TagBurning Man

Photos from Midburn Festival, the Burning Man of Israel

Midburn Festival, Israeli Burning Man style event

More Photos: U.S. News and World Report: Desert Ignites in Israeli ‘Burning Man’

Mindful Cyborgs: Who Are the Netocrats?

This week Chris Dancy and talked with Alexander Bard, co-author of The Futurica Trilogy:

AB: Why do you think I’m writing my next book on Burning Man? Nobody has done a proper social theorem on Burning Man, the biggest social phenomenon at the moment. Burning Man is now having spinoffs all around the world. There are local burns everywhere and they’re magnets for the Netocrats. That’s where Netocrats go because Burning Man is the internet as a physical version. It’s the physical version of the internet. That’s exactly what it is. But nobody has done the proper social theory.

I was there three years ago and I met this really beautiful naked Canadian actress. She was like taking tons of cocaine and she was really funny and she was taking me around for a night and we were just sweeping the place. Suddenly she says, “You know what, this is our hutch. Burning Man is our mecca.” And I just realize this is a practiced religion. Why hasn’t anybody written a book on what the Burning Man really is? It’s not a holiday for people. It’s a damn mecca. It has to be constructed as if it is your religion because I think what it is. That’s where Syntheism comes in that he was born a burning man. It’s the idea of the burning man is already a practiced religion. Now let’s find out what the religion is, we already practice it, let’s find out what it is.

KF: I think there have been some books on spirituality of Burning Man but one thing that I think hasn’t been discussed as much is its connection to the new elites in terms of people like Jack Dorsey. Actually I don’t know if Jack Dorsey went to Burning Man but he’s part of that. He certainly was part of those types of networks in San Francisco in the late nineties and now he’s one of the biggest shots in the tech industry. He name drops a Hakim Bey, he talks about temporary autonomous zones and all of the concepts that were popular during that time and probably still are at Burning Man. I don’t know if anyone has really looked into the connections between that type of network culture thinking and that old Burning Man rave scene from that period.

AB: Yeah, I can see from the outside, Klint. I can see the best for being a Scandinavian and not an American because for the Americans probably Burning Man is like a big rave party for old grumpy people. I know for a fact you don’t get a top job at Google unless you’ve been to Burning Man. That’s a requirement. That is what I call Netocratic manifestation, if anything. That’s where I would look right now for the future.

Download, notes and full transcript: Mindful Cyborgs: Attentionalism, Netocracy, and the All-Consuming Flame of To(day)morrow

I do wish we’d gotten more of a chance to talk about how attentionalism actually differs from capitalism. It still sounds to me like more of the process by which one becomes and remains bourgeoisie, not a new form of economy. For example, successful netocrats from Michael Arrington to Peter Thiel to Eric Schmidt tend to become venture capitalists and/or angel investors once they achieve success.

Update: On the topic of both spirituality at Burning Man and the festival’s connections to the Silicon Valley elite, check out Fred Turner’s essay “Burning Man at Google” (PDF).

Burning Man Invades Afghanistan

Burning Man in Afghanistan

In the 1970s, U.S. Army Lieutenant Colonel Jim Channon proposed the First Earth Battalion, an attempt to apply counter cultural currents of the time to the U.S. military. Now there’s the Synergy Strike Force:

Warner held the lease on the Taj, and he ran it with the help of an Afghan man, a former shepherd turned beekeeper turned tobacconist turned pool cleaner turned guesthouse manager named Mehrab. By design, the Taj sat “outside the wire,” beyond the security perimeter of the nearby coalition airfield. It was not only a place to drink and flop but also a kind of grand social experiment—an outpost of the Burning Man ethos in the Afghan desert.

What Warner meant when he called the Taj a “Burner bar” was that it operated, in part, according to a barter system. One of the standing rules at the guesthouse was that any expat could exchange information for booze. In a war zone where so many different agencies, companies, and contractors passed like wary ships in the night, one of the biggest problems was that no one could coordinate knowledge. No one, that is, except maybe a bartender. Under the banner of “Beer for Data,” Warner had turned the Taj into a major clearinghouse for information in Jalalabad. It accumulated by the terabyte on his hard drives: construction plans, hydrology surveys, health-clinic locations, election polling sites, names of farmers, number of trees on their farms, number of acres. What Warner collected he then passed on to the United Nations, the Pentagon, and anyone else who asked for it.

