Burning Man 2004:
Desert Goddesses Saturate
Emergent Community with Eye-Candy

A community of artists opens a window
into a human future based on a gift economy and
the emergence of a deeper form of beauty and sexuality

Ben Seattle • September 2004

page updated: November 6, 2004
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--- Contents ---

Welcome to the gift economy
A window into the future
Under the protection of a sacred space
The suppression of beauty
The core values of Burning Man
A cosmic force or an open sewer?
The red pill or the blue pill?
  (the political dimension)
The limitations of Burning Man
The antiwar movement ... and its limitations
What will do the most to move things forward?
Free speech will not be for sale
Watch this space
Postscript: It's for a good cause


Who controls our perceptions?
How body image, standards of beauty
and social conditioning are used to
paralyze our will and crush our spirit

A brief history of shame
Liberated territory

More ...
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Related theoretical articles
  and projects by the same author
We turned off the highway into Black Rock City and were greeted by a man wearing a cowboy hat, boots and nothing else. "Welcome to Burning Man", he said and gave us a few directions. As we drove past he pointed to me and, smiling, added "from this point forward seat belts are not required".

Welcome to the gift economy

The next thing I knew I was walking thru the desert, surrounded on all sides by nothing but burning sand. Out of the distance appeared the desert goddess. Maybe 19 or 20 years old, beautiful body, topless with pert breasts at which I struggled, without success, to avoid staring. The goddess caught my gaze. Embarrassed to be staring at her, I managed to say "Hi". Kindly, she looked into my eyes, walked directly toward me and informed me, with compassion and authority, that I looked very thirsty. A half quart water bottle, unopened, rested in my pocket. "I am desperately thirsty" I replied. I wasn't lying with my heart. Standing very close, she held her plastic water tube to my lips and I drank deeply.

I had been welcomed to the gift economy.

Burning Man is saturated with desert goddesses like this. People of all ages, shapes, sizes, genders, races and sexual orientations express themselves in enough costumes for a thousand Fellini movies and in states of dress, and undress, of every conceivable variety. Think of a week-long, Rio De Janeiro style carnival, thirty-five thousand strong, gathering once a year on an ancient dry lake bed under the blazing desert sun.

But what most catches my eye is the unending flow of young women with bodies so taut that it hurts to look at them. Often topless, sometimes clad only in body paint -- it is a scene that one might think could only exist in the masturbation fantasies of a horny male teenager. As a scientific and objective observer who has conducted comprehensive and meticulous research, I can assure readers that Burning Man is sexier than the painted models in the Sports Illustrated swimsuit issue; sexier than the recent issue of Playboy with the nude photos of the women of the Olympics; sexier than Britney Spears; sexier than tawdry strip joints; sexier than anything I could have imagined.

The women at Burning Man are more attractive because everything you see is real and sincere. No one is paid to shed their clothes at Burning Man and the goddess standing next to you, with the perfect body covered only in paint, paid as much to get in as you did. This means that she is not separated from you by the barrier of commodity exchange -- which inevitably restricts the flow of sincere energy.

-- Definition --
emergent behavior
Complex adaptive behavior which results from the independent actions of simpler, mutually interacting component parts without any master planner calling the shots.
(see also wikipedia, this or that)
The scanty costumes at Burning Man are not the product of some kind of official policy -- they are simply an example of emergent behavior: what happens when a community of people develops relatively free of the restrictions and attitudes of the dominant bourgeois culture.

Burning Man is sexy because it is not about sex -- it is about people -- people coming together to create a world where individuals are not imprisoned in isolation from one another and where energy flows between people -- and resonates -- as freely as electrons flow between the atoms of a metal.

Truth be told, it is the limitless eye candy at Burning Man, so openly, abundantly and casually displayed -- that attracts the attendance of a section of the participants. But it would be a mistake to see nothing here but the nudity -- or the party or rave aspect of the scene -- because this is only the surface appearance of a deeply intense effort to develop a community with the cultural and spiritual depth to transform completely humanity's vision of itself. Burning Man, simply put, is part of an effort to develop a world culture, from below, dictated not by the profit imperatives of the big corporations -- but originating instead in the deepest aspirations and needs of humans for an authentic connection to one another.

Burning Man exists today as a rare oasis, able to thrive because it is protected by two factors:

-- Definition --
commodity
anything which is created for the purpose of sale or exchange
(see also: The Laws of Commodity Production
for Dummies
)
1. Burning Man rejects the commodity economy in favor of the "gift economy". Nothing is for sale at Burning Man except ice and coffee. The admission fee (at least so far) appears to be used only to cover expenses.

