Dispatch From the Front [by Whatsblem the Pro]


12/23/2012 by Whatsblem the Pro

burning_man suitsFirst ignited by Paul Addis‘ early burn of 2007 after the stage was set by John Law’s departure from Burning Man and subsequent lawsuit, the cultural cold war for the very soul of the Man rages on.

In the Facebook forums this week, we saw heated conversations sprout left and right after one forum member started a petition to change the 2013 theme (“Cargo Cult”) on the grounds that it is culturally insensitive and racist, and another forum member (a newly-minted Vegan) posted that “Burning Man needs to look at its bacon issue. It’s not cool to leave a trace but it’s cool to kill and eat an animal with feelings that is smarter than your dog? Evolving takes many forms.” 

Naturally, the phrase “what Burning Man is all about” came up, and everyone had to take a drink. A rollicking round of snarkiness ensued, peppered with spirited cries of “shut up, hippie.”

Snark in the Burning Man forums seems to come mostly from people who live on the rawer side of burner culture; people who enjoy a good mindfuck and have little patience for hippie-dippy pseudowisdom. They’re pranksters, and for the most part, the pranksterism at Burning Man comes from the grass roots up, directly from people like them. It’s not dreamed up, organized, or encouraged by the leaders at the top. It has ever been thus, but there was a time when pranksters had a king of sorts, or at least some representation in the event’s leadership. As a member of the Suicide Club and a founder of both the Cacophony Society and Burning Man, John Law’s credentials as a culture jammer with prankish roots in Dadaism and Guy Debord’s Situationist International are unimpeachable.

Law wasn’t just a burner icon before the big breakup; perhaps even more than Larry Harvey and Michael “Danger Ranger” Mikel, he was a burner archetype. Harvey, the Artist; Mikel, the Shaman; Law, the Prankster.

The three elements that Larry Harvey, Michael Mikel, and John Law represented were all vital to the creation of both the event and the culture. Unfortunately, with the pranksterish third of that triumvirate missing and all the high-level gaps in the organization filled with personnel hand-picked by the Artist and the Shaman, a serious imbalance exists that has, over the years, warped the event inexorably into a safer, less fun, less meaningful, more profitable paradigm. . . and where the event goes, I fear the culture may eventually follow.

If we want Burning Man and burner culture to thrive and remain recognizable to us, we need to give this thing a fat booster shot of pranksterism. We need more cacophony, more physical and intellectual danger in the mix. We need to restore and maintain the event’s mean streak, push the boundaries a bit, and keep Burning Man potentially lethal, both for your body and for your worldview. We need to fuck with people a bit, and find new and louder ways to sing “Free Bird.”

SAMSUNG DIGITAL CAMERAOf course we need the influence of the Artist and Shaman archetypes too, nobody is disputing that. . . but if we fail to counterbalance them, if we succumb to the awful trend of becoming nothing more than a safer version of the Rainbow Gathering with better art, we will have lost something precious. Maybe forever.

When we had our archetypes in the precarious balance that gave birth to our culture, we were prone to playfully creating our own myths, legends, and short-duration traditions. If we lose the struggle to reassert that balance, we will eventually be overwhelmed by the overly-serious and the dogmatic, and find ourselves sinking into the oppressive mire of someone else’s sense of the sacred institutionalized, rather than freeing ourselves by indulging only our own.

I would like to give you some examples of what happens when the Shaman has too much influence, the Artist is irrelevant, and the Prankster is marginalized:


tikal temple iiAccording to the Mayan “Long Count” calendar, Friday was the last day of an era that began 5,200 years ago. . . and with the calendar coming to an end at that point, many held their breath in anticipation of the end of the world itself.

The world didn’t end, but on Friday a horde of dewy-eyed truth-seekers over 7,000 strong descended upon Tikal, in Guatemala, to see indigenous priests stage a ceremony marking the beginning of a new era. Tikal, called ‘Yax Mutul’ by the Maya, was declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1979. It’s an important archaeological site; the biggest for archaeologists studying the pre-Columbian Maya. The ceremony itself was criticized by many Guatemalans — of whom approximately 42% are of Mayan descent – for being a sham event made up for tourists, and nothing to do with the Maya and their culture at all.

