Episode 22
Burning Man Live | Episode 22 | 10|28|2020

Studying Subversive Creativity and Gratitude

Guests: Duane Hoover, Sheila Hoover, Andie Grace, Logan Mirto

What is it like to walk around Black Rock City as a staff member and an academic in participant-observer mode? These tales are of BRC at the turn of the century, and the study of ineffable experiences, ending with old school stories of the organic formation of BRC’s support services, and a healthy respect for law enforcement.

Andie and Logan talk with Sheila Hoover, the Associate Dean of Libraries at Texas Tech University, and Duane Hoover, Professor of Practice, specializing in negotiation and organizational behavior. At BRC, Duane (Big Bear on the radio) ran the Black Rock Rangers and the Law Enforcement Agency Liaison Team for 15 years.

Sheila and Duane co-authored several research projects on Burning Man through a lens of organizational development, cultural principles, and values such as reciprocity, intrinsic reward, and “radical inclusion of self.”

BONUS: Hear a Texan recite a bit of Shakespeare!

Rawls Business School, University of Texas, Faculty: Duane Hoover



“Communal Effort. You need to find yourself in this world to your relationships with others, that experience of, of mastery, that the sense of flow in which you work with others and they in turn work with you. And finally that creates a kind of community reality that makes you feel that you belong.” ~Larry Harvey

ANDIE: I just love hearing Larry Harvey voice to open up the show. Hello. Welcome to Burning Man Live. I am your host today, Andie Grace,a nd I’m here with Logan Mirto. Hi friend.

LOGAN: Hey Andie, how are you?

ANDIE: I’m pretty good. How are you doing today?

LOGAN: Fantastic.

ANDIE: You’re always fantastic. How are you doing?

LOGAN: I’m doing great. I’m doing great. I’m excited to talk to today’s guests, to be honest.

ANDIE: Yeah, me too. We’ve been kind of reaching out to a lot of academics recently. As I miss Black Rock City it’s deepening my thought patterns on why is it so important to me? Why do I miss it so much this year? Why am I so eager to get to go back? What makes this idea like that tick?

LOGAN: It’s nice to have some time and space from the thing itself to actually think about why that space is valuable and to be able to… I know that not having the giant chunk of my life taken away by actually building Black Rock City, getting that back this year, and being able to really, I think about its role in my life, and the impact it’s had on me. It’s been a really different experience in 2020 for sure.

ANDIE: That’s true, but I mean, there’s no substitute for being there, right? The things that science and academics are learning about Burning Man is that we experienced less suppression of our urges and our instincts and our expression. Scholars have found a way to turn that into data. How can we analyze and track whether those experiences really stay with us in real life? You hear people say like, “Burning Man changed my life,” but science kind of seems to agree that is true for a lot of people, and it’s observable. It just fascinates me to keep talking to guests like we have today.

LOGAN: Absolutely. It’s a fascinating thing because yeah, we do talk about that impact on the individual level. And we also talk about, we’ve talked to him in the past, at least about the importance of taking what you learned at Burning Man and bringing it back, not only to your life, but bringing it back to the world. And ways to quantify that are challenging and not as often seen as you might think. So it’s good that someone’s out there doing the work and actually putting that to task and making sure that people are giving that data.

ANDIE: I’m glad that people are thinking about it because it gives me lots of fuel for why I love it so much and why I keep coming back. The lens that we’re going to look at it through today is a lot about how people organize, and it’s a fascinating way to view it. 

I’d like to introduce our guests today. Sheila Hoover is the Associate Dean of Libraries at Texas Tech University. Her areas of focus are engineering, literature, and she’s a data analyst. And her husband, Jay Duane Hoover, a Professor of Practice Management at Texas Tech University. His specialties are around negotiation, organizational behavior, and he’s also formally a Director of the Ranger team here in Black Rock City, Director of the Law Enforcement Agency Liaison interaction team, and a member of the senior staff from 1998 to 2014.

Welcome to the two of you. Thank you so much for being here today.

DUANE: Thank you. 

SHEILA: Thank you.

ANDIE: You recently published another paper about Burning Man. You guys have been studying this for a while at papers called “Subversive Creativity in an Aspirational Organization: How Burning Man Actualized is Behaving in a Loving Way.”

I’m super excited to dive into that, but let’s establish who you are to Duane. How did you first come to Burning Man?

DUANE: I came to Burning Man in 1996 a friend of mine says, “Hey, there’s this thing.” I was living in Reno at the time. And this friend says, “There’s this crazy thing out in the desert.” If you want to borrow my motorhome, you can go look at it. So I did and wound up participating in the ‘96 event. And, at the end of that event, that was a year with, there were some problems, I went to Larry Harvey and to John Law who was doing things in those days, and I said, “How can I help?”

They said “Well, what do you think you could do?” And, I listen, all my magical qualities. And, John wasn’t so sure. Larry said, “Come see me in San Francisco.” So I went to San Francisco. I sat at a park bench in the Haight with Larry. And, we bonded and he said, “Come out this year and help us.” I showed up on playa with the title of Ranger Director. That’s how it got started.

