What DAOs Can Learn from Rainbow — 50yrs of Decentralized Autonomous Gathering
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July 13th, 2022

The Immense Potential of DAOs

For an in-depth yet beginner friendly introduction to DAOs, please check out this NYTimes article.

Historically, centralized power seemed to have obviously ‘won’ against the decentralized crowd —— we have witnessed how local faiths overpowered by organized religions, co-ops outcompeted by conglomerates, indigenous tribes eliminated by empires. We live in a world where profit incentives aren’t aligned with the common wealth and resources are shamefully extracted to maximize profit for individual gains.

Without doubt, technologies are best used to serve humanity’s overall well-being. Blockchain solutions can be used to realign our incentives, create equitable and transparent systems to avoid corruption and exploitation. The DAO space has huge potential to create community-oriented autonomous templates to fundamentally decentralize the way humans operate in order to create abundance for all.

Homemade meme about DAOs
Homemade meme about DAOs

Within a system that is transparent and fair, people would operate better because they ‘can’t do bad’ instead of ‘won’t do bad’. The Gitcoin’s theory on ImpactDAOs did a deep dive into this philosophy.

It is worth noting that DAOs are still in its infancy, most DAOs are in its process of figuring out the best suited ways to govern. Many DAOs have very long and redundant execution processes as a protection against centralized dictatorship which often led to inefficiency and bureaucracy. Being born at the heart of the crypto industry, DAOs can be filled with pyramid scams and inflated values.

Because of the immaturity and capital-infested nature of crypto, learnings on the art of gathering and coordination may best come from outside of the DAO space. Humans have been organizing in swift and ingenue ways centuries before blockchain technology appeared.

DAOs are schelling points for strangers to gather around a shared mission & vision and collectively accumulate resources to achieve this shared goal. —— This is exactly what Rainbow Gathering has achieved in the past 50 years without blockchain.

What is the Rainbow Gathering?

Pic from SDBP Radio
Pic from SDBP Radio

Special Thanks to @mycobici for encouraging me to go to the 50 years Rainbow Gathering and drawing the analogy between Rainbow and DAOs. Special Thanks to @imu for sending me courage, love and the Rainbow Gathering coordinate. 💕

I heard about the rainbow gathering from an off-grid eco village at the southern tip of Hilo, Hawaii.

“It’s a gathering about peace, love and generosity. It is completely free to go and everything was shared in a gift-based society”, said someone from the eco village, who at the time refuses to have a cellphone or wear shoes.

“There is no tickets, no social media. Location changes every year mostly in different national forests and the only way to find out is through word of mouth.

The gatherings also happen all around the world. Europe, the Middle East, Asia, Costa Rica, Mexico… and here on the Big Island! The main gathering is in the US every year, the main international gathering rotates around the world, and there are regionals happening all the time.”

Rainbow Gathering started in 1972, it is defined as a gathering where people ‘congregate in remote forests around the world for one or more weeks at a time with the stated intention of living a shared ideology of peace, harmony, freedom, and respect.’

The first gathering happened in Colorado where twenty thousand people faced police roadblocks, threatened civil disobedience, and were allowed onto National Forest land. It has spontaneously become a yearly tradition ever since.

In this anti-capitalist and anti-materialist world, people put up temporary cabins and tents, campfires and water filters, shared everything in a mutually respectful way. Regardless of cultural background or race, people shared a common language that is peace and love.

Pic of Rainbow from Sky-Hi News
Pic of Rainbow from Sky-Hi News

It is worth iterating that there are natural problems that come with the gathering, I do not wish to say that everything happens with the Rainbow community is always positive. The concerns about Rainbow Gathering will be claimed in the section in the end.

How Decentralized?

The gathering has no single leader, no corporation and usually no money involved except for some donations. All organizers gather and find common grounds cooperatively. Anyone that felt the urge to contribute can volunteer to organize since helping hands are always needed.

At each gathering, organizers would arrive weeks in advance to pave roads, study the terrain and plan out the locations. Different kitchen crews would put up camps with cookware, shelves, washing stations, toilet holes and sometimes showers. Individuals usually gather around the kitchens, enjoy the meals and help out when they can.

Reverse Osmosis Connected to River Water
Reverse Osmosis Connected to River Water

Each camp has its own culture and quite unique characteristics. In the 50yr’s gathering in Colorado, Instant Soup served vegan soup 24/7 and always had elderly folks singing around campfire every night. Wanna Burn was a kitchen organized by nomad performers and fire spinners and they just felt like lovely pirates. I was told by the crew if anyone took out a cellphone at the kitchen it would get smashed. Kids Village as the name suggested were a fun space for kids to run around with small bridges and swings.