One of Tikal’s most important features is Structure 5D-2, more commonly referred to as Temple II, or more formally as the Temple of the Masks. Temple II faces Tikal’s central plaza, and is about 125 feet high. It features a broad, steep staircase that tourists are forbidden to climb.

“Sadly, many tourists climbed Temple II and caused damage,” said Osvaldo Gomez, a technical adviser at Tikal. Gomez noted that climbing Temple II is prohibited, and characterized Friday’s damage as “irreparable.”

“We are fine with the celebration, but (the tourists) should be more aware because this is a World Heritage Site,” Gomez told local media.

7,000 people, most of them no doubt thinking themselves full of respect for the Maya and regarding themselves as more enlightened and less capitalist and far less consumerist than most of us, irreparably damaged an important Mayan archaeological site for the sake of attending a phony-baloney ceremony someone made up to attract their vacation dollars. Why? Because they were operating on someone else’s sense of the sacred instead of making that up for themselves as they went along. They were doing it wrong.


In 1992, the Rainbow Gathering convened in the Gunnison National Forest outside of Paonia, Colorado to pray for peace and, y’now, be environmental and stuff. According to Colorado Forest Service Patrol Captain Harry Shiles, “the Rainbow Family mostly removed its trash and buried its human waste, but the parking areas were compacted, there were dozens of new trails, dogs were left behind, and the wildlife disappeared from the forest for the next five years.”

In 2009, Theresa at the Sustainable Thought Box blog (http://sustainablethoughtbox.wordpress.com/) sat down and did the math on just some of the environmental impact anticipated for the Rainbow Gathering in New Mexico’s Santa Fe National Forest. These were the figures she came up with:

 nude snow23.14 tons of feces

22,222 gallons of urine (82.74 tons)

120 tons of trash

6 miles of compacted soil

18,900 tampons (0.87 ton)

3840 diapers (0.48 ton)

1/2 ton of soiled toilet paper

937.5 gallons of used toothpaste (3.26 tons)

937.5 gallons of soap (3.26 tons)

3,750 gallons of bleach (13.03 tons)

151.2 pounds of cigarette butts (0.06 ton)

1.82 tons of animal feces

Over the course of six days, calculated Theresa, a Rainbow Gathering with 10,000 attendees would deposit nearly 250 tons of waste in the Santa Fe National Forest, including over 23 tons of feces and more than 22,000 gallons of urine. Even if they somehow magically removed every bit of their trash afterward, they would still tramp down the National Forest, compacting the soil and polluting the groundwater, creating a dead, blighted spot in a natural wonderland, just to – supposedly, anyway – pray for peace.

The toilets at a Rainbow Gathering are slit trench latrines, so all the urine from all the people goes on the land or into the water, dumping excess sodium, potassium, and nitrogen into the soil of a fragile wilderness, along with trace chemicals from antidepressants and other prescription drugs, hormones from birth control pills, and metabolic byproducts of recreational chemicals. That’s not even taking into account all the feces.

When it rains at a Rainbow Gathering site, the rainwater carries a slurry of improperly disposed of human feces into groundwater, surface puddles, ponds, lakes and streams. This slurry is laced with disease organisms. Other visitors to the National forest and animals can then come in contact with or drink this polluted water. In 1987, the health hazard posed by the Rainbows’ outdoor latrine trenches asserted itself even before the festival was over, when a large number of attendees were stricken with shigellosis from feces-contaminated water, and came down with dysentery.

getting shot with this hurts more than a hollow point

getting shot with this hurts more than a hollow point

If the destructive force that irreparably damaged a valuable heritage site in Guatamala, that invaded a pristine forest, that drove the animals out for the next five years, that abandoned a bunch of dogs there, and that polluted the groundwater of a National Forest had been anyone but themselves, you can bet there would be plenty of angry Rainbow Family members and other Shaman-followers protesting and trying to cast magic spells and curses on the responsible parties, or at the very least invoking karma upon them. Third-quarter sales of bat’s blood and eye of newt would take a sharp upturn. Instead, they simply delude themselves that not only are they doing no harm, they’re actually making the world a better place. Why? Because they’re operating on someone else’s idea of the sacred, instead of making it up for themselves as they go along. They’ve developed a groupthink, and they’re all swallowing it whole and regurgitating it into each other. “We’re saving the Earth, we’re hastening the evolution of humanity, we’re bringing about a new era of peace ‘n’ love in light and wisdom.” They’re doing it wrong. Nobody is standing up right in the middle of them and saying “HEY, THIS IS KINDA BULLSHIT WHEN YOU THINK ABOUT IT.”