LOGAN: Gotcha. And have you been coming since, has it been ‘96 straight through?

DUANE: I was there from 96 to 2014. 

LOGAN: Gotcha.

ANDIE: Sheila, what about you? When was the first time you went?

SHEILA: I met Duane in 2003. Actually our first date, we were at this wonderful Italian restaurant in town and he had just come back from Burning Man and he was telling these compelling stories and I was like, yeah, heard of it. So, I was so intrigued. He was like, “Yeah, you gotta come with me.”

And I was like, “Yeah, I’ll come with you.” And 2003, I remember walking on the playa, and my first experience in the playa was on my own and walking in the city and seeing people and just being immersed. And so from then on, as long as Duane was going, I was going too. 

DUANE: I was working 20 hours a day and then sleeping for and dreaming about it.

SHEILA: I had a couple of patches that say Ranger widow.

DUANE: Yeah, she was a Ranger widow. 

LOGAN: I don’t think that’s an uncommon experience with people that try to bring their relationship to an event, especially when one of us is working. I know that I have to have the “I’m married to my job” talk with people over many years. Sometimes several years in a row when I’m happy to explain that this is going to take all of my time, focus and energy, for this amount of time. So, it can be a real challenge for sure. You seem to weather it okay. And you guys came out of it, still thrilled about the experience. So that’s a good thing.

ANDIE: That’s 30 years of combined experience. What made you decide that you wanted to study it together?

DUANE: I am an academic. If you had to put a broad title on me, it would be I’m an organizational psychologist. So I can’t not look at an organization and kind of observe how it works and why it works, but I’ve been on the playa probably 10, 11, 12 years before I actually clicked the academic switch, because I realized that I’ve accumulated through participation. Now there’s a mode of research and organization called participant observation. And what you are is your participant in the event. But at the same time you put your academic paddle and you’re also acting as an observer. So for the last couple of years we were there, which was 2013 and 2014, I was consciously acting as a participant observer. 

I had probably a hundred pages of documents that accumulated over the years and lots of memories of meetings and stuff, but I really wanted to get the story from other people. And so we did a series of interviews, did a lot of videotaping, which was easy to do because my job is to kind of work around the place, check on what’s going on. So as I went around and did my job, if I saw something interesting, I’d just stop and talk to people and videotape it. 

So we have several hours of those videotapes. And then we transcribed them into a script. And then I excerpted that into some of my first writings. So, I started out as a person who was just the person at Burning Man. Then I became a Burner. Then I became a BURNER!

And then at the end I was thinking, you know, “What have I learned? And what could I share about this?” And that’s where the academics come in.

LOGAN: Do you find that when you started to bring this to academia, did you have a hard time getting it taken seriously? Or at that point where we established metaphors Burning Man established enough in the world that it was a little less abstract and deemed more worthy of study?

DUANE: I’ve got two answers to that. One is I think it’s well established enough, as Sheila said, a lot of people have heard about it. I’ve written 11 papers on Burning Man over the years. That’s the good news. The bad news is I haven’t been able to penetrate higher level sociology publications. There’s a couple of reasons for that. One is I’m not really a sociologist and there’s a thing in academia where you work with your clan. But I think that I’ve had trouble. I had one reviewer, for example, reject my paper, which is probably the best thing I’ve ever written about Burning Man, because there were naked people there.

LOGAN: Was the argument that the people not wearing clothes was throwing off your data analysis?

DUANE: It was just that the analysis had no validity because people were naked. A very narrow point of view. I’ve had lots of papers published in lots of venues. The best is the one I just published, which was published in the Journal of Organizational Psychology. And actually what’s interesting about that: I had decided to quit publishing about two years ago.

ANDIE: Not just quit Burning Man, but quit publishing?

DUANE: Quit publishing. Yeah. I’m at the stage of my career where the additional publication garners me no reward. I’ll just do it for my intrinsic satisfaction. I can’t get promoted. I won’t get a raise. That’s the way academia works, once you get tenure. 

But a couple of years ago I started thinking because it’s kind of always in my mind, and there’s an organization called the Western Academy of Management, which is one of the academic organizations that I attend occasionally. The theme of a conference was “Behaving in a Loving Way.” All of a sudden this bell went off in my head and I said, “That’s what Burning Man’s all about.” If you, if you take what it means to be a Burner, how Burners treat one another, how we attempt to actualize the 10 Principles, how we have actualized the 10 Principles over the years, it’s about behaving in a loving way without judgment. For example, Radical Inclusion is inclusion without judgment. That’s a very loving thing to do. So once that bell rang in my head, I kind of had to write this paper. So this last paper came from that moment of inspiration.

ANDIE: You dove pretty deeply into Leave No Trace, particularly as a principal, right?

SHEILA: Yes. The 10 Principles resonated with me immediately, but the one I found absolutely fascinating was Leaving No Trace. And the more read them and, you know, this Burning Man is practically the largest organization. That’s a Leave No Trace organization and it’s part of the culture. So when you first, when you get your tickets, what comes with your ticket is the guide, What is it called?

