What Are You Afraid Of, Part 1

Thursday, 3:30pm
Black Rock Desert, Nevada
And when the morning of the warning came, the gassed and flaccid kids were strung across the stars…” Along Comes Mary (The Association)


Tonight, I have a strange question to ask you.

I’ve just experienced a fairly fabulous week, from all angles. I’m juiced with positive energy, feeling good, and bubbling with hope.

And yet…

… I am also oddly compelled to ask: “What are you afraid of?”

Your thoughts are welcome. And needed.

Here’s my side of the story: I attended two events this week that couldn’t be more different…

… and yet shared so much of the same voodoo that fuels livnig a good life.

First, I drove out to one of Napa’s oldest and most exclusive golf resorts (The Silverado, deep in the lushest part of California’s wine country) to meet with a star-studded group of speakers and authors for a big damn 3-day brainstorm session.

This event is the brainchild of my old pals Stephen Pierce and Chet Holmes and Larry Benet.

In attendance were marketing lumaries Ron LeGrand, Alex Mandosian, Russell Brunson, Brad Smart, Scott Hallman, Joel Comm, JT Snow, and too many others to count.

Plus a few dudes who’d hit the billion-dollar mark in earnings.

It was a super-exclusive group. By invitation only.

The meeting place was about as hoity-toity as you can imagine, with hordes of staff scurrying about and an air of old-world colonial spendor hovering over everything. Though tastefully so.

Parking lot crammed with Lexus’s and Caddies and Porshes.

Cocktails are twelve bucks in the bar.

It was a great place to hang out with the cream of Web marketing for a few days. Safe, nurturing, comfortable.


… I rushed home, unpacked the collared shirts and nice shoes, re-packed with dingy hiking gear…

… and headed out to Burning Man.

I’m not even going to attempt to explain Burning Man in detail. Words fail the effort. Go to www.burningman.com for some history.


… a bunch of artists, neo-hippies and funsters from the coasts hold an in credible outdoor party and art-fest every year on the Playa in the middle of The Black Rock desert in Nevada.

It’s an actual functioning city of 40,000 people from all over the world. Tents, RVs, hammocks, you name it, you’ll see it. (And the port-a-potties are actually clean… not counting the thin coating of Playa dirt) (which you will never get completely out of your clothes.)

For 51 weeks of the year, the Playa is a flat, nearly lifeless plain of dirt. (Looks kinda like the Salt Flats in Utah, where all the land speed records are broken.)

Then, for one amazing week every August, it’s a beehive of action, art and partying.

When the party breaks up, everyone decamps, leaving ZERO trace of human activity. Every scrap of paper, every drop of gray water, every day-glo pasty is hauled out…

… leaving the Playa once again lifeless and naturally gorgeous.

No trace. That’s the rule.

It’s a pretty stunning event. They’re on year 22, I believe.

It’s exclusive, in that you gotta buy into the ideology to survive (and afford the $300 tickets).

Once you become a citizen, no money can buy you anything within the well-laid out streets of Black Rock City — you must trade art, water or something else of immediate value to conduct any business.

The art is often massive, built with industrial savvy (so it moves), and sometimes hydraulic power. (A mechanical hand the size of a Volkswagon moved eerily like a real human hand… and yet could actually crush stuff like a Volkswagon. Which they actually crushed again and again during shows. Impressive. And arty.)

Much of the art burns, or entails fire.

At night, 40,000 people are grooving to ear-shattering techno-pop and dance music, while huge installations burst into flame.

Lots of Mad Max-style costumes, mixed with total nudity. Think “Thunderdome meets Satyricon”.

Okay, I tried to explain it a little bit. Sorry.

But I want you to have these two distinct images in mind: The clean wealth and influence of Napa’s Silverado resort… coupled with the filthy fun of Burning Man’s impromptu Black Rock City.

Got that image?


Here’s my point: Underneath the shallow first glance…

… they are almost identical events.


Here’s how: They both thrive on…

Freedom From Fear.

See, all the energy of our civilization comes from the edges. I’m not dissing the center… but the great mass of sonambulent middle class folks aren’t really a driving force for action.

No, the heat comes from the extremes. The top business owners and especially the entrepreneurs who take risks and push envelopes keep the financial side humming.

