AB: Why do you think I’m writing my next book on Burning Man? Nobody has done a proper social theorem on Burning Man, the biggest social phenomenon at the moment. Burning Man is now having spinoffs all around the world. There are local burns everywhere and they’re magnets for the Netocrats. That’s where Netocrats go because Burning Man is the internet as a physical version. It’s the physical version of the internet. That’s exactly what it is. But nobody has done the proper social theory.
I was there three years ago and I met this really beautiful naked Canadian actress. She was like taking tons of cocaine and she was really funny and she was taking me around for a night and we were just sweeping the place. Suddenly she says, “You know what, this is our hutch. Burning Man is our mecca.” And I just realize this is a practiced religion. Why hasn’t anybody written a book on what the Burning Man really is? It’s not a holiday for people. It’s a damn mecca. It has to be constructed as if it is your religion because I think what it is. That’s where Syntheism comes in that he was born a burning man. It’s the idea of the burning man is already a practiced religion. Now let’s find out what the religion is, we already practice it, let’s find out what it is.
KF: I think there have been some books on spirituality of Burning Man but one thing that I think hasn’t been discussed as much is its connection to the new elites in terms of people like Jack Dorsey. Actually I don’t know if Jack Dorsey went to Burning Man but he’s part of that. He certainly was part of those types of networks in San Francisco in the late nineties and now he’s one of the biggest shots in the tech industry. He name drops a Hakim Bey, he talks about temporary autonomous zones and all of the concepts that were popular during that time and probably still are at Burning Man. I don’t know if anyone has really looked into the connections between that type of network culture thinking and that old Burning Man rave scene from that period.
AB: Yeah, I can see from the outside, Klint. I can see the best for being a Scandinavian and not an American because for the Americans probably Burning Man is like a big rave party for old grumpy people. I know for a fact you don’t get a top job at Google unless you’ve been to Burning Man. That’s a requirement. That is what I call Netocratic manifestation, if anything. That’s where I would look right now for the future.
I do wish we’d gotten more of a chance to talk about how attentionalism actually differs from capitalism. It still sounds to me like more of the process by which one becomes and remains bourgeoisie, not a new form of economy. For example, successful netocrats from Michael Arrington to Peter Thiel to Eric Schmidt tend to become venture capitalists and/or angel investors once they achieve success.
Atossa Abrahamian on the Ephemerisle, the seasteading festival originally founded by PayPal founder Peter Thiel’s Seasteading Institute:
In addition to seeing government as just another problem that technology can overcome, Seasteaders try to “hack” every aspect of their existence down to their self-care regimens. Many participate in health and fitness regimes like the Paleo Diet and Crossfit—lifestyles that dovetail nicely with more mainstream libertarian retro-futurism, which argues humans ought to live more like they did before their “freedom” was impinged upon by large state governments, all while enjoying the enhancements of technological innovation forged in the free market. It wasn’t just Charlie from the boat cruise who proselytized the health benefits of butter: the unofficial beverage of Ephemerisle was “Bulletproof Coffee”—black coffee with half a stick of butter mixed in—which advocates claim increases their mental acuity and helps them stay trim. The inventor of the concoction claims to have increased his IQ by twenty points and lost 100 pounds as a result of his experiments “hacking” his biology. He was at Ephemerisle, too and later, in an email, told me he’d had a great time.
This tendency toward engineering everything spills into the social sphere. To supplement real or perceived romantic shortcomings, some Seasteaders dabble in pickup artistry, a method of seducing women that’s been likened to an algorithm and self-legitimized by handpicked data and bunk theories about evolution. The male vanity coursing under all this life-hacking may explain why so few women participate in projects like these. While there’s little overt sexism in the gay-friendly, drug-happy Seasteading community, there’s nothing preventing a hypothetical start-up country from regressing into a patriarchal, Paleo-Futuristic state. If anything, the movement’s reverence for caveman essentialism suggests the latter—that real goal is to remake civilization, starting from a primal, “natural” condition that they can revive in the modern world thanks to new technologies.
Here’s an old Mondo 2000 interview from 1993 with both Genesis P-Orridge and Hakim Bey conducted by Electronic Frontier Foundation co-founder John Perry Barlow:
JOHN: Right, Taoism has no truck with good and evil at all.
HAKIM: Taoism seems to be the one religion that doesn’t have the Gnostic trace.
JOHN: In our culture, the problem arose with the Romans.
