Turnkey Camping: A Clarification

Photo by Ales Prikryl

[6/25/12 UPDATE: We’ve changed the nomenclature for these types of camps from “Plug & Play” to “Turnkey” to better reflect the way they function.]

We recently posted about Turnkey camping to start a dialog about this new form of camping we’ve seen happening more frequently in Black Rock City. The Burning Man organization genuinely wants to know what our community members are seeing, what they care about, and what good ideas are out there around this to create the best outcome for the community.

There have been no new decisions made about how to respond to Turnkey camps thus far. We have neither sanctioned them (and now “welcome them with open arms” as some have suggested), nor have we decided to ban them altogether. Your input on the blogs and forums, when civil, has been welcomed and appreciated, and is being incorporated into this decision-making process.

In order to facilitate this ongoing dialog, we would like to address a few key areas of confusion, so everybody’s on the same page:

  1. “Adventure” outfits (defined as purely commercial businesses offering a full service camp experience that have no connection to our culture and community) providing “a Burning Man Experience” are not considered to be Turnkey camps, and as of this year they will no longer be allowed at the event. Before we had a formalized process for making deliveries to Black Rock City (introduced in 2011 as a “vendor pass” then renamed to Outside Services in 2012 to better reflect the variety of deliveries we facilitate which help build the city) we had no way of identifying these enterprises. Now that we do, we will actively prohibit adventure businesses that are not part of our community and merely capitalizing on our event. It will not be a completely clean process the first year; there are innocent people involved who need to be considered and, as always, a spectrum of outfits that could fit into this category or may be of benefit to the community. They will need to be evaluated and treated fairly, but rest assured, we will not allow our city to become a revenue stream for these sorts of businesses any longer. We are calling on the community to help us with this effort by identifying operations and reporting them to us by emailing outsideservices@burningman.com.
  2. There has been confusion on an issue referred to as taxation for Turnkey camps. These are the facts: The Bureau of Land Management (BLM) recently informed us that they will require any business in operation at our event to obtain a permit and pay 3% of gross revenues to the BLM, just as Black Rock City LLC is required to do. This has always been their right. They began enforcement with commercial air charters at our airport in 2011 and this year they will require RV and trailer providers to pay as well. This will not apply to small “mom and pop” style operations or one-time deliveries. The BLM is not interested in capitalizing on every opportunity, but they do have federal permit regulations they are required to uphold, and this allows them to hold larger commercial operations accountable with regard to our event stipulations and their commitment to environmental stewardship.
  3. In the video it was mentioned that the Burning Man organization may be able to help support the efforts of Turnkey camps. To be clear, the type of support being considered is intended to affect positive change that would help turn a “bad” Turnkey camp into a valuable contributor to our community. (The community dialog has made it clear that there is a broad spectrum of Turnkey camps ranging from potentially exemplary to completely unacceptable.) While the organization has never told anyone how to come to Burning Man and how to engage (we don’t feel it is our place to judge people on their fitness to be a part of this community, 10 Principles or not), we have created guiding principles that have been adopted, and we have created rules that have been enforced. We now have the opportunity to make clear to Turnkey camps what the community finds to be unacceptable so we can create a higher success rate for camps not already “in the know”. We could, for instance, create a list of things like “While it’s helpful to create a private space for your personal community, creating a fortress of RVs is not acceptable.” (It’s easy to imagine how if you are not well-studied or currently part of our community, such a concept would seem foreign.)

It has long been a goal of the Burning Man organization to affect the default world, creating lasting impacts that change the way people live their daily lives. Creating unnecessary barriers to entry for the Burning Man experience is detrimental to that goal. While small-scale private commerce is an issue that needs to be addressed by the community – and many of these camps approach or cross the line of what is acceptable to many of us – it’s within our capabilities to educate and bring them into the fold so that our entire community may benefit.

We hope this clarification is helpful and we look forward to the continuation of a civil dialog around this topic.

