Re-Writing History for the Banksters

Art historian, PhD student Stephen Mack, has written an excellent de-construction of the Burning Man 2016 art theme at The Daily Dot. The Medicis had a unicorn horn in their art collection. Who knew! And BMOrg are playing fast and loose Lorenzo Mediciwith history. Who’d have thunk it!

Please read it in its entirety – here’s the conclusion for TL;DR:

There actually is something about this period of the Florentine Renaissance thatwould appeal to the Burning Man crowd: The Florentine art patrons believed genuinely in the idea that money could be spent virtuously and they felt that spending on art was virtuous. Several scholars have gone into this idea in some depth. I think that many people in the Renaissance looked to art to engage them in learned discussion—perhaps to contemplate morality, to visualize and understand religious concepts, and even, I think, to contemplate on the ideas of nature and of representation. Spending money on art wasn’t virtuous simply because it provided the masses with beautiful objects, but because, in the Renaissance (as in most periods), to engage with a work of art was, in effect, to seriously contemplate both the world they lived in and the spiritual world beyond this one.

I imagine that the organizers of Burning Man had this type of contemplation in mind when they conceptualized the “Turning Man.” I’m sure many bros will have wonderful acid- and shroom-induced journeys staring up at Turning Man, and may indeed come out of it with a challenged view of the world. This is a great thing. And, ultimately, it is for exactly this reason that we should spend money on art in the first place. (Well, not so much the drug-culture part, but the challenging-our-view-of- the-world part. Not that the drug part is so bad, either.)

But the fanciful utopian history Burning Man has written to underpin this journey is an utter farce. And rewriting history to our own ends is never a good thing. 

That said, the Renaissance did their own rewriting of history, too. The learned elites idolized Classical Antiquity in much the same fanciful way that Burning Man now idolizes the Renaissance. In this way—though it was likely unintentional—Burning Man actually has done a decent job emulating the Renaissance. 

Read the full article at Daily Dot.

In the last year the non-profit Burning Man Project – which we’re told was created as the ultimate gift to us, giving Burning Man back to the Burners – has assimilated other charities BRAF, Burners Without Borders, and Black Rock Solar. Control of these networks is now cemented in the grip of the Project and the Ruling Group behind it. The Rulers get to play Medici in the economy of Black Rock City. They bank all the money from the Gerlach festival ($34 million), tax free (even though it’s not a tax deductible deduction for us buying tickets). They take a gallery commission on art sold outside the Playa by Burning Man artists. They get a share of the revenues of more than 100 licensed vendors approved to sell things at Black Rock City. They grant about $800,000 in cash and a couple of hundred thousand “in kind” in their patronage of the arts. Most artists are expected to raise two-thirds to three-quarters of the project costs themselves. And work for free.

My sincere hope is this “creative Maker artist” theme flavor will signify a new era from Burning Man’s owners founders controllers. Let’s hope for much more generous patronage of Burner art from the Medicis Ruling Group, both visible and invisible. 10% of revenues would be a great start – and let the artists pay themselves.

We will get a hint of the direction we’re heading soon, when the long overdue IRS public filing for 2014 for the Burning Man Project is made public. Perhaps we will get to hear soon about some of the activities and achievements of the Burning Man Project in taking our contributions to execute its mission.



Burning Man’s Gift Economy and its Effect on Mainstream Society [Update]

Festpop has an article by Karli Jaenike about how Burning Man is changing the world. I’m re-blogging it here so we can then discuss it. Emphasis ours.

re-blogged from FestPop


It’s no secret that most festivals are a huge moneymaker for large corporations. North American companies are projected to spend $1.23 billion to sponsor music venues, festivals and tours in 2014. That’s a 4.4 percent increase from 2013, according to IEG, LLC. IEG also charted out the most active companies sponsoring music festivals in North America with Anheuser-Busch topping the list alongside PepsiCo, Inc. and Coca-Cola Company. Microsoft Corp. (in what’s said to be the company’s first deal with a non-endemic property) sponsored Coachella Music Festival on behalf of its OneDrive storage service, while Samsung and Honda are among the sponsors for the Austin City Limits Music Festival. These corporations will undoubtedly receive a huge return on investment given the growing popularity of music and arts festivals around the world.

Burning Man, an annual arts festival and temporary community based around radical art, radical self-expression and radical self-reliance, stands in stark contrast. Participants who attend this event provide everything they will need for their weeklong adventure except for the main infrastructure. Infrastructure includes necessities like port-o-potties, medical tents, the effigy (which is burnt to the ground at the end of the festival), center camp, land and insurance. Organizers and participants intentionally succeed in creating a setting where decommodification and gifting are part of the core principles of the event.

Decommodification means absolutely no corporate sponsorships of the event, no advertising allowed, and definitely no transactions. Commodification is viewed as exploitation of the Burning Man culture and is frowned upon by most people involved, while at the festival. Many burners (people in the Burning Man community) believe that in many developed countries commodification has gone too far, has reduced people to abstractions and is taking away part of what makes us simple and human. Members of the community are very protective of this principle and will try their best to wipe all corporate influence from the event. This includes covering any visible brand names on the side of box trucks, bicycles, and… well, anything. People at Burning Man want to forget about branding, business, money, and the greed that comes along with it… and just for one week create a space where our humanity is not divided into “quantifiable bits suitable for trading”. What do people do when they want to exchange goods or services? Enter “gifting”.

Seva Cafe DMP2_Page_07

Gifting is the act of giving a gift out of the goodness of ones heart, and not expecting anything in return. The Principles Guidelines page of their website says that, “Burning Man is devoted to acts of gift giving. The value of a gift is unconditional. Gifting does not contemplate a return or an exchange for something of equal value.” Gifting is such, such an important part of what makes Black Rock City (the city created during Burning Man) such a magical place. When gifting is the currency, rather than money or bartering, a strong sense of community evolves. Think about how you feel when you receive an unconditional gift. You feel an instant connection to that person, and a sense of gratitude. You feel loved, because you know that that person is giving you the gift because they appreciate you as a person, not because they are expecting anything in return. It also feels satisfying to give unconditional gifts. “’Gifting with nothing in return’ I feel, is impossible. Only those who have not felt the satisfaction in making someone’s day [with a gift] could say there is nothing given in return” said Domo Delacy, a veteran burner. Domo has received and seen people receive all sorts of amazing gifts on the playa. “I’ve been gifted tickets. I’ve also gifted a couple back to will call. You know someone loves you when they gift you a ticket” said Delacy. “My good friend Capt. Jim was gifted an art car! Under the Oasis was a 67 GMC with brand new running gear… is that a good one or what? Another friend got a naked plane ride.”

