Tag Archives: identity

The TAZ, the Festival and the Burn

Ever since I listened to a presentation about Hakim Bey’s Anarchist philosophy at O.Z.O.R.A. festival, I’ve been quite fascinated by the idea of the Temporary Autonomous Zone. Hakim Bey is a quite controversial philosopher even in hardliner Anarchist circles, due to his preoccupation with the idea of pederasty, and his occasional rants praising illiteracy; even still, in my eyes his writings on the TAZ are fundamental to building livable systems of human cohabitation, at least temporarily free from the total alienation and commodification culture of consumer society.

As the ideator of Nonviolent Communication, Marshal Rosenberg put it, while we’re all raised with the commandment to be “good”, our reward for being “good” is depression. One suppresses one’s own desires and bliss, the very reason one might want to live for, and alienated society simply cannot provide the “good”, self-denying person with any outcomes that are worthy to pursue, and thus one falls into a state of demotivation and depression. This is a truth I have experienced many times over, and the solution I found was to find my bliss in alternative society, a society of hope.

I urge everyone interested to read Hakim Bey’s own writings on the topic; in short, the Temporary Autonomous Zone is a small event, place or social structure that exists outside mainstream society, as a separate culture and set of social norms, hidden and protected through its insignificance to the outside world, and to what Hakim Bey terms The Spectacle. On a sabbatical around freegan communities and open eco-farms, I’ve finally come to see the principle of the TAZ living and working in reality. Even now I’m writing this article sitting among hippies, ‘pirates’ and goatherds, in a location that in my former, urban life believed only exists in stories and films. A location with the sword of Damocles dangling above its head for years now, yet still living on and thriving. And that sword of Damocles is, unfortunately, unavoidable. According to theory, the Temporary Autonomous Zone is necessarily ephemeral. With time it grows, and as the outside world, The Spectacle takes notice, it needs to voluntarily disband before the forces of repression descend upon it in various forms.

What he writes much less about is what comes after. Most festivals start out as a TAZ of sorts, a small group, much like ancient band societies, coming together to celebrate. They cannot, however, stay that way for long. The O.Z.O.R.A. Festival, a psychedelic cultural event in Eastern Europe with more than 50 thousand participants every year, is no Temporary Autonomous Zone, no matter how some may want to make it look like one. Its last claim to the title ended years ago, when police descended on it in a massive raid, and its continued existence could only have been assured through a lucrative contract with the security firm owned by the Minister of Internal Affairs himself. It’s no TAZ, but the mummified corpse of one, dressed for the grave with mugs of chai sold for 5 Euro each, and (faux) Nepalese clothing overpriced 3-5 fold.

Now the question is whether that makes the festival unworthy of attention, or an event of a lower order, and it is my strong opinion that the festival, while heavily commodified, taken over by the Spectacle, and sold as a canned-and-sterilized uprising for the tired office worker, definitely has its place in the world as a learning ground and an embassy for alternative society, for the Web of Temporary Autonomous Zones. It was, for me, the first exposure, and an experience in immediacy, a gateway toward finding my way to communities one can never find or connect with through Facebook Search.

The Rainbow Gatherings, a surviving stream of the original hippie movement from the 1960s, choose a different approach. Gatherings are intentionally limited in time, and locations where a periodic gathering has grown too well known, too large, and too damaging to the local systems, are intentionally abandoned forever. Keeping with TAZ theory, the Gathering is temporary in one place, but the chain of Gatherings is unbroken, and the movement, the Rainbow Family of Living Light, has held up and thrived throughout the disillusionment of the 1980s and the capitalistic hurrah of the 1990s and early 2000s. The Gatherings have serious issues however, relating to their Anarchistic way of (non)governance, and a reach too large for optimal functioning as a true band society, something people often complain about, but the only proposal to handling it had been smaller, more remote and less public Gatherings.

