Wednesday, September 03, 2014

Trip Report

So I went to Burning Man for the first time, and it was quite as amazing and overwhelming as I had hoped. I don՚t think I՚m going to go into details here. But I have to note that the fundamental thing about this event, which everybody knows but is not often made explicit, is that the whole thing is conceived, designed, built, and populated by people who are tripping balls most of the time (with exceptions). Black Rock City thus mirrors one of the more interesting phenomena of drug use: that a mind (or city) can be completely fucked up and yet still manage to perform most of the necessary operations to sustain daily life. I can՚t quite explain how this works, but in both cases it seems to say something about the robustness of the system architecture, for lack of a better term. A normal computer, by contrast, can՚t tolerate even a single component going wrong.



So having BM in an extremely hostile desert environment is something of a feature. Normal routines of survival are broken down, creating the necessity and opportunity of inventing other ones, that are more improvisational and more distributed. people or things getting fucked up are an occasion to fix them. There are always paths forward, generally not the ones you intended five minutes ago.

Here՚s the calling card I designed for myself beforehand (which, like me, may be a little too intellectual-jokey for the scene):



In that vein, my favorite moment (not the most beautiful or awe-inspiring, but the one that seemed most attuned to my own personal idiosyncrasies) was when I was out riding around with some friends, and we came to a small public square with a large purple phallic sculpture, climbable of course. So I climbed up and poked my head out and started dancing around, yelling look at me, I՚m a sperm. My friend shouted at me (from 30՚ away at least) to “stop dancing ironically, dance for real”. I have no idea what that meant, yet I successfully complied.



On the other hand, the heat, the nonstop electro-rave-whatever music that made it impossible to sleep, and the undertones of hippie self-satisfaction would occasionally combine to make me hate the place. I was hanging out with some much younger people and trying to follow their party schedule did a number on my aging body that՚s going to take a while to recover from. I think it was worth it.

I had multiple camera failures so have no pictures of my own, but on the other hand there is the upside that I didn't spend the whole time viewing things through a lens. A couple of good photo sets here and here. But (and I apologize to my readers for saying this) none of that captures the actuality of being there.

9 comments:

Dain said...

Weird how the zeitgeist has turned against Burning Man in recent years, to the point where even OK Cupid profiles in the Bay Area are listing "you've never been to Burning Man" under "You Should Message Me If:"

mtraven said...

Oh it's not very weird, I would totally expect something that is as big and culty as Burning Man to provoke a reaction. I tend to be anti-trendy myself, and so was pleasantly surprised to find that the experience of the event itself just kind of knocked all that stuff aside (at least at the time, now that I'm back I'm starting to wonder what in the world I'm doing hanging out with all these ecstasy-addled love puppies)

Crawfurdmuir said...

You write: "now that I'm back I'm starting to wonder what in the world I'm doing hanging out with all these ecstasy-addled love puppies"

It impresses me that a major social trend of the last half-century has been its celebration of adolescence, and of the sort of indulgence and irresponsibility exhibited by adolescents whose parents are paying the bills.

This really began in the 'sixties, and has continued since then more or less unabated. The baby-boom generation, and every generation following it, have sought - with some success - to prolong adolescence. It now lasts into the mid-twenties, at least, and some protract it still farther, at least behaviorally.

Events like Burning Man, at least as I perceive them at second hand from reports like yours, seem to me to be summarized by the slogan "You are only young once, but you can be immature forever."

mtraven said...

I would wager that most people at Burning Man are paying their own way (which can be considerable), since the median age is around 30 and the median income is around 40K (source).

The implication that burners are somehow economically parasitical is laughably wrong; people devote enormous amounts of their own resources to building artworks for others without recompense. It's not clear to me what motivates them, but I don't think self-indulgence has much to do with it.

Also it may be adolescent but serves as significant cultural infrastructure for Silicon Valley and thus the medium you are using right now.

That is, the culture may celebrate adolescence but that adolescence is also the source of the only economically innovative things that America is still good at.

Crawfurdmuir said...

If you read what I wrote carefully, you'll note that I did not say that those who attended Burning Man were parasitical. What I wrote was that they were adolescent, at least behaviorally. It does seem to me that they are behaving in a manner that is self-absorbed and hence self-indulgent.

A 30-year old with an income of $40,000 would, fifty years ago, have been married, raising a family, and paying down the mortgage on his house. He'd have been keeping his nose to the grindstone, not off at some drug-soaked orgy.

As for your remark that "it may be adolescent but serves as significant cultural infrastructure for Silicon Valley and thus the medium you are using right now" - people who are not morally or socially admirable often accomplish useful work regardless of their faults. I'm not about to deprive myself of those of its products that I can use profitably because of those faults. As Vespasian observed, pecunia non olet.

Nor do I see much point in positing some connection between the personal indugences or excesses of the makers of the products and the appeal of their products as such. That is rather like asking whether William Faulkner or F. Scott Fitzgerald became great writers because of their drunkenness or in spite of it - a vain speculation at best.

mtraven said...

Just try to imagine how little someone who works at Google cares about whether you think they are "morally or socially admirable". The point of the earlier remark was not to suggest that you boycott Google out of indignation, btw.

There are plenty of parents at Burning Man, me included. Some of them take their kids along, although I did not. I ran into one 3-generation family there (2 year old, 20-something parents, and grandma), which I thought was quite heartwarming.

The connection between "personal indulgences" and art is pretty interesting, not sure why you want to rule it out of bounds. I suppose if your primary approach to the world is that of a moralistic pecksniff, then it is just confusing and thus better to dismiss it.

Crawfurdmuir said...

"if your primary approach to the world is that of a moralistic pecksniff, then it is just confusing and thus better to dismiss it."

No, it certainly is not. I should have thought I made that clear when I wrote:

"Nor do I see much point in positing some connection between the personal indugences or excesses of the makers of the products and the appeal of their products as such. That is rather like asking whether William Faulkner or F. Scott Fitzgerald became great writers because of their drunkenness or in spite of it - a vain speculation at best."

Vice is one of those aspects of human character that cannot be cured and must be endured. You were, after all, the one that first referred to "ecstasy addled love puppies." I suppose that Burning Man, with its public nudity, drugs, and sexual license, is to the Silicon Valleyites what the opium dens and bordellos of the Barbary Coast were to the goldminers, sailors, and dockyard spivs of San Franciso a century and a half ago. Boys will be boys. Just don't try to represent one as any better than the other.

While I am commenting on your comments, I'll respond to this one:

"the culture [i.e., of Silicon Valley] may celebrate adolescence but that adolescence is also the source of the only economically innovative things that America is still good at."

It's not the only one. How about fracking? That's an economically innovative thing that has made hotbeds of wealth production out of such unlikely places as Williston, North Dakota, and Midland, Texas.

You write of 30-something computer jockeys with $40K/yr median incomes doing drugs and running around naked at Burning Man. Up on the Bakken formation, a 30-year-old with a high-school diploma and a commercial driver's license can earn $80K/yr. No doubt they have their taverns and floozies, too.

Fracking has put the United States on the path to being the world's largest producer of oil by 2016, according to no less a source than Goldman Sachs. This development is all the more remarkable in that it has taken place in spite of the generally hostile attitudes of the present administration towards energy development - and, unlike the work product of Silicon Valley, it may have genuine geopolitical benefits, such as breaking the grip of the OPEC cartel.

Anonymous said...

Is burning man really a 'boys game?' Are the women who are part of its community really just of secondary importance, sexual playthings or 'floozies'?

mtraven said...

No. Although I suppose if you are a conservative with no model for female agency, sexual or otherwise, maybe it would appear that way.