Can Burning Man and Transhumanism Change the World?

Science fiction and dick jokes at the Burning Man Global Technology Leadership Conference. Nano-tech brain drugs that connect brains together. Jacking the internet directly into the back of your skull. Dosing monkeys with cocaine. “We’re all in a giant machine MRI machine and the CIA is reading your thoughts. No. They’re just reading your emails and Facebook posts”.

We covered this earlier in

https://burners.me/2016/04/04/former-cult-leader-says-burners-responsible-for-innovation/

Now we have video of the full presentation from the 2016 GLC. It’s entertaining, but what is the real message here?

How can Burning Man change the world? That’s the topic of this 40 minute talk, supposedly. The answer? Art projects give you a sense of awe. He took everything he learned at Burning Man and channeled it into his art (writing science fiction) because he wanted to change the world in some way. There’s about 20 seconds of this around the 20 minute mark.

He came up with a formula to explain it.

The meaning of Burning Man is the change it causes in the world.

M )'( = Δ )'(

“We are the ones we have been waiting for. That is it” got him a standing ovation.

“Tom Clancy meets Burning Man”. For anyone who watched Shadow History of Burners – Part 2, I note that the Singularity University where this guy is a professor is located at Moffett Field.

This year’s Keynote is an interesting follow up to last year’s talk on Syntheism – creating artificial gods – at the European leadership conference

“it’s not a cult”, someone yells from the back as he is describing how Burning Man is like a religion. One we’re creating ourselves…right?

The creation of Artificial Gods vision was preceded over the course of many months by Caveat Magister’s series on the Death of God

http://journal.burningman.org/2014/05/opinion/serious-stuff/burning-book-club-preface-atheism-isnt-as-easy-as-it-looks/

http://journal.burningman.org/2014/06/opinion/serious-stuff/burning-book-club-chapter-1-turns-out-money-can-buy-enlightenment/

http://journal.burningman.org/2014/06/opinion/serious-stuff/burning-book-club-chapter-2-part-1-a-mythology-pro-tip-for-atheists/

http://journal.burningman.org/2014/06/opinion/serious-stuff/burning-book-club-chapter-2-part-2-group-think-and-aesthetics/

http://journal.burningman.org/2014/07/opinion/serious-stuff/burning-book-club-chapter-3-why-do-bad-things-happen-to-good-burners-spoiler-alert/

http://journal.burningman.org/2014/07/opinion/serious-stuff/burning-book-club-chapter-3-part-2-money-and-revolutions/

http://journal.burningman.org/2015/01/opinion/serious-stuff/burning-book-club-chapter-4-sweeping-the-corpse-of-god-under-the-rug-and-pretending-it-never-happened/

This year the continuing saga at the BJ is Re-imagining the relationship between art and money.

Let’s not forget Burning Man Social Alchemist Bear Kittay’s Transhumanist song that accompanied Marian’s 2014 Tokyo TED Talk

“Surrender to the memes.”

If our minds are the workshop, then who is the Da Vinci? Larry? Stuart Mangrum? Who are the patrons? If we’re just making art, how come the Leadership Conference talks about jacking our brains into the Internet in a presentation titled “can Burning Man change the world?

What does any of this have to do with the Burning Man Project?

Maybe the ideas that they have been presenting over three years of conferences is their vision for the way Burning Man changes the world. The death of god, replacing it with a new artificially created occult digital god. Humans replaced with brains in jars, connected to the Matrix. “Be your own app”.

Sounds a lot like the Alphabet Agency business plan.

Burning Man Ranch Permitted to be Permanent [Update]

Re-blogged from ThisIsReno.com – also see this story at the Reno Gazette Journal.


Permanent Burning Man Staging Area Gets Nod From County

A Burning Man staging area north of Gerlach received approval today from the Washoe Board of County Commissioners to change the property to a more permanent staging area for the annual Black Rock Desert event.