And — just as important, if you truly care about the quality of life — the top artists and especially the semi-deranged free thinkers who take risks and push envelopes keep the fun side humming.

Both sets do their thang by crawling outside the “box” of repression society tries to foist on us all… and creating something new from, essentially, thin air.

And before anyone gets all huffy about responsibility and values and all that hokum…

… you should reflect on the fact that Burning Man attracts lots and lots of Republicans (elected officials, no less) from all over the country… and the Silverado will not deny entry to anyone based on ideology. (Heck, I got in.)

Both sets have dress codes, once you step back and look at things dispassionately.

Both have strict behavior requirements. (Burning Man has an “alternative” list of acceptable behavior, but it’s very unforgiving if you violate it.)

Both, basically, are refuges for people who just need to get the fuck away from the straight-jacket of “normal” life.

And freak out in a way that appeals to you.

(Yes, on the Meta level… playing lots and lots of golf while guzzling top shelf booze is just as much an orgy… as dancing naked around a Playa bonfire buzzed on pharmeceuticals is…)

It’s all about finding a safety zone, where there is a palpable absence of fear.

Both Black Rock City and the Silverado are situated out in the middle of nowhere. Far from easy to get to.

Both have long approach driveways — several blocks for the Silverado, on a private road… and 8 freakin’ miles of arid desert for BR City.

Both are staffed with an army of folks dedicated to making your stay happy.

You can relax. Be yourself.

And let go of the bullshit that cranks up your blood pressure in the world outside.

You’re among, if not exactly friends, at least like-minded people who share your idea of a good time.

It’s pretty amazing that to get this kind of freedom, you have to go to such extremes.

Because what everyone is afraid of…

… is opportunistic crime…

… and…

… The Man.

Anyone who gets deeply involved with life has a libertarian streak, or should. Or quickly develops one.

You just want to be left alone. You don’t want sociopaths preying on you, and you don’t want cops sniffing around just because they can.

At the Silverado, you’re on private grounds… so you’re not gonna get a DUI or get rousted for public drunkeness.

I found it very interesting that Burning Man is held in the middle of the desert, in the hottest week of the hottest month of the year, far, far away from any semblance of a “normal” town…

… and yet every law enforcement branch that CAN hover and cruise the party…

… does.

There are BLM rangers, Pershing County sheriffs, FBI and Nevada Highway Patrol officers all over the joint.

It’s like they’re just TERRIFIED that somewhere, someone might be having a good time.

Authorities — meaning uptight politicians looking toward re-election — have tried to close down Burning Man throughout the two-decade history of the event.

Despite the money that floods into Nevada from the international crowd. Despite the way the desert is not harmed. Despite the very obvious fact that 40,000 people (again, including every strata of society — old to young, socialist to capitalist, pagan to papist, straight to not-so-straight) very much WANT to be left alone to their single week of controlled debuachery and artsy engorgement.

I saw more people at the Silverado too drunk to stand up, than I did at Burning Man the day I spent there.

And I’ll bet the actual amount of drugs were about equal, per capita. If, that is, you count prescription pharmaceuticals with Mother Nature’s alternatives.

(Just to cut any rumors off at the knees here… I was at Burning Man as an observer only, not as a participant. I was there as a guest of the City of Reno arts and culture manager, to check out some of the artsy installations the city might want to purchase.)

(So there.)

Not that there’s anything wrong with choosing your own poison for Miller Time.

But that’s where the two worlds collide nicely.

What the HELL is The Man afraid of?

So WHAT if people wanna get naked and burn shit up during a week of weirdness in the desert?

Fear drives us in so many ways.

Fascist-leaning societies want lots of fear cooking in people’s system. Makes control a lot easier.

And certain kinds of power corrupts, by making someone with a badge “more equal” than you… simply because he has the badge. The symbol of nasty, humorless power that WILL be obeyed.

The Man has come to an uneasy truce with the Burning Man participants. Nudity is overlooked. Displays of weirdness are ignored.

And yet, I heard cops were busting Burners for “driving” while under the influence… even though they were driving golf carts reconfigured (with some creative welding) into giant lizards or Mickey Mouse heads. And, of course, not hurting anyone.

