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The Worst Place in the World


Burning Man already sounded horrible. A bunch of white hippies on mushrooms and MDMA dancing to techno in the desert in 110 degree heat without proper sanitation is my version of hell.

Or so I thought. Burning Man has gotten so much worse:

A few years ago, this assumption would have been mostly correct. But now things are a little different. Over the last two years, Burning Man, which this year runs from Aug. 25 to Sept. 1, has been the annual getaway for a new crop of millionaire and billionaire technology moguls, many of whom are one-upping one another in a secret game of I-can-spend-more-money-than-you-can and, some say, ruining it for everyone else.

Some of the biggest names in technology have been making the pilgrimage to the desert for years, happily blending in unnoticed. These include Larry Page and Sergey Brin, the Google founders, and Jeff Bezos, chief executive of Amazon. But now a new set of younger rich techies are heading east, including Mark Zuckerberg of Facebook, employees from Twitter, Zynga and Uber, and a slew of khaki-wearing venture capitalists.

Tyler Hanson, who started going to Burning Man in 1995, decided a couple of years ago to try working as a paid Sherpa at one of these luxury camps. He described the experience this way: Lavish R.V.s are driven in and connected together to create a private forted area, ensuring that no outsiders can get in. The rich are flown in on private planes, then picked up at the Burning Man airport, driven to their camp and served like kings and queens for a week. (Their meals are prepared by teams of chefs, which can include sushi, lobster boils and steak tartare — yes, in the middle of 110-degree heat.)

“Your food, your drugs, your costumes are all handled for you, so all you have to do is show up,” Mr. Hanson said. “In the camp where I was working, there were about 30 Sherpas for 12 attendees.”

Mr. Hanson said he won’t be going back to Burning Man anytime soon. The Sherpas, the money, the blockaded camps and the tech elite were too much for him. “The tech start-ups now go to Burning Man and eat drugs in search of the next greatest app,” he said. “Burning Man is no longer a counterculture revolution. It’s now become a mirror of society.”

Strangely, the tech elite won’t disagree with Mr. Hanson about it being a reflection of society. This year at the premiere of the HBO show “Silicon Valley,” Elon Musk, an entrepreneur who was a founder of PayPal, complained that Mike Judge, the show’s creator, didn’t get the tech world because — wait for it — he had not attended the annual party in the desert.

Hippies and Silicon Valley douchebag capitalists? I want to make one thing clear. Whatever terrible things Farley has said about the Air Force does not apply to all members of this site. Clearly air power could have real value here.

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  • sharculese

    I assumed this was gonna be about Grover Norquist at Burning Man. I maintain that’s still worse.

  • You probably doubt that I can make your opinion get even lower, but I think I can.

    ETA: Damn you, Sharculese, damn you straight to hell!

    • I’m not sure if that makes it worse or just equally horrible.

      OK, it probably makes it worse.

      • AlanInSF

        Clearly air power could have real value here.

        What, heads on pikes aren’t good enough for you anymore?

    • wjts

      Norquist on his trip to Burning Man:

      Too many press calls today about Burning Man and not enough about evils of high marginal tax rates.

      What the Job Creators are doing with the money that might otherwise be seized by the government and wasted on boring old bridges and pensions:

      His camp includes about 100 people from the Valley and Hollywood start-ups, as well as several venture capital firms. And while dues for most non-tech camps run about $300 a person, he said his camp’s fees this year were $25,000 a person. A few people, mostly female models flown in from New York, get to go free, but when all is told, the weekend accommodations will collectively cost the partygoers over $2 million.

      • John Casey

        A few people, mostly female models flown in from New York, get to go free

        I dunno. I imagine the models could be rather expensive.

        • cpinva

          I was thinking they were maybe free-range models, and at burning man, they’d be able to wander about, with no pen to hem them in.

          I could be wrong.

          • Barry_D

            Oh no; they would have been informed quite clearly (but deniably) about the, ah ‘services’ for which they were flown in for.

      • sharculese

        evils of high marginal tax rates

        do these dudes never wonder if their lack of perspective harms them?

        • It works best if you pronounce “evils” as if you were an English actor playing the heavy in a horror flick: eee-villes.

          • skate

            Or like Hedley Lamarr.

            • You can never go wrong emulating Hedley.

              • jim, some guy in iowa

                or Hedy, for that matter- but we would probably have to look for her at a different kind of techie gathering than burning man

  • Vance Maverick

    I don’t think the devolution of American air power to the other services should inhibit in the least the obliteration of Black Rock City.

    • CatoUticensis

      In further consideration, I think modern air power could manage a precision strike against these ‘forted areas’ without harming anyone else attending this rather fucking silly event.

    • Mike G

      It sounds like big money and big egos has ruined yet another cultural event.
      Perhaps the Nevada Test Site could be extended for a couple of days. An underground nuke test at Black Rock City could have a beneficial impact on the ecosystem by reducing the overpopulation problem of the North American Tech Douchebag.

      • rea

        underground nuke test

        Proverbially, from orbit is the only way to be sure.