2. Burning Man takes place in harsh conditions (temperatures between 40 and 110 degrees -- and frequent dust storms which coat everyone and everything with a layer of rock ground finer than talcum powder) which serve to keep out many of the tourists and the gawkers and the less adventurous.

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Burning Man has emerged as an artistic and cultural community that stands in stark, almost shocking, contrast to mainstream bourgeois culture. This kind of phenomenon is rare today. But make no mistake: Burning Man and similar phenomena are emerging as a beacon, pointing the way forward to our future culture and our future economy. What is a rare phenomenon today will eventually be the norm, 24 x 7, in every city and town on earth.

What are your thoughts
on the section titled
Welcome to the gift economy ?

Thoughtful and considered comments are needed.

Note: all comments
which are insincere
or which are disrespectful
to the people in the photos
will be deleted.

A window into the future            

The most important characteristic of Burning Man is that, to the extent possible under conditions of bourgeois rule, it operates outside of the commodity economy. Once inside the gate, your money is no good for anything other than ice or coffee.

The constant stream of artists, musicians, dancers and acrobats who perform (with the exception of a few who may get modest stipends) are performing for free. The many hundreds of projects and things to see or do (such as yoga, massage, photography, fire spinning, body painting, theme camps of all descriptions set up by groups of friends, complex works of art and sculpture -- many of which are motorized transport vehicles, and elaborate mechanical devices, complete with carnie-style barkers, that will shake, rattle and roll you -- or spank you -- or immerse you in cool water to escape the scorching desert heat) are created by individuals or groups of people who want to share their interests and spread awareness of their arts or skills -- or, sometimes, simply as a way of meeting people.

Dozens of informal "bars" service "patrons" but no alcohol is sold. Drinks are given freely from the stash of those who have set up the bar. When the stash runs out it is periodically refreshed by donations of booze from people who have brought it and want to keep the party going.

The overwhelming majority of the work that goes into creating Burning Man is done by volunteers. Only a handful of core people are paid salaries. The barista who makes your latte at the center camp is a volunteer. If she smiles at you it is because she feels like doing so -- not because of a corporate directive from Starbucks.

Artists who need help setting up their installations simply ask for help from people walking by -- and get it. "What goes around comes around" the saying goes and nowhere is this more true than in the gift economy that is the foundation of Burning Man and makes it what it is.

Inseparable from the gift economy is the "attention economy". In the future, when all essential goods and services are available for free in unlimited amount, the only key resource which will remain finite, which will remain limited -- is attention. Everyone only has so many minutes in their waking day and so attention will eventually become the scare, limiting resource around which the rest of the economy will organize itself. Attention can be considered a form of human mental labor and, in the future, all activity will increasingly revolve around the concept of attention.

The attention economy can be seen in action at Burning Man. Projects of various kinds compete for attention and sometimes draw large crowds -- but charge no admission fee. Without a profit basis how is the success of the project measured? How can the sense of empowerment, liberation or release engendered by a project be determined?

And yet it can. The artists and exhibitors at Burning Man work for free -- but they also work for fun. And the projects which fill the crowd with energy -- return this energy to the artists. And so, Burning Man, and other projects which are rooted outside the commodity economy
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(such as, for example, the Linux computer operating system) allow us to peek into the future. And the topless and painted goddesses at Burning Man help to show that the culture of the future -- the culture that will both support and be a product of the self-organizing, moneyless, gift-attention economy of the future will not only be cool and exciting -- it will be infinitely sexy.

What are your thoughts
on the section titled
A window into the future ?

Thoughtful and considered comments are needed.

Under the protection            
of a sacred space            

So why do so many women feel comfortable taking their clothes off in public at Burning Man but not elsewhere? I asked a few of the sex goddesses at Burning Man about this and the responses I got were all variations on a single theme: they felt that Burning Man provided a "safe space" to do so -- a supportive environment, relatively free from judgmental attitudes and the threat of sexually aggressive behavior from men.

One woman crystallized it for me in a powerful way by making use of the concept of "sacred space". Within a sacred space a woman feels comfortable if a man openly studies her beautiful naked body because her identity as a person is not separated from her appearance and she knows that she is regarded with nothing but absolute admiration and respect.

One woman I talked to told me of two compliments that she received. Both compliments were welcome. One man told her: "You have a beautiful shadow in the moonlight". Another said: "You have a really attractive walk". I think that readers can understand how compliments of this kind make a woman feel more comfortable than something like "Wow! Great tits!".