Playa gifts can come in many forms, which don’t necessarily have to be physical. “[I received] the gift of expansion and compassion from my fellow camp mates my virgin burn. They taught me what the 10 Principles were with love and compassion,” said Starfire Serendipity Jones, a 10-year burner. Other gifts have included, “bacon, grilled cheese, ice cold melon and fresh espresso from the coffee stand across from camp (fucking heaven), homemade absinthe and banana booze… YUMMMM!” Jones goes on to explain, “I loved & shared many things openly in love [on the Playa]. It was primarily things I could use on Playa or things I “needed”. The people that ‘get it’ are so free and in-flow that we share with out even thinking, it is just part of us. The most beautiful thing is that there is no “us and them”. No scarcity, just sharing… because it is truly a gift to the giver to learn that frame of mind. Giving something just to give it. Not because they expect something in return.” She says, “It breaks the old adage of ‘you can’t get something for nothing’. It also creates a new paradigm for being in the universe and here on terra firma. That off Playa we can live like that in our daily lives. There is enough for everyone to share.”



Another way gifting enhances the experience at Burning Man is that it acts as social lubricant. It gives you an excuse to walk up to a stranger and strike up a conversation when you otherwise wouldn’t. Walking through the streets of Black Rock City it’s common to be pulled aside and invited to partake in a cold adult beverage, a game, a tarot card reading, a meal, or a hug. That underlying fear of rejection that most of us unconsciously harbor isn’t a factor at Burning Man because it’s unlikely that anyone would reject a heartfelt gift. Burners feel safe and confident interacting and building connections with others through this system that serves to further strengthen the sense of community.

“The Burning Man Community is […] inspired to create, participate, and celebrate in the world without many of the conventional restrictions of the modern paradigm,” says Zac Cirivello, Burning Man Media Relations Coordinator. “Through exploring the values of our 10 Principles, the Burning Man Community has become a “do-ocracy” where the individual is empowered to directly participate in their surroundings to make the world the way that they want it to be, whether that world is our longtime home of Black Rock City, or the urban environment in which they live.”

This is where radical self-reliance plays an important part. While food, drink, shelter, and friendship are given freely in most cases at Burning Man, all participants are expected to also provide enough for themselves for the week (and maybe enough to share!) Those who show up expecting gifts, or expecting to be ‘taken care of’ are frowned upon. Buying or trading at Burning Man is also extremely taboo, and those who attempt to are reprimanded. “A critical part of the gift economy is how it differs from a barter economy. A barter is still a direct transaction: it assigns a value to an object or act and in turn commodifies it. A “thing” will still then have a “value”. At the core of bartering is the attempt to still create an exchange of equal value. This is the same as “default” world transactions but only with cash removed from the equation,” says Cirivello. “Gifting, on the other hand, is an unconditional offering – an offering with no expectation of return. This removes the assignment of traditional object value (or “price”) and instead puts the emphasis or value on the act of generosity itself. It becomes part of a circular abundance loop where Burners provide for others without the expectation of return because they know that others are there to support them in kind.”


In reality, the gifting economy at Burning Man is not an economy at all, and is somewhat of an oxymoron. Economies are generally self-sustaining and generate wealth for a population; this is not the goal at Black Rock City. The gifting economy at Burning Man is more of a “gift culture”. A gift culture that actually supports and depends on the economy outside of Burning Man. Zac Cirivello states, “While the culture of Burning Man puts a lot of emphasis on our principals of gifting and decommodification, that does not make it a world entirely free of commerce. We have some very real costs associated with the creation of Black Rock City each year including permitting fees, staff support, and a long list of resources required such as vehicles, porto potties, lumber, signage, fuel, etc.” The festival stimulates Nevada’s economy by contributing millions of dollars to rent the land and use the facilities for the festival. Additionally, visiting burners stimulate the economy from which they buy the food, drink, and materials to make their Playa gifts. They also support the economy of the cities surrounding Black Rock City when they purchase their last minute items, gas, and food before the burn.

This culture works at Burning Man because the community makes it so. All participants willingly take part in gifting because they understand it’s part of what makes Burning Man different from everywhere else. There is no need for organizers to enforce or police a gifting economy, because the people uphold these values on their own. “One of the great things about the Burning Man Community is that Burners are incredibly passionate about preserving the integrity of our culture. We, and BMORG, do not have to run around policing our values because they are ones that are strongly shared by a vast majority of citizens in Black Rock City,” says Zac Cirivello. “The gifting economy is a demonstration of a shift in conventional thinking away from a “scarcity mindset” towards an “abundance mindset” – where people recognize that they have enough and want to put their energy towards a betterment of the community as opposed to a betterment only of the self.


While creating a temporary utopian community in which a gifting culture flourishes is an accomplishment in itself, Burning Man and it’s supporters are always looking for ways to share this abundance mindset with the masses. “There is certainly a lot of potential for the Gifting Economy to start impacting the ‘default’ world, and there have been a number of projects that are looking to spearhead that change,” says Cirivello. “One of those projects is [freespace], an experimental project looking to see what is possible with the gift of a physical space to a community, and [this] is also the recent recipient of a financial grant from Burning Man.” [freespace] began in June 2013, and started with a two-story building that was donated to San Francisco’s creative community for a dollar. Since it’s inception, [freespace] has hosted over 300 free events including free bike shares, maker classes for people in homeless shelters, and a community garden.

Nation wide corporations are catching onto the popularity of the gifting mindset, with Panera Bread launching “Panera Cares”. This campaign consists of opening “pay what you can” Panera Community Cafés in Saint Louis, Dearborn, Portland, Chicago, and Boston. These cafes offer dignified dining experiences, without judgment to customers who may not be able to pay. While companies like this are obviously getting publicity and public favor in return for their gifts, it’s definitely a start!