A number of special use permits for residential and industrial uses were combined into a zone change that will allow for increased use on the 200-acre property, Black Rock Station.

According to a staff report,

The proposed amendment will supersede all existing special use permits and provide development standards for areas and all uses at the site. The amendment proposes to establish five separate use areas, including Civic, Residential, Industrial, Agricultural, and Future. Uses are grouped into one of these use areas. The industrial area contains significant buffering requirements and the entire site is subject to layers of mitigation to lessen the impact on the surrounding property owners and the community at large.”

County Planner Dr. Eric Young said the change came about after years of negotiations between the county and Black Rock LLC, Burning Man’s owners, negotiations that weren’t always cordial.

“We have really started to rebuild that trust,” he said after the county developed new development processes that were a better fit for the area. “Some of those residential uses (will be) temporary … They can only be used for 90 days in a calendar year. (In addition), there’s a cap of 500 people at any given time.

“We’re really limiting this to things that they need to get started now,” he added.

Traffic impacts and code enforcement were questioned, and Young said changes could be made to the zoning and use at the property. He said the owners have to maintain a plan with the county fire marshal.

“If the plan lapses, all activities on the site have to stop,” he said. “There is an extensive plan in place for fire and EMS service.”

Enforcement of zoning requirements would be based on citizen complaints, however.

“Unless somebody comes in and points a finger and says, ‘hey they’re doing that,’ we’re not out there driving around looking for it,” Young said. “We will have an occasion to be out there from time-to-time for various inspections, (but) there are certain things like that where there’s not going to be a county person standing there looking at it.”

black-rock-station


 

[Update 5/20/16 2:09am]

Google can’t “buy it”, no corporation can, because it’s a non-profit.
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Right?

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Wrong. Someone could still buy all the Intellectual Property and Real Estate assets, which are owned by for-profit companies controlled by some of the insiders. In fact, that seems like it would be much easier to do now than it was a few years ago.
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I refer (reefer) you to these posts from a couple of years back…
https://burners.me/2014/09/14/selling-out-part-i/
https://burners.me/2014/09/14/selling-out-part-ii-who-could-it-be-now/
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And since then we’ve had this major story and this other major story.

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Don’t worry, the name “Decommodification, LLC” is just a funny ironic farce in the true spirit of Burning Man, and Danger Ranger created a “Dead Man’s Switch” to save us all!
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Maybe so. I can’t say without any evidence, and despite the unlikely transparency and nearly six years passing, there still isn’t any.

 

Here’s what I have been able to find, from corporationwiki.com – a site I use frequently for real world  research. The site has always seemed legit to me, occasionally the information slightly conflicts with other sites but generally they have been accurate. They’ve never had a Ministry of Propaganda as far as I can tell.
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The directors listed for Decommodification LLC these days are not the same as at the time BMOrg made the announcement that they had completely given it away for free. These days, it’s Crimson Rose (aka Nanci Elliot) and the Burning Man Project CFO.

 

Screenshot 2016-05-20 01.52.00
Anyway, Alphabet Agencies doesn’t need to buy something like this. Eric Schmidt can keynote at Further Future or any of these doofs in his laser shirt, any time he wants. What they need – to sell this idea to their public company board – is a local government that gives them a thumbs up for their pteradactyl experimental vision.

 

Now that the local government have told BMOrg (whoever that really is, through all the Nebulous Entities“you guys can do whatever you want and we’ll give you special use permits for unspecified future things and leave you alone”, one wonders how long it may take before the robots are running around.

bone tree burning man

The Skulls and Bones of the Nebulous Entity came from a nearby ranch

Back to the Further Future

Image: Peter Ruprecht

Image: Peter Ruprecht

Kestrel returns with a year 2 review of Robot Heart’s tech and music conference.