One of the Prankster’s vital functions is the constant questioning of authority, and the slaughtering of sacred cows. The Prankster calls bullshit on the world, and as such he is often a hardnosed agent of objectivity and a wellspring of practical solutions. The seekers at Tikal and the would-be peacemakers at the Rainbow Gathering are avowed followers of the Shaman; they lack the Prankster, and are therefore more prone to infecting and oppressing each other with persistent traditions and dogma that accrete into an institutionalized sense of the sacred.

Sisters, brothers. . . the reins are in our hands. Seize the day. Be the Prankster you want to see in the world. The future of the burn and of our culture depends upon our willingness to shape it; we must lead ourselves. Fuck shit up once in a while, just for laughs, or just to interrupt the comfortable flow of other peoples’ lives a little and make them think. Deface a billboard. Say what you really think. Trick the living shit out of someone, for no discernible reason. Make laughter your weapon of choice, and mock the sacred cows of others. Make it up for yourself as you go along.

The Future of Burning Man – Millenial Ideates

Whether it’s pronounced “Idea-ate” or “I-de-ate” or “I-di-ot”, it seems like this camp, new to Burning Man in 2012 and predominantly made up of people who’d never even been to Burning Man before, is now to be the shining model for Burning Man in the future. According to the Peninsula Press:

Bear Kittay, a 27-year-old entrepreneur and musician, has taken the lead in organizing meetings for up-and-coming Bay Area start-up types with Larry Harvey, the founder and director of Burning Man, and Goodell. Kittay is also helping figure out how to spread the project’s 10 principles to other parts of the world.

bearGoodell calls Kittay their “hyper-connector.” His resume includes being the co-founder of a company called Organizer, which created a clipboard-like mobile platform for use during political campaigns, and a partner (and designated “social alchemist”) in the Avalon Hot Springs eco-resort north of Napa Valley, which used to provide some of the top wine tours in the area.

Over Memorial Day weekend, Kittay organized a retreat at Avalon. He invited Harvey, Goodell and about a dozen others, including Luke Nosek, one of the founders of PayPal, and Evan Steiner, program manager of the collaboration facilitator Hub Bay Area. As Kittay put it, the retreat “set off epiphanies for many of us.”

Others prominent in discussions about the project’s future include James Hanusa, CEO of Urban Innovation Exchange in San Francisco, and Edward Zaydelman, co-founder of Puerta a la Vida, a wellness resort in Costa Rica.

There are longstanding cultural ties between Burning Man and Silicon Valley. It is no secret that Google’s founders are avid “burners,” with entire walls at the company’s Mountain View campus covered in photos from the festival. And the computer and technology industries are often the most represented among the professions of festival participants, according to the Black Rock City Census, which conducts an annual survey at Burning Man.

But the Avalon retreat initiated an active conversation between the two cultures and two generations of burners — baby boomers and millennials.

Just what we need – a bunch of crusty old hippies, teaming up with bright shiny dewey eyed millenials who don’t know the first thing about desert survival. And ganging up on the ravers, no doubt.

When I first went to Burning Man, the idea of “theme camps” was to be friendly to other Burners, invite the neighbors  over to your place and meet them. Gift them stuff, free drinks, food, smokes, whatever. Ideate provided a wall of RVs, a private chef, and an area for workshops buried between shipping containers that was not particularly welcoming or visible to the public. The workshops were not promoted in the Burning Man guide, so unless you were actually in the camp, you probably didn’t realize they were going on. The shipping container/3d scanner/drone experiment from Reallocate was cool to see, but only a very, very few people actually got scanned. And most of them had to pay for the privilege, via the project’s Kickstarter page. Apparently Sergey Brin from Google did swing past at one point, showing off his new Google Goggles. But it’s not exactly a contribution to the party on the level of a Trojan Horse or exploding Oil Platform or Opulent Temple.

