It is a universally recognized truth that crypto fans love Burning Man.
Both the long-running festival in the Nevada desert and the bitcoin ethos revolve around openness to explore new models of government with fewer rules.
Take me, for example. I still have the colorful Burning Man ticket of 2010, when, like so many future bitcoiners, I went camping in Black Rock City for a week at the end of August. Back then, I appeared with little more than a tent, a bikini and a bag of marshmallows the size of Costco to exchange supplies. There were no rules on how to exchange these goodies or dress, so I did quite well in the camp-free market.
These days, it would be difficult to find malicious assistants. Crypto adherents stay together in their various packages, with elaborate group camps such as Camp Decentral, CampDAO and Node Republic, all of which offer blockchain seminars and talks as part of the festival’s offers.
View this post on Instagram
A small slice of our magnificent posse from Camp Decentral at Burning Man 2017, wherein 49 of the world's Best and Brightest hosted a "Dialogues On Decentralization" speaker's series, threw a mini ddp on bikes, ate copious amounts of #mackerel, and charted a course for a Radically Decentralized future! Videos coming ASAP!
Encryption entrepreneur Jeremy Gardner told CoinDesk that he attended the four previous Burning Man festivals and gave talks about blockchain technology in these camps.
He often spends time there with Block, a co-founder and former board member of the Bitcoin Foundation, Brock Pierce. (Pierce acted infamously at a unicorn wedding ceremony with his wife at the festival and is now involved with the EOS-themed CampDAO).
“It is a place to talk about the concepts that are shaping our society,” Gardner said. “I developed closer relationships with people from the crypto community because [Burning Man] is an incredible bonding experience. But it was not based on business. … Blockchain technology is a social movement rather than a technology. ”
In fact, there is so much overlap between the encryption community and the Burning Man movement that Gardner joked that the market slows down during the festival, with company announcements waiting until the burners return from the desert. (However, several cryptographic burners refused to be cited in this article, worried that they might be associated with Burning Man’s reputation for substances that alter the mind and bacchanalia freely).
Burning man is a central point of failure for proof-of-stake protocols.
— Ryan Selkis (@twobitidiot) August 18, 2019
Both movements grow
Like the encryption market, Burning Man has evolved dramatically in the last decade.
According to federal tax returns, the non-profit organization Burning Man earned $ 3.7 million (after expenses) in 2017, after acquiring Fly Ranch for $ 6.5 million in 2016. Approximately 70,000 people are expected to meet in Nevada for the festival this year, which starts on sunday. August 25th.
Bear Kittay, a former Burning Man world ambassador who helped organize the annual festival, since he established a non-profit organization, generated smaller world events and bought properties, told CoinDesk that Burning Man is still dominated by working people in the technology industry. Kittay is the owner of bitcoin and ethereum, as well as an investor in the startup EOS Block. One.
“It’s very natural for Burning Man to help inspire and generate the next generation of leaders in that regard [from the technology industry],” Kittay said. “This idea of a decentralized and consensus process that creates an alternative to the central treasures of the nation-state … is similar to Burning Man. I think you have a lot of people from the ethereum and EOS community and from around the world.”
Every year, an avalanche of articles laments the large amounts of money and narcotics that flow towards the commercialization of a supposedly non-capitalist festival. And yes, anyone who has attended will tell you that this is a hedonistic playground populated by Silicon Valley elites like Elon Musk.
However, John Clippinger, from Bitcoin to Burning Man and Beyond, told CoinDesk that there may be lessons that the evolution of the festival can offer the decentralization movement.
“There was something in the air, the whole idea of self-organizing, autonomous communities,” said Clippinger, describing the first days of both phenomena, and added:
“The challenge of designing these communities is how to keep them open and effective and able to scale, but also to maintain that diversity and resistance to control from people with special interests.”
Clippinger said that in 2015 there was a discussion among festival organizers about the use of cryptocurrency as part of the Burning Man experience. (Fiat and other forms of money are not allowed for camp payments. However, the non-profit organization The festival’s flagship profit accepted donations from bitcoins in 2014).
“They had a retreat to see this specifically, but there was a lot of hostility towards the hyperliberal idea of bitcoin,” he said.
Finally, even the idea of creating a unique record was considered too controversial for a festival focused on a gift economy. Since the festival’s co-founder Larry Harvey passed away in 2018, Clippinger said the community entered a transition phase that could determine the future of Burning Man.
“Are they going to build it as a business or keep that same spirit?” Clippinger said. “When it begins to solidify, it is captured by parties with certain interests. … I think it’s still at the point of exploration. ”
An anonymous recorder from the ethereum community, a former executive of one of the leading companies in the blockchain industry, told CoinDesk that she spent time with several executives at the festival, but would not support doing business in such an environment. (Kittay, on the other hand, connected a startup with investors at the event in 2011, which led to an increase in Series A immediately after).
ETH’s loving tape recorder added that she felt inspired by Burning Man’s evolving governance concept.
“Burning Man is itself a decentralized organization,” he said. “It’s a great example of what you can do outside the system.”
Perhaps old-school burners will complain about how “conventional” the event has become, but corporate interests seem to be an aspect inherent in market growth.
Kittay, for example, said that until now Bitcoin has mainly helped a small group of men to accumulate wealth, it has not established a cohesive cultural movement. Kittay and Clippinger pointed out that Burning Man developed a distinctive spirit around freedom of expression and gift economies, while cryptocurrency users often belong to conflicting cultural groups.
From their perspective, bitcoiners are more likely to be libertarians and even ethically capitalist, while other crypto communities such as ethereum have a passion for rebuilding economic structures.
These are not mutually exclusive, since people like Kittay have bitcoin and ether. But they are certainly different in terms of the values proposed in meetings, conferences, new companies and talks in Black Rock City.
“There are many synergies that exist,” Kittay said of various encryption communities. “There is a heterogeneous mix of people interested in different things for different reasons.”
Regarding ethereum and Burning Man, who share more communal values, he added:
“What we’re talking about here is evolving capitalism from a win-lose dynamic to … a deeper alignment with the planet and moving away from competition. … How do we evolve capitalism to be comprehensive, to account for the true costs?”
Whether crypto entrepreneurs are attracted to the festival for the love of greater freedoms in public spaces, or for the desire to “basically save the world,” as Kittay put it, everyone agrees that the coming years They will be a decisive moment for their evolution. Several projects
Some call them playgrounds for the rich. Others call them radical social experiments. Actually, they are both.
“No one can point out and say that we have solved that problem,” said Clippinger, the author of Bitcoin to Burning Man, referring to the disproportionate influence of speculation groups. “We are still working on that issue.”
And there is nothing like the emptiness of a desert, dotted with disguised revelers and the ashes of a spiritual effigy, to inspire such reflection.
My first morning at Burning Man 2010, a topless woman with a pink hat approached my shop to share advice with me, the obvious rookie. He would need more water and a stronger, faster shelter, he said. A movement only grows in this way, by sharing knowledge, regardless of the ability of recipients to return to donors (beyond marshmallows).
Bitcoiners should also continue to pay it to prevent the capture of value from dominating the system.
It is a naive hope, even childish, to impose on the defenders of a new financial asset, the kind of “save the world” language pronounced after a bong scam. But sometimes, when the wind tastes like dust, anything feels possible.
Leigh Cuen at Burning Man 2010. (Photo via Omri Dotan)