Golf carts.

The irony is inescapable.

And I ask again: What are you afraid of?

The entrepreneurs and artists I know — and I know vast mobs of each — all share a similar love of freedom…

… and an overriding lack of fear.

Heck — we even taunt Fate with our outrageous plans and way-out ideas.

Most of society asks “Why do you need to challenge the system?”

And we answer “Because it fucking NEEDS challenging.”

Maybe now, more than ever.

Long live Burning Man.

Love to hear what you think in the comments section below.

Stay frosty,

John Carlton

P.S. Sometimes — in fits of hopeful dreams — I try to imagine a world where The Man just lets go of being so uptight all the time.

Look — I’m all for a level of authority. I’m a home owner. I’m a business owner. I pay taxes, I vote, I get involved with the community.

And I think there is a place for regulation and laws restricting actions that harsh my mellow. (This is why no existing US political party will have me — not even the Libertarians.)

But the greatest assets of our country — whether people realize it or not (clueless zombies) — are freedom of speech and the right to be left alone.

Not bullshit freedom of speech. The real thing. We’re losing it.

And we’ve already lost so much privacy to prying government eyes, it may take a generation or two to re-establish it.

Fear sucks.

Yes, it’s a dangerous world.

It’s also a beautiful world… and beauty shrivels under the boot of a self-righteous majority.

Something to consider, if you’re ever tired of walking around zombified.

P.P.S. And, on a purely capitalist finishing note…

… I want to congratulate all the folks who grabbed a spot for the upcoming Simple Writing System at-home mentoring course.

If you missed out — cuz the door slammed shut on Wednesday, when all the slots were gobbled up — you should know there’s a waiting list.

Just hop over to www.simplewritingsystem.com, and scroll down to the P.S. on the first page.

You’ll see how to get on the waiting list.

This is gonna be a blast…

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  • Ken Varga says:

    John, MIssed out on the people who couldn’t walk because of drinking. I must of left the party early. \
    Anyway, you are right on about losing our freedoms. The politicians are constantly writing new laws and regulations that curtail our freedom of speach and to get together. Yet, they will allow 30 million illegals to come and take the jobs away from Americans and cost the taxpayer a fortune to provide services to them. Where is the rational?
    That’s enough of ranting. I could write a thesis on how we are losing our freedoms and as long as individuals got their head in the sand and their As—- in the air, they wont notice it when the country is lost.

    Anway, nice seeing you again after all these years.

    John Carlton replies:

    Hey, Ken — nice catching up with you, too. Good luck with the new project…


  • Dear John:

    Yep. Spontaneous order and reverent awe share something.

    Both not both the one
    And the other and both the
    One and the other.


    PS: From Rosenstock-Huessy: ‘The past is that part of the future that is already achieved.’

    John Carlton replies:

    What, exactly, are you trying to say?

    Ya lost me…


  • Jay says:

    It’s a shame how so much of the populace is skeptical and even downright offended by anyone who strays from the path. I’ll never forget the girl I dated who actually looked down on me, and wondered why I couldn’t “do something normal”, because of my entrepreneurial ways. It didn’t matter that I was in college and (at the time) holding down two “real jobs” while I built my Internet biz escape tunnel. To her, the simple idea of wanting something more than that was weird and embarrassing.

    That’s why I smile about things like Burning Man. Even if it’s not 100% “my thing”, it’s great that there are still some people in this world who do what they freaking want instead of what everyone expects them to.

  • Hey John,
    I love the post…again..!
    Because the world is getting really complicated with lots of overwhelm, people are starting to freak out. There are no safe boundaries for “normal” folks and as a result they get scared. Once they are scared their systems shut down and they spiral down into their safety zone/ comfort zone. Don’t want to talk and they’re sure as hell not gonna listen….Hell no !!

    ANYTHING that threatens that via pure wierdness ( ie anything new or different or not understood …) HAS to be stomped on.

    My Mom and dad were here in Thailand for a month recently and my old man kept muttering about how he couldn’t understand why folks could live in a country so far outside their ( read HIS ) comfort zone. Must be hard having a flake for a son…

    We’re herd animals because that is what makes us feel safe and God help anyone who threatens that…


    PS Imagine how freaked out the rest of the troupe was when the first humanoid came down out of the trees. Can’t you just hear them jabbering to each other…

    ” Hey look at that loonie, He’s down there on the Savannah….It’ll never catch on…pass me a banana…!!