About the author: Will Chase

Will Chase is Burning Man's Minister of Propaganda, working on global communications strategy. He's the editor-in-chief for the Jackrabbit Speaks newsletter and the Voices of Burning Man blog, and content manager for Burning Man’s web properties. He also oversees the ePlaya BBS and Burning Man’s social media presence. Will first attended Burning Man in 2001. He volunteered as the Operations Manager for the ARTery (Black Rock City’s art HQ) and was on the Burning Man Art Council from 2003-2008. He was Web Team Project Manager and Webmaster from 2004 until he transitioned to the Communications Department in 2009.

35 thoughts on “Turnkey Camping: A Clarification

  • I appreciate the effort, but I’m afraid I’m more confused than ever. Could you be a bit more specific on what a Plug and Play Camp is versus an Adventure outfit. You said one is acceptable and one is not, but now I’m confussed as to what a plug and play camp is.

    Also, what is the difference between a “fortress of RVs” and a fortress of tents or other barriers designed to keep strangers from cutting through camps. Are you telling individual camps what they can do for their own camp security?

    Sorry to be a downer. I appreciate the effort, but I’m not sure you’re there yet.

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  • “Adventure” outfits providing “a Burning Man Experience” are not considered to be Plug and Play camps, and as of this year they will no longer be allowed at the event.


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  • “Plug and Play camps ranging from potentially exemplary to completely unacceptable”

    in order to remain civil and not demonize every camp considered Plug and Play, please educate those of us who dont know much. who are the exemplary camps? i’m sure they have websites. can we see exactly how they work? if those camps want to remain anonymous can we get examples of how these camps contribute to our community or at the very least how they arent just rich assholes that everyone wants to yell at? thanks Will! :)

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  • I think the difference between “adventure outfits” and acceptable plug and play camps is the former are outside vendors who come onto the playa, set everything up and then take off until after the event, where they come back and break down the camp. All for a fee, of course. Acceptable plug and play are burners with substantial income who spend a lot on amenities like RVs, private porta-potties, chefs, etc. They stay for the event, they’re technically “burner,” they just burn a little more luxuriously than most.

    I personally have no problem with the latter. They should be encouraged to participate and do something interactive, just like everyone is encouraged to do so, but beyond that, as long as they’re not profiting off of BM, they should be allowed to burn as they see fit.

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  • I am definitely glad that this is being addressed. For the past two years, I’ve camped with a village that had a Pnp (or Adventure) camp in our midst and it was really pretty frustrating because they took a huge part of our space, and they were totally “exclusive” without participating almost at all in anything else the village did. They also did a couple of things which really pissed me off, including getting almost a dozen “handicapped” vehicles registered (I am still not quite sure how they accomplished this because having worked at DMV what they did was against our rules) and NONE of the people who actually used the handicapped vehicles were in fact the people who held the handicapped placards that enabled them to get the permits (which should have called for serious fines from someone). A couple of things they could do to keep this from happening is to end the concept of “outside vendor” passes from Friday before the event starts until Tuesday after the event is over. This would make it VERY difficult for people to hire RV wranglers to bring in their RVs. You want to come in, you have to have a ticket and you have to stay, even if you are chauffering for your boss. Sure a few would figure a way around it, but most would be prevented. And named tickets (where have we heard that before?) would preclude the “internal scalping” which doesn’t even show up on StubHub because its done under the guise of a “camp fee”, i.e., you pay $10,000 for your “Burning Man Cruise” and you get your RV, your meals, your “handicapped vehicle”, your art car, and your ticket all-inclusive. Couldn’t be done for the most part with named tickets.

    I am all for radical inclusion, so I am NOT for barring RVs, there are people who really NEED an RV to live in on the playa (for instance those of us who are much older) but I know LOTS of people who bring RVs who are REAL BURNERS, not wannabes or tourists. However, anyone who pays $10gs for the Club Med version of Burning Man doesn’t need to be “radically included”. They can just go to Club Med for all I care. :-)


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  • All this Plug and Play talk gets me fired up! What really gets my goat is when people start saying, “These people are REAL burners, and those people are not.” If you show up to the event with a ticket, or even if you sneak in, you are a burner. The fact is, some burners are just jerks. No matter how much Playa dust they are covered in, they will continue to be jerks. Others are not as jerky. Sometimes when a burner is pointing out that other burners are acting like jerks, chances are they too are being a bit of a jerk. Remember, it takes one to know one.