Pic from Atlas Obscura
Pic from Atlas Obscura

Each kitchen dug its ‘compost’ holes for organic matters and buried them after they’re full. ‘Shitters’ were dug at various locations and ashes and dirt were put on them to avoid flies and diseases. All non-organic trash were carried out by volunteers as people started to leave. Crates from recycle companies were placed at the entrance of the gathering.

At the center you can find Info Camp where all info and activities can be found on bulletin boards, medical tents where student volunteers treated the sick and injured.

Map about the 2022 Gathering in Colorado
Map about the 2022 Gathering in Colorado

During the gathering, various events were celebrated and projects were made. On July 4th, everyone gathered in the main lawn and prayed in silence for world peace. People put together sweat lodges, had meetings about permaculture and eco villages. There was yoga and Tai-chi practices, poetry nights, music circles, fire dancing… Basically, if enough people want to make something happen, it would happen.

Unanimous Consensus

Rainbow Family Pic from Wikipedia
Rainbow Family Pic from Wikipedia

The most important decision every gathering is where to have Rainbow next year. This decision is made by the ‘Vision Circle’ which is usually held at the end of each gathering. Anyone who shows up at the Vision Circle would may speak and hold voting power regardless of their expertise. Unanimous consensus is required for any decisions to be made, the Vision Circle sometimes take days to complete in order to reach consensus.

I sat at the Vision Circle for hours just to observe the process, it reminds me of filibustering in politics. Although the difference is that anyone who wanted to speak can speak, and there is absolutely no interruption to anyone’s speech.

Majority of people do not feel the need to participate in this decision making process. Since the location rotates every year across the US, it seems like a natural flow of evenly distributed choices.

I do believe Vision Circle exists more for the spirit of making sure everyone’s voice is heard. The nature of unanimous consensus symbolizes that individual satisfaction is less important than group cohesion and harmony, which in itself is a quite beautiful spirit for any organization. There will always be someone dissatisfied in the end, but everyone still celebrates when a decision was made.

How Autonomous?

The idea of Rainbow got brought to different corners of the world by people attended the first few gatherings. It has shown that decentralized social movements can be ‘templatized’. Once the formula has been play-tested, it can be ‘forked’ to different places and adopted to its local culture.

The formula is intuitive and the message is simple and powerful.

Just like how Maslow summarized universal structure of basic human needs, Rainbow summarized universal solutions about gathering in the forest.

Basic survival practices such as: choosing location with the right climate and source of water, setting up kitchen with chopped wood, preparing filters for river water, digging ‘shitters’ and burying feces with ashes and soil so diseases don’t spread, having event calendar visible in central info station, having safe words and other codes of conducts… All these formula are simple enough to be put into a handbook that can be carried cross boarder and language and learned quite intuitively, most of them might already be known by experienced outdoor survivors.

Just a good formula is not enough without a strong motivation to gather of course. Getting a group of unmotivated people to do things is harder than making pigs fly. For Rainbow, the motive to gather comes is simple and powerful, it is that everybody is welcome in this gift-based society of love and peace —— a message quite hard to say no to.

As long as people feel the need to gather, people would find ways to do so. The gathering is very much an organic and natural formation. Nothing is forced, nothing is paid for, nothing is for show, nothing is for sale. People gathered and united around a common mission in a completely authentic and compassionate way.

Just like how songs and stories spread across continents way before the birth of telegraph or internet, just like a good meme, penetrating through firewalls and cultural differences, whenever an art form or a message resonates with people deeply and fundamentally, it will flow effortlessly for as far as it can.

The Giving Culture as a Schelling Point

Many would say Rainbow is a counter culture movement, it is everything ‘default society’ is not. The Rainbow culture is simple enough to spread far across cultures and borders, yet profound enough to create amazing impact on individuals.

It’s quite fascinating to have hiked miles into deep forest to be offered massages and served organic vegan soup for as many times as you want, none of which cost anything.

We talk about ‘flipping the game theory’ and ‘incentive alignment’ a lot in the DAO space, and the folks at Rainbow did it in such a simple way ---- a demographic that supposedly has little wealth proved that achieving abundance with very little is possible. It really does make you rethink about post scarcity differently. Even thou it might not be long term sustainable and comes with its own set of problems, there are still things we can learn from.