    Hey are we sooooo different today….nope… we’re just shit scared peeing the pants human beings and I actually love us for that.

    Doesn’t mean we’ll always be that way. It’s up to us folk heros to lead the way

  • Karen says:

    “Freedom is like taking a bath– you have to keep doing it every day!” …Florynce Kennedy

    …one of my favourite Americans and…

    “Question with boldness even the existence of a God; because, if there be one, he must more approve of the homage of reason, than that of blind-folded fear.” …Thomas Jefferson

    …another pretty cool American! And finally (and this one is for you my friend)…

    “The purpose of a writer is to keep civilization from destroying itself.” Albert Camus

    Rock on JC.

    John Carlton replies:

    Thanks, Karen. Great quotes. I have a couple of books full of quotes that I consult often for inspiration. A good blurb often says more than an entire essay or book…

    I am not a believer in “American exceptionality”… instead, I believe any exceptional acheivements made by my countrymen have come via the extraoridinary freedoms we’ve enjoyed. Mostly the freedom to be left alone with wacky ideas and the freedom to pursue even truly stupid projects through to the end.

    Plus the multiple choices of places to live — cities of amazing variation, coasts, plains, mountains, small towns… it’s still a pretty damned stunning hunk of land…


  • harry says:

    You do realize, that after reading your post, I , the authority, just have to dig deeper to check out these Silverado-type meetings………….seems to me, there is much better chance to catch a bigger fish than I could ever hope to do in BR City……….gee, who knows, I might even get me a real live celebrity, or a semi-celebrity at least, with bunch of high grade contraband……….none of the marijuana stuff…………..yes this could be huge………. an opportunity of a life time…………I will have my pictures on the front pages, making the biggest bust of the century…..or a decade at least…………. my colleagues will be green with envy…………and finally I will have a chance to buy that new house I wanted, not to mention that new car……………….oh, yeah, I will show these nasty criminals they have finally met their match, and I will be a national hero………or local at least………..and that bitch of a wife will finally see the kind of man I am…….a force to be reckon with………..now, just got to find out where the next meeting is going to be held, so I’ll have a chance to install some heavy duty surveillance gear in place……..and I will get everything on tape, on video, on multimedia, the works! Oh yeah, so help me God, let me show them what Fear of God really means!


    P.S. no, no, this is not a joke, it is the real thing…………….

  • We still have plenty of Freedom in the good old USA, but definitely less Privacy. Put your Big Brother surveillance opinions in the back pocket of your mind briefly, Puh-leeze. Private technology development is at the core of freedom and privacy LOSS. Why, Mr. Carlton, myself a former professional gambler, I’ll bet that you use software that scans the ‘Net alerting you if your paid products are being used or sold by folks other than you. Heck you can even set up Google Alerts to do this for you. So you spy too, all for a good cause, of course.
    As more and more sophisticated tracking and surveillance apps are made, both on and off line, nature decrees they must be USED.
    All it will take No Matter Who Gets Elected “El Jefé” of our great land is a little Congressional push to track everyone and all the ISPs’, the Googles, Web Browsers, will part their corporate cheeks & just hit the “BUTTON” and all your ‘Net activity lands in the newly created Government data bases. Google still thrives and look at how many Chinese died or were imprisoned by Google selling them out. Didn’t seem to hurt their business a bit.
    Of course this will all be done in the name of, well you can fill in the blanks in your head.

    Freedom is like taking a bath and it must be done everyday. That truly is a great l’il saying.

    Went to “Burning Man” 15 years ago, an event all folks should try at least once in their lives. The desert can cure what ails one.

    Hi-Ho Silver, Away!
    Mitch Dominguez

  • Karen (replies) says:

    Yes, ‘exceptionality’ is definitely not a trait that is specific to either gender or nationality.

    Albert Camus was a French author, philosopher and journalist who won the Nobel prize in 1957. He wrote on ethics, humanity, justice, love and politics (which just about covers it) but his favourite subject was ‘Absurdism’ – no shortage of subject matter there!