To describe Ideate as an “Innovation Camp”, would suggest that some form of innovation came out of it. It’s all very vague on the details though, of what exactly were the ideas that were discussed and how the BMOrg and their new boss intend to implement them in 2013 and beyond.

Those talks continued and led to the formation of the IDEATE innovation camp, which participated in this summer’s festival. Each camp has a different focus, such as dance, meditation and clothing swaps. IDEATE differed from typical camps, as it operated with an unprecedented mission: to be “an [ideas] incubator in the center of Burning Man,” according to Kittay.

Kittay said IDEATE brought together bright minds to figure out how to offer the tools of Burning Man culture, including collaboration, sustainability and inclusion, to start-up projects around the world.

Burning Man founders paid special attention to IDEATE, which was given a block of tickets even though the idea emerged long after tickets were sold out. Goodell placed the camp close to First Camp, where the founders make their desert home each year.

Goodell said her thought was, “We should take all this brain power around us in San Francisco—dot-com and entrepreneurs…[who] care about Burning Man, and let’s get them all together…and see whether anything could come of it.” 

OK…so what are these great ideas then? Is it to put ticket prices up to $650? Or maybe to go back and count the gate again? Perhaps all these entrepreneurs have been to Burning Man before, so that their opinions would be somewhat relevant? Alas, no…

The majority of the 210 people who camped at IDEATE were new to Burning Man and were young entrepreneurs from companies such as TED, a nonprofit committed to spreading worthwhile ideas; Summit, which hosts an annual four-day event for 1,000 of the world’s leading change makers; and Singularity University, which seeks to educate a new generation of leaders in technologies that will exponentially advance human capability in years to come.

Three salons were held throughout the week to formally discuss the future of Burning Man, and many of IDEATE’s members attended. But Tim West, a chef/entrepreneur who cooked meals for IDEATE during the festival, said it wasn’t just a lot of talk. “IDEATE, first and foremost, was to create that space to have those conversations, but secondly, to create systems that help people take ideas to reality,” he said.

Although the chef says it wasn’t all talk, Maid Marian has some reservations.

Goodell issued a caveat concerning IDEATE and the millennial entrepreneurs as a group: They will be given more influence in the organization only if they do something with all their ideas. They need to maintain momentum and prove themselves as able to make it happen, rather than just talk about it, she said.

Bear, who in one article manages the amazing feat of having at least 6 different jobs within the Burning Man sphere – Social Alchemist, Entrepreneur, Musician, Hyper-Connector, Pied Piper, and API – gets to enjoy cultural trips to Turkey with Larry and Marian, but isn’t actually on the payroll

Larry Harvey is in his sixties; Goodell just turned 50. She said the founders should look to hire young people, and young people should step up and “infiltrate the organization and be ready to take things over…and change the world.”

Goodell described Kittay as “not unlike Larry.” She called them both “pied pipers,” saying that, although neither is likely to be “the first one to hammer up a tent stake,” they both “can get really enthusiastic around ideas, and then people want to gather around and help.” Kittay called himself an “API” for Burning Man: an application programming interface, or an application that helps data communicate across different software. Currently, he is a volunteer for the organization, but Goodell expressed her desire to compensate him if he keeps up all the work.

…After the desert festival, which is held from late August to early September, Kittay traveled with Harvey and Goodell to Turkey, where they considered ancient history and its ties to modern life and talked about ways to make global expansion a reality.

There are two kinds of people in this world. People who Get Shit Done, and everybody else. History can be the guide as to what, if anything, gets done as a result of this “Ideas Incubator”. I haven’t met too many Millenials yet that can GSD – an essential skill for Burners.

