Future Now is the Institute for the Future Blog. Lindsea Wilbur has shared an interesting story there, with snippets of ideas and conversations about Governance Futures heard at Burning Man Cargo Cult 2013.
An iterative and experimental governance system, Burning Man takes place in a desert in Nevada christened Black Rock City. The desert environment provides the platform for the participatory layer, the festival where the citizens interact. Then, the governed body dissolves into a distributed community, remaining connected by a network in cyberspace. This past year 70,000 people gathered in camps to create a temporary city, complete with a daily newspaper and street signs, only to disappear again back into “the default world.”
Managing the protocol is Black Rock City, LLC—the house of the “benevolent dictator” and co-founder of Burning Man, Larry Harvey. In 1986, when Burning Man first began, it was a far looser, smaller operation. The private corportation which owns and controls the now popular event is transitioning into the non-profit Burning Man Project, making necessary governance adjustments for the growing community.
The following “overheards” all came directly from conversations initiated by the Social Inventor’s Toolkit. In a tea house, a pirate ship, a Southern front porch (pictured below), numerous and never again seen bars, and while wandering the desert, participants discussed challenges of government today, values and personal philosophies, the mechanisms which uphold our values, and the style and experience of governance at Burning Man.
And speaking from extensive experience, whipping out the Social Inventor’s Toolkit at cocktail parties will add significant weird to the conversation (in the best possible way)!
On the problems of government…
“Our governance system is a transmedia story…it’s just not that good.”
“Why don’t we talk about governance in more spiritual terms? We need new words to describe the same phenomena.”
“The purpose art serves to humanity is clear and elemental—something not fully accomplished in the language of politics. Why is art and poetry so separate from the way we govern?”
“Assess the situation, and do what you want.”
“Is it more efficient to have meaningful, positive interactions?”
“Out here, there’s no alternative but excellence.”
On values, assumptions and philosophy…
“Everything’s built on relationships, each camp a microcosm with its own governance system based on their own particular values. Fantastic and utter chaos!”
“There are holes in the general consensus of reality, alternative access to truth. Everything is entangled in the universe with the information flowing through it.”
“When we jump forward technologically, we have years of social, emotional, spiritual progress to catch up on.”
“What governance system will uphold the safety of women?”
“Pioneers need to break down the psychological walls.”
On Burning Man, culture, and other mechanisms of governance…
“Burning Man is an expression of the renaissance in art and science.”
“Is it just escapism? One social structure [Burning Man] within another social structure [America], yet based on such different values.”
“It’s all forms of self transcendence, the spiritual experience of creative expression, fully knowing the inevitable destruction which follows, a purposeful moment through time. The flock of birds in the sky simultaneously taking a dive.”
“Culture is primarily the way we communicate many of our rules and the progression of self in society.”
“We should work together as cities, diversifying social metrics—some combination of the more feminine trust exchange vs the more masculine, achievement-based tiered incentives/badge system. And flag raising, collecting people around purpose.”
“The global climate crisis is a Rite of Passage we’ve created for our society to mature. And our collectively maturity is measured by how effectively we use our resources.”
“We are ‘templating’ and ‘in training’ now as a society for the shared burden and other phenomena we’ll be forced to react to on a planetary scale.”
“We’re practicing with these new templates for communities—new ways of being-in-the-world. We’re beginning to create an infrastructure as these disparate templates connect and merge the networks of these communities.”
It seems like Burning Man’s “experiment in temporary autonomy” inspires a lot of people to think about the future, and new ways of living together. For some, it’s the camps that matter – a chance for the members of their tribe to gather. For others, it’s the Man – worshipping casting off His shackles for a week of debauched independence, before shedding a tear at the Temple and returning to the shackles of Defaultia once again for the rest of the year. For others, it’s the city that inspires them – to be a part of so many people celebrating similar aspects of the diverse tapestry of our lives.
As far as an experiment in governance goes, it’s not one – neither “experimental”, nor “iterative”. The governance model has barely changed a fraction since the incorporation of Black Rock City LLC in 1997. Soon that’s going to be twenty years. There is really no process to change it, other than the whims of the founders. I guess you could write a letter to Larry Harvey giving him a few pointers…good luck with that.
I think there should be other “Temporary Autonomous Zones” that Burners could travel to around the world, where the culture and vibe are familiar, but the governance and the rules and the magic and the petri-dish experiments are different. Something new and improved. Burners create the culture, create it everywhere, make it slightly different each time. That’s what Nature does, and her system seems to have worked pretty well for billions of years. The alternative is to accept that the exciting potential future being described here, is something we must wait for the BMOrg to provide us with “one day”. Wishful thinking indeed.