Burning Man’s former Social Alchemist Bear Kittay shares his memories of Larry Harvey, as well as some insight into how Larry’s crowning achievement of a permanent, year-round Philosophy Center came together.
Guest Post by Bear Kittay
“Burning Man’s a self-service cult, you wash your own brain.” -Larry Harvey
Larry Harvey. Visionary, poet, iconoclast, beat, muse, my friend. We had our glorious ups, and some terrific and intense downs together. Spirited debate and philosophical sparring. As Global Ambassador, I had the privilege of accompanying Larry to the likes of Turkey, Ibiza, London, Paris and beyond. Our connection was potent, originating with transgenerational juxtaposition of the significance of Burning Man as a cultural phenomenon through the lens of ancient history, culture, commerce and technology.
Larry’s enigmatic approach definitively set the trajectory for Burning Man as a movement, with genius foresight, protecting the “anti-brand” at all costs, both stewarding this as the gold standard of what I like to call “post-capitalistic social physics” in it’s ephemeral event, and, much to my millennial chagrin at moments, arguably diminishing its capacity to collectively evolve into a true movement beyond himself as the “anti-cult” leader. This is not to say that he didn’t possibly have the most genius plan for scale of all: to restrict the organizational capacity and thus force function the diaspora to scale independently, powered by the remarkably relevant Ten Principles, as it most certainly has. But possibly nowhere on earth is there a community with more capacity and demand to govern itself with decentralized ageny in earnest than Burning Man.
Larry didn’t have a formal succession plan. To his, and the other “founders” credit, they sacrificed financial gain for the protection of decommodification in earnest by giving up their ownership in the LLC to the nonprofit. But, from my personal experience, true evolutionary governance for Burning Man during his reign was not something that interested him. In a lesser known act, he and the “founders” retained control of the Intellectual Property of Burning Man in an entity most ironically named “Decommodification LLC”, and kept this governed independently of the Burning Man Project non-profit and it’s wider Board of Directors.
I haven’t spoken or written publicly about my experience co-leading the acquisition of Fly Ranch. It really should be a book. Thrilling emotional saga to say the least. So much complexity – a true miracle that we were able to pull it off despite so many obstacles (notwithstanding ourselves). It was Larry‘s last unrealized prophecy for Burning Man. Three attempts, over 15+ years, had been made to acquire the property but none successful. It was this challenge that turned me on and my beloved Katiyana and I, along with a devoted team (Daniel Claussen, James Milner & countless others), dedicated two years of our lives to fulfilling this dream. It was with a great deal of hubris, naïveté and unbridled passion that we gave this our all, leveraging introductions to weave directly to the very titans of industry within the community who had the capacity to write the extremely unconventional types of checks necessary to both fund the enormity of the project and the patience and care to tolerate the unwillingness to plan what would happen there or commit to how it would be governed, not to mention the eccentric personalities and bizarre bureaucracy.
And how we did the “sales”… was a legend of its on accord. During Burning Man in 2014, and 2015, Katiyana led the “top-secret operation” where we organized discrete “tours” of Fly Ranch during the event. Some of these were more structured via first camp, while others were nothing short of rouge playful kidnapping raids on billionaires through the back gate of Black Rock City (known as Point One) and back for dinner. Naked, singing, visionary, shamanic, philosophical, sexy… many forms of magic occurred. But these relationships and moments together transcended time and space, and laid the foundation for the leap of faith required to close the transaction at long last, as well as an “unofficial” ecosystem beyond.
And it was in the 11th hour as the funding and acquisition became a reality that I had my moment with Larry, pleading with him to, for the sake of his legacy, commit to more inclusive process and governance design that would demonstrate Fly Ranch as a V2 for Burning Man. A laboratory to prototype the future of human civilization and bring the processes, best practices and of course, magic of Burning Man to the world at large. We didn’t see eye to eye, but continued to have respect for each other even going through the predictable (to most but not me at the time) break up that followed. When we finally closed the transaction on my 31st birthday, June 6 2016, it was clear my 4 year stint of time serving in the Burning Man Global Government-Aristocracy-Church-
Nonprofit was up. Bittersweet breakup. Ego death. Life lessons that money could never buy.
My last conversation with Larry, I bumped into him outside of his apartment on Alamo Square in San Francisco. We spent two hours in a passionate conversation (with the typical plumes of Larry smoke) where I explained to him all that I had been learning about the Blockchain and its capacity to provide a grand template for evolutionary governance. He was skeptically intrigued. I left feeling a deep sense of reverent satisfaction and walked across the park…
And now Larry’s gone. A transition in a time of transition. What will the future hold for Burning Man? Has the movement evolved beyond the event? Are the many connotations of Burning Man now amassed in a lexicon of terms and verbs more broadly such that the burden of post-capitalist / decentralized leadership is no longer on the organization to steward?
