Opulent Temple's Sneaky Inner Circle

I told you guys that I had heard OT was volunteering its time two weeks ago for Precompression, and I wanted to correct my statement. I was wrong. You try to give credit where credit is due, and then you realize your gut was right, and there was no credit due. In their defense, it was a decent effort with a nice visual setup, not an unreasonable effort to receive a modest fee. As many complaints about the chief executive's continually contentious attitude has been toward these Burning Man parties in his newsletters, it might have been a nice conciliatory gesture had they done this one on the house. The room itself was lacking a bit of heart, but I think that people continually underestimate how much of amplifier joy behind and in the booth can influence the attitude of an entire dance floor.

While I was wrong about any Precompression philanthropy, I was more right than I could ever imagine about my take from years ago about leadership structure. Occasionally I'm not as right about something as I think I am, but sometimes I can't even fathom how right I turn out to be. OT's chief executive was a relentlessly fair leader for years, generous and with an iron clad memory for people's contributions. More than one OT member had I testimonialized to that very fact, convincing them to stay, assuring them that their work was not forgotten. (You know who you areā€¦) I would have told you that his fairness as a strong single leader (or as I've referred to it thousands of times over the years, The Benevolent Dictator -- it was the only leadership style that could remain fair and INFORMED), was obliterated in the last couple years of my tenure there. My faith in his fairness never faltered, until the final possible moment he had to correct a decision he readily admitted was wrong, and was blatantly an axe-grinding from his close crony. At that point I was crushed by what I thought was his inability to stand up to his cronies against what he admitted was wrong because of weakness to peer pressure, and that the lack of civility from those cronies toward myself and others was due to the chief executive giving them too much credit for their particular specialized skills.

It's become clear, however, that he was unable to stand up to them because they had secretly incorporated and formed a board a year earlier, and their lack of civility stemmed from being given WAY TOO MUCH credit for their specialized skills sets. On what planet is that good idea for a business to run? Because you know Proctor and Gamble definitely put their indispensable chemists on the board. A better analogy for an organization with a spritual-value focus like we were, Catholics always make Cardinals out of their best masons and cathredral-builders. Of course, if either of them did, they would have to keep it very secret too. The good news is that my original assessment that I made 6-7 years ago still stands. The Benevolent Dictator was the only government that works fairly for Opulent Temple.

Incorporating as a non-profit, brings with it the need to form board of directors, and suddenly a strong single leader is given an excessively convenient abstraction from accountability for decisions. A normal corporation with a board of directors doesn't doesn't have to deny the board's existence. This informs everyone that while he may announce decisions, he is still beholden to the board and therefore is absolved of some of the blame for most decisions. If one must keep the incorporation a secret, as in this case, it leaves the chief executive behind the eight ball for every decision, including any petty personal agendas undertaken by board members. whe chief executive as the only source that can be blamed.

To his credit, his conscience still tried to assert itself. During my final two years at Opulent Temple, the chief executive hinted a half-dozen times that I needed to "let some other people know what I was doing." You see, I had been volunteering for delivery truck driving duties, especially on the back end of parties. It's thankless, lonely, finger-crushing hard work, often for several days both before and after a party (WHY CAN'T BEVERAGE PLACES HAVE A DROPOFF FOR KEG TAPS, SO YOU DON'T HAVE TO WAIT TWO DAYS FOR BUSINESS HOURS?). During those long hours, bedraggled, lonely hours, I consoled myself with the fact that it was known about and appreciated by the chief executive, who had always been THE SOLE DECISION MAKER. His conscience surfaced enough to give vague, hinted warnings, but never enough to indicate who, or far more importantly, WHY. He knew that I was going to get screwed, and his conscience was going off strongly enough to warn me, but it wasn't powerful enough to make him come clean with what he had done.

It does, however, renew my faith in him as the sole leader. His misguided attempts at sharing power are his only failing. His conscience guided him far better when he had to stand behind his decisions, when there was no group to internally place the blame on, absolving him of responsibility for lopsided decisions. Which brings me to what a brilliant idea his misguided survey before Burning Man 2012.

I think that he loved the abstraction of not being the sole decision-maker in wrongheaded or lopsided decisions, but was unable to enjoy that distance because he couldn't reveal that fact without revealing his cohort's deception in incorporating and taking ownership of Opulent Temple a year previous. So he's stuck having to stand behind decisions that go against his conscience. I don't know whether he did what came next deliberately to ease that feeling, or instinctively to feel better, but he sent out a survey to just a handful of camp members asking them which camp members they felt were indispensable. Now he can breathe easy. He's absolved of guilt over any unfair decisions, he's protected the cabal's secret ownership a while longer, and it looks like he's generously sharing power. A stroke of brilliance. If this were a cutthroat company, instead of a somewhat spritiual organization I would applaud. My hat's off for that one. Even I got so tangled up in that move that I didn't see the forest from the trees. That's borderline neo-con in its crafty tar-baby simplicity.

