The idea of Anarchical society might sound not so very pleasant. You might picture a society with no polite, no rules, no moral and so on. This is a very stereotypical description of Anarchical society. What people do not get is that Anarchism is a very vast umbrella term and that it contains many different forms of Anarchism. While some of the radical Anarchical ideologies might indeed be incompatible with human nature, there still is a chance of finding a golden middle ground. Burning man managed to find such societal structure which proved to be very effective for a city with a population of seventy thousand people. This structure is called holonism, which you will hear oh so much about from us. Our platform “Powershare” shares many ideological and structural similarities with Burning Man. This is why it’s so relevant to us — If Burning Man managed to implement these principles and proved that it’s possible to do so successfully, then it must also be possible for us to do so as well, with some modifications. To be more precise, Burning Man proved that cooperation is what drives a healthy holonic community and that it is what produces well-being for every single member. If you’ve read our “Cryptoeconomics” paper, then you can surely see why we are so interested in this.
Before we move to examining Burning Man in details, let’s first define what the hell it is. Burning Man is not a festival, it’s not just a gigantic party, it’s a city, it’s a community, which emerges every year in the desert. The city even has a name “Black Rock City”, or just BRC. According to their official website Burning man is:
“A city in the desert. A culture of possibility. A network of doers.”
Every year around 70 000 people gather here. They build the city with their own hands, from nothing they create a whole city. So, when you go to Burning Man, it’s like visiting a city. The thing that makes this community more city-like is that all the attendees are called Black Rock City Citizens.
Where, when and how was the idea of Burning Man born?
It takes us back to 1986. Larry Harvey and Jerry James had an inspiration of building and burning a human effigy on a beach in San Francisco. When they finally put this idea to action, they saw that enormous amount of people gathered around them, it almost was a tribal experience of people sharing a ritual. This is how Burning man was born.
Over the years the ritual attracted more and more people. That’s why in 1990 the event was moved to Black Rock Desert, in Nevada. There people would form some kind of autonomous zone, built for just one week, with its own economic, cultural, and political systems. Judgement, money, and inhibitions were left at the gate in an earth-shattering sociocultural experiment with no clear destination nor agenda. And at the end of the gathering they would perform their sacred ritual and burn a gigantic effigy.
In the end, a complete anarchy didn’t work out well, because while people were happy to express themselves and have fun, they weren’t interested in an ordered liberty, a new sort of civil society or ecological sustainability.
That is why it had to change its system. As Harvey said:
“As a result of the reforms we put into place in 1997, our city grew more civilized. Instead of driving cars at 100 miles/hour with the lights turned off, as was the fashion, people began to encounter one another. Once we eliminated firearms, invented the Greeters, re-purposed and reorganized the Rangers, created a street grid, regulated traffic, increased population densities, and gave everyone an address, people could more freely interact. Theme camps tripled, villages thrived, entire neighborhoods began to come alive.
Perhaps that is the final irony — We ended up creating a world defined by free association and communal aid, rather like that dream of social harmony envisioned by the original anarchists. This was the beginning of the modern phase of Burning Man. The nascent institutions we’d invented, sometimes half in jest, became realities. Our city, many of us felt, had acquired a soul.”
Since then its size has been growing and accordingly it gets more and more attention from the most creative and accomplished people on the planet. The event inspired broad-based participation, imagination and play. The society there is different from the one we live in, its economy is based on gifts and generosity of total strangers. The most valued thing there is “radical self-expression” and “radical self-reliance”, about which we will talk more a bit later. In short, this is a place where thousands of people self-organize into theme camps, art projects, groups of performers and so on. It even has a temporary airport.
In 2004 Larry Harvey published the “Ten principles of Burning Man” as a guideline for the community members:
Radical Inclusion. Anyone may be a part of Burning Man. We welcome and respect the stranger. No prerequisites exist for participation in our community.
Gifting. 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.
Decommodification. In order to preserve the spirit of gifting, our community seeks to create social environments that are unmediated by commercial sponsorship, transactions or advertising. We stand ready to protect our culture from such exploitation. We resist the substitution of consumption for participatory experience.
Radical Self-reliance. Burning Man encourages the individual to discover, exercise and rely on his or her inner resources.
Radical Self-expression. Radical self-expression arises from the unique gifts of the individual. No one other than the individual or a collaborating group can determine its content. It is offered as a gift to others. In this spirit, the giver should respect the rights and liberties of the recipient.
Communal Effort. Our community values creative cooperation and collaboration. We strive to produce, promote and protect social networks, public spaces, works of art, and methods of communication that support such interaction.
Civic Responsibility. We value civil society. Community members who organize events should assume responsibility for public welfare and endeavor to communicate civic responsibilities to participants. They must also assume responsibility for conducting events in accordance with local, state and federal laws.
Leaving No Trace. Our community respects the environment. We are committed to leaving no physical trace of our activities wherever we gather. We clean up after ourselves and endeavor, whenever possible, to leave such places in a better state than when we found them.
Participation. Our community is committed to a radically participatory ethic. We believe that transformative change, whether in the individual or in society, can occur only through the medium of deeply personal participation. We achieve being through doing. Everyone is invited to work. Everyone is invited to play. We make the world real through actions that open the heart.
Immediacy. Immediate experience is, in many ways, the most important touchstone of value in our culture. We seek to overcome barriers that stand between us and a recognition of our inner selves, the reality of those around us, participation in society, and contact with a natural world exceeding human powers. No idea can substitute for this experience.
The Design, Order and Culture
Now let’s take a look how the city itself is designed. The form the city evolved into was a C shaped semi-circle, with a giant human effigy in the center. There are three elements that we should point out. First of all, the inner ring is completely car-free, camps are formed in the residential zones of the outer ring. The inner ring server as a stage for art. Second, the means of transportation is different there. Walking and bicycling are the only modes of transportation. And the last but not least, the city-circle has one side open to create a sense of transcendence and oneness with the nature, desert in this case. As Garrett wrote:
“We will never further close that arc, as it is humbling to have the vast desert and sky intrude into our self-styled small world. The open side to the circular scheme takes on spiritual and psychological importance. Instead of completely circling the wagons, we invite the natural world to intrude, to lure participants away from our settlement and into the great silence and open space.”
But what about the order? Just the correct design cannot make a community function like it does in this city. Larry Harvey once told magazine: “Culture is a wonderful thing to order a society”. This is where Burning Man succeeded, it created a holonic culture in which everyone behaves for the good of community and this is where we hope to succeed as well.