  • Grumpy

    My new picture of Burning Man is Herod’s big song from Jesus Christ Superstar

  • malraux

    Going Galt: You’re doing it wrong!

    • DrDick

      Indeed. You need to stay there and fry in the desert sun.

      • JustRuss

        And sorry, you self-made special snowflakes, no fucking “sherpas” for you.

  • How do they decide which billionaire is placed inside the effigy to be burned? Or maybe that’s a different movie…

    • NBarnes


      • Col Bat Guano

        Yeah, why choose?

      • Sorry. It was a long day yesterday.

        • Barry_D

          Remember, wicker is cheap, and there’s lots of volunteer craftspeople there. I’m sure that they can make a really, really huge wicker man over the course of the week. And they’d have the whole time of the festival to do it, because they’d have to have the burning at the very end, when everybody is packed and ready to leave; otherwise the stench would kill them all.

  • KmCO

    I have hippie in my blood (odd for someone from a highly conservative state). I’ve wanted to attend Burning Man for years. The only thing that has kept me away is the blazing heat and the fact that I would have to almost literally bathe in sunscreen the entire time.

    • DrDick

      I was an actual hippie in my youth and the thought of Burning man has always horrified me.

      • Richard Hershberger

        I would have loved Burning Man when I was in my twenties. It might have even been genuinely cool then, but upon reflection it is probably just was well that I didn’t know about it. Now that I am in my extremely advanced twenties I am exhausted just thinking about it. Partly this is because this sort of thing works best when not everybody knows about it. Once you get people piggybacking on it, the taste and texture of the event inevitably changes, and not for the better. But mostly this is lower tolerance for large crowds than in my youth. I used to attend Pensic pretty regularly, but am not tempted today.

        • DrDick

          I would probably loved in my hippie youth, as well, but did it did not start until I was in my mid-30s.

          • KmCO

            My hippie youth started at 14, peaked at 22, but I still regard it with a lot of fondness.

      • Lee Rudolph

        Though it may be hard to believe, some people of my generation didn’t go to Woodstock, and I am one of them.

        The thought of attending Burning Man has made my skin creep since I first heard of it; at this point, it’s all I can do to keep any of my skin from decamping under cover of darkness.

      • chris y

        I too was an actual hippie in my youth. I enjoyed going to free festivals even, but the thought of Burning Man has always horrified me too.

        • Lee Rudolph

          It was never the “free” that horrified me (I’m much more inclined to be horrified, or at least effectively repelled, by “paid for”), it was the “festival” part. I get quickly freaked out by either large crowds or loud sounds, and both together (something I haven’t always been able, or foresighted enough, to avoid) put me into an extremely unpleasant state that would not be improved by drugs.

    • cpinva

      “I have hippie in my blood”

      I believe modern medicine/pharmacology has a cure for that. although, if it’s a really big one, surgery may be required.

    • Linnaeus

      I’d never heard of Burning Man until the late 1990s when someone who went described it to me. To be honest, I’ve never been interesting in going. Just not my thing.

      One of the engineers who works for our firm is going. I hope he has a good time, but that means a lot of work that we depend on him to do will not get done while he’s away. Fortunately, it can wait for the time being.

    • Mike G

      This. The Burning Man would be me, hiding in a trailer the rest of the week after getting third-degree sunburn on the first day.

  • NBarnes

    Hippie punching is beneath you, Loomis.

    • I agree. You’re a professor, Erik. You should be able to have a grad student punch hippies for you.

    • No, it is right at my level.

      Although I do like exploiting grad students so watching them punch hippies has an appeal too.

      • Malaclypse

        You need to have a grad student punch the hippies, then fail to give them credit on the paper where you write up the findings. And you need to plagiarize Žižek in the paper, then blame that on the grad student when it comes to light.

      • Barry Freed

        Can’t you get an intern to do that instead? You can use the grad students to supervise the interns.

    • NonyNony

      When we’re talking “weekend warrior” hippies like most of the Burning Man attendees seem to be, I don’t think it’s really beneath anyone to punch them. Punching Mark Zuckerberg and Grover Norquist should not be beneath anyone.

      Because Burning Man reminds me so much of the Sturgis Motor Rally. Sturgis these days is mostly a bunch of older well-off guys cosplaying as motorcycle toughs. Burning man seems to be pulling people from the same demographic, except it’s people who want to go out into the desert and cosplay as hippies. They’re both big live-action roleplaying games for well-off people who go back to their lives at the end of the week screwing people over and making a fuckton of money.

      Burning man is a bit different because the “buy-in” is lower (Sturgis is freaking expensive to attend), so it sounds like you get a lot more younger people who maybe don’t realize that they’re NPCs in a LARP than you do at Sturgis. But that seems to be about it.

      ETA: Not that I have a problem with LARPs – LARPing is a fun activity that many people enjoy. But it isn’t healthy to delude yourself into thinking that your weekend LARP is real life – or worse a “lifestyle”. Down that path lies madness and bad movies starring a young Tom Hanks.

