The Digital Shutterbug (aryx) wrote in burning_man,
The Digital Shutterbug

And, seeing as how Dan asked you to please read his essay (read previous post here), I figured I would post that as well. It's also rather long, so once again, the lj cut tag will be used after the first couple of paragraphs...:

When coming to an understanding of anything, particularly social movements,
political agendas, mores, propaganda, advertising, etc., it is important to
ask the question, "WHO does it SERVE?"

Since Burning Man is many things to many people it may never be possible to
answer this question fully with regard to Burning Man.
Nevertheless it may be important to the health, and nature, understanding,
and dare I say it, to the SOUL of our community and movement to ask this
"Who does Burning Man serve?"

This question may be answered on many levels
with different degrees of certainty or consensus.
On the simplest level, we might say,
Burning Man serves the Burning Man community.
That is an answer we might all be able to agree on,
but it leads on to another question,
"to what END does Burning Man serve the Burning Man community?"
We also need to ask if Burning Man serves elements
outside of our immediate community,
or if it serves society at large in ways
we as a community might approve or disapprove of.

At this point I will have to spin off
into my own personal interpretations of what
the answers to these questions might be.
They are the only one's I have.
I'm sure they are other answers, other interpretations,
that are just as valid, just as important.
I hope to express explicitly what many of us already know implicitly, not to
strip away any magic or glamour,
but to solicit additional ideas and commentary
and to lend substance to our ideas and motivations.

Burning Man is of service to all its participants (and perhaps to
non-participants) in a variety of ways, not all of them positive..
To save space and organize the main points I will attempt to list them:

1)[INTRA-COMMUNITY VALUE]Burning Man provides a unique social milieu
difficult to find or experience elsewhere in our contemporary society.
Social interactions at Burning Man occur very differently
than they do in everyday life:
events are accelerated and contacts and connections
are cemented more rapidly than they may be
in the routine that is fostered by a structured workaday word
where people are tacitly urged to conform, not to stand out,
and to make adjustments to a hierarchy.
The everyday world of most people
revolves around the need to insure physical survival
within the context of a workplace where time is traded for money
at the expense of spontaneity and often of creativity
and self-expression.
Those who are able to transcend these constraints are rare and fortunate.
At Burning Man,
participants are actively encouraged to transcend those constraints:
self-expression is fostered, not suppressed;
routine is circumvented, not reinforced;
hierarchy is satirized, not venerated.
These elements help to short-circuit the many social inhibitions
that prevent people from making and sustaining social connections,
friendships, and relationships in the "everyday" world.
The social pace of the everyday world is agonizingly slow
to the point of producing no movement at all.
That's why nothing ever happens to most people
besides work, sleep, eating and watching television.
"Normal" society does not make any allowances
for other things to happen.
There are few places to meet people,
and those that exist are hemmed in by conventions,
behavioral codes, hierarchical power structures,
and outmoded expectations.
Social interactions in the everyday world exist
in a milieu of conventions and expectations
fostered by those who do not think or act for themselves
but from how others have told them how to think
and how convention expects them to act.
Such a milieu is stifling to social interaction,
creativity, self actualization, and to making the most out of life.
So, Burning Man serves the community of participants
by providing (for a time) an improved social milieu.
This is not unique:
such a result has been the goal of social events and festivals
since the beginning of time, especially when people of like mind,
livelihood, or descent have gathered for rendezvous, community dances,
conventions, or family reunions.

2)[INTRA- and EXTRA-COMMUNITY VALUE]Burning Man provides a platform for
creativity, self expression, and ideally, self-actualization.
Not to belabor this point excessively,
we all know what a fine "tabula rasa" the empty Black Rock Playa is
for all sorts of creative endeavors.
Burning Man provides a milieu not only for social experimentation
and growth, but also for creative experimentation and growth.
All these points will be interconnected.
Naturally, social freedom fosters creative freedom, and vice versa.
One may go into the desert alone
to seek and discover the better parts of oneself.
But humans are undeniably social animals
and true self-discovery can only occur in the presence of another,
of THE "other".
Seek to deny this hard-won personal knowledge at your own peril.
Self-expression gains meaning only when there are witnesses to it. Burning
Man provides the stage,
provides a better, freer, more interesting and inspiring stage
than everyday life,
for us to enact the dramas and dreams of our lives upon.
But if we perform for "others" in our community,
for others on the playa, so also do we perform for society at large. This
makes this value more than just one for "us", for our community, but one for
those who cannot make it to the playa.
I risk pretension
but will say it is a value
we may be able to impart or transmit to the whole world.
For if we can, though the magic of each other
and the emptiness of the playa,
make ourselves freer, more open, more creative, and more ourselves,
than we may be able to impart some of that same energy to everyone
who would like to share in it,
whether they can attend Burning Man or not,
or even whether they've ever heard of Burning Man or not.
If Burning Man allows and encourages participants to be anyone
or anything they want to be, they may end up being more of themselves and
more of the person they were meant to be or could possibly be.
The individual and society at large can only benefit from this.

