[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.]
Every now and then someone proposes a new technological fix for what many at Burning Man don’t see as a problem in the first place. The debate that results usually boils down to a parody of intellectual discussion, as performed by a sparkle pony named “Meerkat” and a shirtcocker named “Thunder”:
MEERKAT: “YOU AND YOUR PHONE DON’T UNDERSTAND OR RESPECT THE 10 PRINCIPLES!”
THUNDER: “YOU’RE A LUDDITE TRADITIONALIST WHO DOESN’T APPRECIATE TECHNOLOGY!”
MEERKAT: “HEY, LOOK, A GIANT PIRATE SHIP PILOTED BY COOKIE MONSTER!”
THUNDER: “I’M GOING TO POST ABOUT IT TO ALL MY FRIENDS!”
MEERKAT: “DAMN YOU, TRAITOR!”
THUNDER: “WHY CAN’T I GET A SIGNAL? OH CRUEL WORLD!”
This is a lot of fun to watch at three in the morning, but it’s not productive.
If we’re going to have a productive debate about technology, the terms of the discussion really need to change.
The first thing to realize is that an event in the desert founded on radical self-reliance can’t be anti-technology. Technology is a form of radical self-reliance. What you can’t do yourself you develop tools to do, and tools become machines, and machines become systems – and systems become “technology” as a whole. We absolutely rely on our tools to survive, let alone to build and thrive, and the idea that Burning Man culture is incompatible with the development of better tools is ludicrous.
Almost one year ago to date, Joshua and I were running around the playa with a recorder capturing soundscapes, bikes, art car tires, wind, art project bass tones, fire, the burn, thoughts, moments, tears, anxieties, and messages of love. The goal: to create a piece of audio magic that embodied the soundscape – sampling, creating drum kits, crafting music all with nothing but sounds from the playa and using the words of the burners that inhabited the dust as the lyrics. A job we knew would be full of sweat, time, and technically detailed passion. A job that would be well worth every moment. *EVERY SINGLE SOUND ENCAPSULATED IN THIS PIECE IS FROM THE PLAYA, 2013, NOT ONE OUTSIDE PIECE OF AUDIO WAS USED.* This is a piece of audio magic whose soul intention is to be a gift to you. To you, our fellow burners, to you the ones who’ve never been, to you the ones who aren’t going this year, to you the ones who are already en route, to you the ones who are just a bit curious of what our magic tastes like. After almost one year, Volume 1 of what we hope to be a yearly gift for your auditory pleasure is complete. Please enjoy a journey into the dust…a massive thank you to the art projects and burners we recorded: $tephen Ra$pa, Carmen Mauk, Madeleine Belle, Joe Everyday, Davina the Dragon Crew (Christian Breedon, Kristin Bowdy, Parker Galore, Carter Smith, etc…), Shanna, Ted the Weather Pimp, the Playa Jazz Cafe, Cleu Camp, the Center Camp Cafe Marching Band Competition, Keno Mapp, Matt Fusello, Polaris from Media Mecca, Nick Sunderberg, the Cathedral of Celestial Mathgic, Ilya Pieper, the whole BMIR crew, the fires and drums of conclave, the Man, the Temple, Orson Welles, all of your damn P’s that were popped throughout the recording process… and everyone else who contributed to this anonymously…we love you all! Burn bright…)’(
It’s not as well known as that one art car that shoots all the fire, or that sculpture that does the thing when you touch it with the lights – but for years the Pinhole Camera group at Burning Man has been producing some of the playa’s finest back-and-white photography, and they’ve developed a following.
For years the group has been based out of Media Mecca, using one of Mecca’s shipping containers as an on-playa dark room. Putting on gloves, sploshing chemicals – I’m pretty sure some people have gotten it on in there, too, but sadly it wasn’t me.
To everybody who’s apologized for falling behind on Book Club: I’ve fallen behind too, so let’s make it official. Book Club moves slowly, and nobody has to be embarrassed. A chapter a week was just not going to happen.
But we’re making progress!
Okay … here we go …
Today we’re going to talk about money and economics.
If Burning Man, as I’ve argued, has many of the attributes and contradictions if Romanticism, there’s one more that should be noted.
Here’s Eagleton’s description:
“If the movement is divided against itself, it is largely because it is both a product of middle-class society and a protest against it. Its flamboyant individualism is among other things an idealized version of the entrepreneur; yet it is also a rebuke to the faceless civilization he is busy fashioning, one in which men and women are reduced to so many cogs and ciphers. Spiritual individualism is to be prized, but its more possessive variety must be countered by some more corporate forms of existence, whether in the form of Nature, Geist, art, culture, world-spirit, political love, medieval guilds, ancient Greece, utopian communities or the Kantian consensus of taste.”
There is it – and Burning Man has been living that contradiction for decades. Burning Man as we know it could only exist in a world of capitalist excess, and it is easiest to participate in by those who are living high on that excess. Can there be any real argument on these points? Yet Burning Man’s values explicitly call for us to undermine the motives and impacts of these same systems of excess. Burning Man is like the landlord who raises the rent while voting for public ownership of buildings.