      • Malaclypse

        Down that path lies madness and bad movies starring a young Tom Hanks.

        Plus, Satan.

      • wca

        Sturgis these days is mostly a bunch of older well-off guys cosplaying as motorcycle toughs.

        You could probably say that about any of the larger motorcycle rallies – at least in terms of the cosplay aspect. It’s certainly cosplay at the rallies down in Myrtle Beach, and I have no reason to believe the other rallies you actually hear about are any different.

        Like an anime convention, except for motorcycles and leather instead of the Sailor Moon outfits.

        • Sturgis these days is mostly a bunch of older well-off guys cosplaying as motorcycle toughs.

          The cosplaying part is ‘tough’ not ‘motorcycle’. The typical motorcyclist in the US is an older well off guy. Bikes are freaking expensive for anyone and more so for younger riders. The insurance is ruinous for younger unmarried guys especially if their driving record isn’t perfectly spotless. Which is why I’m confused that motorcycle companies aren’t selling low end bikes at bargain prices just to jump start a new generation of riders.

          • Barry_D

            “Which is why I’m confused that motorcycle companies aren’t selling low end bikes at bargain prices just to jump start a new generation of riders.”

            Because those don’t Make Money NOW.

          • wca

            Which is why I’m confused that motorcycle companies aren’t selling low end bikes at bargain prices

            I might cynically say that motorcycle companies like Harley Davidson don’t care so much about selling motorcycles as they do about selling image, and you can’t sell image at a bargain price and still have it be desirable.

            That said, there are an awful lot of rental bikes in MB when Harley week rolls around…

          • SatanicPanic

            They are

            • Thanks for the link. Who knew that Harley management could finally learn that new riders don’t magically descend from the heavens with trust funds?

      • Captain C

        Sturgis these days is mostly a bunch of older well-off guys cosplaying as motorcycle toughs

        I’ve heard that a lot of these cosplayers have been seen bringing their bikes to Sturgis on trailers, rather than riding in.

      • bw

        Late to commenting here, but: this. 10-15 years ago, Burning Man might have had a claim to being legitimately countercultural and artistically interesting. The Zuckerbergs and Norquists are less the disease and more a late-stage symptom of being co-opted by a horde of untalented sheeple who like to play hippie artist. Most of the truly talented Bay Area artists I know want nothing to do with this crap (for one thing, your average talented artist is far too introverted to want to spend more than a few hours in an environment this crowded and overstimulating).

    • Halloween Jack

      New here?

    • Origami Isopod

      Hippies are nowhere near as objectionable as wingnuts, lolbertarians, bible beaters, etc. That said, the subculture is nowhere near as wonderful as it prides itself on being. Aside from the sexual predation I mentioned way downthread, there’s also the willingness to believe utter loads of anti-scientific hooey. Oh, and the hygiene, or lack thereof. I have always failed to see any revolutionary benefit to spreading microbes unnecessarily or nauseating others who have keen senses of smell.

  • The Bobs

    My wife went in 99 and had a wonderful time. None of this kind if thing going on then. It was very egalitarian.

    And northern Nevada isn’t like Las Vegas, it never gets anywhere near 110f. Getting cold at night is a real problem. The worst thing is the dust. And if it gets windy, it’s hell on earth.

  • advocatethis

    And yet I managed to encounter none of those people while at BRC, though I did see a corral of fancy RVs and suspected it was something like what was described.

    And Loomis, you’re sounding like somebody who is deliberately turning into a grouchy old man.

  • Atticus Dogsbody

    I remember many moons ago, probably almost to the day that Tyler first visited Burning Man, sitting atop a sand dune in the red heart of Oz with my mates Andy and Ro.

    50km to the west the sun was going down behind Kata Tjuṯa, 30km to our south Uluṟu was changing colour. We had a couple of bottles of Jameson, a dozen or so good sized joints and the Purple Ohms were kicking in. For a time it was like there was no one else in the world… until that damned UFO buzzed us.

    Anyhoo, what I’m trying to say is that I’m not so keen to understand the tech world that I’d harsh my fun by going to Burning Man or any similar BS we have Down Under. Too many wankers!

  • Temperature does appear to regularly get over 100˚C says internet, but Eric is not good about heat and burning. I am still chapped by his error RE: not solar panels torching birds. Though they can light Burning Man by maybe putting in in the path of the array of mirrors. Then it would go up like whoa.

  • calling all toasters

    Burning Man made for a great Malcolm in the Middle episode.

    Ten years ago.

  • Murc

    Y’know, I’ve never had anything against Burning Man. It was never my bag, but if a bunch of people wanted to do the hippie thing (and frankly, we would all probably be better off if more people were hippies; hippie-dom had some problematic aspects but there are worse things to do with your life than to try and be chill and not harsh peoples buzz) way out in the desert and try weird social organizing techniques and alternative economies and do a lot of awesome drugs and have sex, that sounds pretty harmless.

    Then this new breed of techno-libertarians started getting boners for it, and like everything they touch it all turned to shit.

