Sunday, February 9, 2014

"I am a Burner!" said the researcher.

Short foray into the topic:

Standing in front of an online crowd and saying it out load makes me feel a bit like a recovering alcoholic, but I’ll say it anyway, “I’m a burner.”

A burner, in this context, simply put, is someone who attends Burning Man, also called That Thing in the Desert. This means that they have some acquaintance with the ten “principles” of the organization, written in 2004 by Larry Harvey for the Regional Network.  These include radical inclusion, gifting, decommodification, radical self-reliance, radical self-expression, communal effort, civic responsibility, leaving no trace, participation and immediacy. 

The term burner means different things to non-burners, depending on how many burner friends they have and how they view things they don’t have experience with. Do they judge or are they curious? 

For those who are prone to judgment.  There are many meditation classes available that can help you with this kind of automaticity.  

For those who are curious, there are two things I would like to debunk.  Burning Man does not automatically make you a better person.  You will necessarily be changed in some way, but it is no guarantee that this change will make you more compassionate, giving, and kind.  BM simply provides an opportunity to utterly change how you interact with others, the universe, and yourself.  But it is always part fate and part choice as to how you are affected.

One problem that I have with any “utopian” perspective is that it often ignores the default world, the world outside of Burning Man and the Black Rock Desert, concatenating our psychological development into one short week.   

For some people who love the event, the other 51 weeks of the year are spent yearning for that space where you can be free to express yourself, where there is no money changing hands (except for coffee and ice), and where you can interact with some lovely souls in very provocative ways.   Plans are made for grand yurts fill with air conditioning.  Faux fur is bought to line the seat of your second-hand tricycle.  

But, there are a few who internalize the principles, or their understanding of them, and take that as a guide for doing good in the world, the default world.  One of the most direct examples we can see of this is where burners volunteer to help struggling communities in any way that they can or when they help underserved populations gain skills.  


One such organization is called Burners without Borders. Burners without Borders has two broad categories of volunteering: Disaster Relief and Community Initiatives.