    Total Jerk and burner,

    Joey Jo Jo Junior Shabadoo

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  • Last year we had a Greyhound travel bus along with 4 other huge huge RVs pull into a space behind us that they couldn’t fit in really at 1:30pm. They had larger than large generators that ran 24/7. They also had a 50 foot pole off the main bus with a green blinking light that drove all of us surrounding people crazy all night with the blinking. They were not interested in being neighbors. After several attempts of trying to be friendly and help them out, we stopped. They were all first timers. They totally were not interested in anything but the rave scene which is fine but paid no attention to any of the people, places, or things around them.

    They couldn’t care less. They made daily runs to Gerlach to which those of us they parked around, had to keep moving our cars for them. They took about 20 of the universal bikes/green? and kept them for the whole week. They never cared about the noise of their generators. All the surrounding neighbors were trying to be nice to them but ended up complaining heavily about the 24/7 huge generator noise. All their trash just kept blowing into our camp and down the street. Terrible….We almost had an intervention. Also the Rangers could not impress upon them the idea of community and all. It was just a terrible experience. It was too late to move our camp which we had spent 2 days pounding into the playa..

    Is this a plug and play camp? I don’t know….I am not against plug and play camps but I think when a herd of greyhound buses come in, they should have to go to a certain area. Not squeezing into a bunch of campers. It was so clueless. We always look forward to meeting our neighbors and interacting with them for the week. Its great and is the magic for us. This situation however was a trauma that effected everyone the whole week and we still talk about it to this day… sigh…

    I do think everyone should be able to experience BM, if they have a ticket, that is, but I think the obvious huge buses, just have to be in a designated area.

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  • @ Spanks

    I know there’s a section of Burning Man devoted to those interested in a quieter experience, did you try to camp there? I figure noise and bright lights come with the territory, though rudness and littering do not.

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  • +1 to uni, this thread and most of the last few have been complete distractions; most likely designed to divert the conversation from the ticket crisis, and the failure of the STEP program to redistribute a significant number of tickets. There’s been some lucky winners in STEP, but most of the community is still out in the cold wondering if they’ll even be able to attend. So let’s divert the anger from the actions of the BMORG to the independent profiteers.

    Too bad the BMORG was the one who invented and began practicing Plug and Play Camping in the first place.

    The most infamous Plug and Play camp of all is FIRST CAMP. That’s the one the author of the blog post camps in, along with all the other BMORG members, their associates, and VIPs they want to impress. It’s setup fancier than the vast majority of the camps with plywood structures built, air conditioning, amazing power grid, and very good infrastructure/meals/etc.

    First camp is staffed by volunteers and burning man staffers. They have had volunteer builders, chefs and other helpers doing hospitality service work for them and doing most of the work of camp, and serving cocktails at their meetings. Go google “First Camp VIPs” to bring up some Eplaya threads about this practice. You can also read the 2010 afterburn report authored by Will Chase himself:
    “Adjacent to the Back Camp we placed the Nome Theme Camp, who provided a chill space and hospitality to the staff, friends and family of First Camp who chose to use this service. This new addition for the first camp members was utilized and received very well. I suspect we will see this repeated in the future.”

    That’s propagandaspeak for “We got waited on hand-and-foot by a camp of hospitality-industry folks that enjoy social climbing, and let our friends use that service too.”

    Burning Man up until last year was a for profit organization. And the VIPs they invited were usually VIPs for one reason only — money. Money for art grants to BRAF. Et cetera. Sounds something like what the “Adventure” camps are doing — except this time, officially for the event.

    All this would be acceptable under the above guidelines….since First Campers are the ones setting the stage for the event…if you didn’t invite VIPs to stay in first camp and participate little in the event. That’s when it becomes Plug and Play.

    So Will, please, will the camp with no sin please throw the first stone. First Camp is Plug and Play.

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  • Dr. Shamus –
    Some theme camps do a camp meal plan. I was invited to and used the one at First Camp for several years. I paid for it out of my own pocket. Just making sure that fact is recorded – the users of that kitchen pay for that kitchen just like at other camps.

    Also, actually, the author here does not camp at First Camp, and neither do I. We both camp nearby, but not in FC. Not trying to talk you out of your own opinion or debate this, but thought the facts should be available.