    I work in IT, and the libertarian streak that runs through the tech community pisses me the hell off. Information technology is one of the most government-dependent industries ever created. It was created by the government. It’s infrastructure was government-subsidized when it was built. It depends on robust government intervention and regulation to keep it open and interoperable, which are the only reasons why networked devices became a must-have consumer item.

    Without all that, none of these people who whine about the evils of Big government meddling with forward-thinking futurists like themselves would have jobs or fortunes, because computing would be the weird niche industry it was in the 50s and 60s. People certainly would not walk around with one in their pockets all the time, and you likely couldn’t get rich writing apps for said pocket computers.

    • Something interesting I found about the IT libertarian asshole streak is that it’s concentrated almost exclusively in the dot com start-ups. I worked for a very old tech company for a long time, and never ran into these people at work.

      It’s like these people came up with an idea for some sort of website, and suddenly they’re Galtian super heroes, when they’re mosty con artists.

      • cpinva

        “It’s like these people came up with an idea for some sort of website, and suddenly they’re Galtian super heroes, when they’re mosty con artists.”

        most of the ones I’ve ever had the misfortune to encounter in real life were during the 90’s dot.com bubble. most were grifters, who managed to suck some venture capitalist (who knew even less about IT then the grafter) out of a few mill, blow it on fancy offices, catered staff breakfast/lunch/dinner and nice salaries for them and their even more useless buddies/gf’s/bf’s/families. they did have one talent: knowing when the whole house of cards was going to crash, so they could skip town.

      • skate

        It’s been around a while. I used to see a lot of it 20 years ago back when I’d go to the occasional SF convention. Too many technologically aware people talking about how great things would be (we’d be on Mars already!) if the government would just get out of the damn way.

      • I don’t recall running into many when I worked in IT.

        I was just a garden-variety developer/DBA however.

        • mikeSchilling

          I used to see more of it before 2008. The fact that that unregulated capitalism and untrammeled greed destroyed their personal wealth get through to people.

      • wca

        Something interesting I found about the IT libertarian asshole streak is that it’s concentrated almost exclusively in the dot com start-ups.

        You’ll also see a lot of the libertarian attitude in the IT departments at colleges and universities. Given that colleges and universities are supported by either or both of state and federal governments, you’d think this would seem to be a strange attitude … but libertarians have never been known to be a self-aware bunch.

        • Anna in PDX

          I think Oregon Beer Snob and I have both had the experience of Oregon DOT engineers being the worst libertarian assholes we have ever met. And they don’t seem to experience any cognitive dissonance about the fact that they are government employees.

      • mpowell

        IT is only a sliver of valley tech, and they generally are not the people making big money. Do you really mean IT?

    • DonN

      The essential issue for Erik is that hippie=terrible. There are lots of otherwise good meaning people who grew up in Springfield that are like that. We give them gin and vermouth (old people martinis) and let them whine.

      • Jordan

        I dunno if its the essential issue. But it should make you think twice when you are basically just channeling Eric Cartman.

        • No, Eric Cartman on hippies has much to offer.

          • GeoX

            Good lord.

          • Jordan

            ok, that made me lol.

      • Anna in PDX

        I love Erik’s posts on labor history but I do sigh when he goes for the hippie punching. My dad lives near Takilma and having been at least partially raised by him and his hippie friends, I really don’t get the hate. Eye rolling, sure. Hate, why?

  • John Revolta

    Just out of curiosity: how old is a very old tech company?

    • Well, the one I worked for is over 100 years old.

      • John Revolta

        Okay, after I thought about it for about 20 seconds I realized I was thinking of “tech” in a kinda narrow way.

        You still gotta get off my lawn, though.

        • Lee Rudolph

          I realized I was thinking of “tech” in a kinda narrow way.

          You and every fucking so-called reporter in the fucking world.

          MIT has a sad. So does Caltech.

          • So does Rensselaer. 1824 FTW!

        • NonyNony

          Even if you want to take a narrow view of tech companies – IBM was founded in 1911. NCR was founded in 1884. AT&T was founded in 1885 (Bell Telephone was founded in 1877, and since Southern Bell acquired AT&T a few years ago, that might be more relevant). GE was 1892.

          These companies are older than a lot of people think. It’s one reason they get compared to vampires. (Of course banks are even older – tech companies are young upstarts in comparison to, say, Barclays or Chase).

  • cpinva

    I never really got the whole idea of Burning Man myself. the thought of spending a week in a tent, on sand, with no beach nearby, does nothing for me. ok, the orgy tent might be interesting, but with my luck, it would be filled with people I have absolutely zero interest in seeing naked, or fully clothed, so scratch that too.

    • Amusingly, Burning Man started at Baker Beach in San Francisco in the 1980’s.

      • DrS

        We took several overnight trips as scouts, staying in the old batteries there. It was good for an overnight trip during the winter when we couldn’t camp elsewhere. So, the weather was almost always too cold and overcast for that beach to have any people on it.

        Until the one time it wasn’t. Lol.