The Internet has made it easy to gift in modern society with online resources such as WikiLinks, Wikimedia Commons, and Creative Commons. People from around the world share their functional work, artwork, or other creative content with others. Participants can use and benefit from shared work, study this work, make and distribute shared content, or build upon shared content to create something new. On the Internet one can also find free and open-source software, free or donation based music, art, and collaborative works. Creative Commons, a non-profit organization founded by Lawrence Lessig, has released several copyright-licenses free of charge to the public. These licenses allow creators to communicate which rights to their content they reserve, and which rights they waive for the benefit of other creators. Many times, the only stipulation involved with the use of this shared content is that works created from said content must also be shared freely.


Burning Man Organization spreads the message that a gift culture promotes through its many regional burns. “The Burning Man Regional Network is a global network of Burning Man inspired events that help to promote the values and ethos of Black Rock City throughout the world,” says Zac Cirivello. “One of the things required to be included as an Official Regional Event is having an event that embodies the 10 principles, including that of gifting. In much the same way that folks look out for and support each other in Black Rock City, the participants of these events have the opportunity to practice a decommodified existence for a few days at a time and participate in a world where generosity and unconditional gifting are core components.” More than 75 regional burns are held throughout the world at different times of the year. These events change the lives of people who may or may not have been to the “big burn” yet. Regional burns allow people to experience the selfless beauty of a Gifting Economy, and the freedom of decommodification if only for a long weekend. Many burners are inspired to attend the larger Burning Man in Nevada after years of experiencing the positive affects of these local burns on their communities. Zac Cirivello says that one goal of the regional events is to share the Principles with others “Through these events, as with Burning Man, folks are taking the spirit of gifting home with them and promote the global spread of the Gifting Economy.”

Would a Gifting Economy be sustainable in everyday culture? Society would need to experience a major shift in attitude. Many say humans are inherently competitive, egotistical, and even greedy. Problems could arise with determination of value: what may be valuable and a wonderful gift to one person may not be as valued by another. Humanity would have to get past their learned ideals of worth, value, and fairness in order to genuinely place others before themselves. While this kind of economy might seem idealistic to most, the idea is very real for many. The Internet is full of writings on the subject, many of which call for major change. However you stand on the subject, there is no denying that what the Burning Man Organization creates out in that Nevada desert is a beautiful thing.

Back to Burners.Me writing now.

I have no problem with the ideals of Gifting and Decommodification. They’re part of what makes Burning Man special. As the article says, it’s hardly a sustainable economy, it’s more of a culture.

What I do have a problem with, is BMOrg claiming credit for the effort and expenditure of others, and telling the media they’ve done something which they haven’t.

The mention of [freespace] here particularly rankles me.

Burning Man takes in $30 million a year from all the things it sells: tickets, vehicle passes, ice, coffee, scarves, bus rides, aircraft landing fees, gasoline, propane, calendars, photos, movies, soundtracks. They also accept donations, which they accumulate in the bank account of their tax-free non-profit subsidiaries. These 501(c)3 non-profits are required to file public financial statements, called IRS Form 990. You can view them at Guidestar.

From the most recent filings (2012):

Burning Man Project took in $591,672 of donations, kept $368,249, and paid $36,378 in grants. They spent $259,925 on overheads.

Black Rock Arts Foundation took $621,359 of donations, kept $560,917, and paid $114,449 in grants. They spent $477,525 on overheads.

The two organizations have now been merged, to create a tax-exempt powerhouse with about a million bucks of assets (mostly cash).

How much has Burning Man actually given to [freespace]? $0.

I can’t speak to what Burning Man has done to support the Panera bakeries, but I bet that’s $0 too. The idea was shelved in mid-2013. I can definitely speak about [freespace], though.

[freespace] is not actually an organization you can donate to, it is a project of Reallocate – a registered 501(c)3 non-profit started by Burners. Reallocate is a great organization run on a shoestring budget. It’s a genuine charity, they definitely don’t hoard money from donors. When Dr Mike North founded Reallocate, I was the first person he asked to be on its Board of Directors. I am the largest financial contributor to Reallocate. I am also the second largest financial contributor to [freespace]. As well as a pretty significant amount of money, I have given both organizations time – my own, and that of my employees. I have provided expensive resources like decked out shipping containers to support their projects, and covered the related logistics costs. I have also promoted both charities on this web site. up-cycled art containers at [freespace] up-cycled art containers at [freespace]’s Mission St location. Art by Ian Ross Gallery

freespace mission2

Some of these containers have been to Burning Man too. After we deployed them here, [freespace] got a commendation letter from the San Francisco Mayor’s office, and a trip to the White House.


What did BMOrg do, in a year+ of [freespace]? Nothing. Nada. No checks. What little promotion they did, was of themselves first, and the charities they claim to support second. Here’s the entire extent of it:

Global [freespace] movement to hack the World Cup

How [freespace] challenges Burning Man’s emergent principles

Burnerhack at [freespace] SF?

Burners Discuss Community Building in San Mateo

Their story about “emergent principles” sums the situation up well:

In San Francisco Burner circles, close to the source, I often hear the Burner’s Dream expressed thusly: Our dream is to bring the principles we embody out on the playa back to the default world….Sounds like that Burner’s Dream come to life, right? Naturally, Burning Man got involved. But what does that even mean? Who is this “Burning Man?” Is it the Burning Man organization? is it the fledgling non-profit Burning Man Project? Is it Burning Man participants acting of their own accord?


...[the BurnerHack] was organized by Micah Daigle, a Burner who travels in circles close to the Org, but who isn’t officially involved. He’s a participant. He’s also one of the creators of BurnerMap, a Facebook app that allows you to create and print maps of where your friends are camping, and arguably one of the most successful participant-driven Burning Man projects in the event’s history.

BurnerMap has tens of thousands of users. It’s a participant-driven project on the scale of the whole event itself. And yet the Org is not involved. That can make the relationship weird at times. That weirdness extends to physical events like BurnerHack, and even to independent cultural movements like [freespace] itself.

