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.
Larry Harvey passed away after a stroke on 4/28/2018.
According to the official account, Burning Man is in its 33rd year this year.
Rather than a eulogy, we’ve made a tribute to Larry – in his own words.
It’s an amazing thing that he and his collaborators created, that’s for sure. What will happen to the philosophy of Burning Man now, without its Chief Philosopher? Perhaps it will live on through the Ten Principles, but there was a philosophy of Burning Man long before those came out.
We support A Balanced Perspective’s suggestion that The Man this year wear a cowboy hat atop his robot head, in honor of his Creator.
Here’s some of the worldwide media coverage of Larry’s passing:
It’s a tough market these days, so the world’s canniest investors are turning to new sources of wisdom. Not Black Rock, the world’s largest asset manager with $4.7 trillion… but the Black Rock Desert, with Mr All Teeth-No Hat himself, Larry Harvey. I heard about this story last night from a banker in Dubai.
So, when Burning Man is being discussed in a paper literally dedicated to trade in commodities – have we reached Commodification yet?
Some might consider Larry a surprising choice to be dispensing wisdom to FT readers. He recently gave his $40 million company away after 30 years, but not before he spent millions of dollars on accountants and lawyers valuing it. They got 2 separate valuations, and then chose to price it at the lower one. Perhaps they were Satanically pranking themselves.
Still, when it comes to eating Shrimp Louis and waxing poetical, Larry’s there to please. Read the whole interview at FT, I want to comment on a couple of things of particular interest to Burners.
[John’s Grill’s] wood-panelled walls are lined with photographs of famous diners, from Alfred Hitchcock to Steve Jobs. It has survived the 1960s counterculture revolution, half a dozen earthquakes and several cycles of tech industry boom and bust. So too has another San Francisco institution, Larry Harvey. “Well, this is an old-line place, isn’t it?” he says, as I greet him at the back of the restaurant. “It smells like leather and old men.”...
Placing his water bottle between us and with his embroidered black shirt pockets stuffed with cigarettes, notebook and spectacles, he has aged like a Rolling Stone…Harvey says, “I don’t drink much alcohol” but encourages me to “have a drink or two. You might write a more sympathetic story.” …He asks me about Brexit…
“It’s not unlike what’s happening here,” he says. “Fortunately it looks as if the republic isn’t ready to be ruled by a narcissistic celebrity.” A “life-long Democrat”, Harvey is confident that Hillary Clinton is going to sweep Donald Trump to a “historic defeat”. “It’s worked out so beautifully. Bernie [Sanders] pushed her to the left significantly.”
So much for the Mainstream Republican Values of Burning Man. And indeed, the Progressive Left values of the many Sanders supporters I know amongst the Burner community.
Harvey himself is unperturbed by the growing presence of tech billionaires at Burning Man, describing them as “our cousins and neighbours”. It is “ludicrous” to say that money — which is banned from the festival other than to pay for ice and coffee from the Center Camp Cafe — is evil. “We’re not the Occupy movement,” he says, gesturing with half a hard-boiled egg that he has been holding for several minutes. “Civilisation and commerce have always gone hand-in-hand. We’re an international city, for God’s sake. You don’t whistle that up out of nothing.”…Progress comes from “struggle, shared with others, towards some common goal,” he says. “It doesn’t come from love per se.”…Harvey is an atheist and declares himself allergic to the supernatural…At the festival, the burning of the man brings everyone together in a moment of catharsis. “They witness themselves, and they too feel real and themselves, this supercharged entity and yearning, because they’ve been circling around the centre in this chaotic whirl for days,” Harvey says. “Everyone feels like they’re one with everyone else … That’s called transcendence.”
See, I always thought I was living in a community when I was at Burning Man. I didn’t realize that the important thing was everybody circling around this Central Intelligence Axis, summoning a supercharged entity from the chaos. It’s a very binary thing: you can go clockwise, or counter-clockwise. Go with the flow, or stop and it will wash over you. Of course, that’s not supernatural or anything. Burning an effigy in a pentagram, after lighting it from a cauldron called The Devil, burning a Temple, nothing to do with anything supernatural.
I’m not sure that “for God’s sake” is the best phrase to use when asserting one’s atheism.
Here’s what Burning Man was like when I first went. I think many of us old school Burners still see Burning Man this way.
Maybe Larry’s going to FT seeking some new
suckers financial heavyweights to chip in for the next phase of their real estate ambitions:
It takes me a long time to get Harvey to address why the festival that puts “leaving no trace” among its core values is using donations to buy a permanent home on a Nevada ranch earlier this year — not least when its founder also bemoans the “imperial sway” of private property. Several tech entrepreneurs — including a founder of Airbnb and a venture capitalist who backed Twitter and Snapchat — donated $6m to Burning Man so it could buy Fly Ranch, a 3,800-acre property.