DUANE: Survival Guide.

SHEILA: A Survival Guide is sent to each ticketed person, and everything you read in there is part of the acculturation of the individual participating in the Burning Man event. I just saw examples of it just every day. You know, I’d be out for a walk. And I walked in the morning up to the fence. There’s this wonderful place with cushions and fake palm trees. And there was usually music, so you could dance first thing in the morning, and in my walk, so it’s past the Man, past the Temple, out to the fence, and just seeing individuals out, walking out biking, and running first thing in the morning with like plastic bags attached to their belts and they would just pick up anything they saw on the playa. 

This whole idea of Matter Out Of Place, or MOOP, people internalized the Leave No Trace principle, and they acted on it all day, every day. And you see it right from your first entry into the city, right up until and after Exodus, because there is a team that comes in after Exodus, after the city is basically torn down and they go inch by inch across the playa. And they pick up anything that’s like…

LOGAN: That would be DPW’s Playa Restoration Team for the win.

SHEILA: And then they produce a map, the MOOP Map, that you can see on the Burning Man website every year that shows red for areas where people violated the Leave No Trace principle. And yellow and green for people who really, you know, for camps and individuals who absolutely cleaned up after themselves and left very little for the restoration team to pick up.

Sunday morning, we always went out to the burn site because there’s still items burned. You know, you could look into actual burning pieces of some of the big beams that supported the Man. And people would be walking around again with bags, collecting stuff off the ground, combing the area. People carry like a little tin that mints come in. There is this Communal Effort to keep the playa as intact and pristine as possible so that all can enjoy it; and right out to Exodus where people are, you know, the whole idea of “pack it it, pack it out”, is taken very seriously.

One of the issues that I enjoy the most is the burn barrels. I think they start to appear on Saturday. And so people who are dismantling their Canaan can take burnable material. So you see cardboard, but you see a lot of wood, a lot of plywood, and people as they’re dismantling, they don’t want to take it with them.

But it’s a consumable and the burn barrels are going all the time at the periphery of the playa and just 

ANDIE: It’s true. It’s true.

SHEILA: It’s, again, the principle of Participation actualized all day, every day, all through the week by participants of every ilk.

LOGAN: It’s pretty fascinating. Those Burn gardens that we set up to burn off wood that people don’t want to bring home. That project works in tandem, also with people that are bringing completely usable wood; wood that doesn’t need to be destroyed, but that can then be repurposed. And we’ve done a ton of repurposing over the years by people donating their extra or surplus lumber that still has a good value. It’s not just to be destroyed. It’s also to be reclaimed to reuse, which I’ve always thought was really great.

ANDIE: Yeah, either by ourselves or Habitat for Humanity.

SHEILA: Reclaimed construction materials was, after hurricane Katrina, when a group of Burners went down to New Orleans and brought all this construction material with them again, you know, you talk about, you know, when you leave the playa, how do you make, how do you take those principles into the default world?

And this was a prime example. When Burners, you know, consciously went to New Orleans after Katrina to help rebuild, to help clean up. I found that very moving. I still do. 

DUANE: We included a MOOP Map in the paper with an explanation of MOOP, Matter Out Of Place, what it means and how to use what I find, and other things I’ve written about Burning Man, that some of the 10 Principles are a little harder to understand. Radical Self-inclusion, for example, you have to come and live it to understand it, rental self-reliance same thing, but I think everybody can kind of wrap themselves around the Leave No Trace concept. And the way I start that discussion is I say, okay, you’re going to take 75,000 people. You’re going to put them in one place for a week and there’s not a trash can in sight.

How does that work? And then when you start explaining that, you explained why that works and how it works. And then you wind up talking about what a Burner is, what a Burner does.

LOGAN: Sure. And that’s a difficult concept, I think for people to get when they haven’t been to an event like this, because so often we go to places and it’s not. The responsibility of the participant at, at most places to maintain the cleanliness of the space. Right. And if you were to try to impose that responsibility on them, there would be some sense of resentment almost at times when you try to think of no, that the cigarette butts there, you see it, it’s your job to pick it up.

But for some reason in Black Rock City, that is a very widely adopted cultural ethos that has just been internalized really deeply by so many people. It’s a really fantastic thing to see in practice.

ANDIE: It is a really big lift most of the time with people like at a place like Disneyland. Yes, people will throw away their trash and it looks really clean because they have trash cans, every 10 feet they’re going as far as they can in your direction.

To make sure that you don’t have to lift a finger and this is the opposite. Like we’re out there picking up trash. It doesn’t even belong to us. It’s kind of a reciprocity thing, right? It’s behaving in a loving way.

SHEILA: And another huge organization that practices Leave No Trace is the Boy Scouts. If you look at the Boy Scouts, it’s a very homogeneous group whereas Burning Man is heterogeneous in the largest definition possible. in terms of age , experience, geography, it’s just a fascinating ethos in the culture.

