Weaponized Principles

A superlative guest post from Terbo Ted, the first DJ at Burning Man and therefore one of its Unofficial Founders.


Weaponized Principles


Larry Harvey and I were onstage together in 2000 as part of a panel discussion at SOMARTS in San Francisco’s SOMA District. The event was called Webzine. Everyone in the panel was Gen X and some sort of web developer or coder, except for Larry. I was in my early 30s and Larry had to have been in his early 50s. He was there because he was an influencer, a voice of the counterculture. I had worked with Larry from 1992-1996 on the Burning Man Festival (Larry did proudly call it a “Festival” back then) but I had quit working on BM in 1996, when someone died on the playa, multiple others were badly injured and there were numerous arrests. Larry and I remained cordial, he was always a valuable friend and mentor. Larry obviously carried on and the Burning Man legacy continues.


During the panel discussion, we fielded many questions from the audience, largely about the role of early internet corporations such as Yahoo!. This was before google, facebook and today’s internet giants, in an era when much of the internet was still being built by small design firms and ad hoc coalitions of mercenary contractors such as myself. Larry- who didn’t write code- was a brilliant intellectual, cultural engineer and visionary, and he made a statement on that panel that still rings true in my head today. Larry had the audacity to say to a large audience of young, independent creative people in an art gallery in San Francisco that corporations were not bad. In essence, Harvey explained that you didn’t want to be milling the rubber for your own tires, or soldering together circuit boards for your own computer. Words of wisdom.


It was still a few years before Harvey introduced the 10 Principles to the Burner community. “Radical Self-reliance” is one of those principles. Looking back at the context of the mid-90s, San Francisco- which spawned Burning Man- was a beacon for DIY culture. The 1995 film ‘Tank Girl’ felt like it was about my friends.


SOMA was home to young women with nose piercings who’d be chain smoking while fixing their motorcycle, talking about wanting to go to welding classes- and crudely painting things in garish colors with their spiky hair in disarray- while wearing grimy paint-stained coveralls. I miss that nuts and bolts era, years before everyone was glued to their phones. Even at the 2000-era Webzine conference, the community there was hand coding its own web sites, DIY in full effect. But there’s reasonable limits to DIY. For example, we were able to figure out how to rent a generator from a construction supply company, cart it out to the Black Rock Desert with enough fuel to run some lights or sound system or coffee maker or whatever we wanted out there for a few days. For the most part- I can’t speak for everybody, because there were crazy Tesla coils being trucked out there back then- most of us had no interest in building our own generator, or processing our own fuel. Radical self-reliance wasn’t entirely literal. Larry didn’t design or weld together his own Airstream trailer, or hand-stitch his own trademark Guayabera shirts.


It’s important to realize that the 10 Principles are not Burning Man’s actual rules. Rules are things like ‘no dogs’ or ‘no firearms’. There were almost no rules in the early days on the playa, and there are pages and pages of rules now. Without rules, Black Rock City could not exist at today’s scale. In my opinion, Larry drafted the 10 Principles to try and explain- Larry was quite an explainer- shared cultural values that had become common among a good number of- but not necessarily all- Burners, based on years of shared communal experience.


Today’s Burners can be an odd set of internet trolls- myself included- and it’s hard to make sense of all the snarky comments and jokes online about bacon or sparkle ponies and so on. “Radical Self-reliance” has become a weaponized keyboard warrior shout down directed at classes of burners who are perceived to be ‘doing it wrong’ by the “Burnier than thou” types. /eyeroll. When I first went out to the Black Rock Desert, we had no idea that we’d need goggles. People would do stuff like take a nap on the playa surface in the midday sun. There were lots of errors in the trial and error. But the beauty of shared wisdom and interaction helped create this enormous culture. So to all of you zealots who keep repeating “Radical Self-reliance” without thinking it through, do you really want to go to the playa and spend the whole week camping by yourself, without saying a word,
saving all your own fecal and urine waste and dutifully carrying it back home in your vehicle? Of course not. Actually, it would be cool performance art if you did.


