Or please burn after reading?
Which way does that saying go, anyway? I get confused.
Just to be safe, probably should do 'em both.
As Merlin says in The Once and Future King when introduced to young Arthur, "Now ordinary people are born forwards in Time, if you understand what I mean, and nearly everything in the world goes forward too. This makes it quite easy for the ordinary people to live… But I unfortunately was born at the wrong end of time, and I have to live backwards from in front, while surrounded by a lot of people living forwards from behind. Some people call it having second sight.”
Merlyn stopped talking and looked at the Wart in an anxious way. "Have I told you this before?" "No, we only met about half an hour ago." "So little time to pass?" and a big tear ran down to the end of his nose. He wiped it off with his pyjamas and added anxiously, "Am I going to tell it you again?"
And that's kind of the way I feel sometimes, living "backwards from in front" with a clear-eyed view of a future that hasn't happened (yet) trying to communicate with people living forwards from behind.
So it goes.
The only place for us to meet, then, is smack dab in the middle of the Deep Now.
So let's do this.
Just back from Burning Man which was a super gratifying gathering of friends and family from around the world, a true confabulation of fabulous proportions.
Gave a bunch of talks at cool camps and was stoked to meet a ton of FGP community folks out there––truly blown away by the number of people who came up to us and let us know they were part of our extended crew. Some selection bias to be sure (as many alluded to Stealing Fire as a prompt to get out there in the first place) but also super inspired to feel all the mycelial networks of our lives weaving together in surprising and affirming ways.
Exactly what you'd expect from a massively complex crowd-sourced ritual in the middle of a desert circa 2022.
It was unbelievably hot, biblical dust storms on the daily, and damn near impossible to survive (let alone thrive) without copious supplements of freon and fossil fuels (to say nothing of the more esoteric chemical compounds on hand).
In fact, when you think about it, Burning Man is possibly the most bizarre thing ever assembled on earth!
80,000 tribal primates, whose consciousness has been mutated by ingesting cannabinoids, phenethylamines and tryptamines all gathered together in a circular desert encampment shaped like a Mayan calendar, with a giant anthropomorphic effigy at the dead center, shooting out to an interfaith Temple at the focal point beyond it all.
Pan back even further and you realize the entire thing is bounded by a giant pentagonal orange trash fence, defining the boundaries of this otherwise liminal space.
Then, we charge that fucker all the way up to Transmorgify, populate it with art cars, avatars and otherworldly architecture, music, dance and pranks (all directly inspired by said chemically induced brain mutations), and the entire encampment becomes its very own human powered sigil––a magical object of geometry and intention that thrums and pulses with a unique combination of serendipity and metabolic alchemy.
We did this, in other words, to (and for and by) ourselves.
Sometimes evolution proceeds through the uninspired brute-force algorithm of survival of the fittest, and at other times, it leaps and mutates into an entirely new something, seemingly from nothing.
Parthenogenesis. AKA the Virgin Birth. Ex Nihilo (something, out of no-thing).
And if inspired Play, (or Lila in the vedic traditions) is the pinnacle of novelty seeking in the Universe, you gotta give Burning Man top marks for frothing all that quantum foam.
While one popular story in the runup to this year's event focused on a backlog of three years of art just itching to get displayed in all of its glory, the reality was a bit different.
Rather than the half dozen or so truly major scale art projects (think full scale replicas of a Spanish Galleon half sunk into the desert floor, or 40' tall wire/mesh sculptures of beautiful feminine forms, or giant block letterings of some evocative phrase like LOVE or BELIEVE) we got smaller, more modest installations.
To be sure, some of them were genius in their quirky beauty, but the skyline felt different in the absence of those massive creative compass points.
Which makes you realize the impact of the real world on this imaginal one.
Crypto bros, no longer flush with their Monopoly Money simply weren't on deck to underwrite lavish art projects. Supply chains delayed the delivery of everything from circuit boards to bailing wire. The costs of building truly large scale projects, measured in lumber and steel, had quadrupled.