DUANE: In the paper, I talk about the seven principles and I give an example of behaving in a loving way for each of the 10 Principles.

And the one I wrote for leaving, no trace is behaving in a loving way. Also includes love for and protection of the environment. So that’s how that it’s part of a loving way, as opposed to abusing and using the environment.

ANDIE: It’s a wonderful motivator. So it’s. You described Burning Man as an aspirational organization. Tell me what that means.

DUANE: Well, again, if you look, teaching a business school, and, if you talk to. most people about organizations. They’ll talk about the purpose to make a profit. Even non-profit organizations still have to make money to survive.

It’s like for sure, you got to keep screwing to survive. You’ve got to keep feeding it. But very few organizations, are actually created, based on an idea and a philosophy and a concept, and then work to actualize that concept. And if I may quote William Shakespeare, he talks about unconditionally, for example, and pardon my Shakespeare and reading, he says 

Love is not love,

Which alters when it alteration finds,

Or bends with the remover to remove.

O no! it is an ever-fixed mark

That looks on tempests and is never shaken;

The 10 Principles of Burning Man over the years, that never changed. There are many temptations to deviate from that path. And I remember some years, financial trouble. And I don’t remember a single person ever saying, let’s get a sponsor. Let’s get Budweiser. Let’s get Ford.

ANDIE: They tried to, they would call up the media department.

DUANE: Not only was it not that it was suggested and then rejected. It never came up because if you understand decommodification, that never would come up.

And then when you looked at it that way, then. Burning Man aspires to this set of practices and then actually does it. And so it is, it is an aspirational organization. so that’s what I mean by aspiration and there, and that says Burning Man really does stand out. Now, one of the things I say in the paper though, is that, any organization can be more of an aspirational organization and we’re starting to see a little bit of that in the culture now.

Organizations that exist to make a profit, but also do other kinds of things as well. Toms Shoes, for example, you buy a pair of shoes. They give a pair of shoes, that kind of stuff. So we’re seeing more and more of that in the culture, I think over time. But Burning Man does it 24 seven. That’s why, and that’s why I thought that was a good description for Burning Man.

LOGAN: Yeah it’s a great thing to see that more and more in the world too. It’s, you know, in any capitalist society, right? The money is often the bottom line of any company because they’re competing and because if they’re going out of their way to be altruistic or out of their way to stick to a set of values that don’t contribute to the bottom line.

They’re usually in competition directly with someone who is, and they’re going to get out matched if they’re not careful. So it’s a, it’s a really great thing to see that showing up more and more in different aspects of society and to see people really lean values, sort of deprive what they’re doing and not just let the financial implications be everything

DUANE: True.

ANDIE: You’ve also talked a lot about the role of gratitude. In the organization and the culture. What is, what function does that have in a society and how do you think it impacts Burning Man?

DUANE: Gratitude is an interesting concept because, can I talk about the normal reciprocity reciprocity? Is that. What are the cultural universals?

If you went to the jungles of Borneo or to the jungles of Manhattan or anywhere you find people, you find that the normal reciprocity isn’t and what it’s basically is it. If I do something for you, That, you then quote, Oh, me. And then you pay me back and we keep the ledger balance that works in a negative sense too.

He also says, if you damage me, then I’m going to try to seek revenge. The point is to keep the ledger balance. And it’s very difficult for humans to live over a long period of time, out of balance, so to speak. However, that’s kind of a cold, analytical transactional way to look at the more reciprocity it’s an element of it.

But you also can find it in the voluntary gifts, for example, obligations to reply to somebody. That doesn’t really apply to someone you love, it doesn’t apply to your family. It doesn’t apply to you. You’re not trying to get even with your spouse, you’re trying to get yeah. And the act of giving.

Yes, unconditional gifting being one of the principles of Burning Man. So the normal reciprocity functions differently on the playa because it produces, a byproduct, which is this inherent sense of gratitude. Whether somebody gives you a Popsicle on a hot day, or whether somebody, you know, helps you build your shelter, or when somebody fixes your bike because it’s broken, they don’t do it because I can now fix your back.

You owe me, they do it because they want to fix your doc period. And so, there, there are exchanges of course, in any human, transaction sets of behaviors, but at Burning Man, it operates a little bit differently. And then when you look at concepts like radical inclusion, radical, self-expression you gifting and so on and so forth, you see how that works in a different kind of a way.

So that’s what I mean by how, how gratitude works out. And gratitude actually has a psychological, I have a little section in the paper about neuroscience and gratitude first after gratitude triggers. dopamine, some of the same brain functions that you have when you’re in love or when you, something really wonderful happens to you and you experience that regardless.

So what are the byproducts? I think of the extensive, unconditional giving on the tire is this kind of envelope of gratitude. It kind of swells and envelops the community. That’s one of the things that I think you feel when you’re on the Pyre. Right.

