Exploring the Other – Part III – the sacrifice of a ritual

please read Part I and Part II first; updated numbers in Part IV

So, maybe it wasn’t all just a scam to make money. What “Other” motivations might there be?


We live in interesting times. Anonymous have been very active in San Francisco, shutting down BART, marching in the streets, gatecrashing Bohemian Grove. The Occupy movement has one of its staunchest and most effective protests going on in Oakland – they managed to shut down one of the busiest ports in the country. Are any of the people marching with Anonymous, or protesting with Occupy…Burners? What do you think? At least one or two?

The Burning Man organization is a motley bunch. It began with Cacophony and a flaming farewell to an ex-girlfriend, there was no discernible profit motive. The crew has evolved with the party over 25 years, and it seems like now there are some intentions of the original partners to cash out, and other intentions of the founders to take Burning Man onto bigger and better things. Many of the people involved with the organization of the event, volunteers, or artists – seem to me the type of people who would be quite comfortable at a protest.

The festival itself is an anarchic, magical pagan celebration. A giant effigy of a Wicker Man – a symbol of the anti-technology Luddites who rose up against machines at the birth of the Industrial Revolution – is burned to the ground in a Wiccan occult ritual. Last year saw an even bigger and more elaborate ritual the night before the Burn, a gigantic Trojan horse that burned with sparks flying out its ass, after being dragged to the playa by dozens of slaves in a parade with marching band. Someone spent a LOT of money on that whole thing, and the fireworks that went off the same night.

Amongst all this, one wonders what the spirit in the Burning Man offices has been like over the last year. They’ve moved into a new space, opposite City Hall. Ed Lee and Larry Harvey both showed up to announce the move to the people in the street. Burning Man is going to clean up the Tenderloin with interactive art installations! A noble goal indeed. At this event, Larry stated that Burning Man was going to turn into a charity over the next 3 years, and expand to be “everywhere, all the time”.

This sounds like a lot of change. Me, I love change. But most people fear it. People don’t like change. Liberal lefty anarchists don’t like change that has anything to do with money.

Are there any people anywhere within this massive operation who might be somewhat disgruntled, after 25 years? Any founders who think “it was great while it was lasted, from now on it will be something different”? Or any long term employees who see others about to cash out phenomenally, while they get nothing for their troubles?

It would not take much for these people to influence what seems to be a relatively unstructured, consensus based decision making system, by giving support to ideas that were actually going to be destructive. Or for confusing ideas to make them turn out slightly worse than they could if everyone was working in harmony towards a shared set of goals.

When the lottery system was first announced on the Jackrabbit, there was an outcry from the community on the various official discussion groups provided. Many different posters raised the types of problems that would happen, and suggested better ideas. BMorg didn’t listen to these posts and abolish the lottery; nor did they ignore them. They listened to them, kept all the bad things and came up with a few more “tacked on” things to the lottery that made it even more cumbersome and ineffective.

Once it all happened, and the outcry in the community was “extremely loud and incredibly close”, it took over a week for them to even acknowledge the reality of the situation. Even so, there has been no leadership in what they’re going to do to fix it. Just excuses and justifications and explanations of why it happened – explanations that don’t stand up to much scrutiny.

In a startup, everyone in the company needs to be on the same page. Running from the same playbook. Success is achieved through harmony. One person with a bad attitude, one person who secretly doesn’t like the organization or their boss, could do a lot of damage – by attitudes, by decisions, by ideas. People who have a motivation or agenda that is not aligned to the organization’s goals, are hard to detect.

Imagine what it must be like in an organization that’s not for profit, but it’s an LLC, but it’s turning into a 501(c)3, that makes tens of millions of dollars a year, but employs mostly volunteers, that is run by 6 people who knew each other 25 years ago and haven’t yet been able to (officially at least) cash out in any way from their involvement in a party, that’s more than just a party, it’s a community at least half made up of people from San Francisco, that has hundreds of events in the Bay Area during the year that have nothing to do with the Bmorg, but are attended by everyone, and now the organization is expanding worldwide when the community is already totally worldwide and doing their own thing without their supervision…CHAOS!

Could this all be deliberate? “Fuck you boss, fuck your money, fuck you all, Burning Man was great once, it’s all gone commercial now, let’s burn the whole thing down!” Or, deliberate in another way, a more occult way. It began with the symbolism of lighting a pyre and sending it out in the Bay. Maybe it ends with the deliberate smashing of the community, in order for it to go apart and seed somewhere else. The ultimate 2012 sacrificial ritual, leading to Fertility 2.0.

What did the Trojan horse symbolize? Is it the destruction of the Burning Man we used to know and love, ensured by the Trojan Horse of the Ticket Lottery? We welcome it into our community because it’s all about gifting – and then it destroys us from the inside.

It is 2012 after all, the Precession of the Equinoxes, the Mayan Calendar, these are things known in the Burner Community. This is the spirit of the times…

Figment of your imagination

The official story from the Jackedrabbit is “while we’d all like to believe in some mysterious Other…there isn’t one”.

I don’t buy the official story. The numbers just don’t add up. They know that 40% of applications were from virgins – you filled the survey in when you applied for tickets. If the allocation rate is the same (ie, random), then 60% of the tickets should have gone to the Burning Man community. That’s 24,000 tickets, from 72,000 applications. 1 in 3. BMorg themselves admit it’s “25-30%”, other comments around the Web suggest it’s more like 10-20% of Burners got tickets. Just sticking with the 1 in 3, that would mean there are 48,000 Burners who applied for tickets and didn’t get them – almost the size of the event itself. There are also 32,000 Virgins in this situation. Why are there no virgins on any of the discussion groups saying “I always wanted to go, but I’m bummed because I can’t even get tickets”? Instead, the virgins all seem to have tickets, and are wondering about the anitpathy from the Burner community.

How many virgins do you want to allow? It seems like, BMorg’s idea to let 40% of the crowd be newbies, has taken Burning Man away from 2/3 of their community. Instead of “60% of Burning Man will be Burners”, in fact what this leads to is “60% of Burning Man will be at most 1/3 of the Burning Man community, but more likely will be even more newbies, if the major camps don’t come. Even if all the major camps come, two out of every 3 members of the Burning Man community who want to go are not allowed”. This makes no sense to me – especially given Maid Marian’s comments that they “scrubbed the list” before allocating the tickets, and her lamenting of the “Swiss Cheese” effect.

If you accept that this is just what happened, there is no mysterious Other, there is no conspiracy, then you are led to the inescapable conclusion that Burning Man accidentally shut 2/3 of the Burners out of Burning Man. Whoops-ee-daisies!

What they do now with the remaining tickets to be sold will be telling.

Next Part – some updated numbers.