Last year I took a chance on Robot Heart’s festival debut. Now, one year later, that heart remains a lightning rod for any number of gripes about the social experiment in Nevada, and what it has become. Last week it became a literal lightning rod, as FF was body-slammed by mother nature. Last year the BLM’s shady permit-denial moves and the travel problems created by the “Fight of the Century” threw festival-killer curveballs at the event. This year FF was inundated by a season’s worth of rain in one day – so before anything else is said let’s all bear in mind that this crew of friends-turned festival producers are averaging 3 crises every 12 months.

 

For a fairly long and detailed background on last year’s event, the Paiute, and the infrastructure of FF, refer to my article from last year. For now, here are the basics: Further Future is a 3-day music and tech conference held on private property belonging to the Paiute Indians of the Moapa Valley reservation about 45 minutes N.E. of Vegas. Tickets prices are tiered, but average about $300, and one needs to apply for an invite code by sending a simple, one-sentence message. The code can be used to buy multiple tickets and has nothing to do with what you look like or how much you make. Camping accommodations vary greatly from self-camping to luxury structures. Water and WiFi are free, and there is cashless RFID wristband-vending but almost no branding. Attendance is about 5000 people, spread over a few dozen acres of desert. The bill is comprised of over 100 speakers, studio monitors and musical acts.

 

Bookended by the Robot Heart bus facing dawn, and a more traditional main-stage framing the sunset were a variety of structures. A beautiful outdoor speaker series stage called Booba Cosmica, a Creator’s Lounge to showcase and demo tech, a tight-packed disco called the Void, a pop-up dining hall, a spa, a yoga sanctuary, a surround-sound setup called the Envelope Satellite and a variety of art installs, chill-out pods and customized containers peppered the grounds. There was a general store and a farmer’s market. The event eschewed West-Coast fest mainstays such as flying runs of stretch fabric, flower-of-life tapestries and the “LEDiarrhea look” for simplicity and function. Staging was celestially oriented, and celebrated the natural beauty of the Mojave desert. This year, the addition of hundreds of wooden pallets made for a retro/Western feel evocative of Muse’s “Knights of Cydonia” video.

 

It’s eerily similar to the Black Rock desert, but the conditions are less extreme. (Usually.) No open fire. No LEOs besides Tribal Police. Do what you want, consume what you will, but keep your clothes on. Key times are dawn and sunset, the aesthetic is futuristic and silver, people seem to split their time between costumed photoshoots, TED-style talks and dancing. The population is noticeably more ethnically diverse than TTITD and skews both a little older and more European than the crowd at Larry’s party. It seems that news of last year’s success reached foreign shores, and the Cali. festy kids with little to risk who drove the 4 hours from L.A. were replaced to some extent by European couples in their 40’s and 50’s. People were friendly but not as aggressively outgoing as the crowd at The Awesome, and anyone who’s traveled in Europe will recognize the vibe.

 

There are two ways to talk about Further Future –  in and out of the context of TTITD. If no-one had ever heard of the other event, FF could simply exist as the finest small music festival in America and perhaps the world. Perfect sound at accessible stages featuring an expertly curated mix of diverse music with the addition of substantive talks delivered by actual visionaries in a gorgeous natural setting.

 

But the event doesn’t exist in a vacuum. It grew out of a TAZ which itself grew out of a specific historical setting. A very smart friend of mine sums up TTITD as a series of small cultural revolutions connected by a thread best labelled “The Search for White Identity.” Larry and his crew had the brilliant idea of bringing San Francisco-flavored Situationism to “The Middle of Nowhere.” (a White man’s conceit – Lake Lahontan has been an important meeting place for a long time.) The Robot Heart crew brought a very different East Coast and Far-East sensibility to the experiment a decade-and-a-half after guns and dogs had been replaced by techno.