Unfortunately, any event which draws 35 thousand people in conditions of bourgeois society and which is so saturated with eye-candy -- will inevitably draw a certain number of assholes and people with degraded consciousness. As a result, Burning Man is contaminated by a certain amount of alienating attitudes in the form of gawkers: men who would act like they had never seen a woman without her clothes on; men who would stare but who were unable, when a woman returned their gaze, to maintain eye contact and acknowledge her with a smile. Also alienating to many women was the sheer volume of pesky, intrusive requests to take her picture or, worse, men who would do so without asking. One woman I talked to said that she stopped participating in the woman's topless bike ride three years ago after she heard some catcalls and comments of the kind to be expected from a drunken frat-boy.
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I found and interviewed one asshole who said that it was ok to harass women at Burning Man because -- if they dressed so provocatively -- they were "scum". And, in a far more serious incident, one woman described to me how she was finger-raped by a complete stranger in the middle of the street while she was talking to a friend.

Even so, most of the women I talked to agreed, the difference between Burning Man and the attitudes typically encountered elsewhere was the difference between night and day.

What are your thoughts
on the section titled
Under the protection
of a sacred space
?

Thoughtful and considered comments are needed.

The suppression of beauty      

The opposite of a sacred space -- is where the beauty of a woman's body is reduced to the status of a commodity -- an object so simple that it can be effectively reduced to a single number -- measurable in dollars.

Capitalist culture and media is saturated with images of woman's bodies as commodities. The Tom Leykis radio talk show, with a steady daily audience of tens of millions, revolves around the objective of "getting the most tail for the least money" from "bitches" (note well--again: anything exchanged for money is a commodity). This kind of conditioning of men's attitudes and thinking is a constant theme in bourgeois culture. Commercial advertising is largely based on the use of images of women's bodies and faces to sell shit. More than this, bourgeois culture, and advertising in particular, is aimed at preying upon human weaknesses.

There are dozens of muscles in a women's face. In combination with one another they can create more facial expressions than the two hundred billion stars in our galaxy. Each of these expressions is a window into a woman's infinite soul. But the expressions on the faces imaged by Hollywood and Madison Avenue are not real -- they are poses -- they are commodities engineered to create and exploit fears and insecurities (and the desperate need for an authentic emotional connection) of viewers.

Bourgeois culture and ideology as a whole is aimed at isolating individuals from one another for the purpose of making them weak. This is the central organizing principle and the fundamental purpose of the bourgeois ideology.

An individual finds his or her true strength and purpose in life when seeking fulfillment by working to meet the needs of an authentic community. Separated from such a community, forced into existence as isolated atoms, the individual is cut off from the purpose of his or her existence.

Statue on the top of Mamayev Kurgan, the scene of some of the fiercest fighting during the battle of Stalingrad (Aug 1942--Feb 1943). This battle was the death of Hitler's dream of the conquest of Europe and is probably the most famous battle in history.
For example, no soldier can fight well if he cannot know or understand what he is fighting for -- if he is cut off, isolated, from the reason he is fighting.

On the other hand, a soldier who is conscious, who is connected to the reason he is fighting, will tend to be,
-- Definition --
bourgeoisie
the ruling class -- the big-time capitalists (less than one percent of the population) who, hidden behind our fradulent "democracy", own or control -- not only the big corporations -- but the politicians, mass media, police, courts, schools and nearly all institutions of society.
Historical Origin • The modern bourgeoisie -- as the class attached to the circulation of capital -- emerged in Western Europe roughly in the period between 1400 and the mid-1800's. During this period the capitalist mode of production -- and the bourgeoisie -- became an increasingly powerful social force and removed one barrier after another to the expansion of capital before finally pushing aside altogether the previous ruling class (ie: the feudal aristocracy) and creating the modern bourgeois state.
Its Future • Bourgeois rule will likely end sometime in this century as (1) the emerging revolution in digital communications begins to rapidly erode the ideological supremacy of the bourgeoisie and its near total monopoly on political thought and (2) the working class learns to use the weapon of transparency to make itself conscious and organize itself for the struggle to overthrow bourgeois rule.
(see also: Media Weapon wiki)
if his cause is just, determined and fearless. And this is what the bourgeoisie are afraid of. A society made up of people who are determined and fearless would be the worst nightmare of the bourgeoisie.

Individuals who are isolated from authentic communities are conditioned by bourgeois culture and ideology to seek fulfillment thru the purchase of commodities. The natural need of human beings for an emotional connection to a community is perverted by bourgeois culture which, for men, seeks to distort and transform the search for emotional connection into the search for sex with a woman-as-commodity.

The result of this, for those listeners of Tom Leykis who never learn to respect women, is often unhappy relationships and a life of frustration, loneliness, bitterness and pain.

See related article
below: How body image,
standards of beauty and
social conditioning are
used to paralyze our will
and crush our spirit
Isolated individuals, separated from one another, separated from authentic communities, are easier to sell shit to, easier to keep ignorant, easier to deceive, easier to control.

