Commitment to Playa and Commitment to Responsibilities

I’m almost never political in my posts about Burning Man, because Burning Man is not an inherently political event.  It is welcoming to people whose thoughts range across the political spectrum, and rarely the center of political activism (albeit, some highly political works of art appear on occasion).  But something has increasingly disturbed me about U.S. politics, and I want my Burning Man community to help change this growing trend.  Not voting seems to be the “cool” way to deal with a frequently dysfunctional political system.  In last year’s Congressional elections, only 37 percent of Americans voted.  This is a shameful result — especially when viewed against the voting numbers for countries that do not have the same level of free speech and unencumbered politics as we enjoy in the United States.

One aspect of the problematic trend toward non-voting is that it infuses young people more than older Americans.  Younger voters have literally ceded control of the voting process to older citizens.  The affect is a disproportionate representation of baby boomers and even older Americans in the voting booth, and the near absence of the voices of younger voters.  It really doesn’t matter how younger people would vote, it only matters that they have elected not to be heard.

When you combine overall low voter turnout with the much higher percentage of senior aged voters, then add in the effect of big money in the political process (an effect enabled and support by a Supreme Court that can’t seem to tell the difference between free speech and paid speech), you end up with a corrupted political system that looks to young people as if it’s rigged.  Why vote if control of the country is out of your hands?  And why vote when apportionment rules around the country have created a plethora of “safe” districts for one party or the other — districts that can never be captured by opposition candidates?

The answer is that only by voting can citizens change the direction of the country, reject political blather vs. real content, and end the era when money, rather than patriotism, drives decision-making by our politicians.  I, too, have found myself turning off most political speech these days.  I’ve grown tired of politicians and government officials who never really answer questions but speak only from set talking points provided by their parties.  But I continue to vote in every single election.  So I guess I haven’t given up yet on the country and its politics.

Playa fun.  Can we transfer it to real life?

Playa fun. Can we transfer it to real life?

As Burners, we believe in the principles of inclusion, the freedom to speak truth, and the unimportance of politics in maintaining friendships.  So why are so many of us (assuming Burners are average in terms of voting numbers) rejecting the idea of participating in the electoral process.  It makes no sense to believe in the wonder that occurs annually in the Black Rock Desert and then not try to bring that wonder into the rest of the world in every way possible.  Voting your beliefs is one way to extend the culture of Burning Man into our everyday world.  Not voting is NOT a statement of your beliefs.  It is a declaration of invisibility.  It is ceding the world to non-Burners.  It is giving up and giving in.  That’s just not the way people act when I see them at Black Rock City.  Pretending to be invisible in the default world means you believe in Burning Man’s 10 principles only once a year rather than as part of your everyday life.

So drop the skepticism and become in your daily life what you are in your playa life — a participant.

Distortion Reigns in 2015

Anyone who keeps up with news from Burning Man through the JRS (Jack Rabbit Speaks) or the new website, has probably read about the 2015 festival theme: Carnival of Mirrors. While getting a handle on the 2014 theme required me to do some research, the Carnival of Mirrors theme is one that has not taxed my brain to understand its meaning. In fact, I’ve talked to a lot of people who immediately thought of “American Horror Story: Freak Show,” the Emmy award-winning television series on the FX network. We can hope for a touch of craziness at Burning Man’s Carnival of Mirrors without going into the macabre level of Freak Show (which is both weird and wonderful from my perspective).

I think the Burning Man org has hit on something ideal as a theme for 2015 in that reality and distortion are so totally intermingled at Burning Man. Looking at yourself all costumed up for a night on the playa is a bit like a glimpse into a side-show mirror. It’s hard to know whether you’re seeing the real you or an aberration.

Artist's rendering of the 2015 theme:  Carnival of Mirrors

Artist’s rendering of the 2015 theme: Carnival of Mirrors

I prefer to think of Burning Man as a week-long aberration of real life, but one that represents an ideal rather than a horrific distortion. I’m willing to be so much more than my usual self at Burning Man, in part by absorbing and becoming part of a community that is unique in the world – or at least in my world.

So I look forward to attending the “Carnival of Mirrors” in 2015, and seeing whatever there is to see about myself and everyone else.

Another topic covered in JRS and on the Burning Man website is “plug and play” camping and whether it has affected the nature of the festival. One interesting aspect of these fully concierged approaches to attending Burning Man is that I never noticed them. In part that’s because all the big, well-equipped busses serving as luxurious locales for people willing to spend large sums of money to be taken care of, were simply too far away from Lamplighter Village for me to notice them.