Full Story: Pacific Standard: The Merry Pranksters Who Hacked the Afghan War

(via Paul Graham Raven)

Here’s an ABC News interview with Warner:

Finding Jesus At Burning Man

Pastor Phil Wyman writes about his Christian missionary work at Burning Man:

I see Burning Man as a developing festival culture in American society. Like the children of Israel, who gathered for holy days like Passover, Pentecost, and the Feast of Tabernacles, millions of people throng to festivals such as Burning Man, the Rainbow Gatherings, and Mind Body Spirit. Such events are imbued with a hedonistic party culture, but they often foster a search for deeper spirituality. That spirituality is typically not Christian—it’s not specifically or predominantly anything. Rather, it’s at root the search for meaning. Like the Jews running out to the desert to see John the Baptist, these spiritual seekers run to festivals and find new crazed prophets. [...]

Like others at the festival, we devoted ourselves to building a large art installation—one of more than 300 built on the playa that week. Ours would be something of a sociological experiment. We were looking for people who were hoping to hear something—a still, small voice, perhaps.

I found some friends to help me—Hope Deifell, Dennis Huxley, Scott Veatch, and Matt Bender—and we built something we called Pillars of the Saints. It was an interactive meditation project based on the life of Simeon Stylites, the 5th-century Christian desert father and ascetic mystic. Simeon lived on a pillar for 39 years, seeking God and sharing wisdom with the multitudes who sought him out. Even popes asked for his advice, and Simeon’s work started a small movement of “pillar saints.”

It took us four days to build the installation: three pillars 10 to 12 feet tall and three blank walls with a flame altar in front of each. Each of the elements—the pillars, the walls, and the flame altars—had its own purpose.

Christianity Today: Finding Jesus At Burning Man

(via Al Billings)

Circus Culture, Or: Why You’re Wearing Feathers Right Now

El Circo

Our story begins almost 12 years ago, in a little town in Oregon, by the name of Ashland, where a group of kids came together to start a circus performance troupe called, El Circo. The group would gain recognition within the Burning Man culture for the extravagant parties they threw at the festival, featuring lavish fire performances, a large, geodesic dome venue, and a top-notch sound system that attracted world-renowned music acts to perform there. In a 2005 San Francisco Bay Guardian article on the effect that the various groups within the Burning Man community have had on San Francisco nightlife — an impact which now extends to the entire west coast’s, and arguably global, dance culture — the writer paid particular attention to the influence of El Circo [...]

That same year, just two years out of college, I stumbled into the role of production manager for a newly-formed, L.A.-based vaudeville cirque troupe called, Lucent Dossier. Through that initial involvement with Lucent I would meet many other circus groups, including El Circo, who were by then based in San Francisco along with The Yard Dogs Road Show and Vau De Vire Society. There was also March Fourth Marching Band in Portland, Clan Destino in Santa Barbara, and Cirque Berzerk, and Mutaytor in L.A. As these acts grew, the I-5 Freeway became a central artery of culture, pumping a distinct combination of art, music, fashion, and performance up and down the west coast. A social scene evolved around these circus troupes the same way the punk subculture sprang up around the bands that defined it. For lack of another term, I’ve referred to this subculture over the years simply as “circus.”

Social Creature: Why You’re Wearing Feathers Right Now

(via Coilhouse)

Now is as good a time as any to plug my wife’s tribal fusion boutique, which sells many hand-made, cruelty free feather accessories: Siphonophoria.

Jillian modeling tribal fusion head piece

OK, so this headpiece doesn’t have any feathers on it, but you get the idea…

Note: I’m on vacation until August 22, so I may be slow responding to comments or making corrections.

Technoccult Interview: Douglas Rushkoff On Kicking the Consensus Reality Habit

Douglas Rushkoff
Photo by Johannes Kroemer

“Are you a practicing occultist?” was the first question Douglas Rushkoff asked me when I met him at the Webvisions conference in Portland, OR. It’s not a typical question for a keynote speaker to ask a journalist he’s just met at a technology event. Then again, Rushkoff is not a typical keynote, and I’m not a typical journalist. After all, I’d just introduced myself as a writer for ReadWriteWeb and Technoccult.

