Naked Capitalism Bursts the Bubble


A great story from Naked Capitalism by Lambert Strether:

Has the Burning Man Bubble Burst?

It’s worth reading in its entirety, they’ve broken down the Tin Principles. Even if you don’t agree with their interpretation, they bring up some great things to think about:

So what to make of it all? Of course, the About page’s claim that “To truly understand this event, one must participate” is silly; that’s like saying that to understand Napoleon’s march on Moscow, you have to have been a member of the Grand Armée. In fact, people with the advantages of time and distance from that event — historians, say — are probably better equipped to understand that event than participants, who necessarily had very partial and limited views. But we don’t have to argue about that; the About page gives us a perfectly valid method of “truly” understanding: The 10 Principles. So we can lay reports against the principles, and see how well they match. So here we go.

Full story here.

Some highlights from the comments:


Burning Man is, and has always been, a superficial, self-important load of crap.

Those Burning Man people have a sly sense of humour Lambert. Putting on their own upper class Festivel of the Outre on Labor Day Weekend. (Do the Sherpas get Monday off?)

Your assessment is spot on. What began as a counter-cultural event is now a main stream affair, nudity optional. In fact nudity is the only thing still tolerated outside the law. I chalk that up to the huge law enforcement presence–every local, state, and federal agency is more than adequately represented–who enjoy this distraction. The efficiency of this event in encouraging lawbreakers to congregate and pay large fines they can afford is not lost on the law enforcement hosts.

I knew the event turned a corner when everyone I knew who hated the radical idea of this event and the bizarre set that it attracted suddenly became participants buying and renting bigger and bigger motor home to shut out the elements–other people and the environment.
Yes, it is still a great spectacle and one worth experiencing, but it’s not pointing us in any direction for the future except endless amusement.

I’ve been three times, and the event is, in its entirety, a study in hypocrisy. I was bullied by the thuggish “rangers,” there is petty theft everywhere, the official law enforcement is constantly roving to collect on-the-spot fines, and the constant techno music and club drugs will sap your will to live. So many jaw-grinding e-heads stumbling around, and then the frat boys show up near the end to ogle boobies and catcall. If anything, it’s a concentration of white, privileged people flashing their peacock feathers at one another, and not much else. Interesting anthropologically, in any case.

How can the bubble burst on a venture that monetizes jumping the shark? Oh, let me see. It must have something to do with that “monetizes” term. And the bigger fool dynamic embodied in the term “jumping the shark”.

So far they have not run out of bigger fools with ever increasing amounts of money. When it turns into Davos in the Desert they might reach their limit.

It has now reached the phase of commercialized envy; it must end soon or the phase of commercialized nostalgia can never begin. The “I remember when….” stratification of oldies is already beginning

Walked into a Denny’s in Las Vegas one night and bumped into one of the organizers for Burning Man. This was back in 2004. After talking for awhile, he gave me a personal invitation to Burning Man. He invited me out there and told me to go there before it is ruined. By “ruined”, he meant exactly this. The rich were invading yet another space that the lower class made. They need their “cool” points

Is it possible for the “Ten Principles” of Burning Man to be more insufferably vapid and hypocritical, especially when laid against its transparently bogus claims of “radical inclusivity” and “self-sufficiency?”

So typical of the unmindful sense of privilege of the lumpen bourgeoisie – youthful, white sub-demographic – which will return from this resource-importing circle jerk/test market, to continue colonizing a handful of bubble-driven cities and resort Valhallas, while the rest of the country turns into Detroit or West Virginia…

The principles are contradictory. Radical self reliance is in conflict with reality and community building. No one is radically self reliant. A person who is not cared for as a baby and young child will not survive to have the illusion that he is self made.

Putting a large encampment with enormous amounts of vehicles and giant art projects is not leaving the desert pristine. It may look “pristine” afterwards to people who don’t look very hard but it is not pristine to the wildlife during the experience.

A community that keeps out the riff raff and has servants to do their work is not about sharing both work and play in common.

I think it is great that people with money use it for a creative purpose. But Burning man cannot achieve some of its better goals simply because it excludes so many people from its “community”. We desperately need a place of interaction between rich and poor. That is something our society rarely creates. Occupy did this in some places. It is that very creation that will best allow real creativity to flourish.

All the TEDs, the Hollyhocks etc. would benefit from a radical infusion of actual outsiders to the elite income class. Yet these events will not be transformative because they deny class divisions, participate in creating more of them, and thus exactly mirror what is wrong with our society.

It is hard to create fundamentally anarchic community in a fundamentally capitalist society but, still, there is a nostalgia for at least the illusion of freedom and I think Burning Man supplies that and I don’t see any problem with it–it’s still a sort of Club Med for vacationers with bad weather.

Anyway, what interests me is the vision of Burning Man and the fact they haven’t been able to create that vision. In fact, anarchic projects have to be, by definition, spontaneous not planned. Woodstock is the classic example and those that participated in it felt very liberated more than those who I’ve talked to who have gone to Burning Man. We are meant to function in a world that is more humane as per the guidelines of Burning Man but unless we change our values on the elemental level, i.e., that materialism and selfishness are not virtues but vices, we cannot do anything but create temporary theme parks that give us an illusion of liberation. At present Burning Man is no more in the service of human liberation than any other theme park and to expect it to be anything more is absurd. It is yet another temple to conspicuous consumption and status seeking.


2 comments on “Naked Capitalism Bursts the Bubble

  1. Burning Man doesn’t have to be a Perfect Thing to be a Positive Thing. I stood on the top floor of the Goldman Sucks building and engaged in meaningful conversations with actual investment bankers from Goldman Sachs and listened to their ideas and efforts to make their employer and the world in general a better place for all. They weren’t communists and they came in RV’s, but they were inspired by what they saw and learned from the Burning Man experience. I’m not a 1% percenter, but I saved for a few years and stayed in Camp Classic in 2011. I just learned that Elon Musk of Tesla Motors fame was my neighbor that year. He just took his corporations patents, worth billions of dollars, and gave them to the world. He explained to his shareholders how it is strategically and even economically better to give something away to make the world a better place for all, than to horde it. This isn’t just idealistic woo, it’s a reality because the individual benefits would be less than the benefits from sharing. Even for the individual who gives. I have little doubt that this is a lesson Elon from Burning Man. It is a lesson that is not communism or capitalism, it’s a lesson in truth and in a reality that can sometimes only be learned dancing naked in the desert.

    • Thanks for your thoughtful comment. I will be writing more on the free software/open source movement and its relationship to Burners soon.

      Elon’s thinking is great. And I’m sure that if you really asked him, he would acknowledge there are plenty of key people in Silicon Valley who *don’t* go to Burning Man. The debate about patents in the software world has been going on for a long time, and it is more likely Elon was looking to models like Linux, which have generated trillions of dollars of economic value, and really changed the world, than to BMOrg which have generated maybe a quarter billion of revenues in 30 years.

      Unfortunately, BMOrg are not operating at Elon’s level of excellence. With this great community of Burners, we should be.

      Thanks for sharing. It is very interesting – though not at all surprising – to learn that if you made it to the top floor of the Goldmans tower at Burning Man, there were actual Goldmans execs there for you to interact with, they wanted to tell you their ideas and discuss how to make the world a better place with you. I’m sure that once that was established, if you had a deal for them, you could give your elevator pitch, and perhaps make plans to see them back at their RV, or off-Playa with the powerpoint containing all your best ideas that you could Gift them.

      How ironic.

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