Burning Mars


Burning Mars

By Caleb John Clark. August 2004.

The “Vault of Heaven” essay about this year’s Burning Man theme says it’s “a blend of scientific theory and artistic intuition.”

One might ponder this as they sit on the edge of Black Rock City looking at the perfectly shaped horseshoe outline within which structures sprout out of dusty chaos on an otherwise alien playa.

One might think why? Why on a seemingly lifeless 400 square mile plane 30,000 people decided to leave their normal universe of working for money amid the barely intersecting orbits of wrenched excess and barren poverty. Why are they now paying money to work harder and more cooperatively on intense creative expression and frolicking? Why have they decided to battle dust and dehydration and bring all you need? Why a money free environment that takes money to be part of? Why so much technology? Fire? Why this exodus of comfort voluntarily undertaken on precious vacation time?

Because through blind luck, intuition (or maybe some scientific super-secret Burning Man think tank?) Burning Man has stumbled ahead of society a little and driven a rebar stake at our specie’s next away point. It’s as if Burning Man as a collective believes in humanity and it’s future (as I do). As if it, or we, on the playa all believe that we are at the core a good species and we are, albeit excruciatingly slowly, getting better every nanosecond. And that this will continue, and in fact should continue.

Down the road a few Burning Mans the continuation is of course trying to live in space. Either by going somewhere in a tin can to make a home, or by living in a really big tin can with nice windows and some dirt and plants.

This is the next step because at the end of the day we are a species that needs to reach to live and grow. And if you’ve scanned the cable channels recently, you can see that we’ve got a little room to grow. But evolution takes time, resources, real-estate, and new environments where we can test new social, scientific, and artistic ideas.

And there’s a little bit of a time crunch since all live on one planet, known for mass extinctions, with no backup. Now when pressed some of your friends might admit they think we should go extinct, upon which you should get new friends who are on team “Live Long and Prosper” and not team “Low Species-Esteem.” Remember the dinosaurs? Only from bones right? Not so good a plan. Also, we now have good evidence that we live in not just in an expanding universe, but an exponentially expanding universe, so the longer we wait, the father we’ve got to go.

Now back to the playa. Take a look down near your feet. Remember moon photos and current Mars Rover photos? Seemingly lifeless hard pack, rubble and dust. The space we need to traverse to get there? A couple hundred below with no sun and radioactive hot during the day. We’re shade structures made of lead here folks. And these are both places we’re going to have to bring all we need, rely on each other to survive, and where money is meaningless. Sound familiar?

Now look at a good camp, hopefully one right around you. See how it is always defined by people working cooperatively? People taking care of each other and using almost military style communication to get things done? See the selflessness heroism. Feel in your wallet the resources it took to make it happen but with no need to make a profit. Kinda like good science or art isn’t it? Kinda like a long trip to Mars in a confined space no?

If you read up on the current thinking on what it will take to get a crew to Mars in a tin can, you’ll see serious scientists talking about the weak points not being technology or physical prowess. This isn’t Chuck Yager land anymore. The right stuff now has as much to do with social psychology, robot therapists, medications, mediations, crew temperament combinations, private space importance, sexual dynamics, dealing with breakdowns with no turning back.

Sounds like things a good camp already is working on to me. Sure, it takes months to get to Mars, and that would be one long ass Burning Man. Sure colonization will take a crew years and astronauts aren’t known for their body paint, frolicking, or artistic expression. But maybe they should be a little? Maybe it would help the effort?

Maybe we’re practicing here at Burning Man? Maybe we’re figuring things out for the next step. Maybe we’re doing field research.

If so we’re coming up with some great data. We’re showing that extreme self-reliance and group work doesn’t have to be boring! We’re proving right now as we speak that more open sexuality, enlightened communication, creative expression, and mental breaks from reality might one day make it possible for us to travel to and colonize a barren rock heap without going babble-in-the corner crazy.

So NASA take note. We’re here showing you how it’s going to be done. And the world take note. We’re here showing you a glimpse of your backup copy. Post-human, but humane. Urban, but the same. Crazy but more sane.

This year’s theme will indeed be a blend of scientific theory and artistic intuition. So lets get out there and do some research for humanity! Who’s with me?! Yaaaaaahhhhhh….