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  • Thanks for the reply Andie. Everyone is entitled to their own opinion, but not their own facts — and evidently I relied on a flawed assumption on the exact membership of First Camp. I stand corrected on that. If you have any other info that might run contrary to what I’ve said, please let us all know.

    Many camps have a meal plan, so does the Green Tortoise, BB Outfitters and other camps..not sure if paying for a meal plan and having others prepare it makes the camp any less plug and play though.

    Also Andie, thanks for monitoring these threads despite leaving the org, taking the time to reply to people and being accessible to the community at large. You’re awesome.

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  • Well, I’m a small “Mom & Pop” operation, and BLM is looking for money from me. I will be passing this (relatively small) burden along to my renters.

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  • Unless my neighbours are up to something fun and I want to join in, or they have an awesome bar, I tend to burn and let burn. Does First Camp have a decent bar?
    I have no concern with Green tortoise or similar ventures making it possible for burners to get in with limited and infrastructure. Burners from off continent especially need their services, and I welcome them.
    Previously, I’ve been of the opinion that my radical inclusion extends to the customers of these “adventure” outfits as well, but then I hit a hiccup. My radical inclusion extends them as much as they are willing to be included. If they are not willing to play the game, to burn with the rest of us (thank you Caveat) then perhaps I don’t need to include them. You don’t always have to “get it” to be included, but you have to be open to being included, and from all accounts these “adventure” outfits are Other, and wish to stay that way.

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  • I think it’s more complex than the surface stuff. Real burners don’t tell burners how to burn. But, are they there to watch the show or be part of it? I would much rather have the community bring people along than to have someone profit by doing so, Several regions have “new people” camps. If there is no acclamation of the principles, are they participating? On the other hand, if they are just buying the whole package (or gaming the lottery) is this not radical self reliance ?

    Issues are : 1, Radical inclusion 3 Decommodification, 4 Radical self reliance , 5 Radical self expression, 6 Communal effort, and 9. Participation

    6 out of 10

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  • I have to agree with something that Andie said a while back, please forgive me I am paraphasing… “I dont think we could stop them if we wanted to”, and it may ultimately be unresolvable. If the Plug and Play consumers are instructed to keep their mouth shut, then who would be the wiser. I hope at least, if this type of Burning occurs it does so at a very small percentage. I think the reality is this mindset has the potential to harm the true spirit of the Burn. I liken it to a virus, and hope that it does not get out of control and due some real damage. So! Cheers to BORG for moving us in this direction… you guys rock! Do not be afraid to state it like I beleive the majority feels ie. “If you come to the Burn immerse yourself and have a true Burning Man experience”, each time unique and one of a kind.

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  • This year I will be a freshman. I’m coming with an established posse (already very dear friends of mine) that is joining with a larger camp due to the ticket situation. A lot of the ‘things’ will already be provided for me there (kitchen, couches, bar, tarp, etc..) although we are bringing at least 2 dinners (can I get an halleluia for good cajun/creole cooking!) and all of my personal needs. But I’m coming to participate and be inclusive. I mean isn’t that the point? There’s good art everywhere from local museums, public sculpture, lookin up into the sky or the trees or the iris’ blooming right now… you get the point. But where else do you get to participate with that art and then pass it on to the lovely stranger next to you? How beautiful is that? And then at the end of the day you burn it all. WOW! That is intense. Like a Budhist Mandala of colored sands that sometimes takes months to make and then you say a prayer and blow it into the mountains. THAT is cool. I’m excited about the CORE project we have just started and besides helping out at camp I’m thinking of other ways to help and participate and add to the event in my own personal way.
    It seems there will always be those who ‘don’t get it’, are not inclusive and do not participate. But they’re the ones who are missing out. If you can actually help one of them to see the light, you will be helping to change someone’s life. How beautiful would that be?

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  • re: Heyu: “Real burners don’t tell burners how to burn. ”
    It is everyone’s obligation to step forward in some instances and tell people if they are messing up. (See my post in The Kids discussion.) If someone is taking a dump on the playa, or spray painting someone else’s artwork in the middle of the night, or dumping their trash around, or any numerous other foul-ups… Then YES, other citizens are obligated to tell that person to clean up their act or ship the hell out.

