[Temporary Autonomous Zone] – Proof the Model Still Works

In 1985, anarchist writer Hakim Bey wrote a book called “T.A.Z. – Temporary Autonomous Zones, Ontological Anarchy, Poetic Terrorism”. You can read it here for free, and the author encourages you to pirate it and quote freely from it.

Off-Duty-Miami-Drone-CartoonTerrorism? Isn’t that bad? Aren’t we supposed to call the government up if we suspect anyone is indulging in some type of terrorism?

Not if it’s poetry. Not if it’s words. Not if it’s peaceful, non-violent protest. At least that’s how America used to be, when Presidents and their Executioners were kept in check by 2 other branches of government, and all 3 were ruled by a 250-year old documented called The Constitution Of The United States of America. It protects our rights to free speech, to get together in groups, and to practice whatever religion we believe in. The essence of a free country.

These days, whistleblowers get hunted to the ends of the earth like Edward Snowden, imprisoned and tortured without trial like Bradley Manning, journalists critical of the regime die in mysterious fiery car crashes like Michael Hastings. We have a young President elected on a populist platform of hope, change, ending war and Guantanamo Bay…who instead signs orders in the dead of night on New Years Eve that let him bypass the governmental and military structure, ignore the Geneva Conventions and murder, kidnap, and torture anyone at any time – no trial, no recourse, no appeal, fbi-drone-cartoonnot even any disclosure. He doesn’t have to explain his reasoning on this to anyone, since he is the Commander in Chief of the Armed Forces and America is now being ruled under martial law. This is closer to a fascist dictatorship than a free democratic society.

Happy Independence Day, America!

George Orwell was a contemporary of Aldous Huxley, who was a French teacher at Britain’s most elite boarding school Eton when Orwell was studying there, before Huxley went to Hollywood in 1937. They predicted the rise of this technocratic globalist society, where national sovereignty would be eroded by illogical propaganda, and everyone would be in service of The Man.

Orwell said “if you want to imagine the future, imagine a boot stamping on a human face…forever”. Huxley wrote a letter to Orwell shortly after 1984’s publication, contrasting their different visions of the future:

In the letter Huxley began by echoing the positive reviews for 1984, telling Orwell ‘how fine and how profoundly important the book is’.

Going on to focus on the differences between their predictions, however, Huxley wrote: ‘The philosophy of the ruling minority in Nineteen Eighty-Four is a sadism which has been carried to its logical conclusion by going beyond sex and denying it.

Book: 1984 by George Orwell
Front cover of the book Brave New World by Aldous Huxley.

‘Whether in actual fact the policy of the boot-on-the-face can go on indefinitely seems doubtful.

‘My own belief is that the ruling oligarchy will find less arduous and wasteful ways of governing and of satisfying its lust for power, and these ways will resemble those which I described in Brave New World.’ 

The letter was written at Huxley’s California home in October 1949, a few months after the release of Orwell’s book.

They key point in both, of course, being that the ruling oligarchy would decide our future, and we would just have to accept it; through a combination of rules and drugs, we would be made to accept it, even want it. A bit like Burning Man?


Hakim Bey offered us a different solution. Instead of inheriting the government our ruling elites want us to, via political campaigns fuelled by their unlimited corporate coffers…Bey says that we can jam the culture, mess with it, highlight its unworkability…so that we may evolve to better forms of government. Just like science, where repeated experiments lead to improved understanding and breakthrough solutions, the organization of human beings needs experimentation to evolve.