    • Lee Rudolph

      It could be worse: the orgy tent could be filled with people who have absolutely zero interest in seeing you naked, or fully clothed, or even just scratching yourself.

      • In my case I doubt they could fit that many people into one tent.

        • Ronan

          I thought your pic was you wearing one of those long russian fur headpieces, but on closer inspection it’s an airplane hat. Nice

          • That’s my “Steely-eyed Aircraft Commander” picture from my B-52 days.

        • DrDick


    • “the orgy tent might be interesting”

      If this is real, Burning Man has just been made to sound even more horrifying to me.

      • Malaclypse

        But just think – you could see Norquist literally fucking people over.

        • I always thought “plucking out my eyes” was a figure of speech.

          • Manny Kant

            Your typing is pretty good for someone who no longer has eyes, and is presumably bleeding profusely.

            • “Siri, where’s the nearest hospital?”

              • Malaclypse

                “Just keep your head underwater and your ass in the air, and everything will be okay.”

      • DrS

        Two words:

        Ketchup lube.

  • Jordan

    Hippies and drugs in the desert actually sounds awesome. They probably wouldn’t have a lot of mayonnaise, though, so I see your complaint.

    Silicon Valley douchebags, though. Yeah, that would suck.

    • Ronan

      yeah, ffs, sounds bloody marvellous

      • Jordan

        No shit. But Loomis is gonna loomis, so what’re ya gonna do.

        • Ronan

          I never believed Id see that day that someone thought taking MDMA and mushrooms in the desert with a load of hippies was a bad idea.

          • Jordan

            I know, right. Oh well, there is no explaining boring old people, I suppose*

            *I am also effectively a boring old person. But at least I don’t brag about it.

            • Ronan

              Im unfortunately getting too old to be behaving in such a way as well, but Im thinking of my future hypothetical children here. What the hell will they do if Loomis gets his wicked way ?

              • Jordan

                *shudder*. If my future hypothetical children aren’t allowed to know the joys of vodka, I honestly don’t know whether its worth it to have them.

                • You filthy hippies are on my hippie list now. Take heed.

                • You can clean a hippie by bathing it in vodka. FWIW.

                • Christ, something has to clean it. Too many classes at the University of Oregon where I’d hate going just because the unwashed rich white kid hippies would stink up the classroom all quarter.

          • wjts

            I never believed Id see that day that someone thought taking MDMA and mushrooms in the desert with a load of hippies was a bad idea.

            Hippies, drugs, and heat are three of my least favorite things, so I think that’s one of the worst ideas I’ve ever heard.

            • Ronan


              edit: oooooooooo

              edit: b

              edit: is that you bob ?

  • If you need someone with desert bombing experience let me know.

    • Real life skills here. Thank you for your service. We may be calling on you.

      • Barry Freed


    • rea

      I dreamed I saw the bomber jet planes
      Riding shotgun in the sky
      Turning into butterflies above our nation . . .

      Which always struck me as bad news for the crews.

      • allium

        They turned into parasitoid wasp larvae.

  • Thom

    There are many bad things about Burning Man; the wealth-laagers constitute one more.

    I was at Burning Man the last time it was on the beach in San Francisco and the first time it was in the Black Rock desert. That first time in the desert (where the only drugs I saw were alcohol and marijuana), there were about 100 people. The worst thing about Burning Man, to the shame of its organizers and the BLM, is the impact of 60,000 people on the playa, no matter the efforts to mitigate that impact. Deserts are fragile environments.

    • Lee Rudolph

      to the shame of its organizers and the BLM, is the impact of 60,000 people

      Next year at the Bundy Ranch! Pass it on!!

    • Given the BLM’s long and storied history of selling off fragile ecosystems to the highest bidder, this is right in its core mission!

      • I thought the sales were to the most well connected bidder for the lowest price?

    • mikeSchilling

      Don’t hate it because it’s a playa.

  • Nothing against hippies, but how is it that they’re still around in 2014?

    It’s not like you see flappers or zoot-suiters walking down the street but somehow hippies have managed to hang on.

    • My guess: the MIC and regimented society that they are a rebellion against still exist.

      Also, too: Herbert. Herbert. Herbert.

      • joe from Lowell

        The Dune books?

        • allium
          • jim, some guy in iowa

            charles napier as an intergalactic hippie…

            damn, but acting must be a weird gig sometimes

    • NonyNony

      It’s not like you see flappers or zoot-suiters walking down the street but somehow hippies have managed to hang on.

      It’s because the 60’s have been idealized in a way that the 1920s never were. Older people who lived through the 60s want to relive their youth. Slightly younger people who grew up in the 80s were taught that the 60s were a mythic time of Free Love and Free Drugs – and growing up during the AIDS epidemic and the War On Drugs you might as well be talking about Utopia.

      I would assume that it’s similar for kids who grew up in the 90s. The sheer number of Boomers means that the market for Boomer nostalgia was always hot, so idealized 60s culture was just part of the background growing up. Fake hippies will probably be with us forever because even after the Boomers are long gone fake 60s culture will still be touched with nostalgia for the generations who grew up alongside it. An endless cycle of nostalgia for an era that never existed.

