Burning Man is Libertarianism in Disguise by Lafe, maymay, Rebecca, August

Transcript of a recording on Wednesday, July 25th, 2012:

LAFE: I actually OBJECT to them. Like, I philosophically object to them and I hate what they’re doing and I think it’s-

REBECCA: So you object to Burning Man; you don’t object to mountain climbers.

LAFE: I OBJECT to Burning Man. I don’t object to mountain climbers.

MAYMAY: Why do you philosophically hate what they’re doing?

LAFE: Because of what they say on their website. Their whole thing about what they call “radical self-reliance” is just a different branch of Libertarianism and I HATE it. And I think it’s bullshit and harmful.

MAYMAY: I think they mean that in a way regarding, “Be able to supply yourself as you need.” I don’t think that’s what they THINK they say, but I think that’s what they should be—I think that’s what they intend to be saying without maybe realizing it.

LAFE: Well, I mean-

REBECCA: They wanna do this thing, it seems like, they have the Principles or whatever, right?

MAYMAY: Because the thing is, it’s not radical self-reliance. I mean, they’re lying to themselves.

LAFE: Well, yeah. That’s what Libertarianism IS: You’re part of the social system where being rich and white means you participate in a certain sort of Socialism, but then you have this whole made-up world where we’re all goin’ out and pulling ourselves up by our bootstraps!

REBECCA: Right, right, right. This.

LAFE: “But by the time we leave, the place is pristine and we’ve preserved the environment!” And how much Chinese environment did you destroy to make all that shit to sell at REI? Who cares! Because that’s in China. And, um, so it’s exactly Libertarianism. And it’s not an accident that it’s Libertarian, ‘cause it’s that kind of, like, Bay Area, coder dickhead culture.

MAYMAY: Yeah, that would explain why some of the most racist people I met would come from Portland and are Burners.

LAFE: Yeah, yeah, yeah. Totally, right? And I think there’s a lot of overlap with that kind of Extropian- You probably have met these people. The Extropians?

MAYMAY: No. Tell me more about them?

LAFE: …No one’s interacted with-?

AUGUST: We have no idea what you’re talking about.

LAFE: That’s GREAT. Because fuck those people.


MAYMAY: I’m gonna start saying THAT about Burning Man. Everyone’s like, “Yeah. What’s that?” You don’t need to know…


LAFE: But what was my point? My point is that that culture is very heavily centered on a kind of hacker world. Like, the Bay Area and Boston and that crowd. And that, um, they tend to be very Libertarian. They tend to be incredibly hypocritical, incredibly full of themselves, um-

MAYMAY: Incredibly convinced they’re the next coming of the fucking Messiah.

LAFE: Yeah. Yeah, it’s really a religion. It’s very religious. There’s this weird scientific religion where they [the Extropians] actually think they’re gonna come back from the dead! And some of them live in these cults nearby freezing facilities, ‘cause they all have to be within an hour of the freezing facility, in case they die. One hour. Boom! I went off course there talking about Extropians, ‘cause I ASSUMED everybody knew about the Extropians! Apparently not.

AUGUST: Is that like the opposite of “entropy”?


LAFE: Yeah, I think so. And they’re gonna come back from the dead. They’re gonna beat the Second Law of Thermodynamics. Dude! If we figure out how to bring the dead back to life, let’s just NOT bring the Libertarian fucktards from the Bay Area back? How ‘bout that? [LAUGHTER] Not a fan. Anyway! So, that’s why I have this sort of deeper philosophical-. Because I’m interested in ACTUALLY, let’s say you take a group of 20,000 people and you WANT to live out in some place in a self-reliant way. I’m interested in that problem. And so it really upsets me when people spout off this bullshit rhetoric.

REBECCA: Which they’re basically using as an excuse to-

MAYMAY: To have a party.

LAFE: Just call it a rave! Y’know, if you wanna call it a rave, that’s fine.

REBECCA: They have this “radical inclusion” thing and-

LAFE: You wanna call it a rave and then also say, “We’re gonna preserve the desert” so you can keep getting your permit to come back next year, that’s cool too! That’s fine. Whatever. Leave no trace. Charge a lot of money. I’m fine with that. But the rhetoric that they use, it REALLY upsets me! I mean, it doesn’t help that I don’t like them for other reasons.


LAFE: Whatever. People wanna go, it’s fine. I’m not trying to talk anybody out of it. Because having a giant-

AUGUST: Wait, wait, wait, wait, wait! If you’re, like, opposed to what they’re doing, you should-

MAYMAY: I’M trying to talk people out of it.

AUGUST: Lafe, you’re not making any sense.

LAFE: No, c’mon. I have friends who are golfers and I’m not a dick to them ALL the time about it. Like, of course I hate golf-

MAYMAY: But aren’t you a dick to them some of the time, though? ‘Cause I would be.

