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THE ASSLESS CHAPEL NEWSLETTER #48: Decommodification Edition

The Chaplain’s Screed

Decommodification is the one of the Ten Principles that most makes me feel free; even more than Radical Self-Expression.  That is because we, as humans, have for an exceedingly long time – how long depends on which anthropologist you trust most – but maybe for our whole existence, been constrained by the struggle for resources.  In Black Rock City, we are required to bring sufficient resources for ourselves and banned from commercial transactions with one another, freeing us of these constraints.  For those of us here and now, this means escaping the rat race of capitalism.  But more broadly, it pulls us out of all economic systems which, at their core, commodify us, whether as slaves, serfs, subjects, soviets or staff.

Here is how the Decommodification Principle is expressed by BORG:

In order to preserve the spirit of gifting, our community seeks to create social environments that are unmediated by commercial sponsorships, transactions, or advertising. We stand ready to protect our culture from such exploitation. We resist the substitution of consumption for participatory experience.

And here is what we all agreed with each other to be part of The Assless Chapel:

  •    The Assless Chapel charges no camp fees.  The Assless Chapel experience will not be commodified.

  •    The Assless Chapel does not use any Off-Site Services, nor any other form of diet Pay-for-Play.

  •    Any financial transactions between campmates are exclusively between campmates and not the responsibility or at the direction of The Assless Chaplain or any members of The Assless Chapel not directly involved in the transaction, except a group agreement is made for the purpose of allocating tickets.

Decommodification on-Playa is easy.  It falls under “don’t be a dick.”  Just don’t do it.  Don’t be the asshole who offers me a fancy dinner to fit in an extra wedding and don’t tell someone she can get on your art car if she does so topless.  And don’t use Burning Man as the launch party for your new tech product and then publicize that everywhere you can.  All of these have actually happened.

What is much more interesting to me is how to bring decommodification to our lives off-Playa.  We can’t live a fully- or even mostly-decommodified life.  We need or at least want to buy cars and clothes.  We want to travel and send our kids to college.  Even if our aspirations are modest, we want somewhere to live, something to eat and need to pay taxes.  Systems that claim to work against this generally fail, sometimes tragically (see Stalin’s USSR, Pol Pot’s Cambodia, Mao’s China, etc.)

So, what are reasonable things to do?  I know some things I do in my life.  For instance, I don’t have Venmo.  It lends itself to commodifying interactions between friends.  I’d rather just treat you to lunch and, if you feel like it, you can buy drinks sometime.  I don’t want to settle the bill with you.  I also like getting into barter transactions with local farmers where we’re focused on making sure the other person is treated fairly.  In short, we benefit by walling off some of our interactions from the calculations of commodification. 

What about the gray areas?  What about the influencers who use Burning Man to build their brands?  Where is the line drawn between them and the folks who are getting donations for their wonderful Burning Man podcast they couldn’t afford to make without those contributions?  Good questions and I don’t plan to answer them here, but… If any of you have noticed – I think only Sia has – I host our Red Folder videos on YouTube now but use the pseudonym Always B Burning.  Because YouTube is a system of commodification, I do this as a firewall between our decommodified camp and the content I put on YouTube.

In more general terms, I think of decommodification in my life through two lenses.  The first is very human.  Yes, I need to value resources and I want to value resources because I want resources.  And, yes, it is others that provide nearly all of those resources in exchange for resources I can provide – generally mediated through conversion into and out of currency.  But when interacting with other humans – and this can be hard, I certainly fail at it often – we must value one another for who they are, not what they have and not even what they can do for us.  All of you are valued for me for who you are as people, nothing more and nothing less.

The second lens, and I’ll finish the screed with this, is based on a simple system that long-time burner Charlie Dolan constructed:

  •    Participation is better than Consumption where it makes sense (don’t heckle a comedian).

  •    Gifting is better than selling, to the extent that you can support it (don’t give up the day job.)

  •    Making is better than buying, to the extent you can do it (think twice before making your own penicillin.)

We might not radically change the world’s economic system, but we can change our own lives and those of the people around us.

“Burning Man has always been the complete evolution of a society in front of my eyes.”

-Justin Credible, co-founder of the people’s fashion show, held annually in center camp (burning since 1995)

Group News

First off, some brass tacks.  Matt and Danielle will not, in the end, be joining us this year.  Hopefully, they’ll be able to join next year.


Tanya was going through her mom’s stuff recently, when in a message from the Burning Man gods she found these:

and also these>>>>


How fucking great is that!

I spent a few days travelling to that wondrous town called Salida.  It’s fucking amazing there.  Got to visit Katie in her studio – caught her painting something beautiful.  Linda let me crash at her place and we had a little shindig – thank you Curtis for cooking.  Katie, Linda, Curtis, Peaches, Peter and Ken were all there, which was really special for me.  We ate well, drank well, went to some nekkid hot springs, perpetrated some very minor vandalism, saw a great music act called Desperate Electric and shook our bones, saw some great art and I also got to see Laura (yet another Salida burner.)