This may have been the source of the rumor that the leader of Anonymous was there. Image: Ruprecht Studios

This may have been the source of the rumor that the leader of Anonymous was there. Image: Ruprecht Studios

I get the feeling that BMorg’s hyper-litigious corporate culture stems from decades of fighting off commercialization of their event, as well as downplaying the suicides, O.D.’s and sexual assaults that perennially threaten the very existence of the experiment. The most extreme example that comes to mind is their recent legal victory (documented on this very site) over a Canadian collective trying to incorporate a common synonym for “combust” into their domain name. I don’t use the word in my writing anymore, and similarly FF’s participants and speakers made little mention of the culture that birthed this new one, and the fear that Larry’s lawyers have instilled in us only pushes us further, faster.

 

We opted for a Saturday entry ($100 off) and that late arrival saved us a couple hundred on flights. Although it meant missing Four Tet, Tennis and WhoMadeWho. Bummer, but we stayed dry in Vegas. As was my experience last year, the journey from the Strip THROUGH the gate took under an hour. So easy compared to DFALT (Discovering Friends And Losing Things.) We set up our little Jucy rental RV and went exploring. I guess now it’s a tradition, but I insisted we made a beeline to the bus. As we entered the grounds, people’s regalia and costumes were on full display.

 

There’s no central Esplanade; rather the fastest way around is actually a curved road on the periphery of the event, with a stunning backdrop of the Moapa valley extending for miles on one side, with and everything else on the inside. It feels like K street around 10 in BRC, right where the outer ring is closest to the edge of our Lake of Dreams, and you can sort of see the shrubs out by 447 and the road the cops use to come in on, so the RH crew are right at home here!

 

People generally respected the fact that the other side of the road was tribal land, but used it as a photo-shoot backdrop. You didn’t get the feeling here that cameras are an issue, and there was a sign at the gate warning that one’s image would most likely be captured. I never, ever carry a camera or take pictures in BRC (other than to document builds and camp stuff) but here I felt like a kid at the zoo, and was glad to have a DSLR. Right as we entered a woman dressed in Dom gear and giant moon-boots was standing on a modded container snapping a bullwhip at a camera drone. You saw a lot of the “rhinestoned generalissimo hat and round shades” style that’s kind of an RH fan mainstay and looks way more “Frank Miller combat-hooker” than the “Haight Goddess and her Silicon Valley Unicorns” look people NOT from the West Coast tolerate in silence at BRC.

 

It’s always hard to tell who made what, but the costumes were fun and varied, and there were fewer normcore types and sports logos than you’d expect. I talked to a super daywalker-type from Minnesota in a polo shirt who was impressed by how respectful everyone was. I explained how I felt that while it wasn’t exactly horrible, the few butts around would cause a riot at the Main Event, and he had a tough time understanding why. For a second time, I witnessed zero shitshow moments/fights/nonsense, with the one exception of a bro who somehow slipped thru the entry code process and drunkenly bear hugged a hanging Hybycozo lantern that came straight down around him like Building 7. The pieces were intact, and they fixed it later, but he ran away into the darkness, hopefully to be bitten by some rattlesnake who’d wandered in, following a 75,000 watt thumping trail to Lee Burridge.

Image: Peter Ruprecht

Image: Peter Ruprecht

I won’t go into great detail about the music, except to say that I have a whole new library of stuff to listen to. Got to see The Pharcyde in the desert. Discovered a new sound in the form of UK act Elderbrook, when we just had to go check out the guy playing solo Fender Jaguar into Ableton plus soul vox on the Boba Cosmica stage. The stages and screens are gorgeous, and the festival sounds like a millionaire stereophile dragged bespoke systems out into the desert (It’s a “funktion-none” situation, from what could tell. The only brand clearly visible on an audio element were the RH logos on the Bus’s mid-stacks.)