LAFE: Yeah, I am. I am a dick to them some of the time, but not ALL of the time. And I’ll go to the driving range with them. Driving range is fun. I’ll go to mini-golf. Whatever. And I’ll make fun of ‘em, but in a lighthearted manner. And to the extent that Burning Man is just some rave that I don’t want to be part of, then I’ll make fun of them in a lighthearted manner.

REBECCA: No, it’s the rhetoric that’s like….

LAFE: And some of ‘em are cool. Whatever.

MAYMAY: The thing is, I would LOVE to go to a rave in the desert. That sounds fantastic. I don’t want to fucking go to Burning Man! And the reason for that isn’t because Burning Man isn’t a rave in the desert, but because it’s a rave in the desert where people are talking about it as if it’s some sort of life-changing experience that has all these philosophies that they don’t actually adhere to but will NOT shut up about the adherence of-

LAFE: Yeah, yeah, yeah.

MAYMAY: And that’s what bugs me about it.

AUGUST: Let’s just take one piece of that, though.

MAYMAY: Let’s take all the pieces! But one at a time.

AUGUST: I think it’s worth talking about the fact that it clearly IS a life-changing experience for a lot of people.

LAFE: That’s true.

AUGUST: What exactly is-

MAYMAY: That’s perhaps a better thing to say. It’s not a societally changing experience. And it’s not an individually changing experience for those people who are so indoctrinated in the culture that it’s not a change for them.

REBECCA: Like, the things I’ve heard when I’ve heard most people talk about Burning Man being a life-changing experience, most of these people being like, “I went to Burning Man, I took a bunch of drugs, and it was a life-changing experience.” Well, like, yes! You could also go to the woods and take a bunch of mushrooms and that might also be a life-changing experience. It’s just that you are the kind of person who would never go to the woods and take mushrooms, but for some reason-

LAFE: Well, and you’re not validated by a huge society of people who are supporting it.

REBECCA: Yeah. For some reason-

LAFE: You have to be more individual. I mean, even if you get ALLL your crazy drug friends to the woods, it’s gonna be maximum 10 people. And if you’re that person, it’s gonna be like one person.


MAYMAY: So what are your other layers? There was the superficial layer-

LAFE: Of not liking Burning Man? Okay, so there’s the superficial layer where I don’t wanna go, I find the stories irritating. And then what I would claim would be the less superficial layer-

AUGUST: But you find EVERYTHING irritating and you don’t want to do ANYTHING ever.

LAFE: I know!

AUGUST: These are not valid arguments in any meaningful way.

LAFE: Fine, they’re not valid. They’re superficial! SUPERFICIAL.

REBECCA: He did admit that upfront.


LAFE: And then I’m saying the whole rhetoric thing. That’s what I’m claiming is less, that’s the….

MAYMAY: What bothers me about the rhetoric is that all it does is it shields a self-indulgent privilege fest.

REBECCA: Well, this is the thing I keep trying to say, is that they have this idea of radical inclusion, so they can claim, “We’re not trying to keep anyone out.” And then they’re like, “Oh, but radical self-reliance!” Which essentially means, “We’re not trying to keep anyone out, but if you can’t pay your way in, then you’re not radically self-reliant.”

MAYMAY: There are two things about that that I think are worth-, that I keep hearing people talk about or rather that I keep hearing people miss talking about. […] And these things are the fact that, yes, they have this sort of radical inclusion plus radical self-reliance…nincompoopy way of talking about everything. And then they also have absolutely no sense of awareness around what resources are required other than time or money. Everyone talks a ton about, y’know, it takes a lot of time. It takes a lot of money. If you’re lower class, lower middle-class, if you don’t necessarily have time, even if you do have a job-

LAFE: Of course your time is always building some giant wooden globe with a frikkin’ dinosaur in it.

MAYMAY: But that’s a second thing after it. Once you ARE, then you’re not like an actual Burner, you’re not a REAL Burner, you’re not doing it right, unless you also spend time to make art. So, then there’s that. But the other thing is that people don’t seem to be recognizing as a resource is that people constantly have this radical self-reliance rhetoric WHILE going with people they fundamentally rely on to survive. And so it’s radical self-reliance in its own little GROUP.

LAFE: It’s Libertarianism. That’s why I’m saying it’s just Libertarianism. It’s just one aspect of Libertarianism. And it’s the same guys. It’s like those fucking guys with the facial hair and the shorts. The whole Libertarian thing. The programmer guys.

MAYMAY: So, here’s an anecdote that proves your point: I was listing my remaining Burning Man ticket on the Internet, and as I told you, I think, mostly I listed it, like, I just wanted to see what happens. What happens was numerous people came out of the woodwork asking y’know if they could, y’know, bid, like, “I can afford this much. Here’s what I’m gonna do.” And all the people who could NOT afford the actual face value of the ticket were young, sex-worker, queer, radical youth. [LAUGHS] Who wanted to go.

