“What is this–that Bitcoin bulls*t?!” were the words I awoke to my first morning at Burning Man. A large burly man declaring himself as “Papa Bear,” who was also in charge of placement of our camp, came out with teeth bared. We had set up camp about 10 feet in the wrong direction, and he found an excuse to ream us out for not agreeing with his brain.
Our camp organizer, Gary Lachance, instantly sprung out of his tent, fully postured to face the noise. “Camp Dogecoin,” Gary said in his calm collected monotone voice, trying to calm the beast. Papa Bear was upset with our camp theme, claiming we were trying to commodify Burning Man with cryptocurrency. Decommodification is one of the core principles of Burning Man he swore to protect.
“It’s the decommodification of money,” Gary calmly insisted. I stepped in briefly, exclaiming “It’s a liberating technology!” But Papa Bear didn’t care. “The thought of money at Burning Man makes me want to puke on his shoes!” He spat to Gary, referring to me.
He gave us one last warning and parted, ”I’m just letting you know that there’s going to be some people around here who don’t agree with what you’re doing, I don’t give a f*k what happens in the default world, this is Burning Man.” Oh boy, had we come to the wrong place?
Welcome to Black Rock City – Burning Man 2014
It was a long and arduous drive with several missions interspersed between. The Decentralized Dance Party temporarily purchased a 2008 Burgundy Dodge Caravan, that we instantly dubbed The Doge Caravan–a fitting name for Burning Man 2014’s theme of Caravansary. We had come equipped with full Doge propaganda, including stickers, buttons, and a flag. After strapping the obligatory Shibe rocket to the roof of the Doge Caravan, we headed down from Vancouver to the American border.
The Doge Caravan
Previously, I had been convinced that the Dogecoin community was the most subversive culture on the planet, but when finally entering the gates, we found an equally impressive sub(versive)-culture at Black Rock City: Burner Culture.
Let’s recap for those who don’t already know: Burning Man is more than a festival; in fact, festival is an understatement. It’s a makeshift city that is erected for a week in the middle of the Nevada desert. There’s an entire culture, ethos, economy, and history that goes along with this place. That’s why we were a little rattled after our encounter with Papa Bear–had we crossed the line of what for many is a sacred pilgrimage?
Despite the initial adversity, we had set forth with the intention of spreading the word of Decentralization prefaced by the face of our Lord and Saviour. We came here on a mission–a mission from Doge.
My first night out, I went alone to take it all in. I can only try to describe what it’s like out there; walking into Deep Playa at night is like walking into a mysterious yet playful void of boundless neon art. Imagination unfurled, I’m biking through the psychedelic cosmos that only those who’ve played Rainbow Road in Mario Kart would understand.
Deep Playa with The DDP, Photo: Blair Martin
Coming from the the “default world”, as Burners call it, to Black Rock City, is extremely overwhelming–think of the culture shock you get when traveling to a new exotic country and multiply that by 100.
One of the most beautiful things in Black Rock City is the thriving gifting economy; this means no trades, no bartering, no cash transactions. Or in other terms, not giving a good or service and expecting a good or service in return.
Daytime Playa, Photo: Blair Martin
This really rubbed off on me. For instance, I was biking around in the hot Nevada desert, and out of nowhere a man with a bicycle cooler starts handing out ice cream–granted, he made me scream for it. Other gifted items included: clothing, neon lights, meals, buttons, velcro, alcohol, and entheogenic substances.
The first thing me and Gary did was make acquaintance with Darrell Duane, The Mayor of Anahasnana Village and member of Camp Contact. Darrell had been hosting the Bitcoin Meetups at Burning Man for a couple of years, and is well versed in the deeper intricacies of crypto. Our camp helped set up their dance floor, and they let us use one of their Domes for our Decentralization talks. Darrell, if you’re reading this, thank you for supporting us and letting us camp in the village.
Gary and Niven building The Decentralization Dome
Camp Dogecoin, So Crypto
Our first talk we had was small but included Corey, Joshua Katen of the North Bay meetup in Santa Rose, Thomas Hunt of Mad Bitcoins, Gary Lachance and I. It was refreshing to finally run into some more cryptocurrency-obsessed nerds like myself–at that point, I was in heavy withdrawal. We were also eventually joined by Jim Lowry of Storj, and many others.