Some donors asked to remain anonymous; Harvey acknowledges (but does not deny) speculation that they might include the Google boys, who have been spotted hanging out at First Camp, or Elon Musk. But he insists that they have been promised “nothing” in return — “not a role in governance, not tickets … It’s a gift.”
With a “no-hustle” fundraising model established, Fly Ranch is not the limit of Harvey’s ambitions: the group is now eyeing the adjacent Hualapai Flat, a playa not unlike Black Rock’s, which Harvey says is on the Department of the Interior’s list of “disposable properties”. “We’ll be first in line to bid for that.”
While he insists there is no set business plan, Harvey envisions Fly Ranch to be an “auxiliary space” — the “minor key” to the “major key” of the big burn, which, he concedes, can be a “brain-numbing and eardrum-abusing experience”.
Retirement villages in the desert? Will there be beachfront property on this playa? I am ROFLing at the thought that nobody from Google gets tickets from BMOrg. Numb your own brain.
I ask if he feels, after 30 years, that Burning Man’s ideals are starting to be felt beyond the desert. “I’d like to mischievously quote Milton Friedman,” he says, invoking the rightwing economist. “He said change only happens in a crisis, and then that actions that are undertaken depend on the ideas that are just lying around.” With the “discontents of globalisation” set to continue, he predicts that crisis will hit by the middle of this century. “I think there really is a chance for sudden change.” However, I struggle to pin him down on exactly which Burners’ ideas he hopes will be “lying around” when it does…he is much more eager to talk about organisational details, such as Black Rock City’s circular layout, “sort of like a neolithic temple”.
Indeed, Harvey insists he has a “conservative sensibility” and is “not a big fan of revolution”. “Do I sound like a hippie? I’m not!” And he bristles at being called anti-capitalist, although he hung out with the hippies on Haight Street in 1968. “I was there in the spring, autumn and winter of love, but I missed the summer,” he says, due to being drafted into the US army. “It was apparent to me that it was all based on what Tom Wolfe called ‘cheques from home’. The other source that shored it up was selling dope. I thought, that isn’t sustainable.”
We heard last December that Burning Man was going to turn over a new leaf in environmental sustainability. I’m still waiting to see what this actually means. They got a donation from Solar City?
Projects like this suggest we are heading in the opposite direction from sustainability and Decommodification:
Is this art, spreading the ideals of the community to make the world a better place? Or just a fancy way to get your signage on TV?
How will this help when the shit hits the fan and civilization collapses? We will all live in converted 747s?
Not to worry, though. Time and space dance to Larry’s tune:
Read the full story at the Financial Times
How did Burning Man begin? Larry Harvey says “I don’t really remember” and “I’ve got all these stories I tell”. Only 2 of the current ruling group ever went to Burning Man on the beach. On Michael Mikel’s official Burning Man bio, it says he joined in 1988. However, in court testimony in the 2007 John Law suit, it was established that nobody from the Cacophony Society attended any Burning Man events until 1989. Should we believe Burning Man’s web site, or statements in a Court of Law? Incidentally, in this case the court heard testimony from Stuart Mangrum that Mikel was not telling the truth.
In the “official” history, as recorded by Brian Doherty and others, an artist named Mary Grauberger was burning statues on the beach on the solstice. However, Mary insists that she wasn’t. Her roommate Janet Lohr, Larry’s long time girlfriend, said Mary sometimes made driftwood sculptures for the tide to reclaim, but never effigies to burn.
In earlier interviews, Larry Harvey claimed a number of times that Burning Man began in 1985.
So what really happened? Who was burning a Wicker Man on the beach in 1985?
After 4 years of research, I have finally uncovered the true story of the origins of Burning Man.
Download the PowerPoint file with notes and citations here
Gizmodo yesterday had a fascinating story about the Black Rock City Ministry of Urban Planning contest to design a new layout for Black Rock City.
Burning Man is an experiment, right? So why should only Larry Harvey and Stuart Mangrum be the ones conducting the experiment, by setting the themes? Why not experiment with new ways of living together, a temporary, pop-up civilization? Personally, I always thought was what Burning Man was all about. These days, I wonder if the nature of the experiment has perhaps been different all along from the sales pitch we were given over the Kool Aid water cooler.
Despite BMOrg coming out to say “no change, no competition”, the response has been impressive.
The Results So Far
We have been pretty amazed by the scale of the response.
Since we announced the project last fall, 1629 people and teams from 168 countries have signed up to participate.
To date, we have received 72 submissions.