What I find quite unique about the Burn is that it has taken a different approach. The controversies about some practices of “BMOrg”, the non-profit behind the original Burning Man gathering in Black Rock Desert notwithstanding, the philosophy of the Burn took a separate, and quite noteworthy path. Most burns start out small, as true Temporary Autonomous Zones; Burning Man itself started out as one; however, their growth and reach necessitates a level of integration with outside society that eventually removes most TAZ characteristics. The really noteworthy thing, compared to the Festival, is the specifics of how this happens.

Contrary to the Festival, the Burn doesn’t invite in the Spectacle and the systems of the outside world. There are no outside security forces checking cars, nor profiteering landlords growing rich on 5 Euro chai and 300 Euro entry tickets. The Burn becomes an alternative society, creating a tribe government capable of maintaining security and order to a level where the outside world is content leaving its hand off the event. Burns tend to have low or no police presence, due to the highly professional volunteer force of Rangers, who have over the years kept injuries, deaths and similar incidents low, and due to the principle of Leaving No Trace, a strict and quite literal approach to leaving the environment in just as clean and untouched a state as we arrived in.

Now this means, of course, that the Burn is no longer Anarchistic. It is governed, it has strict rules, it maintains close ties with the outside world in order to maintain its existence and safety, it even has a “policing” force of its own. Which, in a way, is a logical and necessary result of its size and reach. As the Rainbow Gathering struggles to maintain its standards of ecological and societal awareness due to sizes unsuitable for ancient band society governance based on consensus, the Burn faced the same issue, and moved to the next level of governance, that of the Tribe.

Through the tribal government of the Burn itself, with codified rules and roles, the smaller unit of Burning, the Theme Camp, is capable of maintaining a more informal, consensus-based governance suited to its size, while being part of a Web of similar micro-societies in the overall tribe society of the Burn itself, allowing for some form of a Temporary Autonomous Zone to come into being and exist within the manageable family unit of people living, eating and sleeping together.

The Burn is often derided for its perceived break with Anarchist ideals, and apparent marriage with Silicon Valley culture and money-flinging billionaires. However, while maintaining that all such criticism of Burning Man is, to a level, warranted and important, the Burn itself, as a model of alternative society, has succeeded in something few experiments have reached before. I’m quite excited for the future of the movement, regardless whether Black Rock City and BMOrg continues on this route, or will be forced to compromise on their ideals. The Burn, as a model, has already strewn its seeds across the globe, and is growing and multiplying.


Five years gone

It’s been five years since my last post, nearly, and now I decided I need a place to blog again. So why not here. I left the blog online, as I think there’s some important information here for the DIY tDCS crowd, and didn’t want to take that away. Too much stupid was (and sometimes is) going on in the biohacking scene, and a sane voice is always a good thing.

It’s been a long and busy 5 years for me. Things changed. I hopped countries again. Probably will do it again soon. I went through a major crisis, came out, and found new callings. I’m still a hacker, and now I’m a burner, too. The Burning Man movement and subculture has shown me that life can be worth living, and pulled out some deeply buried childhood dreams. Like that of being a clown.

I don’t feel talented at clowning, only motivated. I’ve never been very good at theater arts. That said, the very mild neuroatypia I grew up with may have the benefit that I can see humans one step removed, and I do think I have the right heart for this. So now I’m applying the stuff I blogged about in How to Be Someone Else years ago. Learning to see the world through the lens of poetic comedy, learning flow arts, and hanging out with burners and amateur circus people. And somehow I have the feeling that if I can learn to be a clown, I’ll at the same time learn to be a good human being.

As for tDCS, I started getting headaches after stimulation, so I don’t use it frequently anymore. I do want to experiment with tACS still, I just need time and energy to design and build a device I can trust. I was, and am keeping myself busy with a number of things at all times, and this kinda slid to the bottom of the product backlog of my life.

I’ll probably be blogging about more psychological, philosophical and artistic topics going forward, with some hacking thrown in.