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The objectification of women, the alienation of men from women, as promoted by bourgeois society with such ferocious intensity, serves to suppress the authentic expression of beauty. Burning Man -- an emergent community in which women are protected from much of the intrusive culture and attitudes which saturate bourgeois society -- proves that it doesn't have to be this way.

What are your thoughts
on the section titled
The suppression of beauty ?

Thoughtful and considered comments are needed.

The core values      
of Burning Man      

Burning Man is based on the concept of community. The values of the Burning Man community which I observed are the direct opposite of the values of the dominant bourgeois ideology.

1. Burning Man is organized so that those attending can work together and develop trust in one another and trust in the process of building a community from the bottom up.

2. One of the themes of many of the projects at Burning Man is that we are all part of something much larger than ourselves -- and that the work and positive energy that we put into our community will come back to us along myriad unchartable paths without any need to capture (ie: measure, regulate or control) this energy by converting it into dollars.

3. Another common theme of many of the projects is that our community is full of people who are made of the exact same stuff as our brothers and mothers -- and that if we truly knew them as they are -- we would find them deserving of our love.

4. Burning Man is based on giving. Giving and sharing at Burning Man consist of countless gifts that attendees give to one another. There are no grocery stores at Burning Man. If you need some extra tomatoes or a tank of propane -- you will know that it is time to meet your neighbors. More than this, all the incredible events and projects are based on the idea of giving something valuable (whether a material object, or service, or a performance, or knowledge of a skill) away for free to whoever decides they need it.

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This is how early human tribes functioned for more than half a million years. This kind of behavior is in our genes. The principle here is: from each according to his ability, to each according to his needs. This is the principle of which bourgeois society and the bourgeoisie itself is desperately afraid.

What are your thoughts
on the section titled
The core values
of Burning Man
?

Thoughtful and considered comments are needed.

A cosmic force
or an open sewer ?

The purpose of this article is to comment on the cultural and political significance of an annual gathering in the Nevada desert that is not dominated by commodity exchange relations. However my intent, as a writer, is also more ambitious. I believe it is valuable to see the emergence of the visual delights at Burning Man in the largest possible context. Mainstream culture is fucked up, of course. But it is fucked up for a reason. The reason is not that people are stupid (or ignorant, or anything like that). The reason is that our entire society is controlled by a parasitic class of exploiters -- the bourgeoisie -- and the maintenance of bourgeois class rule requires that the bourgeoisie keep the masses ignorant -- requires that the bourgeoisie degrade relationships between men and women -- requires that the bourgeoisie keep individuals frustrated and insecure and easily controlled.

So here is how things stand:

Sexual attraction between people is a manifestation of a cosmic force -- hardwired into our nervous systems by more than half a billion years of intense competition for survival as nature has experimented with solutions to the simple fact that the shuffling of genetic combinations offers the most rapid means of discovering and testing new adaptations: eyes, ears, mouths, tails, hearts, lungs, legs, wings, hands and brains.

Similarly, the emotional bonds which we feel for one another are also our gift from nature -- reflecting thru the developed mamalian limbic system the material necessity for mothers to care for their offspring and for certain species of animals to survive by means of the fusion of individuals into packs or tribes with the ability to act as if guided by a single will.

For these reasons, therefore, it is natural that art and culture will always feature elements of human attraction and revolve around the emotional connections between people and the actions of a community in common struggle.

Under bourgeois rule, however, our culture will forever be an open sewer
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from which we all are forced to drink. Under bourgeois rule the infinite attraction which human beings can feel for one another -- and our deepest needs for affection and appreciation -- will be forever turned against us.

Under bourgeois rule our mass media and culture will forever be used as a weapon to alienate men from women -- and alienate individuals from themselves. Under bourgeois rule all of us will forever be bombarded daily with expensive and sophisticated elaborations of a single basic lie: that everything that is corrupt and rotten in our society is supposedly the inevitable result of "human nature" and that it is impossible for human society to be organized on the basis of authentic, self-organizing communities.

But bourgeois rule, itself, is not forever.

What are your thoughts
on the section titled
A cosmic force
or an open sewer?

Thoughtful and considered comments are needed.

The red pill or the blue pill?

-- the political dimension --

It is not the purpose of this article to outline the ocean of blood and the ocean of tears which the bourgeoisie has created in the hundreds of years since they pushed the decaying feudal system off the stage of history. Nor is the purpose of this article to sketch out the immensity, beyond imagination, of the approaching storm or the amount of blood or tears which the bourgeoisie will create in the period ahead of us -- in the period between now and the time when the working class will push the bourgeoisie itself off the stage of history.