      Now I’ve depressed myself. Sigh.

      • wca

        An endless cycle of nostalgia for an era that never existed.

        So … conservatism?

      • AcademicLurker

        As someone who was in high school in the latter half of the 80s, I can recall mandatory 60s nostalgia being aggressively shoved down our throats.

        I remember watching Heathers in the theater and when Winona Ryder’s character told her hippy-ish guidance counselor to “Get a job”, the whole audience (of people roughly my age) erupted in applause.

        Of course, the dark flip side of rejecting fake 60s nostalgia is that it might have encouraged a lot of middle class folks of my generation to become douchebag libertarians as adults. Oops…

        • Manny Kant

          And now hippies and douchebag libertarians combine together into one at Burning Man. Full circle, man.

      • nixnutz

        Hippies as a retro thing do exist, but Burning Man doesn’t have much to do with that, even if it does attract those types. It’s more that “hippie” has survived as a useful descriptor past its historical moment. Burning Man is one type of Gen-X hippie, born of the intersection of Food Not Bombs, Survival Research Laboratories and bike messenger culture, another type was formed by the merging of Deadheads and frat boys that also happened in the late 80s (including a short period where Deadheads were going to lots of Butthole Surfers shows). Crusty punks are another version. A lot of these people don’t self-identify as “hippies”, but they’re still hippies.

        • Barry Freed

          I went to a lot of Butthole Surfer shows in NYC back in the mid to late 80s and don’t recall seeing (m)any Deadheads. One of the greatest live bands I’ve ever seen.

          • Manny Kant

            Perhaps it’s one of those situations where if you looked around at a Butthole Surfers show and didn’t see any Deadheads, you were the Deadhead.

            After all, you never know just how you look through other people’s eyes.

            • Barry Freed

              Those are hurtful words, Manny. Ouch.

              • rea

                I (ahem) do confess to liking both bands, although I saw neither live.

    • SatanicPanic

      Zoot suits live on as wedding outfits for Chicanos.

    • Barry Freed

      I kind of wish we did see flappers or zoot-suiters walking around but they’d just morph into generic annoying hipsters. And hipsters, pace Loomis, are far worse than hippies.

      • KmCO

        Personally, hipster hate among liberals makes about as much sense to me as hippie hate among liberals, which is to say none. I’m quite okay with people diverging from the mainstream (and I’m even okay with them being sanctimonious about it, up to a point).

        • Barry Freed

          I live in the most diverse neighborhood in NYC. When they reach a tipping point hipsters drive out genuine diversity. I’ve seen it happen before and I’m starting to see it happen now.

          • Origami Isopod


            I keep hearing the argument, usually from people who would fit under the rubric of “hipster” easily, that the word is too vague and it’s too easy to throw all sorts of harmless creative types under that bus. I’m not exactly sympathetic. Yeah, your pasty, trendy ass gets a few side-eyes… but you’re not the one getting priced out of your clothing, your grocery store, or your home. Deal.

        • I don’t hate any of these folks. I just like to poke fun at these little subcultures that all have their own uniforms of a sort. Hipsters, hippies, goths, punks, urban cowboys etc.

          Bikers are a perfect example. For a bunch of self-styled nonconformists they almost all look alike, dress alike and ride the same bikes.

          “I want to be different from everyone else and I want to be around people that look just like me”.

    • The Fool

      Its the music. It still gains converts every year.

    • Captain C

      It’s not like you see flappers or zoot-suiters walking down the street

      You do on occasion in Williamsburg, Brooklyn, when the hipsters are throwing a nostalgia party.

  • Turkle

    Here in NYC, I have a hippie friend, who I met for drinks in Flatiron, which is sort of the techie hub in Manhattan. Anyway, I was told that the whole “Burning Man” crowd would be there. Now, I’m a musician, so I figured I knew about some hippies.

    I was shocked to find that this entire Burning Man crowd were all tech workers from the local software companies. Literally every person there wanted to tell me about their NEW GAME-CHANGING APP they were programming.

    I figured if these were the types that have colonized the hippie scene, then something must have changed considerably out there in the desert.

    Anyway, I did not stay long at that bar. Definitely not my crowd.

    • If anyone ever corners me in conversation to talk about their “game-changing app,” I am going to vomit on them.

      • Malaclypse

        My app will help visionaries leverage their synergies.

        • sparks

          That the word “visionary” was once a slur is something we really need to consider bringing back.

          • Mellano

            I think they’ve moved on to the term “influencers” now, anyway.

            That’s what made them visionaries.

            • MAJeff

              “Thought Leaders”

        • Linnaeus

          It needs to disrupt, or you will surely fail.

          • Malaclypse

            My app will move other people’s cheeses.

      • allium

        Well, there’s this

      • Turkle

        I very nearly did!

      • ChrisTS

        I am going to vomit on them.

        Hey, I have an app for that!