HAKIM: I think it goes further back. It’s Babylon. It’s just like the Rastas say, “It happened in Babylon.” It’s Marduk and Tiamat. It’s Mr. Hard-on God up against Sloppy Mom. In China, chaos is a benevolent property. Huntun is the gourd or the egg out of which everything comes. He’s a wonton. Huntun and wonton are the same words. He’s like this little dumpling and everything good comes out of him. In Babylon, chaos is the disgusting monster vagina that has to be ripped up by Marduk into myriad blobs of shit and slime. And we are those globs of slime. That’s how the human race came into being. What is the purpose of the human race? To serve Marduk, to serve the masculine principle, to store up grain in the granary for the priests, to pay for the priests for their sacrifice so they get the free hamburgers. That’s the whole Western myth. It’s St. George and the Dragon. St. George pins the dragon down.
In China, the dragon is the free expression of creativity. He’s the mixture of Yin and Yang, the principle of power. But here’s evil, plain and simple. This is why chaos has kicked off, for me, for Ralph Abraham, and others, an interest in making a critique of this Western mythology, and saying, “Let’s put Humpty Dumpty back together.”
JOHN: There’s been an interesting co-evolution lately of a lot of apparently disconnected things, like chaos mathematics and neo-tribalism, a sudden interest in Taoism and what I perceive to be a deep feminization of Western culture.
GEN: Some philosophers feel that there’s a risk in absolute unconditional surrender of that male-God power, even though it’s obviously failed miserably. Should we seek out every possible male trait and subordinate it to a female principle?
HAKIM: I didn’t like the rule of Dad, but I don’t think I’m going to like the rule of Mom either.
“Are you a practicing occultist?” was the first question Douglas Rushkoff asked me when I met him at the Webvisions conference in Portland, OR. It’s not a typical question for a keynote speaker to ask a journalist he’s just met at a technology event. Then again, Rushkoff is not a typical keynote, and I’m not a typical journalist. After all, I’d just introduced myself as a writer for ReadWriteWeb and Technoccult.
“No, not anymore,” I told him.
“I’m thinking about starting up again. I feel like I’ve been fooled by all of this,” he said, gesturing around the room.
“All of what?” I asked him.
“Consensus reality,” he told me. He went on to talk about the vitality that practicing magicians like Phil Farber and Grant Morrison have. We chatted a bit longer about our common interests, and made an appointment to meet up for an interview. I talked to him about some of the themes of his new book, Program or Be Programmed, and the Contact Summit, which he’s co-organizing with Venessa Miemis and Michel Bauwens. You can find that portion of the interview at ReadWriteWeb. Then we got into stuff that fits better on this site.
Rushkoff is disappointed about how technology is being used today. He describes feeling of computer networks in 1991 as being like taking acid – there was a sense that anything was possible. In Cyberia he wrote that the only people that would be able to handle the new information reality would be psychedelic people and kids. He expanded upon the notion that kids would just inherently get cyberspace in Playing the Future.
It hasn’t worked out that way. Rushkoff admits he was wrong about kids just getting cyberculture. He says recent studies have found that younger Internet users are more likely to fall for hoaxes or believe incorrect things they read on the Internet. Young people are less critical, not more.
Meanwhile, technology has become more about control than about liberation from consensus reality.
“When Video Toaster for the Amiga came out everyone was really excited,” he Rushkoff said. “We believed that we could use it to create deeply alternative states of consciousness using lights and colors and things.”
“Today, those technologies are used by companies like Fox News to make you pay attention to what they want you to pay attention to, or to make your eye fall on a particular ad. Stuff like that.”
But he says if you know how the program works, you’re less likely to be hypnotized by it. “There’s two ways to experience magic,” he says. “And I don’t mean stage magic.” You can either experience it as a spectator, watching a priest or guru. Or you can participate. “Having a guru will only take you so far,” he said. “You have to become the guru.”
But it’s not easy. Rushkoff admits he’s been having trouble participating in magic these days. “My sense is that the suppositional conditioning that I’ve undergone – making a living, raising a kid, keeping a house in working order, paying a mortgage – I’ve expended a lot of energy in less efficient ways,” he said. “I’ve become less trusting of the more subtle ways of influencing the world around me.”
“Part of that is because the stakes are higher,” he said. “I’ve got a real kid, a real wife, a real house, a real bank account, a real mortgage. When it was just me, the stakes were lower. It was just ‘Will I get this book deal?’ and ‘Will I get with this girl?’ Not expending that energy in the conventional ways wouldn’t lead to catastrophic failures.”
He said he hasn’t reached a point where the stakes are lower. “I’ve just gotten to a point where this is no longer working for me. Too many of my day-to-day concerns are not consonant with the way I want to experience the world. It’s about maintaining security, avoiding death and getting things done.”
He says he’s not interested in performing rituals or ceremonies. Instead he said “I want to maintain a greater availability towards pattern recognition. A greater sensitivity to the subtle effects of my actions.”