And Magick (formerly known as Nurse Nikki), from the Dusty Mules, took me to Meow Wolf Denver, which is indescribable and we should all go to every Meow Wolf multiple times.  Poor Nikki also ended up locked out of her car for a bit one night, when, after getting a free meal of Denver’s best sushi I ended up getting drunk with some random dude in his garage, while he showed off the boomboxes he makes out of recycled auto parts (I had her keys).  Don’t worry, I asked him beforehand if he planned to molest me and he said no.  Safety first!


If you have any news you’d like to share with the group, let me know!


The chart on the next page is the latest update on the status of our campers.  Let me know if something has changed. If you’re wondering what the blue background means, it’s none of your business.  It’s for me. 


Camp Planning

Wedding Planning

I hope to work on the Dutch wedding this week.  Still no one for the Center Camp wedding, but I just started posting to FB groups about this.  If you’d like to help with this, feel free to let me know if you have an idea for a couple, food, music or drinks.

Other Camp Planning

If you haven’t yet confirmed the meetings below, please let me know.

·         Completed: Cassidy, Peter, Curtis, Peaches

·         May 9th 8p: Mojito Molly Needs to be rescheduled!

·         May 22nd 8p:  Sia

·         May 28th 8p:  Fresh as Fuck and Rahul

·         May 29th 8p:  Ellie

·         June 4th ­­8p: Stupid Seamus and Red 

On another note, let me know if you want to show up early this year for build week.

Red Folder Video: How and When to Administer Narcan

Here’s your Red Folder assignment for the week (I’m putting them on YouTube now to save my own cloud space).  If you want a podcast, download it here.

Ticketing and Placement News Redacted

Current Schedule

You may have noticed that I added color-coding to show the expected brightness of the sky (assuming no clouds), based on the moon, for the period we might be on-Playa.  Gray days are Build Week and red days are Burn Week.

For Some Reason Wix is Malfunctioning and I Can't Put Our To Do List in Here!

Closing Thoughts

These are The Diggers putting in the foundation for their bakery at Olompali, a site that is now a state park:

Olompali is a lovely park about 40 minutes from my house.  Once upon a time, it was a hippie commune and the Diggers would come up to run the free bakery.  The Diggers called themselves “Community Anarchists” and, though they lived in Haight-Ashbury, they often poked fun at the typical hippie movement leaders.  Their central tenet was to be “authentic”, which meant eschewing currency and capitalism.  If their goal was to cause some great change across society to make it the utopia they envisioned, they failed as completely as the rest of the hippie movement.  And they were pretty sexist in their division of labor.  If they’re goal, however, was to make big changes in individuals’ lives and small changes in broader society, they had many successes:

  •    They helped foster the San Francisco Mime Troupe, which is till performing free political satire in parks across the Bay Area and further abroad in California.

  •    Digger Peter Coyote continues to spread his influence in the film industry (he’s a pretty big name).

  •    Digger Peter Berg has been an influential environmentalist, conceiving of bioregionalism and starting the Planet Drum Foundation.

  •    The Diggers had an offshoot called the Yippies, a big part of the political evolution of the hippie movement that sprouted the Zippies, who ended up being a big influence on early rave culture and proponents of the PLUR ethic (Peace, Love, Unity, Respect.)

  •    They invented or at least popularized the phrases “Do you own thing” and “Today is the first day of the rest of your life.”

  •    Their parites, theater events, happenings and publications had a huge impact on hippie culture.  Some of their schtick is the type of thing that may have inspired the Suicide Club and Cacophony Society and much of the milieu from which Burning Man arose.  The drove around the Financial District of San Francisco with a truck full of scantily-clad belly dancers and invited brokers to to climb on board and forget their work.  They dressed in animal masks and carried a coffin full of fake money down Haight Street singing “Get out of my life, why don’t you babe?” to the tune of Chopin’s “Funeral March.”  They marked “The Death of Hippie” around Haight Ashbury by carrying around a coffin marked “Hippie – Son of Media.”

  •    Perhaps the greatest thing they did was open up free stores, run free clinics and give out free food.  At Olompali they would bake whole wheat bread and this popularized whole wheat bread.  They ran a free crashpad for homeless youth with a local church.  They gave out free soup, provided you first stepped through a large picture frame called the Free Frame of Reference.

  •    Eventually, most of them moved on, with many settling in communes around rural northern California, where they’ve greatly influenced the small, local communities and continue to influence smaller movements and organization.

  •    Most certainly, they also helped create the awareness, particularly in the Bay Area of the ideals that ended up inserting Decommodification into Burning Man culture

And now it’s our turn as Burners to find ways to decommodify what we can, what we want to in the world around us.  I am the last person to turn my nose up at capitalism, but boy does it feel good to throw off the chains of mutual commodification where we can.


“At most festivals, there is social engineering that takes place—and it’s designed to increase consumption. The producers make their money by featuring headliners, targeting demographics, vending at scale, and through commercial sponsorships. We don’t do those things. What we’ve always done is form the context of society. And all of this is not in service of the bottom line, but is aimed at generating greater social interaction.”

-Larry Fucking Harvey


The Man Burns in 109 days! 

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