Atlas Shrugged, Meet Lord of the Flies – Part II, Who is John Galt and Who is Kenny Powers?

Continued from … Part I – the Phoenix
All around the world, people are waking up from their trance. It’s easy to do that at Burning Man. First of all, you have trance music. Secondly, there are all kinds of people, things, and substances, completely designed to entrance you.
Ayn Rand said, “Socialism is a system in which everybody is enslaved to everybody” – even though it came about democratically. Burning Man is one of the best chances humanity has to experiment with new ways of living together in a city. This is the link with Lord of the Flies and Atlas Shrugged – all three deal with groups leaving their conventional situation of living and working together, and instead inventing something radically different that is adapted to post-cataclysmic circumstances. And they also deal with the issue of what do the kiddies do, once the grown ups are gone? It turns out not to be as fun and nice as the pre-cataclysm underclass might have imagined.
In the past, the majority of the Burning Man population has come from the San Francisco Bay Area. In San Francisco, the tech industry creates more jobs than there is local talent to fill them. This means a lot of young people come here from somewhere else, and this connection back to globally distributed “crews” has been greatly enhanced by the Internet and social networking. The Burners drag their crews in with stories and photos on Facebook so their crews come to look, then the crews go back to wherever home is and spread the love to the rest of their friends. Thus Tribes get built, through shared experiences and challenges. Tribes send scouts, the scout sees suitable territory for the tribe, next time more of the tribe come.
Some Burners move out of town and it gets harder for them to attend; some have kids and choose to stop going; others enjoy the experience once or twice but aren’t in a rush to get back. Overall, demand for Burners to get to Burning Man is growing much faster than the increase in supply that the BMOrg is proposing.
The result of years and years of this is the Burner community is now spread around the world, they are mobile and capable and many of them are quite successful. More than a third of our web traffic comes from outside the US. As Larry Harvey recently pointed out, many of the Burning Man participants are from Silicon Valley, they work in or with the tech industry… and the tech sector is red hot once again.
Burners who have been before, obviously at least once upon a time had enough resources to make the trek. Burners who by 2012 have never once been to Burning Man, are either:
  • a) rich and hip, but have been incredibly busy or living in a cave for 20 years
  • b) rich and not even remotely hip
  • c) nouveau riche, think they’re hip, could be assholes
  • d) young, and therefore probably lacking in resources
  • e) just scraped together enough money and time now, to attend something they’ve dreamed about and saved towards for ages

I think a) is very unlikely, by this time. More likely, the rich Virgins attending will be from b), the grey nomads RV crowd. Burning Man is one of the biggest RV events in the world, and many Burners take their RVs to lots of other events during the year. At each, they are swapping knowledge with other RVer’s, and thus building demand to go to Burning Man. If you’ve ever been to a trailer park with high end vehicles, try to picture this scene…

a couple of hot sparkle ponies in a beat-up old RV in a casino carpark in Reno on Monday, stepping out in their dusty hotpants and pasties. They don’t know how to dump the tanks on their borrowed or rented RV, but it doesn’t take them long to attract the attention of some rich old Kenny Powers type RVers nearby in a rock star bus with 4 pop-outs. The boys are freshly pumped and full of hot water, with a fridge full of beers and a ton of viagra, and would love to help the girls out with a shower or three and hear about their adventures of not getting laid by goofy young hipsters… “wow it sounds great, we’re gonna go check it out next year”

A similar sort of thing happens with all the Burners who go and then want to take their “cool” parents. And these parents then want to bring their “cool” friends and show them. I’m not saying any of this is bad – in my opinion, it’s all good…and it’s inevitable. It’s tribes, it’s trends, it’s demographics. The Burner population is ageing at the same rate as everybody else, growing as Burners breed, and not dying very much. The economics of traditional Burners have been improving over time, while the general national trend has been economic deterioration. If you promote the shit out of something as sparkly and strange and photogenic as Burning Man, then you will naturally increase the curiosity about it in the broader population. If you keep pushing experienced and economically well off Burners out of your population, to encourage an influx of young kids with less resources, you damage the broader economic ecosystem.

Burners should embrace everyone and support philanthropy, for sure. You always get more than you give. Give generously to charities you support – maybe for some people that’s the Burning Man Project, personally I spend enough money as it is on all the gifting at Burning Man, any spare cash I’m giving away off the Playa I’d rather give it to the people who are risking their lives against whale poachers in the Sea Shepherd Society.