        • Use it with the right set of stereotyped movies and you have RomComVom.

    • liberal

      My favorite quote on this app bullshit is from Robert Gordon:

      A thought experiment helps to illustrate the fundamental importance of the inventions of [Industrial Revolution] #2 compared to the subset of [Industrial Revolution] #3 inventions that have occurred since 2002. You are required to make a choice between option A and option B. With option A you are allowed to keep 2002 electronic technology, including your Windows 98 laptop accessing Amazon, and you can keep running water and indoor toilets; but you can’t use anything invented since 2002.

      Option B is that you get everything invented in the past decade right up to Facebook, Twitter, and the iPad, but you have to give up running water and indoor toilets. You have to haul the water into your dwelling and carry out the waste. Even at 3am on a rainy night, your only toilet option is a wet and perhaps muddy walk to the outhouse. Which option do you choose?

      • Malaclypse

        Maybe, but if we think that the thought experiment of a world where the internet can exist without plumbing is insightful, then why stop there? You can keep plumbing, but agriculture is gone – which do you keep?

        If we’re looking for the invention that changed everything, it was the plow.

        • Lee Rudolph

          I thought it was the horse-collar?

          • The horse-collar gave us better agriculture. The stirrup gave us armored-man-on-armored-horse (AKA “a tank”). You decide which has had the greater effect.

            • Malaclypse

              And you don’t get to either of these without the plow first.

              Which, as Barry D below said better than I did, is why this exercise is stupid.

              • I agree. I was responding narrowly to Lee’s question.

        • liberal

          Uh, so the fact that agriculture is the most transformative tech invention ever means we can’t make side-by-side comparisons of other transformations?

          I guess so…similar to the fact that 1 is the smallest positive integer, but can’t make any judgement concerning the relative position of “9” and “10”.

      • Barry_D

        Frankly, it’s a stupid quote. For example, what if you had to choose between everything invented after fire, but couldn’t have fire?

        • Linnaeus

          Not to mention that you could be running Windows XP (or, if you prefer, Mac OS X) by 2002.

        • liberal

          Huh. So the claim that for most people indoor plumbing is of decidedly greater utility than post-2002 internet-related inventions is false? Undecideable?

          The stupid, it burns.

          • Manny Kant

            No, it’s a non sequitur.

      • Your Facehugger and iPrecious aren’t worth a damn when you’re dead of dysentery. Or were you going to take them and live in a Kaczinskiesque cabin in the woods?

      • rea

        Great! You can look up cholera symptoms on your iPad.

  • djw

    On the plus side, Burning Man creates a great week to visit San Francisco.

    • Halloween Jack

      See, I knew that someone would bring the positive aspect!

      • Lee Rudolph

        Even more positive: it would be a great week for real hippiespriced-out underlings to turn their absent overlords’ temporarily vacated quarters into squats!

        Surely when the overlords returned from Burning Man full of peace, love, understanding, MDMA, and perhaps exotic new multi-drug-resistant spirochetes and gonococci, they’d get behind the project?

        • Only if the squatters had developed a squat app to leverage the synergy of strangers living in your home.

          • Lee Rudolph


            Have your VCs call my VCs.

            • Charlie don’t surf call.

            • DrS


              This is like a very specific Tinder.

          • Matty

            It’s a low-cost AirBnB alternative.

        • rea

          exotic new multi-drug-resistant . . . gonococci

          I love Italian food . . .

    • allium

      Bookended by awful traffic from people trying to get on/off of I-80.

  • heckblazer

    The billionaires in the Bay area already had the Bohemian Grove. Trying to take over Burning Man is just grasping.

  • creature

    I watched to whole ‘biker’ scene transform in the late ’70’s/early’80’s- as guys who had no prior attachment to motorcycles become avid ‘bikers’, as their credit rating/disposable income got high enough to buy an expensive Harley-Davidson machine (customised by the parts department at the dealership). I took a dim view of these assholes, one of the guys in my club called them ‘Harloids’. I lived in Daytona for years, worked the major ‘bike weeks’ in quite few cities (selling leather goods with another sleazy biker)- I got a kick out of helping to outfit the players in this role-playing farce. The only ‘bikers’ I saw were 1%er club members floating around. Watching a Hells’ Angel or Outlaw taunt and usually beat one of the poseurs was great theatre. I think Myrtle Beach stopped their circus a few years back, so as to kill the subsequent ‘Black Biker Week’ that followed the usual (Caucasian) ‘Biker Week’. I did enjoy making a tidy profit selling accoutrements to the ‘sidewalk commando’ crowd. I would usually point out to them that I had been riding longer than they had been breathing, and they still didn’t ‘get’ that we (my motorcycle enthusiast friends) were enjoying the joke. I had contemplated riding a machine out to Burning Man back in the 80’s- it might have been fun (except for the environmental extremes), now it appears that the environment is the least challenging and/or detestable factor. I still refer to the usual Harley owner as a member of the most homogenous group of individualist nonconformists the world has ever seen.