LOGAN: And, and that just re that causes a feedback loop where you, you know, of course just want to participate, right? You feel good about your experience. And so you want to participate in that and give that experience to others, and you want to continue to, to maintain those cultural norms. So it’s this nice self-reinforcing mechanism when it’s working away forever.

DUANE: Well, let, let me throw another academic concept at you, quickly, an extrinsic reward is something that’s given to you.

From outside. Sure. I want to work. So expect a paycheck, you know, but, and motivation comes from within people. Don’t pick up stuff on the playa because of your work, some Burning Man officials falling around watching them, they pick up stuff on the playa because it feels good to pick up stuff on the fly . It’s edifying within yourself to Leave No Trace.

And, and that, again, that intrinsic motivation is one of the things. That you see at Burning Man, there’s not a whole lot of extrinsic behavior at Burning Man, but for example, take the normal business organization. I happen to work in a university, lots and lots of extrinsic rewards and motivations in an extrinsically driven organization.

And what are the consequences of that? Is that you do stuff to get the reward, but you also don’t do stuff because you’re afraid you might not get the reward. So if an extrinsic reward constraints you in both ways now remove that, which I think the playa does basically. And then you’re driven by interest rewards and then I call it radical self inclusion of the self.

Then you’re, you’re literally including yourself and expressing yourself. I asked her one time, what does the, what does it mean when you burn the Man? And Larry said, well it means nothing and it means everything it’s up to each person as to what it means and what it means to each person’s definition of intrinsic phenomenon.

LOGAN: Well, it’s fascinating stuff.

SHEILA: Well, so I’m sorry, which is part of what led to our desire to do research on playa in the years before we began the research, Duane was doing a lot of reading on qualitative research, which is what we, engaged in, in our research. We were literally looking at the quality of the experience of among the Burners in a variety, just a huge variety of settings I’m applying.

DUANE: I think I enjoyed all of it, but we had a script that we used most of the time, but sometimes the script was determined by the person with whom we were speaking so that someone. One of my favorite memories is a young woman who is serving tea outside the temple.

It was a tea ceremony. And so just engaging her and listening to her why and the pleasure that she got at going back to dopamine. And, but it also reflects the mood. Of the physical geography of the temple, it’s unique on the playa, in the intensity of emotion in it. Literally it’s a confined space. There’s a there there, and people’s interactions with the temple with one another in the temple, just having tissue boxes in the temple itself, you know, embracing the emotion that you will feel as a result of being in that space. And so that when we spoke to people at the temple and asked permission to film them and ask them questions about their, why, we got incredibly great stories.

And a lot of what we heard about was gratitude. They were grateful to be there. They were grateful to be of service. I think the, Example of someone fixing another person’s bicycle. I mean, you have a, if you have a skill, it becomes part of your participation because maybe the person whose bicycle is broken, doesn’t know how to fix it, but you do so that you’re bringing something within yourself to the organization.

And people’s stories. Burner’s stories were incredibly compelling and behaving in a loving way. Was it? I just experienced it all day every day on the playa, from hugs, from a ferry to, The art that people bring. I was, we were walking, I was walking around and there was a young woman doing henna art in an attempt, very close to where we were staying.

And so I was wondering why I was, so the woman was teaching people how to do. Hannah art. but I said, can you paint my head? And so, I sat there and I shaved my okay at Burning Man. it’s, it’s a, it’s a comfort thing. and I said, what could you put a design on my head? And she put a design, a beautiful design that covered the entire crown of my head.

And it was so much fun because so many people were like that too. And I got to talk about it and you know, who did it and you know, where they were doing it and why they were doing it. And, the following year we found a body painting and I was like, I’m getting my head painted. And I stood in line and you know, everybody else was in line.

We’re all chattering and it’s hot. Although we’re under a shade structure and Duane is wandering around and just next door, there’s a camp giving away beer. 

DUANE: Dos Eques and grilled cheese sandwiches.

SHEILA: Cold beer. So I’m standing in line, along with all these other people. And we’ve, you know, many of us have cold beers, more of us have grilled cheese sandwiches, and an experience like that.

That’s so immediate. So in the moment, it’s hard not to want to, look at how you can be more, in the moment with yourself, you know, putting participation. Foremost in your experience on playa, which is why it was, it was, it was very interesting when we chose to be participant observers, you know, complete with media passes and you were pulling yourself back a little bit in order to, Do the interviews, you know, and ask permission to film.

And then there was a camera, there was a lens between you and the individual and it was, it was challenging to

LOGAN: not


ANDIE: Human emotions, right?

LOGAN: Yeah. And going from a place where you had been able to just participate in a more pure way to having to participate and also. At work and also like, be, be an outside observer to the experience.

Yeah. That does take a step back and going, just to what you were saying a moment ago, too. It’s that the abundance of generosity in Black Rock City is a rare thing and I genuinely do think it brings out the best in people. And it’s also, it’s a rare thing to have that much generosity in a setting where it isn’t easily taken advantage of, or isn’t often taken advantage of.