And as Burning Man tries to grow into a year-round culture, we have to figure it out.

…when BurnerMap has reached out to the Org for help, asking to pre-fill the map with official placement data, for instance, the efforts have fizzled out. Priorities are so different on either side of the bottom-up, top-down divide that it can hinder collaboration.

“We need the Org for Burning Man to exist,” Micah says, “but is it Burning Man? No. Burning Man is an emergent event.

The challenge of figuring out how capital-B Burning Man can be productively involved with emergent events like BurnerHack and [freespace] is the domain of the Burning Man Project, the new, nonprofit side of the Org that aims to be the future of year-round Burning Man culture.

Its representative most involved with [freespace] is James Hanusa, who is responsible for the Project’s new initiatives. He knows the [freespace] organizers and believes in them, and he was Micah’s closest point of contact in the planning of BurnerHack. He knows the Project should support initiatives like these, but he says, “We’re still figuring out how.”

The will is there, but the way is not yet clear. The Burning Man Project is busy enough figuring out its own job, so working with spontaneously organized participants is yet another step ahead. 

Here we can see that even by their own admission, BMOrg don’t provide much, if any, help.

The above was written in June 2013. Since then, [freespace] extended its initial lease for 3 months – not for $1, and funded by us – then relocated from Mission St to Market St, where it ran for a further 6 months this year. It closed in August, before Burning Man. So what have BMOrg been doing? Still figuring it out, a year and a half later? How much time do they need to figure out how to write a check to a charity that they tell the media they’re supporting?

We provided a comprehensive overview of everything the Burning Man Project has done since it was announced in early 2011 in The Art of Giving: it’s pretty disappointing, especially given the amount of money they’ve raised in that time, and how much they’ve spent on lawyers and accountants.

It seems like one thing they did figure out, is how to take credit for [freespace] and Reallocate in the press and in their panel discussions.

Here’s some of Burners.Me’s promotion of [freespace]:

[Temporary Autonomous Zone] – Proof the Model Still Works

Bring Something New Out Into The World

Collaborative Coding in [freespace]: Burnerhack

Burners Collaborate to Bridge SF’s Homeless/Tech Divide

Civic Responsibility Hacks the White House

From Central Market to the White House: Taking Burner Values To The Top [freespace] live 7am PST

What’s missing from these stories, compared with Burning Man’s coverage? You won’t find any examples of me talking about how great I am for donating my time and money to these charities, or taking any credit for their efforts. Indeed, I’m only bringing it up now because I am sick and tired of Burning Man boasting to the media about things they haven’t done, while hoarding the cash that was genuinely given to them in good faith by their donors.

I used to drink the Burning Man flavored Kool-Aid, before I did the homework, crunched the numbers, and compared their statements with the truth. Calling their secretive, for-profit royalty company Decommodification LLC was the last straw for me – they’re laughing at us, all the way to the bank. It came as no great surprise to Burners.Me that some of BMOrg’s Board of Directors are now selling Commodification Camps and making commercial videos at Burning Man to promote their brands.

I asked [freespace] founder Mike Zuckerman for comment, and he responded today – see below. Reallocate’s CFO confirmed that neither they nor [freespace] have ever received any grant from Burning Man. He believes Zuckerman earned $2000 personally for working for the Burning Man Project, but the guy appears to have pocketed the money himself, since it has not gone through the charity’s books.

Please, Burning Man. These are charities. Non-profits, trying to help the world. They need our money and support, not just to be used for shameless self-promotion. If you want to use them as examples of how your culture is saving the world…then put your hands in your oh-so-deep pockets, and write a fucking check. Don’t keep the money piling up in your tax-free bank accounts, while telling us how great you are, how you’re all about Decommodification and Gifting. Decommodification doesn’t mean earning royalties, Gifting requires you to actually give more than you take, and Radical Self Expression shouldn’t mean suing other charities.

What else are you doing with that big pile of cash we all gave you? Sending your founders around the world for speaking engagements? Is that what the half a million dollars a year of travel expenses are for?

Put Money Where Mouth IsI know there’s nothing in the Ten Principles about honesty, integrity, conflicts of interest, or the truth. But there should be – some of us do care about these things, more than we care about the almighty dollar. Deceit is not cool, and justifying it in the name of charities that you only pretend to support is pathetic. The Burner community are amazingly talented, creative, and generous – we want to associate ourselves with positive, uplifting things. Lead by example, don’t let Burners take the lead and the risk and spend all the cash, while you try to claim the credit. Step up and put your money where your mouth is.

Perhaps I’ll be proven wrong, and Burning Man can produce some evidence of their financial contributions to [freespace], Reallocate, and Panera Bakeries. I’d happily eat my words. The ball’s in your court, BMOrg, and our money is in your pocket. Just Do It.


[Update 10/15/14] Mike Zuckerman, the founder of [ freespace ], emailed me today with this:

To answer your question, Burning Man has been a supporter of [ freespace ] in that they have covered us in social media, their blog and maybe a Jack Rabbit mention (I can’t remember). More than that they included us in their regional network gatherings both in Berlin at the inaugural European Leadership Summit and in SF at the Global Leadership Conference. The [ freespace ] concept is a bit foreign to most newcomers so working with Burners has been super helpful in many of our locations including SF, Paris, Philippines and Detroit as well as a few other cities that haven’t figured out their own locations yet, but I’m optimistic they will. They have also helped by introducing their regional contacts to anyone within the [freespace] network wherever they may be in the world. 
As far as money goes, the BMP gave me $2000 directly to purchase equipment to document the progress of [ freespace ]. I got this cool set up that mounts to my iPhone that I saw a kid with at SXSW. I consider myself an iPhoneographer, but the iPhone sucks in low light, wide angle, memory capacity, recording sound and holding it steady. So I got all of those things added externally. It looks kinda crazy but is pretty amazing quality for a phone and can be broken down to fit into my pockets. Im not a pro videographer, but there has been a lot of exciting developments and I’m grateful to have captured a lot of it. There wound up being 9 [ freespaces ] in our 1st year. The second location in SF did close just before Burning Man, but the movement is still alive and there is a constant stream of inquiries from all over the world. We are planning to go again for National Day of Civic Hacking in June of 2015 or other cities may do their own thing if they want. I don’t remember exactly when they gave me the $2K, probably in May. 
So there you go – Burning Man did not give [freespace] any grant. They gave an individual $2k to buy video equipment for himself, which presumably he can also use to document Burning Man and anything else that takes his fancy. That is 3 VIP tickets – hardly a significant grant to help a charity. I don’t need to get into specifics, but I gave them MUCH more than that. And I don’t make $30 million per year, or have a charity which takes in $1.2 million+ a year of donations.
“Promoting [ freespace ] to their Regional Network” is the same as “promoting themselves to their Regional Network”. The more videos they have to show, the better they look when claiming credit for the idea. Burners gift the work, BMOrg takes the glory.
This [ freespace ] video from July 2014 has 3 views on YouTube:

