February 5th, 2014  |  Filed under The Ten Principles

A few ground rules for talking about the 10 Principles

February 5th, 2014  |  Filed under The Ten Principles
We can talk about this stuff all day.

We can talk about this stuff all day.

[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.

Caveat 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


11 Responses to “A few ground rules for talking about the 10 Principles”

  1. Tron Says:

    1. RADICAL INCLUSION: Anyone can buy a ticket and attend the event. While the stranger may be ‘respected’, that doesn’t mean you’re invited to the private parties or any parties for that matter. If you don’t look right, don’t act right, and don’t know someone who knows someone, bugger off.

    2. GIFTING: Make about 50-100 trinkets to give out to people who don’t harsh your vibe. It’s best to make necklaces because most people don’t have pockets to put your little thing into. The more of these little gifts you have hanging on your body by the end of the week, the cooler you are perceived to be by the newbs (which might get your laid), but everyone else thinks you look like a dork. And handing off illegal drugs as a gift without telling the recipient what’s in your hand can get your new best friend arrested (you too).

    3. DECOMMODIFICATION: Only people with a @burningman.com email address are allowed to make money off the wide-eyed wonderment of the citizens, and participate in the many black market exchanges happening on the playa. Yes, Suzy, cash is readily exchanged on the playa, but unless you’ve recently had sex with someone pulling a salary from the Borg, don’t even think about it.

    4. RADICAL SELF-RELIANCE: Don’t become a burden on the infrastructure. Take care of your shit. Don’t go around asking people for a ride back to San Francisco on Sunday morning. Stop asking for meat and cheese from strangers. Stop alarming people that you must have been roofied because you can’t remember what happened last night after having 15 drinks and a bottle of wine.

    5. RADICAL SELF-EXPRESSION: Do whatever you want, just don’t touch people. Don’t ask people if you can hug them, they only say yes to be polite. If your body looks like a train wreck, clothing is the best option because people are eating.

    6. COMMUNAL EFFORT: Build something or help build something and call it, ‘art’. It doesn’t have to be good, it just needs to keep you busy and out of real trouble so no one has to deal with your problems.

    7. CIVIC RESPONSIBILITY: If you bring sparkle ponies out there – they’re YOUR problem. If you lead a camp, find out which members have severe personality disorders BEFORE you leave to the playa.

    8. LEAVING NO TRACE: Clean up your shit. But don’t concern yourself with the huge carbon footprint the event leaves behind on this once pristine ancient lakebed (the damage has already been done, plus no one cares).

    9. PARTICIPATION: This doesn’t mean, ‘don’t spectate’. This means the highest and best activity you can perform on the playa is in service to the infrastructure in the form of volunteerism. The harder you work and the more you sacrifice in service to the business, the more cool-points you will be awarded. These cool-points can be exchanged for tiers of enlightenment. Extra cool-points are handed out if you are injured on the job, but you still will not be paid. And don’t ask.

    10. IMMEDIACY: No one knows what this means. If someone cites this principle to you, run away. This is how they get newbs to do the shit work.

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  2. The Hun Says:

    Love your work Caveat! I want to know more about the shape of the inclusion vs. expression debate. Can you point me toward some of the discussions you’ve experienced?

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  3. weinstain Says:

    What art is there when the acrylic has been stolen from the paint?

    The desert will kill you, particularly if you downshift into apologetic mediocrity.

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  4. merlin olsen Says:

    We need an 11th and 12th principle.

    #11. Don’t be a whiny bitch.

    #12. If you don’t like the way Burning Man does things then DON’T GO!

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  5. Tron Says:

    @merlin

    but why you mad?

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  6. champagne Says:

    was digging the hole because I forgot to ask “who the fuck…”, but forgot to do it…anyway, glad that you wrote about this because convert’s zeal is a real thing and people seem to really need a rule book for life. The 10 Principals look like they could neatly fit that need. When first exposed to the 10, our first thought was, “shit, it this becoming another religion?” We worry that if Larry isn’t careful, when he dies, it will become a religion.

    Tron, go fuck yourself. There is no such thing as a private party on the playa.

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  7. Tron Says:

    @champagne
    >There is no such thing as a private party on the playa.

    Are the signs that say, “Private Party” at dome entrances just joking? Are the signs that say, “No Single Men Allowed” just joking? Are the people on art cars who shout “Our camp only!!” and kick randoms off, just joking? Well, then that’s pretty funny.

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  8. GrimNexus Says:

    I dunno Caveat; I dug a hole–and I allowed you to be my head–I think you might have buried yourself.

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  9. boozyboo Says:

    haha i love it guys, this is good shit for reading. keep on stirring the shit pot haha

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  10. Kim Ganassin Says:

    Caveat, thanks for encouraging discussions about how to relate to the principles, good stuff. Tron, somewhere in your comments there might be something I can use, but the whining is distracting. Sounds like someone asked you to dig a hole and stick your head in it, and you victimized yourself by doing it. Hope you learned from it. But I can’t judge – I think I victimized myself by reading through your entire list of 10 ways you got screwed at Burning Man when I should have stopped at #2. Live and learn!

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  11. Matoka Malinga Says:

    What is da playa and why does no one care about da carbon-footprint/damage done to the once pristine etcetc? Just came across this site wit great fascination – asked all da right questions but I may jus dig da hole etc for da experience only I don tink people should go trash up beautiful natural spots jus for da experience. If there was a point – yeah – I mean if burning that man was gonna combat project loon n save da world from da bottomless pit – maybe it does by alterin people’s headspace – I too could use da experience if it could open my mind to a way outta dis hole. Lemme go home n dig dat hole.

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