“No, not anymore,” I told him.

“I’m thinking about starting up again. I feel like I’ve been fooled by all of this,” he said, gesturing around the room.

“All of what?” I asked him.

“Consensus reality,” he told me. He went on to talk about the vitality that practicing magicians like Phil Farber and Grant Morrison have. We chatted a bit longer about our common interests, and made an appointment to meet up for an interview. I talked to him about some of the themes of his new book, Program or Be Programmed, and the Contact Summit, which he’s co-organizing with Venessa Miemis and Michel Bauwens. You can find that portion of the interview at ReadWriteWeb. Then we got into stuff that fits better on this site.

Rushkoff is disappointed about how technology is being used today. He describes feeling of computer networks in 1991 as being like taking acid – there was a sense that anything was possible. In Cyberia he wrote that the only people that would be able to handle the new information reality would be psychedelic people and kids. He expanded upon the notion that kids would just inherently get cyberspace in Playing the Future.

It hasn’t worked out that way. Rushkoff admits he was wrong about kids just getting cyberculture. He says recent studies have found that younger Internet users are more likely to fall for hoaxes or believe incorrect things they read on the Internet. Young people are less critical, not more.

Meanwhile, technology has become more about control than about liberation from consensus reality.

“When Video Toaster for the Amiga came out everyone was really excited,” he Rushkoff said. “We believed that we could use it to create deeply alternative states of consciousness using lights and colors and things.”

“Today, those technologies are used by companies like Fox News to make you pay attention to what they want you to pay attention to, or to make your eye fall on a particular ad. Stuff like that.”

But he says if you know how the program works, you’re less likely to be hypnotized by it. “There’s two ways to experience magic,” he says. “And I don’t mean stage magic.” You can either experience it as a spectator, watching a priest or guru. Or you can participate. “Having a guru will only take you so far,” he said. “You have to become the guru.”

But it’s not easy. Rushkoff admits he’s been having trouble participating in magic these days. “My sense is that the suppositional conditioning that I’ve undergone – making a living, raising a kid, keeping a house in working order, paying a mortgage – I’ve expended a lot of energy in less efficient ways,” he said. “I’ve become less trusting of the more subtle ways of influencing the world around me.”

“Part of that is because the stakes are higher,” he said. “I’ve got a real kid, a real wife, a real house, a real bank account, a real mortgage. When it was just me, the stakes were lower. It was just ‘Will I get this book deal?’ and ‘Will I get with this girl?’ Not expending that energy in the conventional ways wouldn’t lead to catastrophic failures.”

He said he hasn’t reached a point where the stakes are lower. “I’ve just gotten to a point where this is no longer working for me. Too many of my day-to-day concerns are not consonant with the way I want to experience the world. It’s about maintaining security, avoiding death and getting things done.”

He says he’s not interested in performing rituals or ceremonies. Instead he said “I want to maintain a greater availability towards pattern recognition. A greater sensitivity to the subtle effects of my actions.”

He wants to spend more of his time and energy connecting with people and “Being and experiencing myself as part of the unfolding of reality.”

So what stands in the way?

“The cultural things in my life and how I relate to them are all fairly rigid – marriage, schools, etc.” he says. “But unless you find an intentional community, it’s hard to feel that balanced. But I feel it can be done.”

I mention that Grant Morrison seems to pull this off. “Yeah, but he’s childless,” Rushkoff replied. He explains that he’s worried that if he goes off the deep end, he’d end up with some fucked up kids. “I don’t know if that’s because of society or what,” he says, pointing out that society has certain expectations from parents and childhoods and your children can end up being the victims of your choices, even if it’s not fair.

I told him that I don’t have kids, but society still limits what I can do. “Right, money is a big limiting factor,” he says.

“It’s like Bill Hicks said,” I replied. “‘You think you’re free? Trying going anywhere without fucking money.’”

“Yeah, not everyone can move out to the woods, and have solar panels and all that. It’s just not sustainable.”

I told him about EsoZone, and how part of my intention for it was to create a sort of urban Burning Man – a semi-autonomous zone that people could bus or bike to, instead of something way out in the desert away from civilization.

“Yeah, and that’s great,” he said. “But it’s temporary. It’s like acid. When you come down, the question is always ‘how can I make this last forever?’”