Burning Man Introduces Censorship [Updates]

Did you know Burning Man has implemented a censorship policy? Me neither…until I fell victim to it this weekend.

Does BMOrg really want to get feedback from the community, and listen to our concerns? Or is this just a trick to make it appear like they’re listening to the community, as a way to support decisions they’ve already made and stubbornly refuse to go back on? If you censor customers who ask difficult questions, can you really claim to be open, transparent, and equitable – a “social experiment”?

Rosie Lila, who sources tell me is now in charge of Burning Man’s Commodification Camp business unit, wrote a post on (it’s a re-post from her own site from Sep 3)

Radical Self-Reliance and Rich People at Burning Man

[This post is part of the 10 Principles blog series, an ongoing exploration of the history, philosophy and dynamics of Burning Man’s 10 Principles in Black Rock City and around the world. We welcome your voice in the conversation.]

In the two weeks since this year’s Burn I’ve noticed a fair amount of press claiming “the rich are ruining Burning Man” and I’ve seen a handful of stories on Facebook about confrontational run-ins with people at so-called “rich camps” in Black Rock City. I hear a growing conversation around radical self-reliance and the perceived threat to Burning Man culture posed by “turnkey” and “plug and play” camps on the playa. I’d like to offer the following perspectives to help inform your own conversations and dialogues on these topics.

First, let’s talk definitions:

Turnkey Camp: A Burning Man camp built by a production team where (generally) paid staff members create the infrastructure so that camp members don’t have to.

Plug and Play Camp: The older term for turnkey camp.

Radical Self-Reliance: One of Burning Man’s 10 Principles. Radical Self-Reliance states: “Burning Man encourages the individual to discover, exercise and rely on his or her inner resources.”

The Ten Principles: The Burning Man 10 Principles were written by Larry Harvey, at the request of the other Burning Man founders, in 2004 to help support the demand of the growth of the Burning Man Regional Network. They were written to be *descriptive* not prescriptive. They are not intended to be dogmatic. They form a cultural guide map that is aspirational, not absolute.

 …The solution to this problem is around us educating each other. It’s going to take those of us who are experienced, whether jaded or not, deploying our best human connection skills to talk about this culture that we love so much.

Have you considered that maybe the producers and owners of the turnkey camps are interested in sharing ideas on how to make better camps at Burning Man? Have you considered that maybe there might be something that you can learn from each other? Have you considered that no one has all the answers?

If you’re someone who loves Burning Man passionately, if you’re someone who likes to get involved in making solutions, recognize that solving this problem is going to take us reaching out to others

…the more courageous choice, the more powerful choice, requires you speaking up in kind and patient ways. Be hospitable. Be generous. Be creative in your interactions. Isn’t this why you love Burning Man?

The post asked for comments, welcomed our voices in the conversation…and seemed to be genuine about that. Their words create the impression that BMOrg wants to listen to community concerns about Commodification Camps, that our voices will be heard, that our opinions might matter…that maybe Burners have something of value to contribute to the social engineering of Black Rock City.

censorUnfortunately, like so much that comes out of this organization, it is bullshit. Propaganda, spin, damage control. We can talk all we want, but that ain’t gonna make them listen. Read the post and the comments for yourself, it’s been 4 days so far and there are no replies from BMOrg to anyone.

They are making the definition of turnkey camps as broad as possible: any camp where the infrastructure is not created by every camp member, whether staff get paid or not. Unless every member of your camp gets an early access pass and arrives at the same time, every camp will encounter a situation where members arrive and the infrastructure has already been built. Defining the issue this way then makes it easy for them to say “oh well, we can’t do anything about it, because most camps are turnkey camps”. Yet again, it is deceptive use of language for societal control.

From the Burner community’s perspective, the issue is not “camps where some camp members get paid to build the infrastructure”, or where some camp members arrive after the building is done. The issue is Commodification: tourists coming on safari, paying massive amounts of money to watch us perform a spectacle that they don’t participate in. And, mistreatment of workers, either DPW who don’t even get minimum wage, or sherpas who don’t get safe working conditions. I haven’t seen anyone saying “no-one who works at Burning Man should ever get paid”, but I’ve seen plenty saying “no-one should be trying to profit from Burning Man”.

The definition BMOrg wants us all to use eliminates these extremely key issues from any discussion. So I dared to question their definition.

Here’s what they say:

You’ll never find one of your posts removed if you remain true to the policies and guidelines posted here. You won’t ever be censored just because we disagree with your opinion

Here’s my comment:

The name “Turnkey” is confusing. “Commodification Camp” is better, because isn’t that the issue? These camps are selling Burning Man as a packaged tour experience, rather than opening their doors to participation, and Gifting to the rest of us.

The problem is what Commodification Camps are selling is NOT the trash fence, the signs, the cops, and the porta-potties – the infrastructure paid for by the ticket sellers. It’s the art, the costumes, the music, the beautiful people – ie, OUR participation and contributions, which have been given freely and paid for personally, because everyone thought that this party/festival/city/experience WASN’T for sale to strangers who didn’t share our values. Burners don’t want our self-expression to be commodified so that a select few can package it up and profit from it.

I think that BMOrg should disclose to Burners what the commercial deal is for these camps. Does Burning Man get a cut? How do they get so many tickets, when the event is sold out and people wait in STEP but get forced into OMG? How do they get priority placement? How come they don’t have to clean up their camp by Tuesday?