And I think that provides this sort of. Comfortable positive feedback loop for the people being generous and for the people who are inspired and who then are compelled to participate are compelled to want to give because they have been given so much. And so, yeah, there’s, there’s something really resonant in that whole exchange, that, that somehow maintains this wonderful balance for people.

And it’s, it’s a hell of a thing to see.

ANDIE: I like that bike story that you’re telling, because if I’m remembering correctly, that was someone who spiked was broken. He left it at camp. He went away and came back and one of his camp mates had just. The bike.

DUANE: And even better than that, he was going out to the fence to do a particular thing.

You set out from his camp halfway on the way out there, his back broke down next to this other camp. He said, can I leave my back here and borrow one of yours? And they said, yeah, sure. He took the Bard back. Buck, went out to the fence and did his thing when he came back and fixed his back. Well,

ANDIE: So not even, I can’t meet a total stranger and of care that you generally get in.

Like what other settings really represent family? Maybe I remember Larry saying, if your mom sends you to the store for a loaf of bread, you’re not going to ask her to give you five bucks when you get to her house. But that’s pretty rare. Like, I don’t know how many societies exist like that, where stRangers are just going to.

Come by and fix your broken bike. Amazing. Well, so how can we talk about it? Go ahead. No, no, no. Well, I was going to shift to talking about Rangering, unless you have more on that, because

SHEILA: That’s so much fun. Go ahead.

ANDIE: Well, cause there’s a lot of history here and that’s actually a good segue into how this thinking about this culture affects being a Ranger.

Duane, how did you become a Ranger again?

DUANE: So I was at Burning Man live. I mean, I knew nothing about it and evidently somebody had loaned Larry one of those new, old motorhomes, real fancy motorhomes. And he was living in this motorhome and I said, who does that belong to? And it’s a well, that’s Larry Harvey. He’s like the super rich guy. And he throws Burning Man every year because he just likes to have a big party. And at the time I had just a full by organization, I was looking for a job.

I attended the event and without being too critical and spotted some areas that needed some honing up. And so I offered my services to, to a Burning Man, as a consultant. I pitched myself as a paid consultant. So that discussion I had on the park bench with malaria in San Francisco was about. I gave him like this, for those who don’t learn, you’ll appreciate this.

I gave him a four-page typed, summary of my cow towns. And he looked at it like, I just handed him a dead squirrel. but anyway, so we sat on that bench and we talked to him at some point and he said, well, there’s not any money. And then I realized what was going on about, and then he said, but you got a lot of interesting ideas.

Would you like to do it anyway? And I thought about it for a while. And I said, yeah. So, so I, that’s how I became, I wasn’t hired as much as I seem. I volunteered Larry roped me in and he said, so when you show up, this was 98, 97. When you show up, I want to, I want you to take over. I want you to be with the Rangers.

So showing up uncle Elia and the founder to the Rangers were addressing khaki. They had radios, they talked to everybody. I talked to Michael Mikel also known as Danger Ranger. He actually started the Rangers, or the idea of the Rangers, and, so I became the Ranger Director, like I said, when I showed up on playa that year. And then that was a very tumultuous year. There was the year we ran out of money. We had to collect money at the gate as people were leaving because the Washoe County fire department confiscated our funds at the box office. It’s a whole nother story, but anyway.

That’s about that year. and then the next year, at the end of 97, there were 22 Rangers. The next year, there were 87. The next year there were 150 and five years later we had 350. So the right grew over those next five years. So 98 on. And, so the story of the Rangers is how we developed this capacity to cope with issues on the playa.

And in those days, the Ranger department. And I was the range of director the gate was included, fires included. Medical was included later ex-US was included. the DMV was included. The Rangers were included, the communications were included and it obviously became too big for one organization or certainly for one person to manage.

And so, somewhere around ‘99 or 2000, we started spinning off different aspects of it. And then later we had the LEAL Team law enforcement has taken. It also became part of the Rangers, but that’s how I became a Ranger. And once, and once I got out there and it started, what’s corrupt or what are we use?

I don’t want to overstate it once I got out there and again, facilitating events to occur in the way that they hopefully would occur. I found that a very rewarding experience for myself. And so I kept coming back and did it for 18 years.

ANDIE: And so how that, the things that you’ve observed about the culture, how did that apply to you’re beginning to define Rangering as a culture, like shaping the river without affecting the flow. I’ve seen it.

DUANE: Yeah. One of the essays I wrote in the early days was called shaping the river without affecting the flow. One of the things we used to say, if somebody really, really, really, really wants to be a Ranger, they shouldn’t be a Ranger because I call it being badged. People think, “Oh, I’lll be like, I’ll be a combination security man, and one of those people that will hold a sign that lets people cross the street and so forth, and let’s try to establish a culture. Service as opposed to domination.So the way I pitched it was if you think of it as a river, and our job is to shape the river.

So for example, if somebody is building something that you see is going to fall down and kill somebody or hurt somebody, you don’t let them build it, or you help them build it in a way that it will work. if somebody is violating. cultural principles, like when you’re a guy with a bullhorn running around screaming obscenities at children, which I’ve found unacceptable, in the culture.