But the point I’m making is that it’s okay to realize that in a city of 70,000 people there are folks who are going to highly specialize in what they can offer to the city. It’s okay to eat food prepared and paid for by someone else for example. Or to experience art that you didn’t make yourself. As Larry said, you don’t need to mill the rubber for your own tires or solder your own circuit boards. If you did, that’s great too, go for it.


“Immediacy” has to be my favorite of the ten principles, especially in how it relates to the default world. Harvey used to explain that when people would go out to the void of the Black Rock Desert, people’s true essence would shine out of them, because there were no other reference points, it was an authentic experience, you saw people for what they really were when we were “Out There.” There were no cell phone towers anywhere back then, and certainly not on the playa. Today’s world is this crazed media-fueled monster. Stuff that happens thousands of miles away to people we don’t know and will never meet suddenly becomes instant narrative with cultural battle lines being drawn out over every minor detail, true or
not true, it doesn’t matter. This world we inhabit today can be as far from actual “Immediacy” as possible, it’s not based on our actual individual experience right in front of us.


I’m going to argue that Larry missed a few principles. “Gifting” probably could be interpreted to include the Burner slogan “The Playa Provides.” But “The Playa Provides” would be a great 11th principle. The last time I was on the playa in 2017, my favorite incident was as follows: I had befriended a Cigar Camp and was sitting in the shade smoking one of their fine gifted cigars, watching people walk and ride by. It’s got to be 105 out in the sun. A young, slight woman trudges by, her skin burning hot, she’s out of breath, on the edge of tears, dragging her playa bike behind her with considerable effort. “Hey hey hey” I yell at her, “you need to get out of the sun! Did you ride your bike behind the water truck?” She nodded yes and looks like she’s about to cry in frustration. Sure enough- a burgin- she rode her playa bike behind a water truck, and as the wet playa mud dried and hardened, her bike seized up and was unrideable. We get her into the shade, tell
her she should rest a bit, get her some water or a beer or soda or something.


Communicating to the camp mates there, we are able to retrieve a screwdriver, a chisel, some water, some WD-40. We show the young woman how to remove the hardened playa from her bike. Eventually and with considerable effort on her part, it’s in fine running order, she’s cooled off and happily rides away. I can’t remember her name, Australian. Anyway, that vignette sums up ‘gifting’ and ‘the Playa Provides.’ It wasn’t some pre-meditated intention, it was a spontaneous episode that showed how great people can be when we truly need some help to get by. Immediacy.


Let’s go back to Webzine in SOMA in 2000. I was booked to DJ the end of the
event, and a reporter from a TV station in Holland was out to see me play. But my set was cancelled, as Survival Research Labs set off a jet engine in the adjacent parking lot next to SOMARTS, shaking the geiger counter, it was like a terrorist attack, event immediately over. This sort of hazing from older artists was normal back in the day. SRL I think was quite pleased to deliberately show up all these young web coder kids and shut down a ‘rave’. SRL to this day is amazing and awesome, and their vibe very much corresponds to the early SF Burner ethos- hardcore industrial anarchist pranksters- all the respect possible to this tribe.

Connecting this to the Burner timeline, I was part of the first DJ camps at Burning Man from 1992-1996, and I would say that other than the main trio of BM organizers then, namely: Larry Harvey, John Law and Michael Mikel, the other older Burners as a whole typically hated our musical contribution, treated us like pariahs and blamed us ‘ravers’ for just about everything possible that went wrong.

This is well documented. [link]

Let’s go back to the concept of immediacy. If you’ve followed the Burner culture this offseason, news stories have been published as far and wide as the New York Times and BBC talking about official new Burning Man policies against a certain camp- friends of mine- who were singled out and named by name by the official CEO of the org itself, who is also my friend. No one was killed or injured or arrested, as happens now every year at Burning Man. And then hundreds if not thousands of people starting chiming in online in gleeful accord against the new ‘bad’ guys camp because of the news articles flying around. We’re half way around the sun from the burn, and people are openly dissing a camp they’ve never visited or experienced, spewing random heresay, speculation, falsehoods and slander, based on their own biases, prejudices and tilted belief systems. This is as far from immediacy as possible you people, get a freaking clue.