Paradigm shift need to come from mental shift, or as the new age hippies would call it: a consciousness shift. I do believe that with any emerging communication or governance technology, the cultural spirit would be at the center of any social movement. There would be no social change without a mentality shift free of existing construct of exploitations and unhealthy competitions.

Conclusion

Just like a knife can be used to cut butter or to kill people, the technology can be misused if it wasn’t intentional. Just because DAOs share the same technology doesn’t mean they share the same principle of operations. DAOs can be ‘central banks’, they can be outright valueless scams, or continued exploitations with cycles of pump and dump.

We aim to create systems where people ‘can’t act bad’, but it’s also crucial to create a culture where people ‘don’t want to act bad’. These two aspects, the spirit and the form, should be treated with equal importance in order to co-create something beautiful. That’s when DAOs meet Rainbow.

DAOs are by nature community oriented, and the community would seed the culture of the DAO. I believe DAOs have potential to change how we coordinate and operate in many ways, with a precondition that their shared mission is simple and clearly defined, with authentic passion adhering to one’s intrinsic value, and hopefully, oriented towards creating better future for all living beings. ❤️

Disclaimer —— Warnings About Rainbow ⚠️

Without over glorifying Rainbow, it’s important to mention the negative aspects of its culture.

Because everyone is welcomed, there is no guarantee that everybody at the gathering will behave in a mutually respectful way. Because it is free, there is a natural influx of people who live on the streets without homes. Because of its emphasis on personal freedom, there is always an abundance of illegal drugs.

Because of the anti-capitalistic mentality as its spirit, many people choose to be anti-productivity as well. Lots of people choose not to work or do anything constructive, and it became a gateway to indulgence in hedonism and anti-accomplishment mentality. The press and rumors about Rainbow are also mostly negative for all these reasons.

Here’s my observation at the gathering:

Going to the gathering by myself for the first time, I was unsure of what to expect and was on high alert, very soon I relaxed and felt right at home. I’ve had many fun conversations with various characters of all ages and cultural backgrounds, gypsy flow artists from Europe, qi-gong masters from China, energy healers from Israel, farmers from Iowa, intentional village organizers from Tennessee, nomads from Bosnia, musicians from Turkey… It was a fun and diverse group of people, I felt accepted, respected and most of the time enjoyed everyone’s company.

There was an abundance of psychedelic drugs and weed being shared at the gathering. Most of them given out for free to people who ask for them. Occasionally you would see people tripping hard and acting ‘over the top’, however, comparing to a regular music festival, I would say it actually has a lot less of non-sober people — which was a total surprise for me.

Rainbow was a lot more family oriented compare to regular music festivals. There were many kids and elderly, many people I met brought their parents. Preparing and sharing group meals and singing in music circles were the majority of the activities. I would personally bring my parents to a Rainbow Gathering but probably not Burning Man.

The only ‘iffy thing’ that I observed was when someone looked like in high adrenaline said another ‘crazy’ person was trying to attack him and he dodged away. It did remind me that this was an event that everyone is welcome and everything is allowed so we do have to be cautious.

Although it might be inevitable to have zero trash and disturbance to the environment given the scale of the gathering, I do think the organizers and volunteers did their best to protect local environment, they would spend weeks cleaning up everything after everyone leaves, ‘putting rocks back where they’re supposed to be’, said Scottie, an Urban designer from Yale who’s been organizing Rainbow for decades, ’The location was strategically chosen to be far away from river sources to protect the local water’s ecosystem.’ Everyone was also informed to only use dead trees for campfire wood and structure building.

More Conclusions!

In the end I want to say that this post is not suggesting that if everyone becomes hippies and gather in the woods we would solve all world’s problems, nor that Rainbow is an absolute golden formula for DAOs to learn from.

The Rainbow Gathering is a formula that worked for decades, with a simple and beautiful message. It exists because it needs to exist and it will continue to exist as long as enough people make it happen, it will always be at the cross of the supply and demand curve, and the longer it goes, the more experienced it would be at decentralized autonomous gathering.

After hearing many negative comments and press about Rainbow I was glad to experience it myself and make my own distinction. I’m eternally grateful that something simple and beautiful can be experienced with no barrier of entry, and see people take care of each other with so much generosity and unconditional love. I have restored some faith in humanity, and felt encouraged to pursuit what I’m called to do ---- using technology to serve the holistic well being of humans and create abundance for all. 🌈

Rainbow Gathering 2022, Main Circle
Rainbow Gathering 2022, Main Circle
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