photo: Neil Girling
photo: Neil Girling

Every year on the Playa I experience moments of random synchronicity, when something that can’t possibly happen, does. Usually it’s something minor like we’re passing a theme camp and they’re playing a song that I haven’t heard in ages, then later that evening we’re out on the open Playa and a mutant vehicle passes by playing the very same song. Or maybe we’re hot and thirsty riding around the backstreets and we just happen to find a camp where they’re making snow cones. Whatever it is, it’s usually the kind of thing that has me say to my companions with a knowing smile “Playadipity”, or even “The Playa Provides!” And strangely, it usually does. It’s also been my experience that the more I’m open to it and the more I trust it, the more it seems to happen. (more…)

Burning Man is not a Meritocracy

Flaming Saucer
A bunch of merit goes up in flames.

Burning Man as a cultural force is getting more interesting, not less, as it gets more mainstream attention and access to discourses about self and society.  (Why yes, “Discourses about Self and Society” WAS a seminar that I took as a sophomore English major.  Why do you ask?)  No major cultural movement travels in a straight line, and no one can tell which aspects of Burner culture will be most challenging, or potentially revolutionary, as it catches on in new cultures and geographies.

The most interesting new challenge I see emerging comes as Burning Man is increasingly attended, referenced, and cited, by both academics and members of the tech industry – work cultures that, in their own ways, claim to be highly driven meritocracies.

Both are increasingly citing Burning Man as a model and a form of inspiration.  And yet Burning Man … fundamentally and unambiguously … is not a meritocracy.  Is, in fact, perhaps our most significant cultural movement at the present time to directly challenge the very idea that a meritocracy is the way we want to order society.

(Why yes, “The Way We Want to Order Society” was a post-graduate seminar I took during the summer for no credit.  Why do you ask?)

This isn’t an explicit challenge, of course:  one of the most interesting (and I’d argue effective) things about Burning Man is precisely that it doesn’t require anyone to sign a loyalty oath when they walk through the gate.  (Unless you count a spanking …)  Burning Man no more “calls out” a meritocracy any more than it calls out industrial pollution.  But just as there’s no question that, taken to their even vaguely logical conclusions, the principles of Burning Man – if followed – would prevent industrial pollution, it’s pretty clear that – if followed – the principles of Burning Man would dismantle the application of meritocracies. (more…)