3)[INTRA-COMMUNITY VALUE]Burning Man allows its participants to develop
previously untapped talents that the world at large may have failed to
The events that may conspire
to limit an individual's access to opportunity
are too numerous to mention here.
Entrenched interests and powers rarely surrender their control
of hierarchies, political parties, corporations, or social clubs,
even when more inspired and talented people are "waiting in the wings".
History illustrates that power corrupts
and that Karl Marx's ideal of a government
that would ultimately "wither away" after achieving its ends
is an ideal that humanity is not yet ready,
or ever capable of achieving.
As a result, talented people may be excluded from full participation
in society, and may never achieve
the greatest expressions of their own creativity.
Because of this, individuals suffer and society is retarded and deprived.
That Burning Man can foster and inspire the development of heretofore
unrealized potential in its participants is an established fact,
whether these potentials be for creative endeavor, socialization, leadership
or administration.
Of all the implicit values that Burning Man offers
this one needs to be recognized and explicitly stated the most,
lest we loose sight of it.
Burning Man's leaders were neither groomed for their roles
nor promoted through conventional channels in corporate style:
they came out of nowhere
at the right place in the right time and displayed their talents
to a hungry and receptive community.
We should hope that unconventional channels
of recognition and to responsibility
always remain open in the Burning Man community.
If they do not, history can suggest what the results might be,
and will mercilessly record what results may accrue.

4)[EXTRA-COMMUNITY VALUE]Burning Man challenges society to question its
conventions and transcend its limitations.
As a stage and a platform Burning Man allows voices that challenge
the assumptions of everyday society to be heard.
Society has needed gadflies and venues for genuine satire
since societies were first formed.
Contemporary society is no exception.
Since some conventions and fashions have become so ingrained
as to sustain a stagnant inertia in this fin de siecle,
"launching pads" for the radical ideas of wholly original aesthetics
are more important than ever
to the greater good
of society at large as a creative society.

5)[INTRA- and EXTRA-COMMUNITY VALUE]Burning Man allows the individual to
experience and confront aspects of their own and human nature that are
obscured or denied by society at large IN A RELATIVELY SAFE ENVIRONMENT.
Although those who enter the Burning Man experience at any level
may need to accept some element of danger
(I know, it said so on the ticket)
the value of allowing participants to directly experience activities beyond
the ken and pale of everyday events in relative safety
is one that is strongly upheld by the project and its arms,
particularly the Black Rock Rangers.
It is fitting that the Rangers should be mentioned here
because the catchphrase, "Not the problem, but a part of the solution"
has been used by them in the context of conflict resolution
and the workings of the Black Rock Ranger's "agency dance"
through which the festival is produced and assured.
The phase is also useful for the EarthGuardians in their role
as those who encourage people to "never let it hit the ground."
But it was conceived in the greater sense
that Burning Man itself through many cathartic "allowings"
allows people to experience parts of themselves that may be unknown,
and to enter into social grey areas
and places and situations that may be unexplored.
If this can be done in safety at Burning Man
it may be of benefit to society as a whole.
If I may wax metaphorical for a sentence or two,
if society as a whole may be likened to a body,
and social problems that are generated out of profound lack of
self-actualization (such as schoolyard shootings) may be liked to a disease,
then I would suggest that, (on the playa) we produce powerful antibodies for
a whole host of social ills that are the result of alienation, disaffection,
exclusion, loss of hope, and the inability to activate the creative and
manifesting potential that exists in every human.
Burning Man is a critical inoculation that will preserve the future health
of our greater society.
And that's why, even though its scary,
Burning man is not the problem, but a part of the solution.

6)[EXTRA-COMMUNITY VALUE]Burning Man provides a "safety-valve" for society
at large by providing a platform for the disaffected to "let off steam".
This is really the same as the preceding,
but from the possible perspective of one not a member
of the community of Burning Man participants.
It is mentioned because the results of this way
that Burning Man serves may be different. I
t is a value of Burning Man that deserves further examination.