This one camp has been blamed for just about every crime possible against core Burner values, despite their insisting on adherence to the 10 Principles and putting their blood, sweat and tears into their inspired and meticulously planned camps like everyone else. Reading comments from people online who claim to hate this camp after allegedly camping near them, I can’t help but think, why couldn’t you befriend this camp and enjoy the burn with them? I certainly did when they were my burgin neighbors back in 2016! Or if things were going bad for them, why didn’t you help your neighbors in the moment instead of heaping scorn on them on the internet half a year later? WTF. Even worse, I can’t help but take this whole episode of hating on one camp personally, as BM has a long history of blaming people for “ruining” Burning Man. [link]

I am- with my early 90s campmates- very high up on this list of ruining the early years and subsequent trajectory of the ‘festival’ which is no longer officially called a ‘festival’ anymore. To be clear, the org doesn’t owe anyone anything and they can determine whichever camps they choose to work with or not work with, that’s up to them, right or wrong, good or bad, arbitrary or not. If it was up to me, the org would never publicly shame a group by name for failure or errors, myriad or minor, deliberate or accidental. But that’s not my decision to make. We’ve just witnessed the ferocious power of the mainstream news media permanently destroying the reputation of a specific Burning Man camp. We’ve come so far… but for this?

I somehow feel like Emmanuel Goldstein from Orwell’s 1984 as I type, a historical early adopter turned outcast dooming themselves to eternal damnation for speaking up against the controlling regime. I’m not sure I’m ever welcome again in Black Rock City, home to 70,000 people. I would be scared to show my face in First Camp now that Larry has passed, as they are well known to aggressively boot interlopers, random wanderers and unescorted guests out of their space, where guest chefs prepare amazing gourmet meals with the finest ingredients for the anointed hand-picked intelligentsia. The real missing 11th Principle is “Conform or be Cast Out.” Toe the line or else! You will be ostracized! All you Instagram models better dress exactly like all the other Instagram models in perfect Burner costume, or you’ll get singled out and attacked for doing it wrong!
Conform or die! Hmpf.


About the storyteller:

Terbo Ted first visited the Black Rock Desert in 1992 when there was no gate, no perimeter, no road, no trash fence and you could drive your car as fast as you wanted in any direction. Terbo was the first DJ to play in Black Rock City, with no one there to hear his set on a dusty Friday afternoon. Later, in the early years he was the only one ever to be called “Mayor of the Techno Ghetto.” His playa self and default world self can be remarkably similar these days.

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Video

The Man With The Hat – A Celebration of Larry’s Life and Legacy

The Man with the Hat: A Celebration of Larry Harvey’s Life and Legacy (1948–2018), at San Francisco’s Castro Theatre on Saturday, July 14, 2018. On this special evening, we celebrated Larry Harvey’s life, legacy and influence, through storytelling, live music and performance, videos, and audience participation.

Stewart Brand Livestream: 50 Years of Whole Earth Catalog

Live today at 6:30pm PST. Tune in via this page.

Re-blogged from Reinvent.Net

Fifty years ago the Whole Earth Catalog burst onto the cultural scene and helped set in motion waves of innovation that reverberated through the San Francisco Bay Area and the rest of America – and that continue to this day. The one-and-only Stewart Brand was the creative force behind that unique media publication and cultural phenomenon and we’re honored that he’s going to talk about the Whole Earth’s intellectual and entrepreneurial legacy at the June gathering of What’s Now: San Francisco.