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The aims of this article are more modest -- but they are also more political. So if you, gentle reader, are only here to read about the taut, nekkid bodies (you know who you are) this is the time for you to change the channel and return to your regular programming. And to those readers who continue -- I ask that you pay close attention.

"This is your last chance. After this there is no turning back. You take the blue pill: the story ends, you wake up in your bed and believe whatever you want to believe. You take the red pill: you stay in Wonderland and I show you how deep the rabbit hole goes."
-- Morpheus, from "The Matrix"
What are your thoughts
on the section titled
The red pill or the blue pill?

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The limitations
of Burning Man

The significance of Burning Man should not be exaggerated. We must consider all this in a sober way. The eye-candy which saturates Burning Man, the emergence of a kind of beauty and sexuality which is qualitatively different (qualitatively healthier, qualitatively more awe-inspiring) from the commoditized beauty and insincere sexuality mass-produced by capitalist society functions as proof that another world is possible.

And Burning Man helps us to see that this world will be based on a gift economy where everyone has their needs met without the need for money, wages, prices or the organization of the economy on the basis of the market.

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But if Burning Man helps to prove that another world is possible -- it does not give us a clear understanding of how we will get there.

The development of that understanding will come from elsewhere ...

What are your thoughts
on the section titled
The limitations
of Burning Man
?

Thoughtful and considered comments are needed.

The antiwar movement

-- Definition --
imperialism
an economic and political system characterized by bourgeois rule and intermittent wars to grab resources and gain the ability to export capital and exploit labor in territory that is conquered or which is controlled by a client (ie: puppet) government
(see also: Imperialism, the Highest Stage of Capitalism)
Less than one percent of the many hundreds of art projects, theme camps and musical performances at Burning Man could be described as being explicitly anti-imperialist. Out of many dozens of performances I heard two sets of antiwar songs (one set was decent, the other was annoying liberal whining without a trace of either political or artistic merit) and the performance of a single antiwar poem (far more militant in tone -- it was as viciously and brutally sarcastic as anything I have ever heard). That was it.

Civilians straffed by US Apache helicopter ( Haifa Street, Baghdad, Sept 12, 2004 ). An estimated 100,000 Iraqis have died in the war so far, mostly civilians. The leading cause of violent death is US airpower.
It is unfortunate that, at a time when the headlines are full of news of the savage actions of US troops in Najaf and Falluja, militant antiwar attitudes find such paltry representation at Burning Man. One factor in this may be the "don't rock the boat" attitude of the social-democratic types who organize Burning Man and find themselves at the mercy of the local authorities who give them permits for their event. Another factor may be the social and class composition of many of the attendees: independent artists and a relatively comfortable strata of well-paid workers in the high-tech or other sectors. The largest factor may simply be the low level of politicization of society in general.

During the exact same week as Burning Man was held, half a million activists, many facing police repression, demonstrated against the Republican National Convention in New York. Burning Man may offer us a valuable window into the future but the social and political weight of
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the protests in New York is at least a thousand times greater (ie: a thousand times more valuable) than that of Burning Man.

What are your thoughts
on the section titled
The antiwar movement ?

Thoughtful and considered comments are needed.

... and its limitations

We must also recognize, however, that the antiwar movement, as necessary and valuable as it is, is not capable, by itself, of pointing to the path forward for humanity. The elimination of the system of commodity production and its replacement by a gift economy will require a decades long transition period in which the economic weight of the gift economy sector gradually increases relative to the commodity production sector. But
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this lengthy process cannot even begin as long as the bourgeoisie rule all of society. And the elimination of the system of bourgeois rule is a task which even most antiwar activists currently find impossible to even think about.

What are your thoughts
on the section titled
and its limitations ?

Thoughtful and considered comments are needed.

What will do the most
to move things forward ?

-- confronting the crisis of theory --

What is necessary is the development of a mass movement which is clearly focused on the need to eliminate the system of bourgeois rule and which refuses to compromise its fundamental principles in order to maintain political alliances with powerful trends that will offer support if only we adopt more supposedly "realistic" goals -- such as begging for peace from the gods of war.

