Hacker News new | past | comments | ask | show | jobs | submit login
Markets at Burning Man (transcapitalist.squarespace.com)
52 points by mhil on Sept 13, 2010 | hide | past | web | favorite | 15 comments

As a 5-time burner, I've always enjoyed the contrast between the orgy of purchasing that precedes arrival to the playa, and the commerce-celibate environment on the playa.

The fun starts at the costume shops of Haight street -- with BRC-themed displays for weeks before, and ever-more -frantic shoppers leading up to event kickoff (and even midweek for later arrivers). The CruiseAmerica RV rental place near Oakland Airport seems to be nonstop burners the kickoff weekend. (They probably bring in extra vehicles from around the country to meet the demand.)

As you snake up I-80, every highwayside REI, Target, and Wal-Mart between SF and Reno has evidence of burner purchasing. Wal-Marts have special front-of-store presentations of exactly the camper/raver/cycling/desert supplies burners need. And plenty of Home Depots, from SF to Reno, are filled with people buying building and art supplies.

And then: you reach the 'oasis' of no commerce at Black Rock. The contrast is beautiful; the experiment in intentional and temporary community is perception-altering, with lessons for the rest of the world.

But if you fail to notice that it's the wealth and specialization of a giant, competitive, cash-seeking economy that made it all possible, you're blind to the whole picture. Barter economies never invent EL wire and computer-controlled LED displays, among other things.

great points. i was also startled by the sheer consumption/destruction that is Burning Man, especially in terms of fuel.

The line break between "Blow" and "Pop" made me think that this article was going in a totally different direction.

Whoever is downvoting you clearly didn't read the article. That was hilarious!

> My new friend then “gifted” this young girl a $300 ticket. She jumped with joy, we arrived at the Wal-Mart, and she thanked us both for the ride, jumped out, and gave us each a Blow


I read it on both my blackberry and ubuntu/firefox with adblockplus. I saw no break other than a simple space between them.

Not sure why people are downvoting him either. On my OS X Chrome, "Blow" is the beginning of a line, not the end of one. Rendering differences browsers make strategic linebreaks hard.

It's a shame, because that would have made the article much more fun.

This post bothered me probably because going to Burning Man reinforced the side of me that wouldn't demand a free meal because of poor service.

Burning Man (at least for me) was a place where you would go with a big crazy project that you could never hope to accomplish. But somehow "the playa would provide" and people would come help you complete it. And "gifting" isn't about cheap trinkets or bartering. It's about giving your time and skills to people that could use it. I've helped repair an engine, build structures, painted a boat, clean up trash, and more. People have fed me, taken care of me while dehydrated, given me rides, bought my ticket, etc.

In some ways, it's helped me be more adventurous with creating a business. Sometimes you need to take that leap of faith that resources will show up.

I came back the first time and literally cried at seeing all of the trash barrels overflowing in my home town on garbage day. (EDIT: I live 2500 miles away.) I also spent months researching all sorts of things I was excited by as a boy. Lots of people go to Burning Man to "rage" and take lots of drugs and go wild. But there are lots of others that create things and share them with people that create things too.

Couldn't agree more. The day before I left I felt stupid for leaving with a start up no where near launch. Got in touch with my VC from the playa (camps with wifi rock!), his words were "Burn On!". Met some people who could be key on the playa, came back and all sorts of opportunities are springing up. Definitely agree with you on the leap of faith that resources will show up. Maybe it's just that we're more resourceful and willing to interact and take a chance on others?

the side of me that wouldn't demand a free meal because of poor service.

Huh. I don't have that side. The part of me that would be upset because of poor service would rather stay upset, and doesn't care at all about free meals.

let me be clear that i was being a bit ironic with the sushi comment...i, too, left the playa thinking in new ways. that gifting isn't about bartering at all was one of my biggest takeways. i was astounded and impressed by the generosity and creativity of the place and its participants.

To some extent it's important to remember that Burners tend to be richer on average and on vacation (it's a little like a university campus that way, it's just more priviledged than average).

I think the real reason it works so well, is there are huge numbers of people who go there because they have an insatiable desire to build things, (both physically and in terms of a community) and making your neighbour's burn better makes yours better.

This resonates well with my experience. One of the first-time burners in our group said that the most shocking thing to her was that "everybody is doing exactly what they want to do at that particular moment".

It's like vacation on steroids -- everybody is happy because they are doing exactly what they want to do right then (in the context of the event, of course).

ESR wrote a little about gift economies in either The Cathedral and the Bazaar or one of its sequels, IIRC. I think the gist was that if resources are abundant, a person's status becomes determined more by what they give away than by what they own.

This doesn't sound quite the same, but similar. As one of the commenters points out, the economy is self-selecting, which helps.

ESR knows very little about real gift economies. It's not always about abundance. In potlatch culture in the Pacific Northwest, originally the gifts had as much symbolic as practical value. The introduction of Western-style abundance actually ruined the whole system. See Lewis Hyde's The Gift for a much more thorough treatment, particularly the first two chapters.

As for Burning Man, it makes no sense to call it an "economy" when there is no scarcity. Every participant, with a few exceptions, has brought everything they need for survival in the desert for a week. Due to the nature of the event, few people are seeking luxuries.

Gifts at Burning Man are more about creating a mutually wonderful experience. Sometimes they take physical form, but more often the donation is directly related to experience -- art, performance, or a heightened generosity of spirit. This is not very much different from the change of attitude one might have at a potluck dinner, a block party, or a large rock concert where the fans feel themselves to be part of a particular subculture.

The funny thing is, resources are extremely limited once you're there - you only have what you brought with you. The difference between the start and end of the week is especially noticeable with quality things like good alcohol. I think it has more to do with 20 years of gifting culture, and the kind of people that attend.

Applications are open for YC Summer 2019

Guidelines | FAQ | Support | API | Security | Lists | Bookmarklet | Legal | Apply to YC | Contact