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  • re: Thermal :: I agree. but that is mostly about being an asshat. What I was referring to was “tents only, No RV’s” attitude. Burnier than thou. I think there are a lot of ways to approach this beast, and that one size does not fit all.

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  • re: Heyu… Yes I see your point, but its worth mentioning. Because you see people doing some of things I mentioned, you tell them to stop, and they respond with: “Hey, this is burning man, don’t tell me what to do…
    I do what I want!” (cartman style).

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  • @Thermal

    “Then YES, other citizens are obligated to tell that person to clean up their act or ship the hell out.”

    this reasoning is used by all those more-burningman-than-thou types out there. from the participation police to the ‘five-miles-an-hour!!’ types – you people are everywhere. this type of ‘policing’ is usually worst with second year attendees who have the usual bad case of sophomore-megalomania.

    however, if you’re in your 5th plus year, and you’re still running around telling people what they’re doing wrong, in my opinion – you’re far worse than careless moopers and other foul-ups (IYO). you’re guilting of the worse sin on the playa: you’re being boring!

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  • Doesn’t it just come down to no outside vendors in accordance with the no commerce rule? Other than that, I’m not one to tell others how to spend their time at Burning Man other than the usual “pick up your MOOP,” etc. I have to say, I’ve been very lucky in my 4 burns to have camped near awesome random neighbors every time. I might feel differently if I had camped next to an RV fortress.

    As for spoiling the event, I think these exclusive camps are a very small fraction of the BRC population. Just riding around the city, the vast majority of camps are small groups with open layouts and lots and lots of cool little interactive projects. The occasional RV fortress is an eyesore, and a larger problem for those camped near one, but overall, I haven’t felt their influence even a little bit.

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  • Forgot to add, perhaps an area for camps with more than, say, 4 RV’s or 2 large buses might be in order, unless they’re bringing a project out to the playa.

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  • re: Heyu: see Lolipop’s reply: “this reasoning is used by all those more-burningman-than-thou types out there. you people are everywhere. this type of ‘policing’ is usually worst ”
    This proves my point!! People are idiots and think they can do whatever they want, regardless of how it negatively impacts others*, the event*, or the playa*!
    Lolipop: so I guess I’m just “being boring” when I have to pick up your trash? What about the poor soul who has to clean up the human excrement on the playa cuz you or someone else didn’t want to walk all the portapotty?
    You, my dear, are the “worst”: lazy.

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  • I think those entire Plug and Play camp is a whole lot to do about nothing. This seems to me a smoke screen to take away from BMORG for fucking up the ticket process for 2012. As one commented above if you want to see the ultimate Plug and Play Camp go see First Camp. To have management put their thumb down now seems hypocritical Let people experience Burning Man the way they want to IF they were so lucky to have been able to purchase a ticket….

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  • Check Point Charlie is right. BMORG really did screw the pooch this year with the tickets. Kinda hypocritical too with First Camp. What I am am unsure about is if anyone is going to have any fun, or are they going to be talking about all this crap on the playa? “All my friends couldn’t make it because of BMORG” or “That camp looks like a Plug and Play camp so hide your children!”

    Look in the mirror and repeat after me…

    “I have finally identified the problem, I am a Jerk”

    GET OVER YOURSELF!!! Now don’t you feel better?

    Total Jerk and burner,

    Joey Jo Jo Junior Shabadoo

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  • this is why other events venues concerts continue to do well they provide this level of services as part of their programs. we all pay the level of involment we are comfortable with whether its cars housing or entertainment

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  • To those who think that this is all a smokescreen, I’m just wondering… should this blog only and ever be about the ticket fiasco? I can understand if you feel like you haven’t gotten enough information from the Org — although how much can they give to satisfy those for whom there’s never enough? — but at some point you have to live with the question like all the rest of us. It’s all going to work out one way or the other.

    And to dave above, please take that racist shit somewhere else, maybe a klan meeting. I’ve had stuff stolen from me, from bikes to things a touch more illicit, and I adapt. I don’t go blindly scapegoating groups of people out of petty anger or a overblown sense of loss.

    And since I really should chime in on the subject at hand, I know a few burners that make the experience easier for others and get paid off playa for their time and effort, and I’ve only ever seen everybody involved better off for it. There’s more to life than money… isn’t that what decommodification is all about?