In 1968 the publication of the first Whole Earth Catalog with the first photo of the whole earth seen from space started to bring coherence to an emerging worldview that broke with 20th century models and pointed to a very different decentralized, sustainable and holistic future empowered by new kinds of tools and technologies. Over the years that strange amalgam of magazine, tools catalog and how-to book inspired a generation who took that worldview and applied it in numerous fields. Steve Jobs famously credited the Whole Earth Catalog and Stewart Brand with inspiring his vision for Apple – and some of today’s young tech founders still are inspired by it and come to Stewart for advice. But the Whole Earth also made a big impact on the environmental movement, the early internet, the maker movement, organic farming, architecture and city planning, health and wellness, and the list goes on.

No one arguably has done more to stimulate innovation in so many directions over so many years in the Bay Area than Stewart Brand. The Whole Earth Catalog was simply one act in a long line of innovative organizations he has helped found or new ideas he has helped introduce. The legacy of the Whole Earth Catalog can get tangled up in the many other projects that Stewart has been involved with in the ensuing five decades: the first online community at The WELL, the pioneering futures think tank Global Business Network, The Long Now Foundation building a 10,000 year clock with help from Jeff Bezos, or his latest Revive and Restore, working to reverse extinction. (For more on Stewart, just Google him or watch one of his six – yes, six – TED talks.)

Join us on the evening of June 7th as we hold a conversation with Stewart that lays out some of the strands of the legacy of the Whole Earth Catalog at our What’s Now: San Francisco event, done in collaboration with Capgemini at their Applied Innovation Exchange. We expect to also draw into the conversation some prominent people who were impacted by the Whole Earth Catalog and consider themselves as part of the legacy. To what extent did the Whole Earth Catalog or its derivatives impact their thinking or inspire the formation of their own entrepreneurial efforts? As is our custom, we’ll make sure to open up the conversation to all those who attend. Mark your calendars for June 7 for what is sure to be a truly memorable evening. And if you can’t make it, or if we run out of room, we’ll be live-streaming it for all to see.

Capgemini and their Applied Innovation Exchange is our partner for this series. This event is free but requires advance registration through an invite. If you are interested in attending, email contact@reinvent.net. If you can’t attend in person, the event will be streamed here starting at 6:30pm PT.


We also talked about Stewart before in The New Communalists and The Greatest Cultural Movement of Our Time. If there is an award for mastermind of Silicon Valley, I nominate him. Here’s what he said about Burning Man:

Burning Man, they have surpassed in every way the various things we were attempting with the Acid Tests and the Trips Festival, Burning Man has realized with such depth and thoroughness and ongoing originality and ability to scale and minimalist rules, but enough rules that you can function, and all the things we were farting around with, Larry Harvey has really pulled off. I don’t think that would have come to pass without going through whatever that spectrum of the ’60s was, the prism of the ’60s, the spectrum of bright colors that we espoused for a while. It all got exacerbated by the Internet and sequence of computer-related booms, but I think it flavored a whole lot of the basic nature of Burning Man. Its Hellenism was replaced by Hellenistic Period, driven out by Alexandria and that was basically better. I think that’s to some extent true in this case.

Stanford counterculture professor Fred Turner (a Burner) asked Stewart about Self-Reliance Sufficiency:

Stewart gets a few mentions in our look last year on the 50th anniversary of the Human Be-in at the Bay Area’s counter-cultural legacy:

 

 

Radical Inclusion Party Foul

A guest post by Mayor of the Techno Ghetto Terbo Ted TerboLizard, the founder of doof at Burning Man. Ever wonder why there are thousands of massively popular raves in the world, and yet the Cacophony Society didn’t really grow beyond a few groups of a couple of hundred weirdos? In 2017 They are still promoting the idea that we should glorify the Cock’o’phonies while demonizing the ravers, which shows how out of touch the Burning Man Organization has become from the community that creates the $40 million cash cow/ party arts festival for them for free every year. It’s tax-free for them, but Burners still pay a 9% tax on their tickets. And bring the food, the bars, the music, the DJs, the art cars, and so on.

How many people at Burning Man like the music coming from the art cars and big camps? Half? More than half? Personally I would say 95%+, YMMV. If you didn’t like that sort of music, Burning Man would be an oddly uncomfortable place to spend a week’s vacation time.