-- Definition --
crisis of theory
The crisis of theory that has paralyzed the movement for a "better world" -- is that the left has proven itself unable to describe, in a way that is realistic, what the alternative to bourgeois rule will look like.
This failure undermines the ability of the working class to organize itself around such an alternative -- and supports the bourgeois claim that "there is no alternative" (ie: TINA).
(see also: Finding the Confidence
to Build the Future
)
Many obstacles exist today that block the development of such a mass movement. The primary obstacle, in this author's view, is the "crisis of theory" that prevents activists from having a realistic understanding of:

(1) the alternative to an economy based on commodity production, and

(2) the alternative to the current system of bourgeois rule

The 20th century witnessed two sweeping attempts to create societies that were not ruled by the bourgeoisie: the Russian revolution of 1917 and the Chinese revolution of 1949. Both of these attempts led to improvements in the conditions of life for the masses. But both attempts also led to the development of police states in which a single party held a monopoly of power -- and in which a new, feudal-style ruling class rose to power,
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suppressed all opposition and suppressed the independent political life of the working class. Neither of these attempts, therefore, are capable of giving clear guidance to activists today who, in their hearts, know that a better world is possible but who have no clear idea of what this better world will look like or how humanity will get there.

What are your thoughts
on the section titled
What will do the most
to move things forward?

Thoughtful and considered comments are needed.

Free speech
will not be for sale

A fundamental principle
to guide post-bourgeois society

While there are countless unanswered questions about all these things, it is clear to this author that post-bourgeois society will make a fundamental distinction between free speech and commercial speech.

The free speech of individuals and organizations will continue to be a fundamental right (ie: more or less as it is today under conditions of bourgeois rule). The free speech of individuals and organizations will be necessary (a) to unleash the full potential of the masses to create a culture, economy and political system which does not rely on the system of commodity production -- and (b) for the organization of mass struggle to expose and combat incompetence, hypocrisy
-- Definition --
state machine
The state is a collection of political, economic and cultural institutions which work together as a single machine to maintain the smooth and orderly functioning of the class rule of the ruling class.
The state includes the government as well as a variety of other powerful institutions which rule thru a skillful combination of force and ideology -- and which create and enforce laws and social norms.
The main purpose of the state is to maintain the class rule of the ruling class. This includes:
(1) the suppression of the efforts of other classes
     to overthrow the ruling class,
(2) the maintenance of the smooth functioning
     of the economic life of society,
(3) a system for the orderly resolution of disputes
     between different sections of the ruling class
(see more in footnote)
and corruption in the state machine which will probably be necessary (as it is today under bourgeois rule) for several decades during the transition to a gift economy which will not be dependent on the circulation of capital.

However commercial speech (ie: forms of media expression which rely on paid labor rather than volunteer labor) will be under the democratic control of the masses.

Today, under bourgeois rule, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) kicks up a huge hypocritical fuss because Janet Jackson's breast was exposed for a few seconds on TV while every single day the media is saturated with every form of insincerity and objectification of women -- not to mention the blatant imperialist lies that a war waged for oil and world domination is supposedly for the sake of (a) making us safe from non-existent weapons of mass destruction or (b) "bringing democracy" to the Iraqi people. The mass media will always be saturated with insincerity and deception as long as the bourgeoisie rule society because insincerity and deception serve bourgeois class interests and are essential for bourgeois class rule.

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Tomorrow, after bourgeois rule has been swept aside, promoters of the bourgeois ideology, people such as Rush Limbaugh or Tom Leykis, will be cut down to size once their voice is no longer amplified a million fold by the money or resources of the commercial sector. This will create a level playing field in which the voices of the masses will be able to drown out the obnoxious venom and create a culture from the bottom up.

What are your thoughts
on the section titled
Free speech
will not be for sale
?

Thoughtful and considered comments are needed.

Watch this space

Rise like lions after slumber
in unvanquishable number.
Shake your chains to earth like dew
which in sleep had fallen on you.
Ye are many, they are few.
-- Shelley, 1817

There is a great need, today, for political activists to come together in a community which is explicitly focused on the need to eliminate bourgeois rule and on resolving the crisis of theory
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which currently makes the elimination of bourgeois rule essentially impossible to think about in a realistic way. If artists can come together to create a community such as Burning Man, why can't serious political activists similarly come together to create a community focused on resolving the crisis of theory and helping to build a mass movement aimed at the liberation of all humankind?

The answer to this question is that we can -- and we will.

Ben Seattle
----//-// September 2004

Ben Seattle is an information theorist who works with the Media Weapon community. The views expressed here are his own and are not necessarily representative of the diverse views within the Media Weapon community. Ben's theoretical work is indexed at: http://struggle.net/ben. If you are serious about working to help end the system of bourgeois rule the Media Weapon community ( http://MediaWeapon.com ) needs your help.
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on the section titled
Watch this space ?

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Postscript:
It's for a good cause

Some readers may believe that the title, introduction, tone or photos in this essay serve in some small way to reinforce existing stereotypes of how women are supposed to look.
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My response to this is to plead "guilty with an explanation". What I have written is (1) the truth, and (2) the result of a sober and principled assessment of how to bring to the attention of the maximum possible audience news of the principles which the proletariat will use to liberate itself from bourgeois rule and create a culture where women are treated with nothing but admiration and respect.