If the mountain fights back

Sometimes, even though we have the tools to create or increase motivation, it just isn’t enough. The problem is not in not trying hard enough, it’s in the strategy, or rather, the field itself that we are trying to attack. This is when you’re no longer just fighting your own body, the mountain you’re trying to climb has started to fight back.

This is surprisingly widespread in our current culture, some of it intentional, some unconscious, but much of human knowledge and skill has been written up, and is being taught in a way that creates an artificial barrier to understanding and assimilating it.

Most of it is just the fact that the percentage of great teachers among mankind is rather low. Even experts of a given field often turn out to be quite subpar when it comes to giving their knowledge over to the next generation. Textbooks are often arduous reads that spend far too much time on insignificant details, and hamfist the explanation of key concepts, while university lectures are often seen by students as an ideal place to take a power nap, and through no fault of their own.

However, that is not all. We are, as a society, captives of an idea of specialization. The only people we see as valid are those who streamlined their whole lives toward a single carreer, a single area of expertise from early childhood, and much of education seems to concentrate on selecting the best candidates for each pursuit of life, as opposed to building whole human beings.

In many countries, the role of PE is not to give children a health-conscious mindset and improve their physical prowess – it is to selectively pick out the children who are best suited to become professional atheletes, while (intentionally or no) instilling a sense of failure in the rest. The same goes for music education, but in this area the problem is even more widespread, and, particularly, in mathematics and the sciences.

The idea of “teaching kids that life is no walk in the park” is a rather old maxim among teachers, and I’ve seen an otherwise extremely liberal and enlightened professor of philosophy, mathematics and psychology write that the fact that most children get a sense of failure and inadequacy from mathematics or PE classes is in fact a good thing, as it teaches them that they cannot do anything.

And this was a liberal, well-rounded, polymathic professor regarded as a role model by many students, probably the person closest to the reneissance ideal at the psychology faculty of the Eötvös Lóránd University in Budapest that I knew. If people like him hold such satanic ideas, no wonder we’re faced with so many problems.

Of course, most people who did chew themselves through all the hardships and artificial roadblocks will not be very happy to see others master their field with ease and fun, so anyone looking for help from those “in the know” will often be faced with jargon, an in-group vs. out-group mindset, and some open resentment for trying to “cheat”.

So it’s safe to assume that most fields do not want you to master them. It’s not that you cannot, you just need to find the best path of attack. Sometimes “renegade” teachers with novel ideas will create seminars and books that allow outsiders to sidestep the artificial roadblocks, and assimilate the field according to one’s own capabilities and the field’s true complexity.

An example for this would be Duncan Lorien, a pop music producer who, seeing the abysmal state of music education in the west, took it up to become the best music teacher of our generation. I attended his seminar, and it was really, really great. I recommend attending both the Understanding Music and Understanding Songwriting seminars, as they form a complete whole.

In other cases, while there may be no sherpa to lead you up, there is an easy trail up the mountain. A segment or pursuit within the field you’re aiming toward that has a lower entry barrier than others, one that will yield positive feedback in a measureable amount of time. Ironically enough, these pursuits very often have a bad name.

Take body building for example. Many athletes and coaches will openly tell you that body building is not a sport. However, while in most sports the aim of the coaches is to pick the best and weed out the rest through unenjoyable and monotonous practice, the very atmosphere in body building is different. Honestly, I haven’t seen as many newbie-friendly and helpful people in any other walk of life as in body building. And while some of the worries about “cosmetic-focused training” are valid, if you follow a good exercise regime, body building can help you become athletic, and allow you to later enter any other field of sports at your own pace.

Similarly, cycling, while boasting a much less helpful community, is an activity that scales very well, and is extremely suited to people with a traditionally “wimpy” phisique, and is thoroughly fun and enjoyable. Also, cycling is very good at providing positive feedback. You’ll notice improvements in your physique and stamina very early on, which helps one keep on track.