It appears that there are different rules for these camps than for the rest of us. If that is untrue, then let’s see a formal statement of denial. If it’s true, then it is segregating the Playa, and that’s not the fault of the rich customers who can afford a luxury experience, it’s the fault of the Commodification promoters and the rule makers.

I gave them 24 hours, just in case no moderators were working because it’s Sunday. Then I tried re-posting my comment again on Monday, just in case it mysteriously disappeared. No luck – the comment was gone. So I tried a trick – posting it in a different name not associated with Burners.Me. And then, it went straight up. To me, this shows that they’re not even reading the content – they’re just banning comments from people they don’t like.

So why ban it? Here’s their policy [with my comments]:

Comment Policy for Burning Man’s Blog, Facebook Page & Galleries

cartoon-of-head-with-many-hands-over-mouth-censorship-1s8do9xBurning Man values the spirit of a civil community discourse. We think that a lively, on-topic public conversation is one of the best reasons to write and host a Facebook page, a blog, and image gallery, and that without comments, they’re more or less just another webpage. [Yes, my comment was very much on-topic]

That said, we also have a responsibility to maintain this space for the benefit of all our visitors. The comments made on these services will have the power add to or detract from the their general vibe, and it is our responsibility to see to it that they serve to enhance the experience of our visitors, rather than chasing them away. [that’s what I’m talking about: enhancing the experience of Burning Man]

That means that we expect commenters to identify themselves in their posts, and conduct themselves as they would as guests at a party, where spirited conversation is welcome, but unruly and rude behavior is not. It also means that our moderators can and will remove posts that they believe run counter to the spirit of civil discourse. [not rude, not unruly, not even spirited; definitely civil discourse]

This page is our attempt to give you some idea of what we mean by “civil discourse” on the Burning Blog, our Facebook page, and image gallery.

Registration/Anonymous Comments

Anonymous comments are not permitted here. Our contributors will identify themselves when we write Burning Blog; in turn, we want to know who you are and that there’s a real person behind the words you post. We’ve seen what can happen in spaces that make it easy for “hit and run” comments: things can go completely septic, fast. [while my comment was not in my real name, it is what I write on the Internet as. The other commenters on the post are: DustyRusty, Wrath, Rich, Corvus, Janus, Rio …these appear to be pseudonyms or nicknames too]

Comment Censorship (There, We Said The C Word)

censorship-2Trust us: we will not censor comments because your point of view is different from ours. [No, I definitely don’t trust you, BMOrg] We will, however, censor comments that we believe run counter to the spirit of civil discourse. [since when did questioning authority become outside of the spirit of civil discourse? Isn’t it the ENTIRE FUCKING POINT? Otherwise it’s just a lecture from the Rulers] We also may choose at times to turn off the comments feature on a specific post (before it’s posted), due to a variety of factors including subject matter, web traffic patterns and timing, or the author just plain not having the ability to engage in the dialogue at the time of the posting. Feel free to trackback and post your thoughts wherever you like. (We may turn comments on that entry later. We also think it’s bad practice to turn comments off mid-conversation, and will avoid doing so if we can.) We also turn off comments on posts after 2 weeks so that we can focus our moderator efforts on contemporary conversations, not on nuking the piles of  spam (and little else) that get posted to old conversations.

When We’ll Moderate

If you’re aware of expected behaviors in this forum and make an effort to be polite, you’ll never find one of your comments removed. [Polite, meaning, toe the party line, don’t question BMOrg] The spirit of civil discourse, however, might be different to everyone, so here, as we see it, is a partial list of violations of that spirit (and possible causes for a post’s removal). The list includes, but is not limited to:

Overtly off-topic posts. [no, was 100% on topic]

Intentionally disrespectful or disruptive behavior. [no, was polite, respectful, and not disruptive in any way]

Spamming: our linking policy can be found below. Posts containing more than one URL, or any URL not relevant to the conversation, will be considered spam. [no URLs, although I did fill in the “website” field they provide]

Snide, rude, threatening personal comments about or directed at any person, be they other users, the moderators, Larry Harvey, other Burning Man staff, Burning Man volunteers, your own mother…we don’t care if you have a low opinion of someone — that’s your business. But this isn’t the place to get personal about it. [no, nothing personal anywhere]

The above applies to the Burning Blog authors too. If you’re going to talk smack about an entry, talk about the entry. Don’t attack the author. [no, said nothing about the author]

Impersonation of a member of the Burning Man staff. It’s one thing to produce satire – we get that – but another to falsely impersonate another person with the intent to mislead people who trust our website for information from us. Impersonation posts will be removed at the discretion of the moderators. [no, no possibility of mistaking me for a member of BMOrg]

Unnecessarily attitudinal or inflammatory language, or posts that attack a point of view without explaining why. Again, disagreement is okay, but there’s a difference between saying, “That idea will never work because I don’t think people will clean up after themselves the way you think they will,” and saying, “That idea will never work. It’s stupid, and anyone who believes that is an idiot.” [no, no inflammatory language, no attitude, no attacking any viewpoint…just politely asking questions]

Posts that contain vulgar or abusive language targeted at any group, be it ethnic, racial, religious, class-related, etc. We hope this goes without saying. [no, no such language]

Conversation killers. A comment that doesn’t add to the conversation because it changes the subject, wanders off onto a tangent, or attempts to bait readers into an off topic discussion may be removed. [no, post was on topic and didn’t change the subject]

Content that knowingly violates the copyright, trademark, or trade secret of any individual or entity. [no, possible violation by using Nomad Traveler’s term Commodification Camps, but I’m sure he would approve]

Spam-whinging. We made that word up. By it we mean, “The same exact whiney complaint, repeated ad nauseum as often as possible, with ‘fingers in ears,’ no matter what anyone says to you, at the expense of evolving dialogue.” Dissenting opinions and debate are absolutely welcome here, but dead horses should be tied up outside. If your fellow commenters express that you sound like a broken record, they may be right. Hey, we know it sounds like something nobody would ever do on purpose, but you’d be surprised… [no, only posted once; hardly a dead horse, since it’s about the post itself]

Note: repeat offenders and known trolls may find their IP addresses banned. [I don’t think BMOrg really understand how the Internet works]


All edits, post removals, and user actions are at the sole discretion of Burning Man and its moderators, and are subject to appeal only if you can somehow establish that you’ve seen the error of your ways AND if we are feeling particularly magnanimous and/or perky that day. Otherwise, post-removal decisions are final. [I don’t see any error in my ways]

Usually if you find yourself moderated, you’ll find that if you go back and attempt to say the same thing while trying to be a bit nicer (gasp! yes, nicer!) that very same opinion will be entirely welcomed. (Go ahead, make fun of us for saying this. We don’t mind.)