Bey’s thoughts found a receptive audience in the 80’s and 90’s, in the creative chaotic anarchy that was the Cacophony Society. Their expedition to the desert, could be given a higher purpose, by naming it a TAZ. Burning Man was now a civic exercise, not disobedience, an experiment in trying to find other authority structures and symbols for the people to be obedient to. Bey’s book covers many of the elements that Burning Man is built on, including music, art, mysticism and black magic, post-apocalyptic living, boycotting pop culture, even good old S & M. Here’s a brief summary of the concept from Bey

THE TAZ AS A CONSCIOUS radical tactic will emerge under certain conditions:

  1. Psychological liberation. That is, we must realize (make real) the moments and spaces in which freedom is not only possible but actual. We must know in what ways we are genuinely oppressed, and also in what ways we are self- repressed or ensnared in a fantasy in which ideas oppress us. WORK, for example, is a far more actual source of misery for most of us than legislative politics. Alienation is far more dangerous for us than toothless outdated dying ideologies. Mental addiction to “ideals”–which in fact turn out to be mere projections of our resentment and sensations of victimization–will never further our project. The TAZ is not a harbinger of some pie-in-the-sky Social Utopia to which we must sacrifice our lives that our children’s children may breathe a bit of free air. The TAZ must be the scene of our present autonomy, but it can only exist on the condition that we already know ourselves as free beings.


  2. The counter-Net must expand. At present it reflects more abstraction than actuality. Zines and BBSs exchange information, which is part of the necessary groundwork of the TAZ, but very little of this information relates to concrete goods and services necessary for the autonomous life. We do not live in CyberSpace; to dream that we do is to fall into CyberGnosis, the false transcendence of the body. The TAZ is a physical place and we are either in it or not. All the senses must be involved. The Web is like a new sense in some ways, but it must be added to the others– the others must not be subtracted from it, as in some horrible parody of the mystic trance. Without the Web, the full realization of the TAZ-complex would be impossible. But the Web is not the end in itself. It’s a weapon.


  3. The apparatus of Control–the “State”–must (or so we must assume) continue to deliquesce and petrify simultaneously, must progress on its present course in which hysterical rigidity comes more and more to mask a vacuity, an abyss of power. As power “disappears,” our will to power must be disappearance.

We’ve already dealt with the question of whether the TAZ can be viewed “merely” as a work of art. But you will also demand to know whether it is more than a poor rat-hole in the Babylon of Information, or rather a maze of tunnels, more and more connected, but devoted only to the economic dead-end of piratical parasitism? I’ll answer that I’d rather be a rat in the wall than a rat in the cage–but I’ll also insist that the TAZ transcends these categories.

A world in which the TAZ succeeded in putting down roots might resemble the world envisioned by “P.M.” in his fantasy novel bolo’bolo. Perhaps the TAZ is a “proto-bolo.” But inasmuch as the TAZ exists now, it stands for much more than the mundanity of negativity or countercultural drop-out- ism. We’ve mentioned the festal aspect of the moment which is unControlled, and which adheres in spontaneous self- ordering, however brief. It is “epiphanic”–a peak experience on the social as well as individual scale.

Liberation is realized in struggle–this is the essence of Nietzsche’s “self-overcoming.” The present thesis might also take for a sign Nietzsche’s wandering. It is the precursor of the drift, in the Situ sense of the derive and Lyotard’s definition of driftwork. We can foresee a whole new geography, a kind of pilgrimage-map in which holy sites are replaced by peak experiences and TAZs: a real science of psychotopography, perhaps to be called “geo-autonomy” or “anarchomancy.”

The TAZ involves a kind of ferality, a growth from tameness to wild(er)ness, a “return” which is also a step forward. It also demands a “yoga” of chaos, a project of “higher” orderings (of consciousness or simply of life) which are approached by “surfing the wave-front of chaos,” of complex dynamism. The TAZ is an art of life in continual rising up, wild but gentle–a seducer not a rapist, a smuggler rather than a bloody pirate, a dancer not an eschatologist.

Let us admit that we have attended parties where for one brief night a republic of gratified desires was attained. Shall we not confess that the politics of that night have more reality and force for us than those of, say, the entire U.S. Government? Some of the “parties” we’ve mentioned lasted for two or three years. Is this something worth imagining, worth fighting for? Let us study invisibility, webworking, psychic nomadism–and who knows what we might attain?