Meanwhile, Burning Man’s founders have their eyes on a new prize – $7 million to purchase some land in the desert with a man-made geyser on it. After purchasing the land, they will then raise further funds to develop it along “Burning Man Principles”. During this year’s Burn, they took many of the entrepreneurs from Ideate and First Camp, out from Burning Man on bus excursions to the site to get naked in the hot springs and consider their pitch. It’s not clear yet how gifting, decommodification and real estate development will all combine into a magical new thing that generates payback for investors, but a more permanent Burning Man site – perhaps with less significant security requirements – would be welcome.

Will Roger, one of the six Burning Man Project owners, is heading up the development of a new property called Fly Ranch, which is designed to serve as an art park and idea incubator, particularly for the development of green technology.

Fly Ranch is a 4,000-acre site with natural geysers about 10 miles from the spot in the Black Rock Desert where the festival is held each year. Plans for the property include a conference center, a camping ground and the largest open-air art gallery and sculpture park in the world. Roger called it a model for cultural centers of the future “that we could use to have more of an influence in the culture of the world.

A Nevada family currently owns the Fly Ranch property, and the Burning Man organization is trying to raise the $7 million needed to purchase it. They are close to reaching their goal, Roger said.

The Fly Ranch property represents another shift in Burning Man as the world knows it. Traditionally the project has been “below the radar,” said Kittay. But now is the time that Burning Man is ready to reveal itself as more than just “electronic, dubstep, naked—whatever associations that people have had superficially with it, and move into much more the space of what it truly is at its core,” he said. That core, according to Kittay, is built around “the philosophical principles of collaboration and of incubating human culture and community and experience.

Gerlach, Nevada…the center of the cultural world? If you build it, they will come…

Help Heal Broken Burners

A surprising number of Burners get injured each year and need medical attention. Humboldt Hospital (no stoners, not that one) in Winnemucca, NV is looking for temporary medical staff to help out at Burning Man 2013.  What skills are needed? Well, you need to be able to decipher acronyms for starters:

Current openings include:

  • medical buggyEMT
  • Advanced EMT
  • Paramedics
  • EMS-RN
  • EMS Supervisors and Managers
  • RN (ER and ICU experience required)
  • EMS/EM Physicians
  • Grounds Keepers
  • Receptionist’s

No idea what they need Grounds Keepers for, but would be fascinated to learn! You get a ticket as well as an hourly wage, for a minimum of 30 hours work over 3 shifts. Wonder if the hospital has to pay 3% of that to the BLM?

Here’s the rest of their post:

Humboldt General Hospital (Winnemucca ,NV) the Advanced Life Support Medical Services contractor for the iconic 55,000+ participant Burning Man festival is currently seeking medical professionals to fill temporary positions for the 2013 event.

Medical professionals will work under the medical direction of doctors Bryan Bledsoe DO and Jeff Westin MD. Medical professions will provide care to ill and injured event goers inside the onsite mobile medical unit, EMS professionals have the ability to also staff on of the event’s onsite ALS ambulances.

Successful candidates will work alongside a number of America’s top EMS professionals and leaders, resident physicians from the University Medical Center in Las Vegas NV, and top notch medical professionals working within Burning Man’s own Emergency Services.

All new employees must work a minimum of three 10 hour shifts. Employees who elect to work additional shifts will have access to lodging, meals, and other on playa amenities. Employees will be provided one event ticket in addition to an hourly wage.

The 2013 event will take place on the world famous Black Rock Desert in rural Northern Nevada from August 26th through September 2nd

Job Requirements

Applicants should be experienced EMS providers with a desire to provide excellent patient care in a remote and austere environment. Applicants should be open minded, and able to adapt to interesting situations. Humboldt General Hospital will assist out of state providers gain all required state certification and licensure. All interested parties are strongly urged to apply. Current openings include:

  • EMT
  • Advanced EMT
  • Paramedics
  • EMS-RN
  • EMS Supervisors and Managers
  • RN (ER and ICU experience required)
  • EMS/EM Physicians
  • Grounds Keepers
  • Receptionist’s

For more information on Burning Man please visit www.burningman.org, for information on Humboldt General Hospital’s Burning Man Medical Operation please use the provided link to read Dr. Bryan Bledsoe’s article featured in JEMS magazine. http://www.jems.com/article/news/cardiac-patient-receives-miraculous-trea