So what we got was hung and drawn (but quartered).
And yet, (and yet!)
Many folks reported this year as one of the most powerful and affirming chapters of their time in this polyglot community.
Feels like a "fixin' to get ready" kind of moment.
A time for all of us to set aside childish things, and return, as Gary Snyder reminds us, "to the real work, to what is to be done."
"That short-haired joy and roughness—
I could almost love you again...
under the tough old stars—
In the shadow of bluffs
I came back to myself,
To the real work, to
“What is to be done.”
'Bout that 'Merican Stupidity tho...
that's a humdinger of a handicap that threatens to piss away all of our copious advantages in one fever-dream conspiracy-laden paroxysm of sheer idiocy.
It's quickly becoming time to take our stands (if it's ours to take) for being Born Again Patriots. Folks beyond party or clique, who pledge to honor the seeds of the Infinite Game sown into this American Experiment and its ingenious Constitution.
That ALL men (and women) are created equal and entitled to life liberty and pursuit of happiness. It's such a grade school cliche, we barely hear the revolution in those words, anymore. Tribalism or humanism.
That's one of the most affirming things about the culture of Burning Man––it's embrace of radical inclusion of all shapes and stripes. It's a playground to practice what will soon become deadly serious.
Which side are you on boys (and girls)?
Which side are we on?
As we traveled out of the mountains and deserts and came back into cell reception, I casually clicked on my newsfeed to see what had transpired in the past week.
What hit me was a one-two punch of global weather events ranging from the triple digit heat dome baking the American West to the floods of Pakistan and the droughts of China and Europe, combined with a slew of new books taking a turn to the bleak.
(We've become accustomed to the "seasonal and regional" disaster––i.e. "California always has fires this time of year", or "monsoons and typhoons soak Asia every summer" but the perennial and global version, of everyone everywhere getting hammered at the same time is new).
And then the follow up punch...
a bunch of books from folks we've tracked for decades are coming out with increasingly heavy sentiments.
The Overton Window of Collapse has been thrown open wide, and what in 2018 was the sole purview of Jem Bendell and the Deep Adaptation community (see the Vice article about the "journal article sending people into therapy”) has now been adopted by a bunch of broader thinkers.
If you read the intro to Recapture the Rapture, you'll almost certainly remember the bizarre tale of our buddy Doug Rushkoff getting flown in to brief five hedge fund managers about surviving the Event. After I covered that, his editors encouraged him to turn the whole thing into a full length book which is out now––check his telling of the tale which includes even more of the details and levels of crazy!
Next is a thoughtful and thorough BBC assessment of population right on the heels of that two-parter I just wrote (see part one and part two), covering many of the same beats, from Thomas Malthus to a Stanford study calculating that the steady state population is probably closer to 1.5 to 2 billion folks.
Of course, like most writing in this genre, folks aren't quite ready to map and model how we get to that draw down number––only that it's likely to happen one way or another.
And finally to MacArthur Genius and founder of the Land Institute in Kansas (and one of my environmental heros, close friend of Wendell Berry etc) Wes Jackson writing in his Inconvenient Apocalypse. For forty years, Jackson has been deeply invested in restoring the tall grass prairies of the American West, reintroducing bison and heirloom seeds and a host of other life-giving projects. Now, his tone has changed.
"Because 10,000 years of so-called progress has left us in “dire straits”, the answer involves looking back to the prehistoric millennia before humans developed agriculture, began writing down their history, and built societal hierarchies. Insofar as An Inconvenient Apocalypse describes how this future could look, it involves tradespeople and agricultural workers elevated to the high-status ranks of society, the affluent getting taken down some notches, a wholesale elimination of the cosmopolitan, consumerist world, and religion playing a prominent role. One is tempted to sum it up as “make the Earth great again”.
Which made me notice a couple of things.