And it’s at that point that someone from the event came over and told him it was time to get ready to go on stage and we had to part ways before I could get to the other questions on my list about localism, alternative currencies, etc.

But I’ve been thinking about this last point – how do we make these special experiences last forever? Part of the point, I think, of these sorts of shamanistic experiences – whether it’s Burning Man, or drugs, or fever or lucid dreaming or whatever – is that they are temporary but that you can take something of value away from them and apply it to normal, every day life.

I relate to Rushkoff’s experience, even though I’m childless. My day-to-day concerns are meeting my deadlines for work, making sure I have enough money in the bank for rent, my conference travel schedule, the best types of dish washer tablets and whether my wife and I need a new coffee maker. I’m considering buying a subscription to Consumer Reports, and what sort of retirement savings account is best for me.

Did we learn nothing from our experiences that we can bring back into our day-to-day lives? Are there really no options between being square or living on a commune?

I for one choose not to be believe that.

Since this interview, I made it a point to work less and to spend more time with friends. Even before the interview I’d been realizing that I didn’t do much actual socializing on social media. Twitter and Tumblr are participatory, but not particularly social. I use Facebook mostly as a way to send and receive invitations, and as a sort of back-up e-mail system. I want to spend more time connecting with people, and I’m doing my best to do that.

But there does seem to be something else that’s missing. As we parted ways, Rushkoff told me to feel free to e-mail him if I came across anything that I thought would help him in his situation. I chuckled, saying that it’s the exact same situation seemingly everyone is in.

The Fast and the Flashy at Burning Man Ultramarathon

Burning Man ultramarathon

With outfits ranging from skimpy to salacious, some 30 bleary-eyed runners completed the first-ever Burning Man Ultramarathon, proving that arid weather and late-night parties weren’t enough to derail even the most dedicated Burner athletes from slogging 30 miles through sand, sun and dust.

After months of planning, organizer Cherie Yanek and 36 other competitors kicked off the race at 5 am on September 1. Temperatures hovered around 50 degrees and onlookers included party-goers who hadn’t yet called it a night. There were no dust storms — a frequent concern during the annual gathering at Black Rock City — though temperatures did climb roughly 40 degrees by the time the final runner crossed the finish line shortly after 12:30 pm.

Wired: The Fast and the Flashy at Burning Man Ultramarathon

Wasteland Weekend: October 22-24

Wasteland Weekend

From the event’s web site:

Join the hundreds of fans coming from all over the the United States (and beyond) to gather in the Southern California desert. Set up camp at our wasteland compound, surrounded by specially-built sets. Costumes are required and post-apocalyptic campsites and vehicles are encouraged. Live for three days in a world pulled straight out of the Mad Max movies, beyond the grip of so-called civilization.
Top DJs from all over will provide the soundtrack, fire dancers and bonfires will light up the night, and modified vehicles will shake the earth with their engines. Don’t miss it! Tickets on sale now.
This is an ADULTS ONLY event.

Wasteland Weekend

See also: Wasteland vs. Burning Man

Libertarians Celebrate Freedom With ‘Burning Man on the Water’

Ephemerisle

Libertarians who couldn’t afford to insure their “Burning Man on the water” type event… just do it anyway, sans insurance:

A small group of libertarians created their own, floating vision of the future in California’s Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta recently. It was, as organizers billed it, a little like Burning Man on the water — minus the giant, flaming effigy and with a fraction of the number of event-goers.

The festival was almost canceled due to insurance problems, but in true libertarian fashion, the would-be attendees created a do-it-yourself substitute in its stead.

The would-be event, called Ephemerisle, was sponsored by The Seasteading Institute, a nonprofit dedicated to creating independent micro-nations in international waters.

“I heard about the cancellation and said, ‘In the spirit of self-organized nation-building, let’s get together anyways,’” said Matt Bell, who spearheaded the effort without any central leadership or organizational backing.

Wired: Libertarians Celebrate Freedom With ‘Burning Man on the Water’

It looks a little dull, but maybe the photographer didn’t get all the good stuff. They did have Burning Man mainstay Jason Webly perform.

Burning Man Infographic

Burning Man information graphic

Full sized version on Flickr

(via Flowing Data via Zaq)

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