He wants to spend more of his time and energy connecting with people and “Being and experiencing myself as part of the unfolding of reality.”
So what stands in the way?
“The cultural things in my life and how I relate to them are all fairly rigid – marriage, schools, etc.” he says. “But unless you find an intentional community, it’s hard to feel that balanced. But I feel it can be done.”
I mention that Grant Morrison seems to pull this off. “Yeah, but he’s childless,” Rushkoff replied. He explains that he’s worried that if he goes off the deep end, he’d end up with some fucked up kids. “I don’t know if that’s because of society or what,” he says, pointing out that society has certain expectations from parents and childhoods and your children can end up being the victims of your choices, even if it’s not fair.
I told him that I don’t have kids, but society still limits what I can do. “Right, money is a big limiting factor,” he says.
“It’s like Bill Hicks said,” I replied. “‘You think you’re free? Trying going anywhere without fucking money.'”
“Yeah, not everyone can move out to the woods, and have solar panels and all that. It’s just not sustainable.”
I told him about EsoZone, and how part of my intention for it was to create a sort of urban Burning Man – a semi-autonomous zone that people could bus or bike to, instead of something way out in the desert away from civilization.
“Yeah, and that’s great,” he said. “But it’s temporary. It’s like acid. When you come down, the question is always ‘how can I make this last forever?'”
And it’s at that point that someone from the event came over and told him it was time to get ready to go on stage and we had to part ways before I could get to the other questions on my list about localism, alternative currencies, etc.
But I’ve been thinking about this last point – how do we make these special experiences last forever? Part of the point, I think, of these sorts of shamanistic experiences – whether it’s Burning Man, or drugs, or fever or lucid dreaming or whatever – is that they are temporary but that you can take something of value away from them and apply it to normal, every day life.
I relate to Rushkoff’s experience, even though I’m childless. My day-to-day concerns are meeting my deadlines for work, making sure I have enough money in the bank for rent, my conference travel schedule, the best types of dish washer tablets and whether my wife and I need a new coffee maker. I’m considering buying a subscription to Consumer Reports, and what sort of retirement savings account is best for me.
Did we learn nothing from our experiences that we can bring back into our day-to-day lives? Are there really no options between being square or living on a commune?
I for one choose not to be believe that.
Since this interview, I made it a point to work less and to spend more time with friends. Even before the interview I’d been realizing that I didn’t do much actual socializing on social media. Twitter and Tumblr are participatory, but not particularly social. I use Facebook mostly as a way to send and receive invitations, and as a sort of back-up e-mail system. I want to spend more time connecting with people, and I’m doing my best to do that.
But there does seem to be something else that’s missing. As we parted ways, Rushkoff told me to feel free to e-mail him if I came across anything that I thought would help him in his situation. I chuckled, saying that it’s the exact same situation seemingly everyone is in.
Gawker is running an unbelievable story on website called Silk Road – an open market for mail ordering illegal drugs. And it’s only accessible through TOR:
Mark, a software developer, had ordered the 100 micrograms of acid through a listing on the online marketplace Silk Road. He found a seller with lots of good feedback who seemed to know what they were talking about, added the acid to his digital shopping cart and hit “check out.” He entered his address and paid the seller 50 Bitcoins—untraceable digital currency—worth around $150. Four days later the drugs, sent from Canada, arrived at his house.
“It kind of felt like I was in the future,” Mark said.
The only thing that Jeff Garzik, the Bitcoin developer, forgot to mention are the extremely useful Bitcoin Laundries. They allow you to obscure and obfuscate the origin of a Bitcoin, allowing you to effectively ‘launder’ the Bitcoin so that network analysis would be futile. And they are free, simple, and widely available. They probably “forgot” that because it would make it seem even EASIER than it already is to buy drugs online.
I don’t agree with PayPal co-founder and early Facebook investor Peter Thiel’s worldview, but I agree with much of what he has to say in this interview in National Review – particularly the section on education:
Education is a bubble in a classic sense. To call something a bubble, it must be overpriced and there must be an intense belief in it. Housing was a classic bubble, as were tech stocks in the ’90s, because they were both very overvalued, but there was an incredibly widespread belief that almost could not be questioned — you had to own a house in 2005, and you had to be in an equity-market index fund in 1999.
Probably the only candidate left for a bubble — at least in the developed world (maybe emerging markets are a bubble) — is education. It’s basically extremely overpriced. People are not getting their money’s worth, objectively, when you do the math. And at the same time it is something that is incredibly intensively believed; there’s this sort of psycho-social component to people taking on these enormous debts when they go to college simply because that’s what everybody’s doing.
