Sunday, March 22, 2015

Burning Man

Traditionally, burning man was created as a means of spontaneous and radical self-expression. The burning of the 40-ft wooden statue brought together a community of people that valued total inclusivity, unrestricted self-expression, and the act of ritual as a necessity. The idea of immersing one’s self  in an experience meant to return to some sort of primitive state is seems almost surreal in a time when we are commonly described as being immensely detached from the world and our surroundings.

One interesting fact about burning man and its participatns was that the primary concern was survival against the blistering desert heat and weather conditions. After having a brief conversation with my friend about this, she said that she doesn’t think she’ll ever have a burning desire (pun intended) to go to burning man. According to her it seemed too inconvenient, unsanitary, and of course, dangerous. I agree with her to an extent. I believe that returning to such a “primitive” state or act of spiritualization could be a valuable experience in discovering, rediscovering, or exploring one’s true self, however it does seem a bit extreme.

Nevertheless there is something to gain from this experience and by far my favorite aspect about burning man are the ten principles the organizers promote.

The ten principles of burning man, as stated by the Burning Man Survival Guide:
Radical Inclusion: Anyone may be a part of Burning Man. We welcome and respect the stranger. No prerequisites exist for participation in our community.
Gifting: Burning Man is devoted to acts of gift-giving. The value of a gift is unconditional. Gifting does not contemplate a return or an exchange for something of equal value.
Decommodification: In order to preserve the spirit of gifting, our community seeks to create social environments that are unmediated by commercial sponsorships, transactions, or advertising. We stand ready to protect our culture from such exploitation. We resist the substitution of consumption for participatory experience.
Radical Self-reliance: Burning Man encourages the individual to discover, exercise, and rely on his or her inner resources.
Radical Self-expression: Radical self-expression arises from the unique gifts of the individual. No one other than the individual or a collaborating group can determine its content. It is offered as a gift to others. In this spirit, the giver should respect the rights and liberties of the recipient.
Communal Effort: Our community values creative cooperation and collaboration. We strive to produce, promote, and protect social networks, public spaces, works of art, and methods of communication that support such interaction.
Civic Responsibility: We value civil society. Community members who organize events should assume responsibility for public welfare and endeavor to communicate civic responsibilities to participants. They must also assume responsibility for conducting events in accordance with local, state, and federal laws.
Leaving No Trace: Our community respects the environment. We are committed to leaving no physical trace of our activities wherever we gather. We clean up after ourselves and endeavor, whenever possible, to leave such places in a better state than when we found them.
Participation: Our community is committed to a radically participatory ethic. We believe that transformative change, whether in the individual or in society, can occur only through the medium of deeply personal participation. We achieve being through doing. Everyone is invited to work. Everyone is invited to play. We make the world real through actions that open the heart.
Immediacy: Immediate experience is, in many ways, the most important touchstone of value in our culture. We seek to overcome barriers that stand between us and a recognition of our innerselves, the reality of those around us, participation in society, and contact with a natural world exceeding human powers. No idea can substitute for this experience.

After looking at the ten principles that the organizers introduce in the Survival Guide to Burning Man it reminded me much about the ideals and principles from past and contemporary social and political philosophers regarding a just and fair social and legal system. So while I wondered why people don’t behave so idealistically, I immediately recognized that this is too idealistic and there are social circumstances that would not permit this.

Along with this I read an article, An Emotional Survival Guide to Burning Man ( where the author talks about his experience and offers a deeper insight about the location, expectations, and offers psychological perspectives. While it is true that burning man has been reduced jokes and to what some have called a “ghetto for liberal hippies” one cannot disregard or reduce personal experiences and transformations and as the author of the article emphasizes, one has to be open and curious while at burning man (or with anything in general).  

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