So there are aspects of the artist or the culture. When you get 50, 60, 70,000 people together, you get a wide variety of behavior. Let’s just say it that way, but I didn’t want, I didn’t want to have a crew of people. Whose mindset was? I need to straighten these people out. What I wanted was a collection of people whose mindset was, radical self-expression, radical self, self inclusion, radical self-reliance Oh my mommy, no, each person’s event is their own event.

Our job is to help them have that event. And is that in as unencumbered fashion as possible? We’re not going to the river is the people. The river is the participants. The river is the flow of energy that causes the event to occur. Our job is Rangers. It’s not the dam. The river produce a tributary just to shape the river.

And at the same time letting the river flow forward. Another piece I want to know, stations called up Rangers is cultural innocence. That there’s a culture of Burning Man. And Ranger is a cultural Emissary to explain to new people, new Burners newbies. It’s also fourth, how a set of expectations that are concur on the playa.

And I’m happy to say that that philosophy was adopted in the early days and still prevails to this day. The Rangers are, are not there to police control, monitor, behave people, but to help people maximize the Birdman man experience. So that’s where that came from

SHEILA: and talk about the segway to wheel How that,

ANDIE: what is the, the legal team, the law enforcement agency, liaison team. How’d that come about?

DUANE: Okay. So I took over as writer, director in 98, somewhere around 2000. Well, yeah, as I said, 2001, we broke off the gate and, and, and medical Institute and so forth from, from the Rangers. And another thing was happening about that point in time, the Bureau of land management and the person County sheriff, of the two organizations, law enforcement organizations that have jurisdiction over the venue.

And as we became more and more, I don’t want to say successful as we became more and more, Obviously I’m just

interested in, and, in controlling the, of that, the person kind of sheriff, was a very conservative. A religious guy who had problems with, unfortunately, the first year he came up was the year that we had the theme of the body. And there were lots of expressions of body things that he found unacceptable.

and then from the BLM side, they saw this opportunity to generate funds for themselves and to, by the way, this we’re not going to have it stopped. Right. Even 18 years later, it’s still a problem, but it became so flyer. What I noticed in 2001, 2002, 2003, I was spending most of my time on client dealing with these kinds of issues.

I’m happy to say I made good friends with the person that the person County sheriff that was elected after that other guy. And I actually became friends and he was, he was an absolute pleasure to work with that. Machado was his name. and, and then I had some DLL people that I had good relationships with as well.

So the LEAL was a law enforcement and agency liaison. And my role was to liaison between the needs and interests of the law enforcement agencies and all their personnel and the needs, an interest as the party man organization. And, I did that for, and then I, got a team of about five to six people.

That would help me if there was a, if there was a law enforcement it’s, if there’s a law enforcement incident on one side and the Sidney, and one on the other side of the city, I had a little team members that would show up and represent the wheel team act as a mediator facilitator, conciliation generator, for the, for those kinds of events.

So from, To support in that period, 2003, 2004, I actually became, I gave up the title of Ranger director and my full-time job was liaison law enforcement liaison. And then I did that for the last several years until, pardon and I have to sit every year of that was a continuing challenge. And for those of you still around, it still is a problem.

LOGAN: Yeah. Those things are a constant for sure.

DUANE: But that’s the consequences of having, having an event on public lands, in a very small rural County. If you think about it, that’s kind of a natural consequence. Absolutely.

LOGAN: And whenever you’re doing something culturally, that is running in a different way than the culture that surrounds it, you’re always going to have some sort of friction where the rubber meets the road.

I mean, that’s, that’s the nature of it. And so it, it’s not unexpected and it’s not surprising that it persists

DUANE: For sure. Well, I mean, what I tried to apply that, to be honest with you, some of the things we’ve been talking about today, If you’re a law enforcement law enforcement person looking at a representative of Burning Man.

You think that he’s going to judge you, the Burning Man person looking at somebody who’s been hanging out with law enforcement, you might judge them as being contaminated. So it was a very delicate to let the, to respect the law enforcement people have empathy. With her needs and drives at the same time, again, shape the river without affecting the flow.

And at the same time, then working with the Burning Man organization in terms of how to address some of these issues, Oshers to take measures, to enact and so on and so forth. So it was a very interesting job for a few years there, balancing those forces back and forth. And I can’t say honestly that I went through all those years without getting burned because I did, but that’s part of the job.

Well, you have a tip of the spear. Sometimes you get blended.

LOGAN: I believe that.

DUANE: That’s the way I saw that.

ANDIE: Then there was a, there was a time when, kind of the membrane between those organizations got a little thinner when law enforcement participated in a really deep way at the temple. I’d love it. If you told us

DUANE: That’s a good example of, I don’t say money.

That’s a good example of maximizing the benefits of that kind of relationship I was just describing. So I knew the Burning Man, people of course, and all the Rangers that either worked for me or were in the range of organization. And there were hundreds of them by that point in time. And I was developed as much as I could.