LAFE: Right. So you can see exactly who’s excluded.

MAYMAY: Exactly. And the person, and the one person who offered face value, who is certainly a nice guy, is a CS major who’s 40-something, has blue hair, has gone to Burning Man for six or seven years-

LAFE: Did he have the facial hair? This one?

MAYMAY: Yes he did!

LAFE: Libertarian facial hair.

MAYMAY: Yes he did. And, yeah, and-


LAFE: Dude, it’s true! Once you realize it-, just look around, it’s totally fucking true. There’s other people who have it, but this is THE Libertarian facial hair.

MAYMAY: It’s the goatee style.

LAFE: That and inappropriate shorts.

MAYMAY: I should do a side-by-side, like an A-B panel to, like, Loki and this person.


MAYMAY: The racist Libertarian from Portland.

LAFE: These people. Yeah, right, of course. And they’re my neighbors. So, over at Secret Lab, there’s this thing called Burnworks. And there’s 303-, so this whole tribe. There’s supposedly three different businesses and that Burnworks fuckin’ guy, but “tribe” is totally the right word for it. The 303 people and those cruiser-ride fucks, they’re all in on it. And, um…I don’t like them. They’re not nice to me.


LAFE: I thought about buying a lot of really complicated spy gear and finding ways to get all Howard Hughes on them, but then I got distracted. [LAUGHTER] Yeah. I’m not a good person. I’m just different than them! [LAUGHTER] Ohh, man. They’re so annoying, though. I went by there today. The fuckin’ Burnworks guy really gets under my skin. He has a Confederate flag up and all this stuff. Who flies a Confederate flag?

REBECCA: Yeah. Who flies a fucking Confederate flag? Racists.

LAFE: Yeah.

AUGUST: Well, but-


LAFE: No, it’s not a complicated issue.

REBECCA: There’s no excuse for that.

LAFE: If you’re in the South, it sounds like a complicated issue and it’s not. And if you’re in the North, it’s completely not a complicated issue. It’s just absolutely not a complicated issue. I don’t care what bands you listen to or how much you like Country AND Western. If you fly a Confederate flag, fuck you!

REBECCA: Possibly you’re an ironic racist, but what that makes you is a racist.


REBECCA: It’s a rough life you lead.

LAFE: I know. It’s hard to be rich and white.

MAYMAY: You know, if you really wanna struggle you can go to Burning Man and have some experience of really being on your own for a while.


LAFE: I KNOW! If I really wanna struggle, I just go out of the house and everybody pisses me off and it’s a struggle! I have struggles.

REBECCA: No, I mean, this is the flipside, right? Is that, like, the thing everybody compares to Burning Man is Rainbow. And Rainbow has its own…tons of issues.

LAFE: I think they’re less full of shit.

REBECCA: Yeah. But that is the thing.



AUGUST: Wait. What’s full of shit, now?

REBECCA: The Rainbow Gathering?

LAFE: You know who else I think is full of shit is the whole Anarcho-Primitivist guys.

REBECCA: FUCK Anarcho-Primitivists! Oh my god.

MAYMAY: Oh god.

REBECCA: But the thing about Rainbow is like, it’s like, fuck “radical self-reliance.” You show at Rainbow Gathering and you’re a human, or probably-, possibly a dog, you will get fed for two months. Done. Like, that’s, it’s not a thing. It’s not like, “Well, you showed up here but you didn’t bring enough canned whatever-“

LAFE: I just don’t think there’s a lot of rhetoric.

REBECCA: “-and so therefore you deserve to die.” You’re just like, “I’m here. You’re here. Eat.”

LAFE: I know a lot of people who complain about Rainbow people and “blah blah blah” and Rainbow and whatever. But I don’t hear-. I understand the people-, there are people-, like, I’m-, what am I? I’m not part of society. Whatever. But there’s like people who find the Rainbow people really annoying. And there’s a whole thing with that. But, from what I can tell, there’s less RHETORIC associated with Rainbow. “We’re gonna go out in the woods and take drugs.” And of course you’re gonna go to the WOODS because why wouldn’t you??

REBECCA: Yes! This, this, THIS. They’re like, “We wanna build, y’know, yeah, we wanna build a sustainable community. Well, let’s go to somewhere humans can LIVE!”

MAYMAY: [LAUGHS] So, basically, Burning Man is like urban sprawl for raves.

REBECCA: Yes! [LAUGHS] The deal is, they picked somewhere, they wanna build some kind of community, and they [Burning Man] picked a place that’s impossible to live specifically to make it HARD. Like, what the fuck are you thinking? You think it’s not hard ENOUGH? You have to come from a pretty privileged position to think that it’s actually not hard enough and you have to make it HARDER. Like, it’s hard! Go to the woods! Pick some plants!

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    Transcript of a recording on Wednesday, July 25th,
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