Burning Man needs to encourage more rich people to go; and let them camp in the manner they’re accustomed to. Make it easier also for them to contribute funds to the party, for them this is a way of participation. This patronage in itself creates an economy – a much bigger economy than the BMOrg deals with.

Part III – the Underground Economy of Art

11 comments on “Atlas Shrugged, Meet Lord of the Flies – Part II, Who is John Galt and Who is Kenny Powers?

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  4. Your concepts don’t make sense. John Galt was a fictional character written by a pathologically psychotic author based on her interviews with a serial killer. All of Ayn Rand’s “principles” have been proven wrong. Teenagers in the rest of the world understand, discount and debate the failed concepts presented in the Fountainhead and Atlas Shrugged to better understand Rand’s fallacies and philosophical gobbledy-gook. The education system in the US is so badly underfunded that Americans grow through their teenage years without learning critical thinking skills let alone how to debate rationally. Your writing makes it obvious.

    • I appreciate you reading some more of the blog Deb, although you definitely seem to be on a one-woman Troll crusade, where refuting any points I make with logic is thrown out the window in favor of ad hominem attacks and feeble attempts to stoke the fires of class warfare.

      I wonder if you could provide some examples of successful societies, based on your idea “equal valuing of labour by the labourer and the capital provider” (ie Marxism) -this has been tried in resource-rich economies like Russia and China, they rejected it. Cuba is still clinging on to some vestiges of communism, but realistically is a hereditary dictatorship more like North Korea – which is perhaps the closest place in the world to your ideals. The capitalist (Kim Jong-Jr) values labour the same way as the labourer – ie 0. The less resources the nation has, the worse off the people seem to be, in either communism or capitalism; but there are nations with limited resources where the people have good quality of life, however these are not the communist countries.

      You might also be interested to learn some economic history. Your good buddies in Wall Street are the ones who funded the Bolshevik revolution in the first place. Read all about it here.

      You twist my idea “Burners who want to make extra money should be able to work in camps where people can afford to pay them” (something that has been happening for years at Burning Man), into “Ayn Randians would have all of us working for minimum wage” – first of all, if you took this message from reading Atlas Shrugged, then perhaps you did only read the book as a teenager, and that is why you’re so obsessed with relating my arguments to teenage education (when I personally advocate that Burning Man should be adults only, because of the extreme sex and drug use on display). Ayn Rand’s message (in both Atlas Shrugged and the Fountainhead) is “fair reward for fair work”. Secondly, you are trying to put words in my mouth based on your own communist ideals, I’ve never suggested that everyone should be on minimum wage or should work for free and be exploited by those with the capital. People should work for whatever makes sense for them, money, favors, status, whatever motivates them. It’s all good with me, I’m not a hater. Someone who got paid $0 to spend 4 months contributing to Occupy Wall Street to burn it down, is no better in my eyes than someone who got paid $1000 to tune the sound system on an art car.

      Your other idea, of placing equal value on inputs and outputs based on the planet’s finite resources, comes straight from Thomas Malthus – a fool like Darwin, whose ideas have been continually disproved over centuries. I’m not saying “don’t value the environment” – my beliefs are quite the opposite – but I am saying “scarcity is a fallacy which has been repeatedly disproven by innovation and exploration”. Perhaps that will be a trigger for you to switch the debate now to Intelligent Design, versus the ideas of a eugenicist who himself openly admitted to gaping holes in his theory (such as the eye). Or if you’re a reader of ZeroHedge (and based on the tone of your rants, I doubt it) they neatly carve the world into “doomers vs cornucopians”. I’m one of the latter, because I’m a glass half full guy.

      If you think Burning Man would be the same if all the rich people left, you are just as wrong as the grumbling grunts in Atlas Shrugged who think everything would be great if the boss wasn’t there. Who is going to pay the fuel costs alone to transport all that stuff to and from the Playa? (clue: it’s not BMOrg. And it’s not the poor). If you think a poor person contributes the same thing to Burning Man as a rich person, you are wrong in almost all cases. The assumption that rich people can’t get or enjoy Burning Man is firstly ridiculous, secondly offensive, and thirdly ignorant. The idea that buying costumes hurts the Burner community, is short sighted and ultimately hurts the poor (members of the Burner community who make clothing art but do not have a lot of money, so need to make sales) more than it hurts the rich (who can buy their costumes anywhere, or pay anyone to make them). Same with people getting paid to work on art projects, transportation, or camp operations. Burning Man should facilitate these economic transactions staying within the Burner community: “a rising tide lifts all boats”.

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