A communicative and open relationship with law enforcement people. So one year we had a fellow, I’m sorry to say, I forgot his name now. I think it was David, but David had been out there from the beginning. He was one of the guys that had the dog with him, a really nice sweet dog, by the way. And he worked with him for several years and then died in a somewhat tragic way, right before the event.

I don’t remember the year, but right before that event, And so I got with the pit of the Vietnam war enforcement and we worked out a deal. We made two plaques, a plaque to present to his widow, and a plaque to burn at the temple. And before the event, my BLM representative went to her and gave her the plaque.

By the way, if you don’t know this, the family also gets to keep the dog. So she had the dog and then she had this plaque, from us then, Sunday morning, before the burn, typical burns Sunday night, we decided to have a procession, to the temple at 10 o’clock in the morning to hang the plaque in the temple.

So when the Temple Burn that night, the plaque would burn with it as is. The Burning Man fashion tradition. And what wound up happening was we had every single law enforcement vehicle, 40 or 50 of them with all their lights going in, flashing every single Verde man Ranger vehicle with our yellow lights, all flashing.

And we formed this Jack parade that went out to the temple. Everybody gathered around, and then he and I got on a step ladder and hung the clack way up. on Tim or side, I said a couple of words. He said a couple of words. Tears were shed really nice bonding moment between the BLM and, and Burning Man.

And so that’s, that’s the, that’s the potential byproduct of that kind of relationship on for that guy later. But that’s another story.

LOGAN: Wonderful story. And it’s great to see when people are opposite sides of the culture is maybe not the right way to describe that when people are on two sides of an equation, it is good to see them able to participate in each other’s rituals and respect each other’s positions when it comes to.

How we treat things like, you know, like losing someone on our team, you know, that’s, that’s a great thing to see that brings people together.

DUANE: Isn’t that the way he and I talked about it was if you’re going to have radical inclusion, then you have inclusion. You don’t, you don’t judge them because they have a cop mindset.

What the hell? They’re cops. And they shouldn’t judge us because we have a Burner mindset. What the hell we’re burdened? The question is, can you respect the mindset? Radically include those people in your repertoire, if you would, and, and mail those two together, that was the philosophy of that particular moment.

LOGAN: And that speaks to the strength of their ethos, you know, is when it is more important than those biases that we all struggle against and that we all have from time to time.

DUANE: So back to the, after that event was over, we reconvened at Ranger headquarters. And, this, a young woman knew who, I guess she’d been arranged for two or three years.

I remember her name. It doesn’t matter. She came up to me. She had tears in her eyes and she hugged me and she said with tears in her eyes, that’s the best thing I think I’ve ever done. And I realized that it really touched her, from, as a, as a person. And, I remember that moment though. Very clearly.

LOGAN: That’s a really wonderful thing, big stuff.

ANDIE: Is there anything we didn’t ask you about?

LOGAN: I got one more question for you in terms of the academe, in terms of the academic work you’ve done in the publishing you’ve done. And in terms of just like, I don’t know, seeing how this culture of Burning Man affects the larger world. Have you guys. and I don’t know what degree of feedback you guys get on the publications that you do, but have you seen positive feedback? Have you seen curiosity or inspiration come from the academic work you’ve been doing? Have you been seeing it change people’s opinions or you have you seen the data surprise people?

SHEILA: One of the things we’ve done is, put the papers. In places like the Texas digital library, I uploaded the paper. And what we can see is downloads and including a map of where the papers were downloaded from. So it’s across the world and, you know, it’s like 800 or a thousand since.

DUANE: It was published and I still dislike 50, 60, a hundred hits a month, from literally all over the world. And, that was a paper that was, focused more on the concept of gratitude and just the gratitude concept itself. It gets, it gets, it’s gotten a lot of, a lot of downloads, which I’m quite pleased with actually.

Oh, that’s wonderful.

ANDIE: Thank you so much for being here with us today and sharing your insights.

It’s been really great to catch up after all this time and to see your faces and hear your voices and to dive into this a little bit.

LOGAN: Yeah. Thanks very much. Both of you. It was really great to talk to you.

DUANE: Thank you for the invitation and thank you for listening to our stories.

ANDIE: So great. Thank you everyone. Thanks everybody. That’s our show for today. Remember to follow us and like us and review us and subscribe and all the places our website is LIVE.burningman.org. And you can find us as Burning Man Live on Facebook and Twitter and Instagram. 

The show has been a production of the Philosophical Center of Burning Man Project. Our executive producer is Daryl van Rhey. Our host usually is Stuart Mangrum. Our producers are Andie Grace and Logan Mirto. Our technical producer and story editor is Michael Vav. Our liaison to the digital spirit world is Devin from the Internet. Our graphical guru is Tanner Boger. Our intro theme was cooked up by Jay Kanizzle. And you are our correspondence. Please send us your show ideas, your letters, your suggestions, and your comments to live@burningman.org and your donations are always appreciated at donate.burningman.org

Thanks, Larry.