1) Waaayy back in the BeforeTimes of 2018, Jem Bendell's position was a disturbing outlier (AKA "we're super duper fucked and there's no turning this ship around, so make peace with it all) has now become so commonplace that thinkers like Wes Jackson aren't even bothering to re-litigate the case. They're taking that situational assessment as table stakes and forecasting ways forward from here.
2) We've swapped "figure for ground" when it comes to studying our ancient past. For me, as an undergrad and grad student, I was drawn to history and anthropology so I could better understand the clash of civilizations and the unfolding of human culture––i.e. "how'd we get to Now???"
But what I'm noticing with increasing frequency is instead of that being the back "ground" of our map making, it's now leapt to become the focal point or "figure" we're staring at with increasing urgency.
History, rather than being a Just So story of how we came to our present moment is rapidly shifting into a repository of WTF is happening next.
As an example, check this rad essay in Aeon about the relative brevity of the age of the nation state, and the resilience of the bioregional city-state as a much more durable and time-tested mode of civic organizing.
And to return to Jackson's prediction of a future that "involves tradespeople and agricultural workers elevated to the high-status ranks of society, the affluent getting taken down some notches, a wholesale elimination of the cosmopolitan, consumerist world, and religion playing a prominent role."
This deeply echoes our commitment to supporting HomeGrown Humans––doctors and midwives, firefighters and farmers, carpenters and warriors (as opposed to self appointed "thought leaders" info-marketers or lifestyle coaches ;). It also underpins our trainings, from our digital Leading Through Fire, to our Fall Canyons course to Midsummer's Camp Omega. We value doing real things with real people in real places because anything less will not be fit for purpose.
That Wes Jackson quote also speaks to creating post-modern religious movements that can fill our increasingly acute need for healing, inspiration and connection. We have to be able to digest our grief, and reaffirm our commitments and connections or we will not be able to endure the Great Passage to what's next. That’s what Burning Man does, but it’s in no way the only option or expression.
We need a thousand fires to burn. (feel free to check the Ethical Cult(ure) Toolkit in Recapture for some time-tested building blocks and caveats for would-be culture architects)
I guess the final thought or note I had was how crucial it is, and is going to increasingly get, for us all to remember how to play better together.
Early in the week our campmates from Cape Town had their generator stolen in broad daylight and spent the week struggling to manage in the triple digit conditions.
Now, overwhelmingly the atmosphere remained super positive and generous, with an abundance of gifting on most fronts. But shady shit, from generators to bike thefts to neighborhood rows also happened. Stretch that week of planned excess into a month of unplanned scarcity, and how quickly would we slide back down the ladder of hoarding, defense of precious resources for "us" and not for "them?"
Which is precisely the kind of thing that inspired me to jot down these "Playground Rules" while writing Recapture, i.e. what are shared norms and values that we all know and live by (more or less) and all notice when they're violated? Norms that work at an otherworldly event like Burning Man, but equally well on the playground, or while waiting in line at a FEMA disaster station, or while living in a refugee camp?
How can we commit to and uphold the basics of common concern and general decency even and especially as things get sticky?
So here they are––look 'em over and see if they don't feel both familiar and doable. And take a moment to notice where you've experienced the satisfaction of living and working with others like this, or the frustration when someone breaks the code.
What we need to do is simple. That doesn't mean it's gonna be easy.
Because this year on the night the Man burned, he did not go quietly into that good night. Rather than flames lazily licking at his feet and inching up to eventually consume him, he went out with a literal bang. Like a ritualized Samurai execution, it was two quick thrusts––his heart and head exploded, and while we were all marveling at this abrupt immolation, a giant fireball erupted from his base two hundred feet high.
He died so well, it almost makes you wanna live a little better.
PS. Sharing a couple recent podcasts worth checking out. Both are free wheeling, heartfelt and off the cuff––hope you enjoy.
🎤Here's one with my dear friend and super wizard performance psychologist Mike Gervais: The World is F*cked. What Can We Do??
🎤And another with Austin local Luke Storey: Ethical Cult Building & Ecstatic Sex Practices for Awakening Your Inner Mystic
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