But I’d like to highly recommend to all of the readers of this site that “plug and play”BM-2015-Carnival-of-Mirrors.jpg camping is not an ideal way to experience Burning Man. Being “protected” from the Burning Man environment is exactly the opposite of what you want from your week in the desert. It’s undoubtedly tempting – if you have the money – to let someone else take care of all the planning and preparation. But that planning effort is part of what makes your personal experience complete. As Larry Harvey pointed out, there’s nothing about these camps inherently against Burning Man’s 10 principles (in fact, radical inclusion calls for full acceptance of both the rich and the poor, the basic and the elaborate). But what Larry clearly objected to was creating a gated community out of some of these camps. Walling off one camp from the rest of us Burners is the antithesis of Burning Man, and, given the people’s ownership of the land we use, it seems wrong on almost every level.

But it’s important to stress that the majority of plug and play camps made no attempt to close themselves off from the rest of the Burning Man community. Rather, they offered people the possibility of attending when they might not have the time or ability to make their own preparations. I don’t recommend it, but I can understand – within limits – allowing it.

One of the reasons I have no desire to participate in such campsites is that it undermines part of the experience we’ve enjoyed so thoroughly – preparing our own materials, decorating our own bikes, and being part of an open community that welcomes all Burners into our lounge and as volunteer Lamplighters. As an older Burner, I think I would feel less of the invigoration I receive from Burning Man if I became too reliant on others to take care of me. When I’m that old or disabled, I’d choose a different approach to managing my way through the process, or I’d simply stop attending.

Burning Man: A Respite from the World

Hello Again Burners and Future Burners. I’ve been away for a while getting a torn rotator cuff repaired, which kept me off the computer for all but the most absolutely necessary purposes. But my recovery has progressed to the point that whatever minor pain it causes me to type will do no harm to the surgery. And I was further inspired to write a new post by a dinner guest who was a first-time Burner in 2014. An Iraq veteran, he works a number of jobs up here in the Lake Tahoe ski resorts, but can only afford to live in a tent (how can we allow that to happen to vets who have served in war zones!).

The pleasure both Lashes and I took in hearing this young man’s reaction to the Burn, and his commitment to return next year and for the foreseeable future, was a stark reminder of the wonderment we both felt during our first year (2005 for me, 2006 for Lashes), and how we continue to feel that sense of amazement at the experience that is Burning Man. We’re now approaching our 10th year of attending the festival (and our 48th wedding anniversary), and while there have been better and slightly worse experiences at Burning Man for us over the years, we have never felt anything less than renewed by attending.

In fact, this year, we experienced one of our most unforgettable and special moments at Burning Man: being selected as two of the team of eight lamplighters to carry the fire cauldron from center camp out to the man burn.  (Thanks to “Small Transgressions” for the use of the photo of our group carrying the cauldron to the man.)

15208739651_41d5643fa6_nSo after ruminating about our discussions of Burning Man with our dinner guest, I began writing this blog post with the PBS station in the background – playing a special on Peter, Paul and Mary. That music, which was the soundtrack of college and our early married years, reminded me that one of the reasons I love Burning Man is that – while not by nature a “hippie” – I’ve always been an idealist and a seeker of peace and harmony in the world.

No place has reached as close to my ideal as Burning Man, where “radical inclusion,” “welcome home,” and hugs from and for everyone put a twist on life that is the total antithesis to the crazy, violent, racist and politically stagnant world we live in. It is, in fact, our respite from that world, where people of various persuasions, income levels, and life goals put their differences aside and spend the week living together as a loving, peaceful community. Who could not feel renewed seeing people allowing themselves to be so vulnerable yet remaining unexploited.

Where else can you drink at a bar standing beside and loving people who are free to express themselves – sexually and otherwise – without the expectation of a battle for intellectual superiority based on their beliefs, choices or natures. Feeling welcome at all times and in every place on the playa is a massive relief from a life walking on eggshells, wondering who will next be offended by something you’ve said or done.

I can think of no better word to describe our time at Burning Man as once again calling it a respite from the world of spinning politicians, argumentative commentators, controlled newscasters and friends and family who feel the need to take sides on every issue. Once a year, all I need is a hug. One is always available on the playa.