s no end in sight. Ticket prices can keep increasing. Now vehicle pass prices can keep increasing too. The secondary market will continue to thrive, and all of the OMGSTEP tomfoolery just fuels it.

Will it continue to be awesome? Probably. There are some fundamental elements to this spectacle that will always make it entertaining. There are also some fundamental elements that mean it will always be a pain in the ass, as the poor souls who took 29 hours to get in from Gerlach can attest.

robot heart speakersWill Black Rock City continue to be populated by the Burners who built it? Unlikely. The population is ageing, and maybe being deliberately disinvited. This year it’s not just me taking a break, many veteran Burners I know are sitting it out. Sure, most of us will return, repeatedly. But some of the spark has gone. The urge to create a cool camp and share it with everyone, is tempered by the Broners and the Takers and the MOOPers and the Haters. The more rules you add, the more creativity you stifle.

Paul Oakenfold said that he first attended Burning Man in the 90’s, and he’s been looking for other Burning Mans ever since. Me too! As one of the world’s biggest DJs, a triple Grammy-nominated music producer who used to be the A & R guy for a major record label, Oakey has been so big on the scene for so long he has a solid claim for being the creator of it. If there are other Burning Mans in the world, he’s someone who would be in a position to know. Being one of the Founders of EDM is quite a bit higher up the totem pole than being one of the Founders of Burning Man, a 70,000 person week-long, three decades old American event. Facebook lists half a billion people who Like Electronic (Dance) Music.

“The Regionals!”, cry the Burnier-Than-Thous and the Kool Aid drinkers. “The future is in the Regionals, they are like Burning Man used to be!” And perhaps that might become true. The event has been going for almost 30 years. Regional burns have been going on for almost 20 years. What will be different about the next 10 years for Regionals, compared to the last 10?

Big Art at Afrika Burn

Big Art at Afrika Burn

It seems like Afrika Burn could be a contender for “another Burning Man”. They have been going for 8 years, and their population has yet to exceed 10,000. Africa is a long way to go for most of the world, all manner of shots are required, and many international visitors are going to be scared off by Ebola now. The Burning Man Australia facebook group is growing rapidly, since many Americans have always wanted to go to Australia, and this could be an excuse for their long dreamed of vacation. Australia already has some well established, awesome parties, that it will have to compete with, like Earthcore and Rainbow Serpent. The promoters who are successful in Australia have been so for a long time, and their talent is at a globally competitive level. It would take a lot for a new festival to usurp them on their home turf. There are logistical and economic challenges in getting art cars to Burning Seed, or to these much larger events, not to mention the extreme climate and deadly fauna. It is not a culture given to excessive volunteering. Australians would rather have a barbecue and go surfing than build a big man in their garage just to burn it. I’m generalizing, of course.

The main problem I see with “the future is in the Regionals” is BMOrg themselves. They are not the world’s most organized organization! Their efficiency, professionalism, and consistency are not up to the standards of, say, Google. The founders are finally getting the chance to cash in on their decades of work, hooray for them. They all seem to be ageing remarkably well, but none of them are dewy-eyed Millenials any more. How much fire and drive do they have left for this new, global start-up? It’s an order of magnitude increase in the complexity and stress of their Project. When their big payday finally comes, will they still be motivated to manage this venture? Maybe they’ll want to kick back and enjoy the fruits of their labors.

burning_man suitsSure, the corporate structure is transitioning, with some of their non-profits merging and new for-profit private companies being formed. New revenue streams like royalties, merchandise and gasoline are being developed. New talent is being brought in. Will the new suits be suit-ier than the old suits? And how does any of this help the Regionals – or, indeed, Burners?

Their web site lists only 20 or so official Regional events. One commenter here said this is an indication of how little most of the Regionals actually depend on BMOrg for.

To put Burning Man’s challenge for the next stage in Silicon Valley terms: can this business model scale?

From the core of this thing, emanates a desire to control. Control seems to trump personal financial gain, or Gifting, in BMOrg’s decision making. Can they grow from 70,000 people contained inside a pentagon in an American desert, to 700,000 people in more than 100 events? Maybe. Can they still maintain the control they’ve become accustomed to, with the organizational structure that got them to where we are today? Unlikely. Will volunteers continue to be motivated to work for free, as the Founders start to pile up the millions, and the media continues to harp on about all the wealth that’s there? That remains to be seen. Maybe there will be a new career path for low-income Burners, in becoming Sherpas to the rich.

Even if you upgrade the entire management team, you’re not guaranteed scaleability. What is it, exactly, that they’re trying to replicate? The Ten Principles were only ever meant as guidelines, and most Burners probably couldn’t list all 10. Their inherent contradictions are confusing even for people who speak English as their first language. If it’s Radical Inclusion, why can’t you wear logos if you want? Why all the hating on successful people and celebrities? If it’s Gifting and Decommodification, how come we keep getting asked to donate more money to them? Is there a point where they Gift something back to us? If it’s Civic Responsibility and Communal Effort, how come so many Broners contribute nothing and have more time to party?

So…what if there were something else? Is the world big enough for more than one Burning Man?

What if there was a party full of art cars, where people could build whatever camps they wanted, but it didn’t have the cult-like 10 Principles? What if “acculturation” and a 20-page survival guide were not required? What if there were trash cans and recycling? What if you could get water if you needed it? What if the layout was different?

I’m not saying that Black Rock City needs to have those things. It’s on its course, it’s changing as it grows, and the bigger it gets the more mainstream it’s going to get.

Next thing we know, Hillary Clinton will be there. Bieber will be live on the Esplanade, all tatted up and ready to rumble.

Burners create Black Rock City. Black Rock City is Burning Man, not BMOrg. If there was another city created by Burners, that had many of the core elements, but was also a bit different, would you want to check that out?

I’m talking something major, with lots of art cars that you can ride around on, not events like EDC or Ultra or Decompression where you might see a couple of art cars, but you can’t ride around on them until you see the sunrise over the mountains in some random location. Something environmentally sustainable, artistic, built on kindness and gratitude – and cool as fuck.

Burners are some of the smartest, raddest, sexiest, most creative, AND richest people on the planet. BMOrg might not be able to scale their organization and their business model to ten times its current size, but there is no doubt in my mind that Burners can. There are far more of us than there are BMOrg volunteers, or indoctrinated Burnier-Than-Thous.

The question is, do people want that? If they build it, will you come?