What this all means is that my resignation was rendered meaningless by the fact that they had already snuck off and done the dirty deed. In fact, the only thing that my resignation accomplished was freeing my voice so I could fight for a better Opulent Temple. Just because Shiva is both the creator and the destroyer, I REALLY want OT to righteously bang the Drum of Life for a quite a bit longer before unleashing the Fire of Destruction. At the time of my resignation, I had asserted that there was a shadow government operating within Opulent Temple, and had hoped that my loud departure would wake some folks up before it was too late. (Even back then Dutch sent me an e-mail asserting that he was confused as to who was behind the wheel as well.) Little did I know, it was a fait accompli, given that they had purloined their stakes several years earlier and had kept it quiet. So awake or not, we had already been screwed. Grand gesture rendered innocuous by lies of ommission. The funny thing is, I don't want ownership. I merely want fairness, and two guys sniping senior membership is decidedly unfair. I dedicated 20% of my life to this group, year-round, and I'd do it again and more if it remained or resumed being a fair and POSITIVE place to be.

At the same time, I also resigned from Opel Productions for four reasons: 1) While refusing to even consider making things fair at the time still with weeks to go (now I realize to go against his all-too-persuasive cohort who exerted their will without having to own up to it all), he jumped straight to "trying to make it up to me with Opel". I found that suggestion demeaning to Opulent Temple, to myself (after seven years of passionately working and especially promoting OT (as well as Opel, separately) to the people), and also demeaning to him. 2) I thought the Benevolent Dictator has completely lost his storied fairness (again, it was already lost when he ceased to be the Benevolent Dictator). 3) It served to underscore how serious I was about waking up the family that I left behind at OT, 4) it was clear by then that he was being influenced by negativity-heavy clique (although not that they were officially a board--that was a well-kept secret) and it was the only way that I could show him that I knew that him going along with their decisions was crooked, and that people would only see him behind it. To his credit, while I'm sure he took that as a bit of a warcry, he still made an attempt to "make it up" to me with gigs, but I turned it down out of respect for Opulent Temple, Opel, and him, for all they meant to me (see reason #1).

Well, all but reason #1 were completely pointless, because their approach of pulling their little heist, and then letting as much water pass under the bridge as possible before anyone found out had worked. (Think "Ownership is nine tenths of the law" crossed with "It's easier to beg forgiveness than to ask permission") It's a crappy way to accomplish anything. I had foolishly thought I could help protect some people behind me from being screwed over, but the screwing was a fait accompli, a foregone conclusion. 11 months of hard work, 1 month hard work coupled with sickening suspicion, 2 weeks of the saddest and worst Burning Man ever in 2012 with OT (although this year will almost certainly top it--first year with OT on the playa without me since 2005), 10 weeks of agonzing over my decision to resign, 18 months of watching morale being pummeled, deceptions unveiled, and Burning Man principles trundeled under fuzzy-booted feet.

This sort of scheme, in order to succeed, relies on maintaining the deception until enough time passes by that it seems like the decision is intractable. From there ignorance and apathy are your partner. One might wonder,"Dex, are you obsessed? Why can't you let go?" Well, you don't know me that well. My passion for what I love doesn't flag. It's one of my superpowers. I am rank sentimentalist, with an incredible memory, so I agonize over this every day without fail, but I think of OT no more than I did when I was a member. To simply give up, however, is tantamount to cynicism and the acceptance injustice. I don't want to be a cynic, and my passion for OT has never faltered. I pains me every day to not be a part of bringing it to Burning Man and beyond (and hurt some more for how useless their lie made my resignation). In exchange for that pain, however, I am given amnesty from cynicism. A current OT member, someone that I thought was completely happy and therefore might have been cold toward me, instead opened the conversation with: "It's not worth it. There's the little club at the top, and there's everybody else. If you're not in that club already, then you never will be." (Well, they are *awake*, but I don't like being *that* right about morale being so needlessly squandered.)

On a parting note, I encourage my OT siblings to treat their volunteers better as well as encouraging OT volunteers to demand simple respect from their leaders and encourage them to act with principle. One place that I made an impact at OT was with our volunteered help. I loved OT, and it was clear that these people did too, which made then friendlies in my book. I went out of my way to learn volunteers' names and engage them. I knew how much it meant to me when DJ's and crew knew my name, and I genuinely appreciated their help. I know that my excitement can be contagious and I considered it a duty very much suited to me. The aforementioned board members tended to treat volunteers like well-intentioned flakes, people that wouldn't probably not be volunteering again, which is why I considered it an important charge. Because they might have been right. Nothing ensures that volunteers won't volunteer again better than treating them like flakes who won't be volunteering again. To be fair, The chief executive was appreciative of their help as well, but he deals with and meets so many people in a week that it takes a little time, and a couple of events for it all to sink in. Bridging that gap was something I lived to do, appreciated or not.

For those of you who read this whole thing, I'm amazed and thank you. Encourage, facilitate and effect the change you want to see.