The longer that has gone by since we parted ways, the more wisdom I realize was gleamed from him. In a world of binary, quantifiable, branded paradigms, Larry was an artist of the coyote: diagonal, sarcastic, socratic. He wouldn’t give you direct answers, he would ask vexing and whimsical questions. He wouldn’t tell you what it was, he would only ruminate upon it’s reflections. Thank you Larry Harvey. Your irreverent genius will always accompany me somewhere deep in my conscience. Although you claimed to be an atheist, I do wonder if you are consciously prancing somewhere in another realm far beyond… I hope to see you there.
I thought he was dead.
Kudos to Bear Kittay for penning this article. He states the required Borg Kool Aid near to the beginning of the article, but the items of which are most important within this article are of the desire of Bear for Larry to ‘commit to more inclusive process and governance design that would demonstrate Fly Ranch as a V2 for Burning Man’ and of ‘capacity to provide a grand template for evolutionary governance’.
This is manner of which the Burning Man Project went most horribly wrong within the change from a private business to a 401(c)3 nonprofit near to the end of 2013. In the place of gifting Burning Man back to the Burners, of which the six founders of the BMP stated upon numerous occurances, they remained in near to total top down control, of which, Scribe, the Burning Man reporter of the prior San Francisco Bay Guardian newspaper penned awesome articles upon these matters, and ending with him giving up in frustration.
The manner of which Larry, and Marian, remained in near to total top down control is in due of the Bylaws of the Burning Man Project. Larry was the President and Chief Philosophic Officer of the BMP. The BMP Bylaws state of the Chief Philosophic Officer has the unexpected powers of near to total control over the Black Rock City LLC subsidiary, of which, it is the Burning Man Festival. The Chief Philosphic Officer, in addendum, has the unexpected powers of evaluating and submitting ventures and joint ventures to the BMP Board, thusly, the Chief Philosophic Officer has control over joint ventures of the manner of the Fly Ranch Project.
In due of Larry passing, and in due of health difficulties of two of the other five founders of the BMP, the BMP Bylaws are most in need of change. My belief is the awesome Burning Man community must have, of the manner of which Bear stated for the Fly Ranch Project to ‘commit to a more inclusive process and governance design’ and ‘provide a grand template for evolutionary governance’, in the place of, at present, swallowing their rubbish Kool Aid, and of not being permitted to have a voice, most especially upon the numerous Borg controlled groups, and pages, and sites, solely purposed to be permitted to gain directed tickets, and placement, and the community of your mates for the next burn
My belief is the present manner of organization is quite the opposite of the manner of which Burning Man, and the Fly Ranch Project, should be organized. Might they be of the realization of this and change towards an inclusive manner? After all, their massive cashout is near to complete after they are paid, from the Burning Man Project, for the very valuable Burning Man(tm) trademarks and other IP of the history of Burning Man, of which, it was priorly stated to occur near to the end of 2018.
In addendum, after Larrys passing, I am most curious in regards of whom did the BMP Board vote to be the next Chief Philosophic Officer to run the Burning Man Festival and the Fly Ranch Project?
Still don’t like this guy.
Is his estate going to give the money back?
That is most humorous. A Burner, upon Reddit, stated ‘The Org has somewhere between 14-18 million dollars in the bank. Closed loop of WTF.’ And, ‘$2,000,000 per year goes into an account that very very few people in the community knows about. But …..EVERYBODY knows about the fundraising every week, month and year. Radical self-serving silence.’
My belief is the $2,000,000 of every year, is of the five years of 2014-2018, for a total of near to $10,000,000, is paid to an escrow account at an outside bank, or lawyer, purposed for payment, to the Decommodification pass through LLC, from the Burning Man Project, to the five members of the BMOrg, and Larrys estate, for the valuable Burning Man(tm) trademarks and the IP of the history of Burning Man. The BMP Bylaws state any person is of the ability to visit the BMP headquarters, within normal business hours, purposed to view, and copy, the minutes of the BMP Board, of which, any payments of bigger than $500,000 must be stated within the minutes. Might any reporter, or might any student of journalism, desire to gain that information purposed to pen an article, and thusly, gain a byline?
All the money has been cashed out now, under the smoke screen of RIP good tidings (Larry changed the world, blah blah). It’s physically heavy to cash out millions but in Euro 500 notes, it’s not too heavy, just logistically it’s difficult.
The money you speak of has been set aside for future infrastructure needs necessitated by increased attendance.
Much obliged for the Kool Aid, it is most humorous.
An awesome Burner artist, in due of his numerous fire sculptures, and whom has helped many Burners, and artists, desires help.
Save Kals Robots
thanks I did a post https://burners.me/save-kals-robots/