What are your thoughts
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It's for a good cause ?

 

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Who controls our perceptions?

How body image, standards of beauty
and social conditioning are used to
paralyze our will and crush our spirit

Ben Seattle • September 2004


Was Marilyn Monroe fat?
After being conditioned to the semi-anorexic models of today, images of the 1950's sex goddess Marilyn Monroe now seem strange. To "modern" eyes, she seems heavy. This is proof that human aesthetic judgements of beauty are plastic and subject to conditioning via bombardment by thousands of images of women's faces and bodies.
Bourgeois culture makes untold millions of women feel ugly
or ashamed of their bodies.
This is a crime.
Not all the people who walked around half naked at Burning Man were the twenty-somethings with perfect bodies. What struck me as significant (especially after I had a few days for this sink into my mind) was how damn comfortable so many people there were with their body type -- even though they were not "in shape" by the standards of Hollywood, Madison Avenue or the bourgeois mass media. Exploration of this topic would go beyond the limited focus of this article but we should note that the bourgeois culture and mass media promote standards of beauty (in particular a distorted body image which saturates nearly all forms of media with ferocious intensity)
-- Definition --
eating disorders
The most well-known eating disorders are anorexia and bulimia. Anorexia (characterizied by a seriously underweight condition) is believed to affect about one out of every hundred female adolescents between ten and twenty years old. Bulimia (characterized by cycles of dieting, binging and purging) is believed to affect about one out of every twenty-five college-aged women. More detailed information can be found here)
that are impossible for most ordinary people to reach. Many pictures we see of models are not even real: imperfections have been airbrushed and proportions digitally altered. And the women models themselves are not genetically representative of the population but rather have been selected for a set of proportions that most young women could not achieve even with unlimited diet and exercise. As a result the great majority of women in the U.S., for example, feel uncomfortable with how they look and eating disorders are widespread among teenaged girls.

The constant and intense pressure of the bourgeois mass media and advertising changes our perceptions of beauty (for example: by the standards of today Marilyn Monroe looks "fat" -- but she certainly wasn't considered so at the time!) and represents a form of intense propaganda that
Comment 
on this
section
"this is how you should look". This propaganda is not only used to sell shit and increase audience share and readership of airhead programs and magazines -- but is also part of the bourgeois ideological offensive against the masses -- who are conditioned to feel a sense of shame over how they look.

What are your thoughts
on the section titled
Who controls our perceptions?

Thoughtful and considered comments are needed.

A brief history
of shame

The emotion we know as shame almost certainly evolved in early human tribal society. Shame originated as a healthy and necessary emotion -- as the internalized representation of the loss of social status that accompanied failure to "do one's share" for the maintenance and survival of the tribe (ie: the original human communities).

As civilization (in particular: metal tools, a higher productivity of human labor, and private property) developed -- early tribal societies were cleaved into economic classes (ie: the slave owners, the land owners, the landless poor, the slaves, etc). Along with this the functions of the tribe were also cleaved into the functions of the family and the functions of the state (ie: prior to this, in early classless society, there were neither "families" nor "states" as we know them now -- only tribes). The state (considered broadly to include all the institutions, including religious and cultural, which support the ruling class) now made use of shame in a toxic way -- as a means of coercion and control -- as a means to instill and enforce obedience and loyalty -- and to demoralize the oppressed, paralyze their will and crush their spirit.

Comment 
on this
section
A person filled with shame will be more inclined to look inward for a solution to pain and anxiety rather than looking at external sources of oppression -- and will feel alienated from his or her class brothers and sisters and incapable of struggle.

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on the section titled
A brief history of shame ?

Thoughtful and considered comments are needed.

Liberated territory

Perceptions of beauty are a product of both biology and social conditioning. Whether the weight of the social conditioning factor is 20 percent or 80 percent (I suspect it is closer to the latter than the former) it should be clear that the culture of Burning Man works in the opposite direction to that of Hollywood and Madison Avenue and represents a step in the direction of a world culture where everyone feels accepted and appreciated for who and what they are.

Commercial advertizing is nearly entirely absent at Burning Man. I saw some company logos and slogans painted on the sides of rented trucks and RV's. And there was an ad for an Apple iPod in an alternative newsletter. That was about it. Imagine a city of 35 thousand people without a single billboard, magazine rack or TV commercial telling us how we are supposed to look -- or what we supposedly need to buy in order to be happy!

For reasons such as this, Burning Man is a wonderful place. People bring their kids there. People choose to get married there.
Comment 
on this
section
I will at this point add a personal note. I am a generation and a half older than many of the young women I interviewed or photographed and seeing so much eye-candy at Burning Man only intensified my desire for a woman I love who is closer to my own age. If, by some miracle, she were to fall in love with me again -- I would like to take her to Burning Man and, in this magical desert oasis, to marry her.