“Hey, I was just ‘expressing myself’! What about Free Speech??”

Burning Man supports the right to free speech. [yeah right!] We firmly believe you have the right to host what you want on your own website (so long, of course, as it doesn’t violate anyone else’s legal rights) – and we have that right too. Thus, if one of the things we don’t want on our site is your comment, we reserve the right to simply remove it. [now the truth comes out!] Our aim is to be as hands-off as possible and let you enjoy a spirited dialogue, but we retain the right and the responsibility to maintain this space in the manner consistent with the atmosphere we hope to create for our visitors.

You’ll never find one of your posts removed if you remain true to the policies and guidelines posted here. You won’t ever be censored just because we disagree with your opinion. If you find you ever do feel you were unduly censored from posting your opinions to the Burning Blog comments forum, please do feel free to start your own blog to talk about those feelings.


stop_blog_censorhip01See, the thing is, I did exactly that. I started my own blog, and 1300 articles later, I can now talk about my feelings to hundreds of thousands of people. But what about everyone else? Is it only Burners.Me that gets censored? Most of the posts on now have very, very few comments – so how many are they actually censoring? There doesn’t appear to be any oversight of the censors, and “if you don’t like it, start your own” continues to be their policy.

In the last JackedRabbit, Will Chase said:

Turnkey camps in Black Rock City are the talk of the community lately, and understandably so. Theme camps that provide all-inclusive camping services for (sometimes large) fees mean that many people visit Black Rock City who wouldn’t otherwise experience Burning Man, but they also raise questions about Radical Self-Reliance, Communal Effort and Decommodification that challenge our core values.

While this is going to be an ongoing conversation, we wanted to let you know that we share your concerns. Right now we’re taking in your feedback, looking at the situation carefully, and talking to the parties involved. We’re trying to create an accurate picture of what’s happening – we are gathering facts to understand the scope and nature of the problems associated with Turnkey camps. This is a continuation of a process that started with a round table discussion with Turnkey camp organizers two years ago, and included the creation of Turnkey Camping Guidelines.

Right now our various teams are deep in their debrief processes for the 2014 event – what worked, what didn’t, and what changes should be made for next year. Turnkey camps are currently being discussed at all levels of the organization and we are reviewing the options available for making positive changes.

And, we’d appreciate your formal input. If you have had a first hand experience with a Turnkey camp – either as a producer, a staff member, a participant or as a community member, please let us know about your experience through our feedback form.

We know that if we all work together as a community, we can find a way to stay true to Radical Inclusion without undermining the rest of the Ten Principles. This community has faced similar challenges throughout its history, and this probably won’t be the last one. Indeed, our society would not be a real community if such challenges did not occur.

We’ll figure out the way forward together.

Stay tuned for more on this topic in the near future!

ostrich cartoon

I think the key wording here is “create an accurate picture”. They’re not trying to understand, they’re trying to shape the discussion into an image that suits their goals. And it appears that welcoming Commodification Camps is very much a part of this picture they want to paint for us.

Rather than engaging the community, like they pretend they’re doing, in fact BMOrg are sticking their heads in the sand. They hope they can just keep bullshitting everyone and get away with it, while they commercialize the Playa step by STEP. They want feedback through a form, not publicly visible comments. They have been directly approaching commenters who criticize them online, asking them to come into HQ for a face-to-face chat. One of our readers shared this with us:

April 25th, 6:54pm
Hey there … Will Chase from Burning Man here.

OK so we have no problem at all with constructive criticism, disagreement and dissent — hell, yell it from the rooftops if you want — but we DO have a problem when it’s based on misinformation, because that doesn’t serve anybody.

Where do you live? Because I’d like to invite you to the Burning Man office in SF to meet with me, and you can tell me everything you think is wrong with what we’re doing, and what you think our intentions are, and I can set you straight, person-to-person.

I’m quite serious about this, because I’m frankly sick of your sniping on our posts, implying that we’re a bunch of greedy nefarious assholes and that all we’re trying to accomplish here is to get one over on people and cash out. Because I’ll tell ya what, you couldn’t be more wrong … and it doesn’t serve our community for you to be spreading BS.

Also, you seem like a smart guy, and maybe you’ve got some good ideas about what we could be doing better. And I’d be happy to learn from you.

Whaddya say? You willing to step out from behind your anonymity and have a conversation?


Thank you for reaching out, but I have tried to be pretty clear on my advice in the past. Would be glad to have reasoned dialog on any and all topics. However, I fail to see why the ad hominem aspect of a personal meeting is necessary. Though not as auspicious a dialog, the anonymous Publius was a good advocate in the Federalist Papers. As Oscar Wilde said, “Man is least himself when he talks in his own person. Give him a mask, and he will tell you the truth.”

Would you like my email address?


Will Chase
Nope, that’s now how this is going to work. Anonymity may be beneficial for some things, but not this. We have the principle of “immediacy”, pretty much for this exact reason … because there’s no substitution for face-to-face, personal interactions when it comes to interpersonal understanding. You seem to have some interesting ideas that we could learn from, along with a number of misconceptions that I’d love to clear up for you. The offer stands to come in and meet with me. Let me know if you’re interested.

No matter to BMOrg that this reader doesn’t live in San Francisco. They didn’t even bother to ask.

Tell them, not the community, because only they matter, not the community. Rather than “figure out the way forward together”, they’re going to make decisions away from the public and tell us that it’s for our own good. These will be decisions that suit their interests first, and the community second. How much do you want to bet that the decision will be “Commodification Camps can continue, and can get whatever placement they want, and all the tickets they want, and leave tons of MOOP”?

