Burning Man may be the future, but it’s not an escape

Great book. Facile comparison with Burning Man.

In a recent Io9 article, futurist Jamais Cascio says that Burning Man “is often the ‘default’ scenario for tomorrow’s culture among many futurists.”


It’s taken a over 25 years for a small organization to build an annual event that attracts some 60,000 people, and they’re still struggling to build a non-profit cultural movement out of it … but now there’s a group of “visionaries” who consider the culture we’re building together to be the “default scenario” for the future of mankind.

Hey look, everybody:  we’re inevitable!

I suppose that’s a compliment.  But … hey, what kind of future is that exactly anyway?

“It’s one of ‘expanded rights,’ with mainstream acceptance for everything from gay marriage and group marriage, to human-robot romances and even more unusual relationships. It would also involve ‘acceptance of cultural experimentation, and the dominance of the leisure society [where] robots do all of the work [and] humans get to play/make art/take drugs/have sex.’”


Are we sure that’s us?

The writer’s sure, going on to compare the “Burning Man default scenario” for the future with Aldous Huxley’s “Brave New World.”

In some ways, this vision hasn’t changed much since Aldous Huxley wrote about a hedonistic pseudo-Utopia in his 1932 novel Brave New World. Freed from necessity, humans can experiment with new kinds of social arrangements and turn life into a game.

Is that really what we’re like?

It’s hard to tell, at least going by the things Burning Man is compared to.  Which is to say, just about everything. (more…)

In defense of academia, and why it’s good for Burning Man

Albert Einstein and Kurt Godel – paragons of academia?

About 60 comments deep into my post about why Burning Man and academic culture are at odds, I realized that what started out as a provocation and reaction had turned into a relevant conversation … and that the comments section on a blog is a terrible place to have a relevant conversation.

There are worse places, but they’re filled with toxic fish.

So I invited anyone (especially academics) who disagreed with me to send me short essays expressing their disagreement, and said I’d post some on the Burning Blog in order to give their ideas a better hearing.

So far only one has responded:  Lans Ellison.  (That’s a pseudonym:  he asked that his real name not be used.  I am hardly in a position to object.)  Much in the same way that my opinions in no way represent those of Burning Man, Lans is only speaking for himself, etc. etc. (boilerplate, boilerplate).

His essay is below, unaltered.  I’ll include my own response to his ideas in the comments section, after some other people have had a chance to speak (if they’re inclined to). (more…)

I Grew Up Here

by Hal “Phoenix” Muskat


One day a friend & I were standing outside The Artery when we approached by a 25 year old women in flowered & flowing gowns. She was radiant and owned an awesome smile.

“I grew up here,” she sputtered with a certain conviction to us and to everyone who could hear. I giggled, thinking, “I grew up here too.”

But there was power and authenticity to her claim. My friend, a wise historian and archivist who has forgotten this encounter, asked, “How is that so, many Burners claim to ‘grow up’ here?”

“Well,” she began to explain, “when I was three years old, my dad and a bunch of his friends began to come up here every summer from Los Angeles for a week or so, so this was where we took our summer vacation until I was about ten. We would camp someplace out here.”

She had our attention and continued, “One day, I guess I was around three or four years old, I felt that none of the adults were paying any attention to me. I thought I would go for a hike and discover those mountains over there. Dad and his friends were sitting in the shade of our vans so I began to walk to the mountains. After a few steps, I looked back and dad and all his friends were simply looking at ME! I realized in that instant, that out here in the Black Rock Desert, I could do and be whatever I wanted, if I was safe!”

Before we could say “WOW!” she went on. “About five years ago I was driving home to LA from Oregon and I decided to take the back roads and come via Black Rock Desert to see my old playground. I was heading south on Hwy 447 over there and came around this bend north of here & I looked out to ‘MY PLAYA’ and saw all these lights and flashes of explosion. I thought, ‘What the fuck is going on so I pulled in and bought a ticket and have been coming back every year since.

Before we could get back to the first “WOW!” she went on, breathlessly: “When I left, as soon as I could get in cell range, I called my dad and said, ‘You’ll never guess what’s going on out here in Black Rock Desert!'”

We giggled excitedly, cause we knew what was coming next and even as I write this I get some chills.

“Now my dad is out here and this is our fourth year at Burning Man together.”



Are you a multi-generation playa family? Say hi in the comments and tell us your story!

Burning Man is a story field

From high above, you’d think Burning Man was just a bunch of objects.

You take the vast, blank field of the Black Rock Desert, place items and humans in a C-shaped formation, and you have yourself a Burning Man.

Now that Black Rock City has found its shape, it looks more or less the same from orbit year over year, although it scoots around the playa a little bit. Our festival of spontaneity begins to look pretty repetitive from high up.

How much more Cargo Cult does it get? We build our city of cars and altar of sticks, we burn the altar, we demolish the city, and then we do it again. We keep having this festival to blow up reality or whatever we’re doing, but reality keeps on being real, and we keep building this C-shaped pile of objects over and over again. Does this not meet the definition of insanity?


Why the 10 Principles? Because you never change the world the same way twice

[This post is part of the 10 Principles blog series, an ongoing exploration of the history, philosophy and dynamics of Burning Man’s 10 Principles in Black Rock City and around the world. We welcome your voice in the conversation.]

Inspiration can be stronger than gravity

During her presentation at Burning Man headquarters last night, Nicole Radziwill gave an example of the way she’s trying to integrate the 10 Principles into her classroom at James Madison University. (“The Burning Mind Project”)

“I was trying to figure out how to emphasize Gifting,” she said (I’m quoting from memory, so this is inexact). “When we came to a point in my Artificial Intelligence class when I’d have them do projects, I told them ‘All right, you can do projects alone or in groups, but before you do that I want you to ask yourself: ‘what do I have that I can give to a group project? What important thing do I have to offer?’ Think about that, find your answer, and in another class we’re going to present it to everyone together.”

What happened next, she said, was that students got up and told personal stories about the work they’d done in the past and the work they wanted to do in the future, and what they were passionate about offering if they could. Other students started responding. “They said ‘hey, I did something similar once, and if we put those things together we could do this really amazing thing,’” she remembers – and suddenly she had groups of students coming together to work on projects they cared deeply about.

It sounds like an amazing experience, and shows the potential that an activity like “bringing the 10 Principles into the classroom” has to inspire meaningful change.    It’s the kind of effort we’re going to see a lot more of in the next few years.   (more…)