Sometimes there will be no clear easy road, but often the choice of textbook or teacher can mean the difference between success and failure. Anthony Lee of GetLimitless has recently blogged about a new way of learning, using short bursts of concentrated information, with resting periods inbetween. While this is extremely promising, and I know it to work (I’ve used a similar pattern to assimilate most university courses I took), getting the information in digestable, concentrated format is what is hard.

Unfortunately, United States textbooks tend to be extremely superfluous, and full of unproductive banter. In Hungary (my birth country), university textbooks are usually extremely terse. A textbook that would be a 1000 pages in the US is likely to be somewhere around 150 pages in Hungary, with the exact same amount of knowledge crammed in. I’ve had textbooks with little or no natural language explanations, the pages filled with equations and a few figures. I’m wondering if this might have anything to do with Hungary’s awesome track record for raising great scientists and inventors.

[Nb. I need to mention a huge exception here, an American textbook that cannot be described with anything but the highest praise possible. And that is the Feynman lectures on Physics, now freely available to read online. It’s the best physics textbook I’ve ever come across.]

I’ve raised the idea on Reddit that a movement could be grounded for creating terse, concentrated learning materials for various fields. I think if it took off, it might even grow to be a world-changing endeavor.

A practical guide on how to be someone else

The world is full of methods allowing us to mess with our heads, but in this post I’ll concentrate on something most people are looking to achieve – changing who we are, and how we act. I’ve used these techniques several times in the past to effect positive change in my life – of course, it has also happened time to time that later I fell back into negative patterns and behaviors, so it’s not a magic bullet by any means. However, it can help a lot.

When a desire to act differently comes up in someone’s life, they usually think of symptomatic, superficial changes, and fantasize about ways to “program their subconscious” to automatically work out 30 minutes a day, not to eat sweets or pizza, stop smoking, spend more time studying, etc. The greatest lure of hypnosis is the belief that someone can just tell you that “from now on, you will find the taste of cigarette smoke revolting”, and poof, life problem solved. Well it doesn’t work that way.

The simplest approach

To change how we act, we need to change who we are. Our image of self is one of the major driving forces behind our daily acts. If I see myself as an athlete, I’ll be motivated to work out every day – if I see myself as a geek and a gamer, I’ll be motivated to spend a copious amount of time playing video games.

Our current mainstream culture seems to shun the idea of changing oneself. It’s all over television, movies, etc. “Be who you are”. The fat geeky kid tries to be sporty and cool, and ends up as laughing stock. It’s the absolute worst advice you can give a child. Self-representations, and our place in society are not constant, are built and developed as we mature, and well into old age, preferably up until death. Being discouraged from a course of life because of ones self-representation is one of the most common ways people make themselves miserable.

The absolutely easiest way to change who we are is through changing what we put in our brains. I mean entertainment, media, leisure reading, etc. If someone wants to become stronger and more athletic, the best thing they can do is go and buy a bodybuilding magazine, watch the Muscle Channel on cable, go read Internet forums and watch YouTube videos about strength training.

Note though that Internet forums can be a double-edged sword. If they are full of people who are either trolls and assholes, or hold totally opposing beliefs to one’s core alignments, participating in such can actually discourage one from adopting a certain identity. Say, one decides to eat healthy, and the healthy eating forums are packed with anti-science, anti-medicine, anti-vaccination conspiracy theory tinfoil-hat nutjobs, it can really really work as a motivation to just leave the whole healthy eating shit for the birds, go drop by a McDonalds right now, and kiss the website of Monsanto while thanking God for GMO soybeans. Unfortunately there is nothing one can do about people being stupid, so my suggestion is that if beliefs in a community go against your core ideas, just leave them, and try to find other sources that you find more acceptable.

The maxim that “you are what you eat” is particularly true of information. The Japanese seem to be particularly aware of this, as each year they push a plethora of children’s cartoons out the door, each showcasing a sport or activity of some kind, often in exaggerated ways that Western viewers tend to find hilarious. It’s solid fact that this sort of push from the media does manifest in an increased interest in sports. Years ago it was all over the news that after a cartoon was made about the game of Go, considered to be an “old man’s game”, with little interest from young people, suddenly Go clubs sprang up at schools country-wide, and the game enjoyed a nationwide revival.

Many of these sports cartoons do have a trick to them. The protagonist usually starts out as a non-athletic, weak kid, and through the story, progresses to be a top class athlete. This is very important, because it does not allow the viewers to disassociate themselves from the theme. It breaks down the wall of self-doubt that inevitably stands in the way of change.

Similarly in the US, television shows that cast African Americans in non-stereotypical roles, such as Lieutenant Uhura in the original Star Trek as a high-ranking officer, or the upper-middle-class Banks family in The Fresh Prince of Bel Air, actively helped young African Americans change the way they looked at their future, and aim for university and well-paying careers.

In my experience, if the motivation is there to change, then it doesn’t take too much input to affect a change in self-representation. Humans naturally learn by imitating others, and if you provide yourself with plenty of role models to imitate, change will come naturally.

If the simple approach fails

Well, sometimes it’s a bit harder to adopt a new way of life, maybe the emotional motivation isn’t as strong, or one just can’t muster the strength to make the change.

There are ways to help in cases like this. The best tool, I believe, is NLP, or Neuro-Linguistic Programming. It’s a form of therapy developed years ago, which has undergone quite a lot of changes since. I do not agree with most of the tenets of old-school, orthodox NLP, but there are really good techniques there if you know where to look.

The primary goal in NLP is to change our mental representations. It can be applied by a therapist, or you can do it to yourself. Contrary to the name, it has little to do with “neuro” – it is not based on any kind of neurological or neuro-psychological research, I guess it just sounded cool. As for “linguistic”, while there’s a lot in NLP written about words and wording, I’d say the best techniques are the ones that do not use words at all.

My favorite “do it yourself” book on NLP is Anthony Robbins’ Unlimited Power. In case you’ve never heard of him (though I doubt it), Anthony Robbins is a world-famous life coach and “guru”, and this book is a crash course in his technique and approach to NLP. It’s a fun, engaging read, and extremely hands-on. I’m not advocating for everything Anthony Robbins ever said or did, but this book is really good.

As I’m no NLP expert by any stretch of imagination, I suggest you read the book, and make your own conclusions, but let me give you two examples of what you can do with NLP to help change your representations of yourself.

One is called modeling. It’s basically a conscious approach to imitating a role model. In simple terms, it entails trying to mimic their posture and facial expressions (one of the tenets of NLP is that the state of our body creates effects in the state of our mind), creating a model of what this person would live and act like, and periodically comparing our own conduct with this ideal. For example, “Would Arnold Schwarzenegger sit here and watch Office, or would he rather go down to the gym?”

The other favorite of mine is called reframing, and is one of the most basic techniques in NLP. This allows you to change your own perceptions about what’s possible or impossible, and what’s significant or unimportant. For example, you want to learn music, but all your life you’ve heard nothing but that you have to be born a musician, or at least start learning as a very small child. Of course, since you have such representations, it will be very hard to muster the will to pour energy into something you think is impossible.

To change this belief, you conjure up an image of you as a musician with people listening and enjoying your music in your mind, and then an image of something that you do know is possible. Say if you’re a great programmer, imagine yourself in the act of winning a coding competition. Then compare the two images based on modalities – how large they are, where they are in space, how colorful they are, do they have movement or sound, do you have kinesthetic feelings from them, do they have a frame or border, etc. Then you take the “impossible” image, and forcefully make it like the possible one.

By doing this regularly, over time you can change even deep-seated fears and beliefs, and set your sights on new horizons.