I don’t really mind that my comment got censored, because I can just go and post it here to a MUCH bigger audience – and in the process, further raise awareness about the disconnect between BMOrg’s words and their actions.

What about everyone else, though? What about Burners who have intelligent opinions, but don’t have a highly visible blog? Isn’t Burning Man supposed to be an experiment, in new ways we can live together without commerce or commodification? Don’t BMOrg have a Civic Responsibility to do what their citizens putting in the Communal Effort want…rather than what is most profitable for themselves?

One commenter on Facebook coined the phrase “social capital Ponzi scheme”, which I think is a great analogy:

A while back the phrase “social capital Ponzi scheme” came to mind.

We who gifted their love, time, energy, capital towards the “community” over the years had an expectation that that community would still be there, to enjoy. We expected it to be valued and perserved, not exploited for crass commercial gain.

It was OUR collective investment. No amount of quibbling about trademark and LLC and whatnot will make this any less true. Now the scheme needs fresh-meat gullible social capital “investors” to keep the whole thing from imploding. It’s sad to see so many “much ado about nothing” types either naively or willfully ignore the cancer. The cancer is the very real possibility that the passionate volunteers — those who helped create the vibe of BRC — will get fed up and quit, because they realize they are no longer contributing to an actual investment in community over the long term.

Black Rock City today seems to be run like a tyrannical dictatorship, exploiting its volunteers, exploiting its customers, suing charities, and telling us they’re saving the world while lining their pockets via complex tax shelters. We pay them for the privilege of going to their party, which makes us customers. We pay to bring our art and music, which makes us contributors. We participate and put communal effort in, which makes us citizens. We get no vote, we get silenced if we speak out, we get ostracized and prevented from buying tickets through their profiling system. Only they can make money, if anyone else tries the legal team comes down on them like the Hammer of Thor. Radical inclusion, my ass. If you’re on the board, you can produce all the promo videos and multi-million dollar Commodification Camps you want.

On that, here’s what they say about using videos of Burning Man to promote your brand:

in concert with our principle of Decommodification, Burning Man takes a strong stance against any images, video, or audio from the event being used in any type of commercial manner. You can’t use Black Rock City as a backdrop for a music video or a fictional film. You can’t use Black Rock City for a product promotion, for any kind of commercial, or for a fashion shoot. Not even if you’re from VOGUE. Seriously. Next to violating the privacy and other rights of participants, nothing is as degrading to the future of our city and culture as using Burning Man to sell something, and we stand ready to protect our culture from such exploitation.

And here’s one of their director’s commercials promoting his brand:

And here’s one of VOGUE’s fashion shoots, which BMOrg charges $150,000 for according to SFBG. Seriously.

bm french vogue 2010

vogue 2012 bm

fish tank vogue

Is this the society we want? We have to live by the rules and shut up, while their directors get to ignore the Principles and do whatever they like to monetize the Playa. If we speak up about things that concern us publicly, we get summoned into headquarters for The Questioning. Is this really something special that we should export around the globe, and bring millions of virgins into for the purposes of “acculturation”?

It’s hard to see how Burning Man can get better if BMOrg take the public position that there’s nothing wrong in the first place, and only ever have to consider viewpoints that agree with the decisions they’ve already made. OK, fair enough, they have the right to delete any comments they want on their web site: but don’t feed us blatant lies like “You’ll never find one of your posts removed if you remain true to the policies and guidelines posted here. You won’t ever be censored just because we disagree with your opinion.”

I see through your hollow words, BMOrg, many others do too – more each week. I didn’t really expect you to consider my post, or answer my very reasonable questions; but I also didn’t think things have sunk so low that you censor anything that doesn’t fit the Corporate Speak. Why not just ignore questions you don’t want to answer, like you’ve always done in the past? Like you’ve done with the other commenters to this post? [Update: that’s exactly what they did, once I tricked them into thinking it wasn’t Burners.Me commenting – they ignored it. Are they really having a conversation with Burners via social media?]

Maybe you’re still fooled, dear reader…but the Kool Aid has well and truly worn off here.

You can fool all of the people some of the time, and some of the people all of the time, but you can’t fool all of the people all of the time. -Abraham Lincoln




[Update 10/7/14 5:30pm] – Will Chase from BMOrg has responded to this article, see comments. They claim my comments somehow got caught in their “spam filter” – which makes no sense given that the exact same content went straight up when I said it was from someone other than Burners.Me. Anyway, they have published the comment, but have still not answered any Burner questions on their post. I asked Will when we might expect a response, he said “I don’t know when for sure, but I know that we will”. Coming soon…

[Update 10/7/14 6:24pm] In tracking down a troll comment to this post – which appears to have come from Burning Man HQ, like several other troll comments hiding behind fake names – I came across an old message from Burning Man CEO Marian Goodell that I had not seen before. It was sent on February 17, 2014, answering a question I asked her on December 16, 2013. Make of it what you will:

Steve Jones quoted me out of context, and it’s picked up here as if it’s true:  [NOTE: this link she posted actually says the story is NOT true]

We NEVER ever took any money from Vogue to do a shoot. There has yet to be a shoot at Burning Man with our permission. What I said was that we always say no, and sometimes they come back and ask again…and that we sometimes use a high fee to just dissuade them from further conversation if they insist on being pushy. $150,000 site fee is absurd. And, if anyone said they’d do it, we’d just laugh. It’s like a dumb game with some of these companies, so we play along sometimes to just see how far they’d go.

When we say NO we mean no, and so many of them say: “pretty please”, or “why not”, or “for how much”….i mean really.

There seems to be a Vogue photo shoot in the 2010 November (or 2011?) French Vogue magazine that looks like Burning Man. If it is, we didn’t approve of it, and have scratched our heads internally about it since it was spotted several years ago.

There have been other Vogue photo shoots:

September 3, 2014

August 29, 2012 Paris Vogue

November 2010, Paris Vogue David Mushegain

May 2010 British Vogue:

Sep 2009 US Vogue: