A story in principles and pictures: Burning Man 2022
It was the best of years; it was the worst of years
“Lucky Number 8?,” I wondered to myself as I and my small crew of friends drove in to Black Rock City this year. This was my eighth Burn, but I hadn’t been for six years, so in a way it was a homecoming and a revival. What should I expect? What were my intentions?
One of the features of this massive desert music and art festival, with about 80,000 attending this year, is the underlying philosophy that drives the Burning Man community. This philosophy is spelled out in part by the 10 Principles of: radical inclusion, gifting, decommodification, radical self-reliance, radical self-expression, communal effort, civic responsibility, leave no trace, participation, and immediacy.
I love these principles, particularly the first four of radical inclusion, gifting, decommodification, and radical self-reliance. They make for a truly unique experience at Burning Man since you can’t buy anything there now except ice ($10 a bag and even that small continued contact with money felt a bit weird for me in a week that otherwise involved zero thoughts or dealings with money), there are no logos, and no vendors. Literally no one is trying to sell you anything.
What a breath of fresh (dusty) air. You bring what you need and you accept the gifts given if they appeal to you. Gifts are offered in the true spirit of the gift that expects nothing in return except perhaps a high five (Charles Eisenstein’s book, Sacred Economics, is an excellent discussion of what to live in the gift means, and how gift economies can work even in the “real world”). Burning Man is not a barter economy, as commonly believed; it’s a gift economy and these are two very different ideas and practices.
This year was even more decommodified than past years because Center Camp stopped selling coffee and lemonade, a standby for the community in previous years. I was a bit torn about this change since it does seem more in keeping with the decommodification and gifting principles, but this change also seemed to render Center Camp a ghost of its former vibrancy and bustle.
But as with all philosophies, the Burning Man principles should be open to change and improvement. I offer in this little photo essay a few more possible principles that could be added to the “official” list, starting with…
(All pics are either by me or Caterina Caligiuri, one of my campmates in 2022, both using an iPhone 13 Pro, with a couple of exceptions).
Perhaps the biggest benefit of the Burning Man experience is exposure to the mad creativity of humanity, challenges to your comfort, experimentation with consciousness (of various kinds), and an overall crash course in how to transform yourself. Michael Pollan, Rick Doblin and many others have made it safe to talk about psychedelics and self-experimentation. No need to be shy about it: Burning Man involves for many people a ton of drug (“sacraments”) use of various kinds. The great thing about the Burning Man culture is that there are places where people who have problems can go for help, including Zendo, a camp that specializes in offering counsel and other help for people experiencing “bad trips.” A friend of mine used Zendo this year after a harrowing experience with a new designer drug and he found it super helpful to have someone sit with him for a few hours while he rode the waves.
Openness should be codified as a principle (like my policy lawyer lingo in this context?) because it’s so important to the overall experience of the Burn. If we could test people for openness to new experience (in fact we can and my colleague Jonathan Schooler works in this area) I would bet at least a dollar that Burners are much higher on the openness scale than your average bear.
I learned again how to hug at Burning Man. Somewhere along the trail of life I forgot how to hug. It became awkward, unmanly, weird. At my very first Burn in 2008 I was greeted by a volunteer at the gate and given a real hug with the blessing “welcome home.” The idea is that Burning Man and its culture of openness, hugging and love is the culture we choose rather than the “default world” that we are thrust into as children. Burning Man, Black Rock City, is our chosen home, both physically and metaphorically.
At Burning Man, we choose love on a regular basis. And that choice, that act of love, spreads outward with the force of a prayer, a blessing, a good joke. One of the best ways that act of love spreads is through a real hug given with the highest of intentions, and while paying attention to any discomfort that “real hug” may be causing in the recipient (see “Consent” below and we should always be wary of being that annoying person who hugs without considering the willingness of the recipient to be hugged).
Mark my words: Hugs will save the world. This simple act of human contact and affection is such a life-affirming gift that it can’t help but spread. No matter what paranoias will arise here and there, hugs will save this f-ed up world of ours, and save each of us from our loneliness and isolation.
This is a big one that has already been incorporated heavily not only into Burning Man culture but in to our culture more generally. Consent is implicit in the culture but it should be made explicit by codifying this principle. Since Burning Man adventures will often involve making people (at least a little) uncomfortable we need to keep informed and emphatic consent in mind at all times — particularly when sex or sexiness is involved, and/or when it is combined with alcohol or other drugs.
To be in integrity is to be honest and honorable not only with others but also with yourself. Goddess knows we all need to work on this, including me (I am a work in progress, like all of us human beeings). This is another one that is implicit and should be made explicit. There’s something about the holy brew of music, dust, beautiful people, mind-altering substances, and gorgeous art that just brings out the radical honesty and integrity in me, and I hope others too. This is the kind of thing we perhaps should export into the default world.
Well, maybe this isn’t a principle we need to codify but it is a principle you need to be ok with in terms of your existence on the Playa in Black Rock City. Dust in some years (yes, this year, in particular) can be a serious bitch. From dust in to dust. And a lot of dust in curious places.
This year we had at least one seven-hour dust storm, on the day of the big Burn. It turned out to be a nice time for us relaxing at our camp and speculating about what might happen with the main event. Dust is to be embraced, hugged (lightly), into the entire Burning Man experience, not rejected.