Count the crowds, and look where they are. A lot of crowds, all over the Playa, almost always around music, they always make sure to use the best speakers, you can get more Info about them on soundmoz.com. It is clear that electronic music is what made Burning Man so popular, and if the Ten Principles mean anything at all, it means we should welcome people who come to enjoy that aspect of Burner culture at least as much as we welcome anyone else. Not try to shun and shame those who made Burning Man what it is, out of some weird ideal of “what a Burner should be” – presumably some sort of submissive, compliant, social justice virtue signalling volunteer freak. Burning Man was HUGE before the Ten Principles were thought up.

BURNERBITCH

Image: Leila Moussaoui, The Bold Italic


Burning Man: Radical Inclusion Party Foul

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Anyone who follows Burningman culture year-round probably stumbled across a recent article titled “Burning Man’s Culture Is In Danger – Tales from the Global Leadership Conference.” The wildly popular article at burn.life prominently featured a picture of ne’er do well young party bros in unfortunate festival attire, with the caption “Ultimately, the worst case scenario is that we end up with an event dominated by idiots like this (not sure where this was taken or who took it, but it’s not at BM….yet.) they all used Houston limo service  or other Luxury bus transportation to get to the party”

photo from www.burn.life
Before I get into any more details, I am going to both embarrass myself and brag a little bit… here is a picture of me, as a young man in my early twenties, out on the playa in 1992, right after I played THE first DJ set EVER at Burning Man.

