[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.]
Okay, anyone who read the headline to this post and asked “Who the fuck are you to set ground rules for talking about the 10 Principles?” gets a gold star. The rest of you need to stay after class and clean the erasers.
Anyone in the second group who just asked “Who the fuck are you to make me stay after class and clean the erasers?” is beginning to get it. Nice work.
The rest of you need to dig a hole and stick your heads in it.
I can go on like this all day.
What I’m doing is setting some context … background information … for when I talk about the 10 Principles. It’s how I think about them. Your mileage may vary, but I think these are good and useful axioms that help orient the 10 Principles in the larger universe of Philosophy and Epistemology.
Those of you who don’t give a damn about philosophy and epistemology may want to dig a hole and stick your heads in it.
I swear I’m not going to stop until someone sticks their head in a hole they dug themselves.
First, the 10 Principles are not unlimited goods. That is to say, there is no circumstance in which it is imagined that the world simply can’t have too much self-reliance, or gifting, or self-expression. On the contrary: there is, absolutely, a time and a place to sit down and shut up. In fact, the 10 Principles are set up in such a way that they often actively contradict each other (as in the old “inclusion vs. expression” debate), forcing some kind of give-and-take to occur.
That give-and-take is crucial to the process of understanding them. The 10 Principles are “principles” – good ideas, excellent aspirations, stars that we follow, but they were never intended to be followed blindly. Quite the contrary: following them with open eyes keeps one from tripping over fairly obvious obstacles.
That isn’t intended to let anyone off the hook for half-assing it – I’d suggest that following the principles ought to push you out of your comfort zone, at least a little. But as a general rule if you’re following them without thinking, you’re probably doing it wrong. “Principles” are not dogmas, and none of the 10 Principles are meant to justify absolutely anything done in their name. They’re not unlimited goods.
Similarly, the 10 Principles are not exclusive goods – they are meant to describe the principles of Burning Man, not to encompass all that is right and good in the universe. Let us agree, right now, that Burning Man is not the only prism through which the world can or should be viewed, and that there are many good and important things that are not especially relevant to Burner culture.
I’ve always felt patience is a virtue: that doesn’t mean it needs to be one of the 10 Principles. Humility is crucial to one’s character: that doesn’t mean we need to find a way to squeeze it into Burning Man’s core values. A knowledge of history is important; people should understand how the internet works; it’s good to speak a second language. Burning Man, however, has little to say about any of this – and that’s okay.
The 10 Principles don’t have to settle any of the issues between Theists and Atheists, they don’t have to be the springboard to an Israeli peace accord, and they cannot mandate that the farmers and the cowboys should be friends.
If Burning Man is your only worldview, you’re going to miss most of the world – and that would be a shame. Burning Man is a good thing, and an important thing. It might very well change the world. But it will never be the world, and so the 10 Principles will never be enough, on their own, to cover any and every eventuality of life. The 10 Principles are not exclusive goods.
Is anybody saying “Well, yeah?” at this point? That’s a good sign. It may seem unimportant to establish that when we’re talking about Burning Man, we’re only talking about Burning Man – and that we’re not subsuming everything in the world to it. But … well … look … Burning Man can be an intense. People have life changing experiences; it wouldn’t be far off to call them “conversion experiences” of a sort. (Though note that I’ve argued before, and still hold, that Burning Man cannot replace religion.) And there’s no zeal like a convert’s zeal.
Among ourselves we often talk about Burning Man as though it is a comprehensive approach to life, and that’s understandable: it colors everything we do. Regionals have organized in countries around the globe, and everything Burning Man does leads to a viral video and a media storm. Academics and big business alike are studying us as a model.
By all means, let’s dream big.
But in terms of understand what we actually stand for, feet on the ground are more helpful than a head in the clouds. Burning Man is distinguished as a system of thought … no, that’s not the right phrase … an approach to life … by a groundedness that approaches humility. It has 10 Principles, good principles, but it doesn’t claim there can’t be any other principles for individuals or groups in the world. It has insights – good insights – but it doesn’t claim you’ll never need any others.
It may change you – it will change you – but it never asks you to leave your existing beliefs at the door.
As we explore everything that the 10 Principles are, it’s good to keep that sense of humility handy. It will take us farther, and the road will be more interesting.
is the Volunteer Coordinator for Media Mecca at Burning Man is the author (under a clever pseudonym) of “A Guide to Bars and Nightlife in the Sacred City,” which has nothing to do with Burning Man. Contact him at Caveat (at) Burningman.com