The first time I went to Burning Man, I was curious to see the idea of an entire community being created spontaneously, in the middle of nowhere. It seemed like this was an opportunity to try new forms of civic life, government, socialization, and self-expression.
Since then, Burning Man has evolved in a somewhat inevitable direction. More people means more money and more rules. The “experiment” part of the Temporary Autonomous Zone can no longer be so experimental, there are hundreds of millions of dollars at stake, and many different types of vested interests.
Burning Man attracts rebels and misfits, people who want to get away from Meatspace – the Default World. The systems of commerce and governance in Meatspace don’t seem to be working as well for everyone as they could. So what can we do? Vote in a Democrat, or a Republican, and hope that will lead to fundamental system change? Well, that never worked in the past! We need to experiment with new kinds of societal organization, if we ever want to evolve past this military-industrial “war on terror and drugs” economy. Burners have the creativity, skills, experience, and resources. We don’t need to wait for the Post-Apocalyptic world of Mad Max…the Apocalypse is already upon us, with record poverty in the US, and not much hope on the horizon other than rampant money-printing.
Someone with a vision of hope for the future, an incredibly wise and passionate man who truly cares about humanity, is Costa Rica-based permaculture guru Stephen Brooks. He is the founder of the sustainable organic community Punta Mona, a supplier to Whole Foods, and a founder of the wonderful Envision Festival. He was invited to give a TED talk at Burning Man this year, and lucky for us someone taped it.
What is permaculture? From the Wikipedia page
Permaculture is a branch of ecological design, ecological engineering, and environmental design which develops sustainable architecture and self-maintainedagricultural systems modeled from natural ecosystems.
- Take care of the earth: Provision for all life systems to continue and multiply. This is the first principle, because without a healthy earth, humans cannot flourish.
- Take care of the people: Provision for people to access those resources necessary for their existence.
- Share the surplus: Healthy natural systems use outputs from each element to nourish others. We humans can do the same. By governing our own needs, we can set resources aside to further the above principles.
Permaculture design emphasizes patterns of landscape, function, and species assemblies. It asks the question, “Where does this element go? How can it be placed for the maximum benefit of the system?” To answer this question, the central concept of permaculture is maximizing useful connections between components and synergy of the final design. The focus of permaculture, therefore, is not on each separate element, but rather on the relationships created among elements by the way they are placed together; the whole becoming greater than the sum of its parts. Permaculture design therefore seeks to minimize waste, human labor, and energy input by building systems with maximal benefits between design elements to achieve a high level of synergy. Permaculture designs evolve over time by taking into account these relationships and elements and can become extremely complex systems that produce a high density of food and materials with minimal input.
In many ways, the permanent nature of permaculture developments is the antithesis of the temporal, wasteful nature of Burning Man. We don’t need to gift material things, that ultimately end up as MOOP – we can gift food and medicines, that grow abundantly on the land, forever for the community. Do you want to spend $100,000 to burn something and show off? Or spend the same money to create a sustainable village that can feed itself forever?
Permaculture technology was available to the ancient druids. It’s high time for its resurgence.
For anyone who wants to learn more about permaculture, I recommend the bible – Bill Mollison’s book “Permaculture – A Designer’s Manual”. It’s out of print now, I picked one up a few years back for about $300 but it seems prices have dropped dramatically.
Also check out this video…all the world’s problems can be solved in a garden.