It is, to my mind, in some ways worse than the housing bubble. There are a few things that make it worse. One is that when people make a mistake in taking on an education loan, they’re legally much more difficult to get out of than housing loans. With housing, typically they’re non-recourse — you can just walk out of the house. With education, they’re recourse, and they typically survive bankruptcy. If you borrowed money and went to a college where the education didn’t create any value, that is potentially a really big mistake.
There have been a lot of critiques of the finance industry’s having possibly foisted subprime mortgages on unknowing buyers, and a lot of those kinds of arguments are even more powerful when used against college administrators who are probably in some ways engaged in equally misleading advertising. Like housing was, college is advertised as an investment for the future. But in most cases it’s really just consumption, where college is just a four-year party, in the same way that buying a large house with a really big swimming pool, etc., is probably not an investment decision but a consumption decision. It was something about combining the investment decision and the consumption decision that made the housing thing so tricky to get a handle on — and I think that’s also true of the college bubble.
One important difference between the housing bubble and the education bubble is that there was sort of a class aspect to the housing bubble: upper-middle-class people in the U.S. tend to be invested in equities, and middle-class people tend to be invested in housing, so there was a way in which the housing bubble was a way of making fun of the middle class for various sophisticated elites that ran all the way through the housing bubble. It was sort of like, “Look at those dumb people and beatniks in suburban America who are doing this crazy housing thing.” So even though it was a crazy bubble, there was at least a kind of counter-narrative; you had a bit of a dissenting narrative. Education is an upper-middle-class thing, and so something that is not questioned by elites at all, and that’s why the education market is more likely to be distorted.
You know, we’ve looked at the math on this, and I estimate that 70 to 80 percent of the colleges in the U.S. are not generating a positive return on investment. Even at the top universities, it may be positive in some sense — but the counterfactual question is, how well would their students have done had they not gone to college? Are they really just selecting for talented people who would have done well anyway? Or are you actually educating them? That’s the kind of question that isn’t analyzed very carefully. My suspicion is that they’re just good at identifying talented people rather than adding value. So there are a lot of things about it that are very strange.
The Great Recession of 2008 to the present is helping to bring the education bubble to a head. When parents have invested enormous amounts of money in their kids’ education, to find their kids coming back to live with them — well, that was not what they bargained for. So the crazy bubble in education is at a point where it is very close to unraveling.
In early 2009, there was a question of why the stimulus money was not going to infrastructure, and a very large amount was going to subsidizing college loans and encouraging people to go back to school. The argument was that we get a higher return on human capital than on infrastructure. While that’s certainly possible, and I agree that human capital is extremely important, I think we’re not actually measuring the return we’re getting on the human capital. It is, in fact, considered in some ways inappropriate to even ask the question of what the return is. We are given bromides to the effect of, “Well, you know college education is good, but it’s good precisely because it doesn’t teach you anything specific; you become a more well-rounded person, a better citizen, you learn how to learn.” There tends to be an evasion of specificity of what exactly it is that is learned. And so these human-capital intuitions may be very far off in a lot of colleges.
I thought his position on seasteading was interesting as well:
Seasteading was thought up by acolytes of Milton Friedman. The idea is that we need to create competition between governments. If it’s very hard to reform existing ones, we need to create new sovereign states — in the oceans or elsewhere. There’s a technological question about how far away we are from these kinds of things. It’s probably not around the corner. But these technological projects are worth pursuing.
It’s one of the ways in which I see things in the U.S. as having declined from the 1950s, when people had a real sense of the future, and the future was an important subject for public discussion. We thought about being on the moon, or living underwater, and what we were going to do about farmlands and forests and so on. Different ideas about how technology would change in the future played an important role in our society. That sort of collapsed with everything else in the late ’60s and into the ’70s. I want to go back to the future and back to a time when people were thinking about how to use technology to make the world a dramatically better place — not like the present, where technology is largely seen as irrelevant and specifically as bad.
Some people have criticized my advocacy of a student loan jubilee by saying that college kids who made bad decisions don’t deserve to be bailed out. Well, as Clint Eastwood said, “deserved” hasn’t got anything to do with it. We need a student loan jubilee to keep the angry, unemployed hordes from storming the Bastille and dragging the royalty to the guillotines. It’s not about what THEY deserve, it’s about YOUR survival. But hey, just keep repeating those mantras of “self-reliance” and “pulling yourself up by your bootstraps” – I hear the grave’s a fine and private place.
Above are some images from Soup Purse‘s occult music/audio sigilization work shop.
Some of the other stuff that happened last year:
-Workshops on Reichian therapy and the Hyatt method
-A comics jam (the results of which I was supposed to post online and still haven’t…)
-Discussions on all sorts of stuff, like subterranean weirdness, parasites and the “Skywalker syndrome.”
Come on down this year and contribute your own ideas and activities.