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  • @Thermal

    okay, you go out there with your honorary ranger badge and run around telling everyone what they’re doing wrong. yes, it’s boring. it’s boring because for every person you tell-off, you kill the buzz of the people you’re with and the people within earshot of your self-righteous indignation.

    you people think you’re special and that you ‘get it’ above all the people you judge to be doing it wrong. you’re not special – the playa is absolutely littered with people like you – like the lady stomping around the portapotties with a bullhorn screaming for an hour every day very angrily that babywipes shouldn’t be thrown in the potties. every day for an hour! she thought she was doing the right thing just like you. there was absolutely no reasoning with her to get her to turn down the bullhorn, just like there’s no reasoning with you.

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  • Lolipop, i’ll be a ranger out there this year, and you can sure as hell bet, i’ll be ripping on the camps with the 24/7 unprotected generators. I’ll make it my primary focus to make their week a living hell, like their are making their neighbors.

    90% of BRC citizens are good folks, 5% are clueless, and 5% are just plain aholes.

    That last 5% better watch out for me.

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  • @harinama

    “I’ll make it my primary focus to make their week a living hell”

    like a good little authoritarian. you’ve earned your brownshirt. wear it with pride.

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  • Dude with a crappy “art” car after getting pancakes next door to our theme camp; “Hey, can put my paper plate in your garbage?”

    (he was the third person that morning to ask)

    My camp mate; “Sorry, we’re not garbage camp.”

    Dude; “Aw, c’mon! I’ll give you a ride in my art car later on.”

    My camp mate; “This is Burning Man. Pack it in, pack it out. Your art car is right there, don’t you have a garbage bag in that thing?!”

    Dude; “Aw man! You guys are assholes.”

    My camp mate; “Yes. Yes we are.”

    There are two kinds of people at Burning Man. Those who contribute to the community and those who take from the community. And what makes it a community? Shared values. If someone is walking around, ignoring the agreed-upon shared values, then they are TAKING from the community… and yes, it is acceptable, nay, it is one’s DUTY to be an “authoritarian” asshole towards them so that maybe they will straighten up and decide to contribute instead of taking.

    If you think Burning Man is all about anarchy and chaos and “doing whatever you want” then you are sorely mistaken. If you automatically label authority and rules and shared values as “bad”, then I think you have a bit of a simplistic outlook.

    Yes, I will tell someone shitting on the playa that it’s “not cool”. Because it is NOT cool. It is not cool if I step in it, it is not cool if someone else steps in it, and it is not cool for the person who has to clean it up. It’s an act of thoughtless selfishness… THAT is who the real asshole is. THAT is the true authoritarian who forces somebody else to deal with his shit against their will.

    Basically, at Burning Man (and anywhere else for that matter) if you are not dealing with your own shit, then you are shitting on the community and it is perfectly acceptable for the community to put you in your place.

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  • I am not a seasoned burner, in fact last year was my first. I am 55 and have had many challenges in my life. ( as many do) I found a link online and followed it to burning man. I’ve read that few go to because of the 10 principles. I read those 10 principles, and knew that I had to go. They are what I have strived for all my adult life. My closest friend also had a ticket, but had heart surgery so burning man was no longer possible. I camped in a tent and wasps radically

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  • I am not a seasoned burner, in fact last year was my first year. I found a link online and followed it to Burning Man. I’ve read that few go because of the 10 principles, not me. I read those 10 principles and knew that I had to go. They are the values I have strived towards all my adult life. My closest friend also had a ticket, but had heart surgery so burning man was no longer an option.
    Camping in a tent, and being radically self reliant was hard, but I felt more alive than I have in years.
    This year my friend and I would love to go again, she would need air conditioning, and a place to rest during the day. I was VERY lucky and picked up 2 tickets in the lottery.
    We rented a trailer that is supposed to be delivered to the playa, and taken away when Burning Man is finished. It is costly, but the only way she can attend.
    I am thrilled I can share the burning man experience with her. Only possible because we are able to able to have the use of a trailer. Our situation is one many people at Burning Man must experience.
    We will be burners in every way but we will not be sleeping in a tent.

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