The Politics of Burning Man

You often hear Burning Man described as a “Hippie” event, with its implication of 1960s political activism, scruffy appearances, drugs and rock and roll.  To one degree or another, this entire list of descriptors is at least somewhat true about Burning Man, but it’s neither universally true nor what it appears to be.  Burning Man is not Woodstock, or any other music festival.  It’s primarily a community, and its main raison d’etre is art, not music.

As far as politics go, there’s very little true political activism at Burning Man, and there are Burners of all political persuasions.  Many Burners are classic American rugged individualists who have their own businesses, believe in capitalism, tend toward conservatism and hold deep convictions about Second Amendment gun rights.  But it’s hard to tell about anyone’s political persuasion out on the Playa.  Sure, there are pieces of art with political points of view, but there’s little – if any – of the kind of polarized political discourse that marks the climate found in the default (non Burning Man) world.

Lashes (aka Judie) setting up our campsite on Day One

There is no more welcoming environment I’ve ever found than that of Burning Man, and it simply doesn’t matter what your persuasions may be – political, sexual, aesthetic or otherwise.  But that doesn’t make the festival a hippie event.  Sure, we’re all scruffy out there (who wouldn’t be after seven days in Black Rock City’s dusty desert environment), and there are unquestionably people who imbibe in drugs and drinking on the Playa.  At the same time, there are families with small children at Burning Man, and they care about their kids the way anyone else would.

If there is a political persuasion at the Burn, it’s probably libertarianism – a kind of live and let live attitude toward personal choice.  Of course, as with all communities, we have an effect on each other.  When some people choose to go naked, the rest of us see that.  So the warning I always give people is to be prepared for the unusual and for some aspects of day-to-day living that would be extraordinary if not illegal in the default world.  If you are easily offended, you’ll probably get offended at one point or another while at Burning Man.  But if you’re a conservative, liberal or anything in-between, you’ll be relieved to find yourself in a true “no-spin zone” where political discussion is rare and we all love each othe for our humanity and do so unconditionally.

So please don’t call us hippies.  Just come to Burning Man and be whoever you are, or whoever you want to be.

4 thoughts on “The Politics of Burning Man

  1. “Be whoever you are, or whoever you want to be”

    But what if who you are/want to be is a hippie? There seems to be a lot of anti-hippie flaming on eplaya, so I’m concerned that that “loving each other unconditionally” isn’t necessarily true, depending on what kind of person you are.

    • The Internet and eplaya are not Burning Man. There are plenty of people at the burn who proudly call themselves hippies; and there are also some camps that make fun of hippies (as there are camps that make fun of practically anything — e.g., Wall St., Barbie, religion, politics, WalMart). But the reality of Burning Man is that all burners are welcomed and loved. Just go … you’ll find out.

  2. (Politically, I’m an anarcho-communist. culturally I am into peace and love, community, hugs and smiles, being kind to one another, running around barefoot, wearing flowers in my hair, listening to CSNY, New Age spirituality, art, yoga… I’m interested to know because in theory I like the idea of BM very much activity wise, but I’m wondering if I’d stand out like a sore thumb in the social scene. I also love nudity but don’t do drugs or drink and am not into kink.)

    • I had many apprehensions about what I would be “required” to do at Burning Man — go naked? (unlike you I’m not into that) Take drugs? I also wondered if, given my age (I was 60 at my first burn), I would be accepted. What I found was a compassionate and welcoming community that required nothing of me but my presence and my participation. The principle called Radical Conclusion is real, and it’s evident every minute you’re inside the gates of Burning Man. Of course, there was that person who claimed to be an anarchist and who set the man on fire early. He ended up in jail. Tragically, he later took his own life, so I’m suspect that he was mentally ill. With 60,000+ people and a permit from the Bureau of Land Management that allows the event to go forward, there have to be rules at Burning Man, but there are also the 10 overarching Principles that set the tone. You can stay within or stretch beyond your personal comfort zone as you see fit.

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