–Spring Equinox, 1990

Today Burning Man is a permanent fixture on the international party scene – an annual “leave no trace” event that takes over the same spot for 3 months a year, leaves permanent traces, owns 4 ranches and buildings nearby where their vehicles and equipment are stored. Burning Man has been commodified by the BMOrg’s massive international marketing blitz, featured in everything from Malcolm in the Middle and South Park to Town and Country and Popular Mechanics. It’s almost a household name. Time magazine listed it as one of the world’s “Great Places of History: Civilization’s 100 Most Important Sites“.  If there is a spectrum with “temporary” at one end and “permanent” at the other, then the Burning Man pendulum is swung very far towards the permanent end. The amount of rules required to operate a 70,000+ person city and a $25 million+ business, full of kids and the elderly as well as people who can be “radically self-reliant”, mean that it is less an experiment in Temporary Autonomous Zones and more an experiment in crowd-funding Web-based businesses.

The concept of the TAZ is no less potent, and in fact the success of Burning Man demonstrates its potential.

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[freespace] founder Mike “Zuck” Zuckerman

A bunch of Burners from San Francisco recently tested the concept around the time of the National Day of Civic Hacking. Terrorism? Hacking? This is sounding bad, right – better call DHS! Hacking does not mean “Die Hard IV”, some James Bond style mega-villain shutting down power grids and draining bank accounts. The idea of hacking is basically code masters who can make computers do a lot in very little time, applying those skills to problem solving for a social benefit. In this context, “civic hacking” means coming together for a weekend and trying to come up with ideas to improve cities.

[freespace] was born around an opportunity to rent a 14,000 square foot warehouse in the heart of San Francisco, for a month for $1. What could be done in a month? What could be done for free? Could something like this make a difference?

This week I went to check out [freespace], which is a non-profit project of Reallocate. It’s located at 1131 Mission St, between 7th and 8th, about a block away from BMOrgHQ. These days they’re trying to rebrand the Tenderloin as SOMA or Mid-Market, but it’s still the Tenderloin, folks. Anyone can go and check it out, it’s free and open to all.

I wanted to see just what could be accomplished in a month, starting from nothing. I’m pleased to report that it has been a success beyond anyone’s expectations. They started an Indiegogo project to raise enough funds so that they could stay, and they raised more than their goal of $25,000. Now they’re [free|space] 2.0, Month 1 was “can we do something”, Month 2 is “how do we turn this into something we can grow in other places”. There are already talks going on with people wanting to create [freespace]s in Miami, Berlin, London, Toronto, Detroit, even on NASA campuses.

[freespace] have modelled themselves on Burning Man’s 10 Principles, and that has led to some interesting situations. Founder Mike Zuckerman is a consummate diplomat and a dedicated environmentalist and Burner. He organized our camp’s MOOP team last year (score: Green).

Burning Man shows the use of Art as a unifying layer in the community. Even if the art is subversive or of poor quality, if you don’t like its messages or the way it looks, we’re all experiencing it together as a shared feature of our environment. [freespace] started with art, approaching our friends at the Ian Ross Gallery on 4th and Brannan, who share a commitment to improving the cityscape through art:

artist Ian Ross

artist Ian Ross

Ian Ross Gallery is an interactive space where artists and the public can interface to learn and grow together by sharing the rich creativity of San Francisco. Ian Ross intends to create a visual highlight of the city’s landscape, where visitors and locals alike will travel out of their way to see the 250 long mural that wraps around the exterior of the building. Ross plans to work in the space, offer workshops for the community and patrons, include live painting during each show, and always offer the public a unique and dynamic experience unlike any other in the world.  We plan to share the work of other emerging artists who we believe will have a positive impact on San Francisco and its art scene. 


the Buddha statue at the end radiates love and compassion throughout the [space]

the Buddha statue at the end radiates love and compassion throughout the [space]

Curator Daniele Rocha sent in her dream team of street art ninjas, Eon, Ian, and Zio. In a matter of days they came up with something phenomenal, and the art on the outside inspired others to come and create art on the inside. The empty lot next door has now become a public art gallery. All day long, people are walking past and stopping, taking photos…sometimes crowds of them. An abandoned building has now become a neighborhood destination. If you understand the concept of “feng shui“, then you can appreciate that buildings can have feelings. I don’t mean the building having emotions, I mean that it feels different being in some spaces than others. When you are in a building with good feng shui, it feels great. [freespace] have managed to create a similar feeling, a palpable sense of goodness and excitement…and I don’t think it’s anything to do with where they placed the furniture.