7)[EXTRA- and INTRA-COMMUNITY VALUE]Burning Man provides a clear object
lesson on a symbolic level of the primacy in importance of experience over
I believe this to be the most important value of Burning Man.
The act and ritual of "burning the Man" presents a lesson to humanity about
the greater value of experience over possession.
We love the Man.
The Man is of charming form.
We'd love to take him home with us, we'd love to take him home.
But we know.
We know that no matter how beautiful the Man is,
he is never more beautiful than when he is engulfed and going.
It is an experience.
So we learn.
We learn of the primacy of experience over possession.
Experiencing the Man is of greater value than keeping him.
This is a lesson that the world so much needs to learn right now,
from closer to home to all over the globe.
To take this lesson to heart
will improve our relationships with each other as individuals
and with the planet as a species.
This is why burning the Man is important to me symbolically.

8)[EXTRA-COMMUNITY VALUE]Burning Man provides a training ground for law
enforcement and emergency services personnel to hone their skills in dealing
with unconventional large-crowd situations.
This is an extra-community value that has potential benefits and pitfalls to
the Burning Man project and community. I leave it for your consideration.

9)[EXTRA- and INTRA-COMMUNITY VALUE]Burning Man provides a platform for the
exposition of the effects of human presence in the natural environment and
how to mitigate and ultimately eliminate those effects.
I thank the principals, the project, and the process for "allowing" me the
small role I have played in advancing this value for all the totalities.

10)[EXTRA-COMMUNITY VALUE]Burning Man provides an opportunity for predatory
individuals to exploit the innocent, optimistic, and bewildered in various
This is a negative non-benefit of the event of Burning Man
that the principals, project, process, and participants
are and will become aware of to a greater extent
as the festival matures.
It is for the consideration of everyone who cares about
the Burning Man community.
It relates directly to the role of the Black Rock Rangers.

11)[INTRA-COMMUNITY VALUE]Through fostering self-expression and discovery,
Burning Man could precipitate social or psychological crises in some of its
This is a non-benefit of the event
that relates directly to the role of the Rangers.
It is listed separately from number five
because it relates directly to potential physical events
during the festival
as opposed to benign philosophical or aesthetic epiphanies
that the festival may precipitate or advance.
The ramifications of learning to discriminate the many shades of grey that
run from epiphany to crisis and the many ways to ameliorate the consequences
are best understood and practiced by the specialist Crisis Intervention Team
(CIT) Rangers.

Questions have been posed and proposed
that does not Burning Man benefit the organizers,
and that Burning Man benefits the organizers
in some way more than others.
I would first suggest that with all of the other
clear values and benefits that Burning Man promulgates and bestows
such a question is moot.
The second question that arises is well, "how could they really (benefit
more than others?)"
as the manifest benefits to participants at so many levels
is established.
What could be a greater benefit
than artistic, imaginative, and social ACTUALIZATION.
We would hope that the principals and leaders
of the Burning Man project find self-actualization
through their participation in Burning Man just as we do.
And we know they DO, don't we?
Some who have proposed this [negative?] benefit specifically have introduced
elements of satire into their treatments of the Burning Man organization,
project, and community.
I would emphasize that satire on every level is a key element of the
significance and actual process of Burning Man. It is a very important TOOL
of Burning Man, how many of the values of Burning Man listed above are
effected and promulgated. This will be the subject of another open essay.

Everyone who attends and participates in Burning Man
dreams together and shares values.
in the (is it still 500 or so? {no, it's more than that now I'm sure}) that
lend a hand
in producing the festival
share a higher level of values.
We engage in a form of "enhanced sharing"
through which comes enhanced understanding of the production
on so many levels.
Mostly we share burdens,
while others may be only yet still
at the stage of sharing the sensations of Burning Man.
We, as agents and tools of the Burning Man project
must put the goals of the project above personal agendas.
We all have them, I certainly do.
For all of us, I'm sure, most of our personal agendas fit very nicely with
the goals of the Burning Man project.
And in simplest terms that's to produce the festival.
In more expansive terms they are to bring the gift of the Burning Man to the
community, the world and to all time.

San Franciscans have special knowledge of the way movements that focused too
closely on singular leadership often evaporated after the leader's death.
This is not to happen to Burning Man.
The Burning Man project has so far been astute
and stepped lightly around some of the pitfalls
that have affected some experiments in community that have gone before.
For all of us to reduce our personal agendas
when contributing energy to the goals of the Burning Man project
is for all of us to "play our cards right",
and to help assure the greater goal
of assuring the continuance of the Burning Man,
and contributing a great legacy to the ages.

Finally, at the risk of seeming to advance one of my personal agendas,
I will recommend you all to the writings of Wilhelm Reich
on the mass psychology of fascism
contained in "Listen, Little Man" and "People in Trouble."

Burn the Man.

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