One of the problems was that since we took the camp over last minute, our Decentralization talks weren’t in the Burning Man Program. However there were still a few Camp Bitcoin events scheduled in the program, so for our third talk we had over 50 people in our Dome. This was quite encouraging to see; we proudly raised our Dogecoin flag and gave them the lowdown on Decentralized tech and trustless systems.
The Dogecoin Flag, Photo: Nellie Bowles, Source: Recode
Left to Right: Cameron Gray, Thomas Hunt, Joshua Katen Photo: Nellie Bowles, Source: Recode
Gary Lachance gives an enlightening talk to Burners on Open Source, Peer to Peer collaboration, and Decentralization, drawing parallels between our two cultures.
It was a great turnout.
Halfway through our trip, we met with Manu, an architecture technologist from Indonesia who came to Burning Man seeking more crypto-minded friends. Manu is currently working on architecture for a reputation system revolving around a concept called “proof of human.” We quickly bonded and spent many days in the Full Circle Tea House conversing about philosophy and Decentralization. When we heard that EFF founder John Gilmore, co-creator of the bootstrap protocol, was literally in a camper behind the tea house, we politely intruded.
John was kind enough to give an hour of his time to let us blabber on about Decentralization; we mentioned Maidsafe, Ethereum, DAOs and incentivized mesh networks. He seemed extremely skeptical at first (I’m guessing he’s read a lot of flopped whitepapers in his time), but thanked us for shaking him up a bit about the subject.
Throughout the whole week, Gary and I patrolled Black Rock City, making sure the Doge’s presence was felt in every quadrant, for one must first see the Doge before one can be the Doge. It was an honour and moral imperative to get the shibe out there.
Patrolling the streets we found a sign that was in direct violation of Shibera Law.
Two Decentralists that eventually made it to camp were Dlight Sky and Paul Hughes. Both are experienced Burners and proponents of Decentralization; in fact, they created the facebook page Radical Decentralization. Dlight is working on a protocol that he says would fix the problems of Bitcoin; the project is aptly named “Kryptonite”.
Having finished another Radical Decentralization talk in the dome with our two new friends, Paul Hughes and I went on an all-night adventure exploring our possible future. Paul has been advocating Decentralization for over 20 years, long before Bitcoin existed. He told me that his new thing was Radical Abundance. This is the idea that with technological innovation, we can create a society which is devoid of artificial scarcity in all forms: resources, food, tools, shelter, and much more.
He told me that we can’t have Radical Abundance without Radical Decentralization–one shouldn’t be without the other. After a night of thoroughly blowing my mind, we watched the sunrise and parted ways. I highly recommend anyone who is into Decentralization, please, go and check out his writings. Not to mention Gary Lachance’s writings on Decentralization.
I can say that by the end of the week I was eventually acculturated into Burner society. In fact, I felt like a Burner. All of the strangeness, all of the absurdity was now normal, and leaving this world for the default world would be even stranger.
And it is. I can tell you writing here in my campervan, modern life is strange and absurd. People on automatic, starting and then stopping, droning into malls, barely keeping their heads up. Working 9-5’s, enslaved to bills and debts. Drifting along, following the somber steering of the man we had so vehemently and symbolically burned only a week prior.
In hindsight, I can see exactly where Papa Bear was coming from. The descent into commodification is a signpost that a sub-culture is beginning to lose its grip to the immense and vacuous blackhole of the machine–it destroys it. But now that we have distributed consensus, I firmly believe that Crypto and The Doge have their own gravity that is potentially stronger than the machine, and we will suck it in. And just as Burning Man has created its own vortex of love, respect, and otherworldliness, we can all aid and add to its power.
Burn the man. Photo: Blair Martin
Please do not take this article as anywhere near a complete experience of Burning Man. In fact I encourage anyone who is even slightly interested to go for themselves because you really have to go there to fully “get it.”
Next year we will be organizing a “Radical Decentralization” camp. All those interested in helping or participating please contact me @Amble_Greene or @GaryLachance. We’re hoping to make this a pivotal event for Decentralization and Open Source, an experience that people can take home and share with their worlds.