 

Last year’s headlining slot (sunset Sunday) went to Bob Moses. This year we were treated to the Easy Star All-Stars playing Dub Side of the Moon in its entirety with a high def “Oz” visual accompaniment (so fun!) followed by HVOB, who, like Bob Moses, bring live vocals and native instrument flavor to minimal electronica. HVOB’s visuals consisted of mostly black and white flowing graphics that I believe were the work of artist Clemens Wolf, punctuated by the band’s simple “checkmark” logo. Minimal, Austrian, disarmingly beautiful, and a perfect companion to Dub Side. When I say the music is expertly curated, I mean the music is. Expertly. Curated.

Image: Facebook

Schmidt claimed that they were concerned about attacks from laser weapons. He was recently appointed to run the Pentagon’s new Innovation Advisory Board, so this may not have been ironic

But what really sets FF apart is the quality of the talks. Everyone knows of a theme camp that organizes a speaker series to help with their placement and give the illusion that the camp is bringing enrichment…but in execution the talks are a joke and everyone makes sure they’re not so loud as to wake up the DJ’s. Further Future’s speaker series had Eric Schmidt answering tough questions. The CEO of Google, ten feet away. As we arrived he was saying that “We are in a time where we know more but feel worse”…cogently acknowledging the existence of a new form of dysfunction that arose from the all encompassing knowledge-sphere his own company had helped to create.

I went primarily for the music and the talks about music, and I’m not an excellent judge on the caliber of conversations about the future of high technology. But a friend of mine who is far more knowledgeable than me about such things was also there, and he was impressed by the high level of most of the talks and felt that one could summarize the attitude of most of the speakers down to the idea “that you could harness technology (applied creatively), collaboration, and an orientation towards action and positivity rather than fear and apathy inducing cynicism – to transform the world.  That the future of technology might not be so much killer robots ala terminator but the opening of new frontiers for mankind.” He’s dubbed this view “techno-positivism” and he says that nowhere has he seen a better case for it than at FF.

 

There were as many speakers as DJ’s. The talks were fun, and there were many more questions than time to answer them. I witnessed an humanoid robot engage in an open-domain exchange about gardening. I experienced the Playa in 360 degree immersion through VR goggles (my first exposure to VR). I listened to a Princeton neuro-scientist talk about what happens to you put transcendental meditation masters into an MRI machine. When I suddenly realized I wanted an apple, I could buy one at the farmer’s market. The next day I got to hear the farmer who brought them talk about how we could get insurance companies to incentivize the consumption of locally-grown food. Last year the Soundcloud guys spoke; this year it was a Spotify team member’s turn. The giant, gorgeous display on the mainstage was used to host a mini film fest between acts, and Darren Aronofsky was in attendance.

 

When I talk about music publishing in a VR realm to people, I usually get blank stares in return. Here VR music distribution was a defacto topic of conversation across forums. The off-repeated fear that Oculus will make us all hermits was met with data on how VR can help treat autism. We were told about a project to create a VR sexual assault experience from the viewpoint of both the attacker and the victim so legislators could “walk a mile” in both shoes. The notion that this technology could actually create empathy and bring people together permeated both the Creator’s Lounge and Booba Cosmica. If it got too heady, you were a three minute trot from face-melting beats and just as far from a massage. Festival veterans enjoyed the cerebral moments, and the academics and inventors enjoyed the novelty of speaking in a tent in the desert. It felt both authentic and accidental, but more than anything it felt timely.

 

There were a few misses. Tycho was a no-show at his panel. For some reason, there were bare mattresses everywhere, and I actually preferred the staging and layout last year, where camping was basically inside the festival grounds. This year featured an actual manned gate, and security would either not scan you at all and just wave you by, or alternatively not let you in with a camera, seemingly depending on the individual guard. We paid for an RV pass for our Jucy, but since the van has no hookups, and we were just living in the lot anyway, it seemed like a waste of money, and at $250 split three ways, it’s not just pocket change. Last year felt more like a spontaneous gathering, but then it occurs to me that this might be nostalgia speaking. Am I doing the “It was better next year” thing? Already?