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on the section titled
Liberated territory ?

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Footnote on the state machine

A continuation of the definition of state machine.

From a historical perspective, the original ruling classes were slaveowners and landowners. In the centuries after the fall of the Roman empire the feudal system developed and the feudal nobility became the ruling class.

With the expansion of the commodity economy, the rising bourgeoisie entered into a period of struggle, which took centuries, to replace the feudal nobility as the ruling class. The struggle of the bourgeoisie against the feudal nobility included ideological warfare (ie: the Renaissance, the Protestant reformation, the economic and political theories of the Enlightenment, etc) and culminated in a series of violent revolutions (ie: Cromwell in England, the French revolution, etc).

In the twentieth century there were several attempts by mass revolutionary movements to replace the class rule of the bourgeoisie with the class rule of the working class. Due to difficult objective conditions as well as ideological confusion all of these attempts failed and resulted in the emergence of a new ruling class which continued to exploit the workers.

A state machine which serves the working class as the ruling class -- within the context of a modern, stable society with a developed economy and communications infrastructure -- has never existed. Such a state will be created sometime in this century after the working class overthrows bourgeois rule -- and will serve to protect humanity's efforts, over a period of decades, to replace the commodity economy with the self-organizing, moneyless gift economy. As this transition takes place, the need for a state machine itself will disappear and the functions of the state will be replaced by the actions of a large number of independent, self-organizing groups which will both (1) compete with one another for attention and support and (2) cooperate with one another to create a better world.

Back to the definition of state machine
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Footnote on the state machine

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See also:
Proletarism is
anti-revisionist Marxism
for the 21st century

The Future Transparent
Workers' State

 

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The History of the Universe
 

 
The self-organization of matter from
the big bang to the future ...
From the dawn of life to
the self-organizing moneyless economy
Proletarism is anti-revisionist Marxism for the 21st century
From the Russian workers' movement (with experience in underground organizing under the rule of Brezhnev's "communists" and militant strikes under the rule of Yeltsin's "democrats") has come a proposal to recognize, with a new name, a decisive break with the treachery of the "communist" leadership -- which enslaved the working class and betrayed the revolutionary movement in a way comparable to
the great betrayal of 1914.
(with Timeline and Forum for questions or comments)
Proletarian Democracy
How will economics,
politics and culture work
when the working class
runs modern society?

 

 
Working class rule has never existed in a modern, stable society. However it will emerge triumphant in the 21st century. How will a workers' state suppress
the former ruling bourgeoisie
without also suppressing the
independent political life of workers?
The Anarcho-Leninist
Debate on the State

 
The debate question:
In the period immediately following
a successful mass uprising
against the bourgeoisie,
should the form (or forms) of organization
adopted by the proletariat
to secure its ultimate liberation
be understood to be a state?
 

Do you have ideas
Or do ideas have you?

Politics, Economics and the Mass Media
when the working class runs the show

• competition between
   multiple political parties

• Contradictions in society:
      • consumption vs. investment
      • local vs. international
      • ecosystems vs. development
      • gift economy vs. other sectors

• Will there be elections?

• The three economic sectors in
   the transition period:
      • private capitalist • state capitalist • gift economy

• The evolution of the mass media
      • commercial media
      • state media
      • free media
      • the interaction between the different media sectors

A scenario for the overthrow
of bourgeois rule in the U.S. in
the middle of the 21st century

Why the scenario? To clear up misconceptions
and illustrate linkages between politics,
economics, culture and technology

1. The digital fire • The first third of the 21st century--the left learns how to use the digital fire to build channels to the masses and overcome the diseases of sectarianism and reformism
2. Electoral victory •
Sometime in the middle of the 21st century--electoral victory
3. Economic retaliation •
Bourgeois reaction -- part 1 -- Capital flight and economic retaliation
4. Workers stand firm •
Workers refuse to capitulate
5. Attempted decapitation •
Bourgeois reaction -- part 2 -- Bourgeois legality tossed aside--attempt to decapitate workers' movement
6. Workers' movement resilient •
The workers movement is initially suppressed but, because it was prepared, over time proves itself resilient in the face of repression.
7. Bourgeoisie paralyzed •
In the face of the militant mass resistance by many millions the military government eventually proves to be unstable and disintegrates. The bourgeoisie itself becomes split and paralyzed.
8. Workers' victorious •
Bourgeoisie defeated, workers' movement victorious
9. Stable workers' state •
Workers state allows stability for economic experimentation with self-organizing moneyless gift economy