What sort of things have been done in the space? They created a free bicycle program, people donate their own bikes, people can borrow the bikes to get around, others are there with the tools and expertise to fix them up. Contrast this with San Francisco’s city bike sharing program, where each bicycle costs $10,000. A guy who used to work for Apple walked past, said “what’s this?”, and moved in to create an IP-addressable Blinky Lights project. There are a couple of start-ups in there, including one based around off-grid living and simple smart houses. People come in to play ping-pong, or 3D Twister. Classes get taught, like yoga and acro-yoga. A garden has been planted outside, including a mobile bicycle park. They pedal it around the city every week, with girls sitting in the park handing out free flowers to everyone. As well as civic hacking, a Burning Man burner hack took place there, a food hack-a-thon was held. The project gave otherwise unemployed people, something to do and a community to do it in.

One of the challenges they faced, was not everyone who walked through the door had their best intentions at heart. “Radical inclusion” doesn’t have to mean homeless people throwing up on themselves in the corner. Mike Zuckerman and has team have used a very San Francisco, and very Burner, approach to dealing with these people – helping them see that maybe this was not the best space they’re in, since their vibe was different from everyone around them. This was most necessary when [freespace] got occupied by the #occupy people – militant, angry, and looking down their nose at the others who were helping out. “That’s not my mess, why should I pick it up”. Some of them were asked to leave, and of course anyone being asked to leave is going to be unhappy about it; but some of them later came back, apologized, and started helping out. They “got it”. If just one person can change their attitude about life from negative to positive, then [freespace] has been a worthwhile civic endeavor.

startup house

Startup House, 5th and Harrison – gone already

It has also generated a lot of press coverage, as one of the few things actually happening in the city’s start-up scene in 2013.

SF Chronicle’s “Underground Legend” Broke-ass Stuart

Laughing Squid

Visual News

When Burning Man moved to their new offices in 2011, and announced their move to create a new non-profit called The Burning Man Project to save the Earth with Burning Man values, I wondered how they would do it. How could Burning Man, with just a few artworks, transform the seedy mid-Market Tenderloin area into a safe and inspiring place like Black Rock City?

The jury’s still out on that, it’s been a couple of years so far and the closest thing we have to show for it is their participation in Oakland’s temporary pop-up community project, Peralta Junction. I’m not sure if this was seen as a huge success for Oakland, but I do know that many of the other participants resented Burning Man coming in, contributing relatively little but making a lot of noise in the press, co-opting their efforts. No doubt BMOrg workers will accuse us of yet another BMOrg bash, but I truly am giving them the benefit of the doubt. I wish they had other projects I could write about and give them credit for. It’s not my fault that they don’t – don’t shoot the messenger. Instead, wonder where all your dollars are going, and what all those people are doing the 51 weeks of the year when the party’s not on.

[freespace] in a month have done what Burning Man have been talking about for years. It is a fantastic concept, it’s great to see ugly being turned into pretty in the city’s run down areas. Congratulations to everyone behind it, I’m very much looking forward to watching [free|space] 2.0 develop this month and telling the story of what happens to this now.

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this portable park is bicycle-powered, with a solar panel for the safety lights

this portable park is bicycle-powered, with a solar panel for the safety lights

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3d Twister

3d Twister – the circles are Velcro

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yup, that’ a slide. Up-cycled from some tubing

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11 comments on “[Temporary Autonomous Zone] – Proof the Model Still Works

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  10. Could have been simplified a bit more in the telling. Hard to read/digest, but interesting & hopefully evolving into a balance of service w/and personal fulfillment. Blessed Be.

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