 

My first year I went alone – this year I brought two friends and next year we plan to bring a whole crew. We stayed ’til Monday morning, at which point RH’s friends were doing the “I’m MOOPing, are you?” judge-nudge that lets the strangers know it’s time to leave. (At this point Monday Beatport’s pre-written hit piece was already online. Contrary to popular misconceptions, mangoes are not $7 at FF. A freshly prepared fruit cup is. There was no pizza. Delicious, desert-appropriate portions of ceviche were $6. A McDonald’s-quality salad poolside at the Bellagio is $20. Who’s the 1% meow?)

 

Further Future can be done for less dough than most big festivals, and as more people realize how great this event is, the complaints about it being “BM for the 1%” will fade. The organizers are careful to use language that suggests they are willing to open source their event. They describe what “a” Further Future event is, not what “the” event is. Presumably this kind of “mindful optimism” is portable. It has to be.

 

One last thing worth mentioning is that this event takes place on Paiute land actually owned by Paiute, so some (presumably large) part of the ticket price goes to them. There is no temple, and the RH crew reminds participants not to strip down naked or wear anything Native-American inspired. For the second year, I didn’t see anyone break this rule. The main event, on the other hand, features white people building a temple on former Indian land that turns a profit for other white people.

 

Let that sink in next time you’re feeling sacred out there in the CNC’d shadows at the corner of Twelve o’clock and missing friends. The Paiute are missing a few as well….

 

…And if you are one of those for whom that land by the temple is sacred, and you’re feeling the crunch of ticket scarcity, whatever you do, don’t look West to the music nerds climbing their bus project. They don’t have any extra tickets from Bmorg. Nope, if you’re feelin’ that The Man has altered his contracts with you and made it harder for you to access your sacred land – you should write to him. The Paiute can tell you how that goes…

 

Image: Peter Ruprecht

Image: Peter Ruprecht

TTITD’ers are not all the same. We’re not all fire spinners, or DJ’s, and some of us even play guitar. There can be a kind of Etsy-conformity to our culture, and although I’m decidedly not wealthy, at times I felt like I “fit in” more at FF than BM. If you’re into the whole desert TAZ thang, but you’re not a fire-jock, this is the fest for you. If you’ve ever had a festy friend with their heart in the right place tell you to “add some color to your wardrobe” this is the fest for you. If you like your conversations about energy flow to happen with a guy who’s put lab instruments on Tibetan monks…then I’ll see you in the Further Future.

 

The other thing moves your heart. Further Future fills your brain. This is a transformational festival where people with the resources and skills to transform the planet interact with people who have already transformed their personal lives. To that extent, where the Impossible City in the Desert saves individual people, Further Future has started a conversation about how to save the world.

 

I’ll close with my tech developer friend’s words about FF:

 

“I find the internet hate directed at the so called “Burning Man for the 1%” to be almost embarrassingly unproductive.  These are not the 1%’ers we should be fighting.  These are the ones we should be talking to, working with, cross-pollinating with. Lumping them in with the Martin Shkreli’s of the world based solely on their net worth is just not the smart move here.”

 

There was a neon art piece out by the bus that read “This Is Just the Beginning.”

 

I hope so.

 

-Kestrel.


burnersxxx:

Thanks Kestrel for another fine guest post. And thanks to photo artist Peter Ruprecht for these images, he says:

The future is not something that happens to you but rather the fabric with which you shape your destiny. It is part raw material, part pre-built. It is up to us to learn to navigate the challenges, successes and shortcomings in a manner that makes the journey worth the result and the result worth the journey. It is that perfect dance of embracing your future, accepting your past and loving your present. Thanks all for your gifts out there…thanks Further Future and Robot Heart!

I took some cellphone video of Eric Schmidt’s talk. Like always at these things, you look around and see lots of professional photographers and fancy camera setups, filming away. Where does all this footage go? Seemingly, not on YouTube. Anyway, it’s shaky, it’s shitty, but it’s better than nothing…