Terbo Ted at Burning Man, 1992, Black Rock Desert, Nevada
That’s what I wore for my set. Note the visual similarities in how myself and the four young men are dressed; literally, I could stand next to these fellas being portrayed as ‘bad guys’ 25 years into the future and fit right in.
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But let’s look at the history of Burningman. When the collectives I associated with brought rave culture out there- electronic dance music- whatever you want to call it, many of the early burners treated us like pariahs. ‘Ravers’ were blamed for just about anything that went wrong in early 90s burns, and some of it was deserved, and some of it wasn’t. But there were three key BM organizers in the early years on the playa who were the glue that made Burningman stick. Larry Harvey, Michael Mikel (aka Danger Ranger) and John Law were all very supportive of our efforts to bring a new facet of culture into the Burningman experience. Those three understood the concept of radical inclusion well before that was even a stated principle of the event. The written ten principles came to the playa much later than the DJ sound systems. Today there are all kinds of arguments going back and forth regarding the virtues or failures of the music culture at Burningman, that’s another discussion for another time.
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Let’s look at the attire everyone is so scared of. When I was in my early 20s I was living on something like $500 a month or less in San Francisco. That is impossible now but it wasn’t really possible then either. I had no money for fancy clothes. The neon hat I had was a free giveaway from the liquor store, it had a cigarette brand sponsor. I used to smoke cigarettes back then. I used to go over to Larry’s house for coffee and talk about plans for the upcoming MAN year-round. At times I would take two packs of cigarettes (buy-one-get-one free quality you understand) and give one of the packs to Larry, who also was living on next to nothing as far as money goes. The shirt I had on in this picture was something you’d get out of a free pile somewhere outside of a thrift store, or for a dollar at a garage sale (they used to have those in the Mission, believe it or not). That was how we lived. If you had told me back then that people would be expected to wear elaborately hand made outfits that cost thousands of dollars to the burn I would not have believed you, now people wear all kind of stuff and buy their outfits in stores as sheepskintown.com. If I had any costume at all for Burningman back then, it was because I got it for free somehow.
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Let’s apply that to the ‘party goons’ in this picture. I was able to easily find those garments they’re wearing online. The neon green RAGE hats are $10, you can buy them online here. The shirts with garish slogans are also in the $10-$20 range. The point I’m getting to is that young people don’t have lots of excess money, and you’re going to see these sorts of fun and low-cost things being worn. The young kids don’t have $800 for a handmade steampunk top hat with hand distressed goggles sewn in, and the entire outfit that goes with it, do you understand?
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And let’s decode the messaging in their attire:
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RAGE. Hey, it’s kinda close to BURN. Party on.
ALL I DO IS FUCK & PARTY. I think many people at least fantasize that’s what their burn is going to be about, if not in fact acting it out for real. I know that I do those things out there (when not busy MOOPing of course). I’m hoping you get to do those things out there as well, if you choose to.
SHOW ME YOUR TITS. This is absolutely perfect male attire on Thursday afternoon for Critical Tits Bike Ride. I am going to order one for myself this year. Easy to find online in multiple colors and fonts and at low cost!
PARTY WITH SLUTS & ME GUSTA WHORES Burningman does take place in Nevada. Not Berkeley. Prostitution is legal in Nevada.
LET’S GET FUCKING WEIRD. Heck, this could be an official theme for one of the coming Burns for all I care. I approve.
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After twenty-five years of watching Burningman grow from less than 1000 people to selling out tens of thousands of tickets in half an hour, I’ve seen it go through many growing pains and phases, some of which were gut wrenchingly awful, some of which were transformative in a beautiful way.
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When we were first going out there, I remember Larry explaining to me that when you put yourself into that void out there on the playa, whatever it is that is you- your inner self- is going to emerge because there’s nothing else there as a reference point. Everything you do out there is your inner self projecting itself into the world. The experience there is real. Something like that. The concept of Radical Self Expression undoubtably rose out of these beliefs.
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Today, I can’t help but cringe at all of the Burner fashion conformity that happens. You can find websites in China selling ‘Burner’ style goggles now. And you know the look I’m talking about, the ‘Mad Max Muppet Pirate Clown on Acid’ get-up or whatever it is you see tens of thousands of times out there. We didn’t have a dress code at early Burningmans (although that’s not true, there were cocktail parties and theme parties with dress codes out there as early as I can remember). It’s great that the culture has developed some sort of visual ontology- maybe- but that we’ve seen that culture start to move toward exclusion of chosen costumes is a step in the wrong direction, a step away from inclusion, away from expression, it’s a push toward conformity and rule following. Early Burningmans were populated and created by pranksters, they pushed the boundaries of what was socially acceptable, comfortable, or- in many instances- lawful. They weren’t conforming to anything. Unlike today’s Burner culture. Shame on you people.
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After the burn.life article was getting heavily forwarded around social media I had started making light hearted and favorable comments about the photo with the party bros on the Facebook group called ‘Official Unofficial Burning Man Page’ or whatever it is. I posted links where you could buy RAGE hats or some of the shirts in the comment threads, jokingly (and not for profit or anything like that, not as a commodity) as a commentary. And one of the admins banned me from the Facebook group. Shame on you people.
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And let’s pretend those four party bros are out there this year in their chosen attire everyone wants to make fun of. Neon RAGE party hats and all. Having them time of their lives. Maybe they’ll even have some Whip-Its™ to share at sunrise, and you could do some with them and teach them about MOOP in the process. Remember, virgins are very welcome at Burningman. And once virgins get exposed to the culture, they can’t be unexposed to it. Who knows what great new and heretofore unthunk inspirations from the playa might transform those young bros’ lives. Hopefully they wouldn’t instead get forced down a path of derisive hierarchical conformity from the experience of going out there. The default world does that well enough, thank you.
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About the storyteller:
Terbo Ted first visited the Black Rock Desert in 1992 when there was no gate, no perimeter, no road, no trash fence and you could drive your car as fast as you wanted in any direction. Terbo was the first DJ to play in Black Rock City, with no one there to hear his set on a dusty Friday afternoon. Later, in the early years he was the only one ever to be called “Mayor of the Techno Ghetto.” His playa self and default world self can be remarkably similar these days.

Hypernormalisation

A fascinating new documentary created for the BBC iPlayer video platform features some great footage of a young John Perry Barlow. It traces the last 40 years of history through a counter-cultural lens.

“You were so much a part of the system that it was impossible to see beyond it…the fakeness was hypernormal”