    • jim, some guy in iowa

      once you need to be part of a group of nonconformists… well, you’re sort of done, basically

  • The Fool

    Most of those folks are hipsters, not hippies. There is an important difference.

    • Captain C

      I suspect most hippies can’t afford a Burning Man ticket these days, especially with the apparent prevalence of ticket scalping.

  • mtraven

    Here’s an academic article on the intersection of Burning Man and tech culture, Burning Man at Google: a cultural infrastructure for new media production, by Fred Turner. Worth reading if you want to go beyond punching. Which you should, because while you can hate Silicon Valley all you want, it is having a huge influence on how everybody lives.


    On the playa in August it is the fusion of Burning Man’s self-centered spiritualism, the collaborative habits of the art world and the material conditions of contemporary technical production that sustain Black Rock City. Burning Man’s founders and evangelists tout the week in the desert as a personally transformative experience of non-commercial community and as an encounter with radically public art.They also tend to downplay the moral diversity of the community and its willingness to embrace sexual fetishists, Ecstasy eaters, motorcycle crazies and alcoholics. Given the vast range of potentially self- destructive behavior at Burning Man and the desert conditions in which it takes place, it seems likely that Black Rock City should have disintegrated by now rather than grown.Yet at Burning Man, the collaborative creation of artworks and the individual performance of self become for many participants one and the same: the basis for the organization of the commons that is Black Rock City and for the feeling of community that permeates it….Yet, for all its resemblance to the stages of commons-based manufacturing in other settings, the work of participants such as the Mad Scientists is aimed explicitly at the production of art: within the official ethos of the festival at least, the antithesis of a consumer good. It is done not for profit, but with
    an eye to helping build a non-commercial community – ostensibly, though
    as we have seen in the case of Google, not always actually – the antithesis of the corporation.This rearticulation of the practices that increasingly define project-based commercial labor in the high-tech world within an anti-corporate ideological register in turn transforms the work of engineering into a spiritual task, and for some on the playa at least, the pursuit of a kind of vocational ecstasy….

    … the festival is not only a ritual space but a potential factory.As with multiplayer online role-playing games or open-source projects in various fields, Burning Man is becoming a site at which the traditional features of artistic bohemias – collaborative commons, visibility, subsidy, project labor and the fused pursuit of self-improvement, craft and reputation – help to structure the manufacture of new information goods. In the 19th century, at the height of the industrial era, the celebration of art provided an occasion for the display of wealth. In the 21st century, under conditions of commons-based peer production, it has become an occasion for its creation.

    • Origami Isopod

      They also tend to downplay the moral diversity of the community and its willingness to embrace sexual fetishists, Ecstasy eaters, motorcycle crazies and alcoholics.

      And sexual predators.

      Forgive me if I’m less than impressed with subcultures that glorify themselves as “enlightened” and “far-seeing” as, mysteriously, they end up coddling the assholes with the most privilege in “mainstream” society and silencing the ones with the least. Too many of them out there, and I’m fed up with all of them.

      • wjts

        Your boringly bougie notions of “consent”, “personal autonomy”, and “safety” clearly have no place in Burning Man’s culture of “radical self-expression”. If male Burning Man attendees aren’t free to grope, harass, and rape with impunity, then their radical expressions of self-hood – especially those expressions centered on groping, harassment, and rape – will be unjustly curtailed.

        • Origami Isopod

          Not bad, but you might want to work the word “antithesis” into it six or seven times. Just the thing to give a load of pretentious bullshit that scholarly varnish.

          • Hogan

            And replace “expression” with “performance.” It’s ever so much more artsy.

  • kayden

    “In the camp where I was working, there were about 30 Sherpas for 12 attendees.”

    That one sentence made me laugh out loud. The mind boggles.

  • j_kay

    Boomers are MOSTLY worth punching because all but a handful like Krugman and Judy Miller are nasty aristocratic Know-Nothings. Why’s that good?

    I never went to Burning Man because it struck me as an artist event, and I’m the opposite, an engineer. Though I never thought of the Boomer threat, so WHEW!

    • Origami Isopod

      I never went to Burning Man because it struck me as an artist event, and I’m the opposite, an engineer.

      Ehhhh, not to defend the aptly initialed BM, but engineering and artistry don’t have to be mutually exclusive.

    • mtraven

      Boomers are MOSTLY worth punching because all but a handful like Krugman and Judy Miller are nasty aristocratic Know-Nothings.

      It may not be as evil as racism, but making vast offhand generalizations about entire age cohorts is just as stupid and in exactly the same way.

      I never went to Burning Man because it struck me as an artist event, and I’m the opposite, an engineer.

      Like the article I posted said, it is not only full of engineers, it is deeply integrated into the engineering culture of Silicon Valley.

    • j_kay

      But I’m the boringest possible engineer, with negative graphic ability. When I did a corporate logo for a startup, it was SO pathetically pathetic it didn’t even make it to funny.

      mtraven, remember, reading is good…. because I was fair, And the Boomers started the punching on both Erik and I, making it fair.

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