    Anyway his notable ideas were:

    “The absurd is the essential concept and the first truth”

    “Always go too far, because that’s where you’ll find the truth.”

    “I rebel; therefore we exist.”

    And who does THAT sound like!!! Yup, he died tragically young but if he were alive today he would be on your mailing list… guaranteed.

  • Joe says:

    Sounds like you had a pretty interesting week – right on.

    We live in interesting times. Wonder what Gary Halbert would say about current events?…

    Here’s my take:Batten down the hatches. There’s a powerful storm a brew’in. ‘The Powers That Be’ are getting ready to pull the plug in a classic pump-an-dump of the entire country.

    The usual suspects who started the first cold war want a redux… they are insane…

    Is America ready to confront Russia… no way Jose. We are spread pretty thin. My advice is to have plenty of ammo and food on hand… better to have it and not need it than to need it and not have it. Ever see the movie Mad Max?… cheers… Joe at: advertisingcsi@gmail.com (www.AdvertisingCSI.com)

    P.S. we now have an agreement with Canada – our Armed forces can now cross each others borders… What’s next… A North American Trade Union… it’s already in place… it is the death of our nation. The word “Treason” comes to mind. It is time to rally the troops… do you know where your National Guard is?…

  • Evie says:

    Great question, John…”What are you afraid of?” I hear and respond to the question from a different take.

    I don’t know what “the man” is afraid of. I don’t know what society is afraid of. I don’t know exactly what I am afraid of. But that is the critical question: “What am I afraid of that keeps me from living a good life?” A life of significance. A life where my contribution is of such value that it puts me on the exclusive “invitation only” list of folks who are about things that matter?

    What am I afraid of that keeps me from “going for it” with abandon? From tapping into that creative genius within me that liberates me and others? Is it fear of inadequacy? Fear of failure? Fear of rejection? Or perhaps just fear that I simply don’t have what it takes and am not one of the gifted ones.

    In terms of “freedom” and “fear” as you pose it, I love freedom but am far from having an overriding absence of fear. For me, and perhaps others who are on the edge of “getting it”, making it”, the core freedom I desire is not freedom of speech or freedom from abusive or tyrannical authority. It is simply the freedom to be “me.” Not the me who currently manifests, the me who questions and doubts, but the great, talented me who is no longer playing small. I think Marianne Williamson expresses it best in her work, “A Return to Love”:

    Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate.
    Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure.
    It is our light, not our darkness that most frightens us.
    We ask ourselves, Who am I to be brilliant,
    gorgeous, talented, fabulous?
    Actually, who are you not to be?
    You are a child of God.
    Your playing small does not serve the world.
    There is nothing enlightened about shrinking
    so that other people won’t feel insecure around you.
    We are all meant to shine, as children do.
    We were born to make manifest the glory of God that is within us.
    It is not just in some of us; it is in everyone.
    And as we let our own light shine, we unconsciously
    give other people permission to do the same.
    As we are liberated from our own fear,
    our presence automatically liberates others.

    Thanks for the question. Those are my thoughts.

  • Jake says:

    Sounds like a great party, and I missed it…

    I’ll have to pencil this one in for next year and make the journey over from London. Can’t wait.


  • John says:


    Having long been a student of your ability to observe, I am once again inspired by how you tied together a visit to Napa and a day at Burning Man. Brilliant.


  • Hey John,

    it’d be too much to list all the things I fear… I think the difference is not so much the not having fear, but more how people deal with the fear they have.
    Some experience fear and do it anyway.
    Some experience fear and go back to safety.
    It’s all about exercising your courage muscles. The more courage you practice, the less fear has a grip on you.

    Remember Wilhelm Reich? Just read about him again and since you’re talking about “The Man being scared”… His scientific theories apparently where so much “not working” that The Man had to burn his books (and this is not Nazi Germany, but the USA in 1956). They destroyed the machines he built and burned the books he wrote. And just to be sure, in 1956 they burned another six tons of his books, notes and other writings. Coincidentally, he died in prison in 1957.

  • Matt Gallant says:


    You were at BM?

    Dude – BM was so off the freaking chains.

    Looking forward to sharing crazy stories,

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