Gizmodo’s story goes through many of the submissions. I’ve selected a couple of examples:
A proposal to redesign Burning Man’s Black Rock City as a Navajo mandala, by Sergio Bianchi, Simone Fracasso, and Chiara Pellegrin of Italy
The founder is a double digit Burner and software engineer:
The competition was spearheaded by Brian McConnell, a software engineer and ten-year Burning Man veteran. The original idea was to create a site-specific installation at the festival itself presenting visionary ideas for the urban planning of Black Rock City. But as McConnell quickly realized, thinking about designing a smarter temporary city also surfaced some bigger ideas which might extrapolate into other areas of city-building. McConnell was particularly impressed by the quality and originality of proposals, he said. “There are some designs that have gone completely out of the box.”…
The submissions, as well as all the online comments, will be published in a book that will be available for purchase and will be given to the festival organizers. “The best-case scenario would be that the planners see something that’s very interesting or extraordinary and decide to use it in some way,” said McConnell. But he also loves the idea of delivering annual feedback through the competition format. “The real goal of this would be to make it part of the annual planning process and kind of a ritual,” he said. Planners could offer up concerns and ask for improvements that could be implemented the following year.
McConnell also sees the potential value of completely reinventing the city’s plan each year, perhaps with a layout that responds to the theme, which changes annually. “It’s gotten so large they can’t do radically different things,” he said. “What if each time you went it was a significantly different city plan, and you would have to figure it out?”
Read the whole story here
As someone who’s only been to Burning Man 11 times, that sounds like a great idea. They’ve already shown they can have a “2.0” of any particular theme, so we can always go back to the past. That’s part of it too. In the future we will probably have “Fertility 21”.
Phillippe Glade’s Golden Rebar Awards highlight the incredible architectural creativity of Burners. The style even has its own name: burnitecture. The Tiny House movement is starting to follow in the revolutionary footsteps of the Maker Movement, and it too has links to Burning Man.
What is stopping us from making this experimental city in the desert an actual experiment?
Is it Tradition? Ritual? A lack of ideas, vision, leadership?
Or is it the nature of the existing experiment, that is still being done on all the rats in this alluring anarchic maze without walls – who ALL voluntarily assume the risk of serious injury or death by participating ?
Rod Garrett was great, may he rest in peace; David Best is amazing, and doesn’t need Burning Man to be an artist on the world stage. Let’s give the fresh, young, new, unseen and untried ideas a chance. Why should only the Medici and their bankster friends get to decide the direction art, civilization, technology takes?
[Update 3/23/16 5:53 pm – added images and link to video clip of Burning Man Founder talking about the city design]
Here’s BMOrg’s official position on trying a new city layout, or even incorporating any ideas from Burnenrs. According to them, BRCUP have started a conversation, and we’ll see what happens next. Don’t hold your breath!
We recently caught wind of a Black Rock City Street Plan Design Competition hosted by an experienced group of participants calling themselves the Black Rock City Ministry of Urban Planning (BRCMUP). The Burning Man organization has nothing to do with it, but we thought, hey, this could be fun to watch. And then an architecture blog called ArchDaily wrote about the competition on August 16 without doing its journalism homework, so now we have to clear a couple things up.
Burning Man is not involved with this competition, and we aren’t “select[ing] a winner”. The BRCMUP organizers never said we were, either. They say they’ll present their winner to us, and then it’s up to us what we do with it. So the ArchDaily blog post was in error, and it has since been corrected.
As for the contest itself, the official description is worded pretty strongly:
“The final choice of design will rest with bmorg [sic] based on a combination of popularity, logistics and space considerations (including the option to retain the current city plan).”
We love the ingenuity of Burners and are curious to see what they come up with through this competition. We will certainly take a look at all the top designs in this competition, not just the winner, out of curiosity and admiration. The ideas generated by this competition could also be useful to Regional Events, which are in various stages of growth and planning, each with their own location’s design challenges, and we think that’s great. But there are no plans to redesign Black Rock City.
Thanks to BRCMUP for starting an interesting conversation, and we look forward to seeing what comes of it.
So, we started an interesting conversation. And so far 72 designs have been submitted. The designs show just how much unbelievable talent is available for BMOrg to tap into, if they truly chose crowd-sourcing, participation, civic responsibility, immediacy, and communal effort as their path.
You can view randomly chosen designs from the gallery and enter the competition at Black Rock City Ministry of Urban Planning. Seems to me that would be a much better official Ministry for BMOrg to have than their only one so far: Propaganda.
Let’s discuss these ideas. Many of them don’t even require the 0.666% of a circle pentagram design to change.
Or, even better than just talking: put on parties based on those designs and we’ll promote them here and go check them out.