Burning Book Club – Chapter 1 – Turns out Money can Buy Enlightenment

Book Burning(We’re basing this discussion on Terry Eagleton’s “Culture and the Death of God.”  Read all the book club entries)

We tend to think of a secular society as one with no religion, but in fact no such animal exists – or ever has existed.  Instead, a “secular society” is one in which religion is not a central organizing principle but exists only as one of many potential forms of amusement or self-help.

“Societies become secular not when they dispense with religion altogether, but when they are no longer especially agitated by it,” Eagelton notes at the opening of this chapter.  “Another index of secularization is when religious faith ceases to be vitally at stake in the political sphere, not just when church attendance plummets or Roman Catholics are mysteriously childless.”

This unites religion with art and cultural cannons, all of which have been impacted by what Eagleton refers to as “the privatization of the symbolic sphere.”

“It is when artists, like bishops, are unlikely to be hanged that we can be sure that modernity has set in,” he writes.  “They do not matter enough for that.”

For artists to matter socially, art has to be more than just a matter of private taste.  Indeed, for anything beyond raw power and money to matter culturally, it must invoke a common bond – be more than a matter of personal taste or fashion.  Burning Man is one among many kinds of culture that fall under this shadow.  To the extent that Burning Man is attempting to re-enchant the world or make life more meaningful … to the extent that we want art to matter … Burning Man faces off against the same forces that have displaced religion.

(more…)

The Burning Man Minute for March 30, 2014

Burning Man’s collective consciousness transcends the hegemonic noosphere while delegating the collective unconscious to you, at speeds not yet achieved by even the most spiritually advanced iPhone app!

The Burning Man Minute helps you keep track of everything you need to know without paying attention!

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

Burning Book Club – preface – “Atheism isn’t as easy as it looks”

Burning BooksRead more about Book Club and the book we’re reading.

According to the 2013 Blackrock City Census, 73% of Burning Man attendees say they belong to “No Religion.”  Of the remaining Burners, 6% claim to be Jewish, 5% Catholic, 5% “other Christian,” 4% other, 3% Protestant (although isn’t that “other Christian?”), and 2% each for Buddhism, Pastafarianism (although can’t we just call that “Atheism with a shtick?”), and Paganism.

Yet by the same count only 22% of Burners self-identify as Atheists, 49% of Burners say they are “spiritual,” and about as many Burners say they practice prayer/meditation/contemplation as Burners who say they don’t.

So while a majority of Burners clearly aren’t religious, neither have a majority of them abandoned the things that one generally looks to religion to provide.  We may not see religion as providing any answers about God, the spiritual aspect of reality, or a sense of connection to the world around us – but neither have we given up on those things.  A compelling argument can be made that we are looking for religion by another name.

This is precisely the condition of the world that Terry Eagleton examines in his book “Culture and the Death of God.”  This is not a book about whether God exists or religion is “correct” – it is a book asking the question:  “what does a culture that for thousands of years put religion at the center of morality, political authority, and epistemology, do when it has secularized?”

We have to ask the question because we still don’t have an answer.  As Eagleton notes in the preface:  “(D)espite the fact that art, Reason, culture and so on all had a thriving life of their own, they were also called on from time to time to shoulder this ideological burden, one to which they invariably proved unequal.  That none of these viceroys for God turned out to be very plausible is part of my story.”

(more…)

Adventures in (Burning Man) Writing: meet Marzipan Man and his “spines”

Artists rendering of a "Spine" book case.  (Image courtesy of Matthew Melnicki)
Artists rendering of a “Spine” book case. (Image courtesy of Tom Woodall )

Burning Man still doesn’t have a literary culture.  Not even the appearance of one, or the promise of one on the horizon.

But horizons are illusions, and there’s always something on the other side.

Wow … I feel like I’m writing a lost verse of “Rainbow Connection.”  Somebody get me a banjo.  (Burning Man happens to have a highly advanced banjo culture.  A theme camp will actually be sending the first banjo into space this September.)

But I digress.

Words may never adequately describe Burning Man, but words are a vital part of the human experience and the artistic impulse, and just because no literary style or culture has emerged doesn’t mean dedicated individual Burners aren’t out pushing the boundaries of the written word at Burning Man.

These are their stories.

(Dun Dun)

Oh crap, now I’m doing an episode of Law & Order.  How did this happen?  Somebody call forensics!

You see what happens when there isn’t a literary culture?  Words scatter across genres.

(Quick Fun Fact:  Burning Man is developing one of the most advanced party forensic labs in America, capable of detecting exactly who harshed your buzz up to 30 hours after the incident.  The technology is incredible.)

But I digress.

One of the innovators trying to push the boundaries of what words can do at Burning Man is Marzipan Man (Matthew Melnicki), who last year began placing “spines” – freestanding book depositories – on the playa, and placing his own hand-stitched books in them:  free to take, with the hope that someone will put some of their own work in to share.

(more…)

A Little Heavy Reading …

Today's book club selection ...
Today’s book club selection …

ANNOUNCEMENT:  AT THE MIDDLE OF THIS POST, I SUGGEST STARTING A BOOK CLUB THROUGH THE BURNING BLOG.  IF THAT MIGHT INTEREST YOU, READ THE WHOLE POST AND THEN LEAVE A COMMENT IF YOU WANT TO PARTICIPATE. 

I’ve been having a lot of conversations with people recently about Burning Man’s place as a historical movement in global culture.  I don’t know that this is something a lot of people are talking about –  but I do think the people who want to have this conversation see me crossing the street and jump at the chance.  Something about me screams “guy who will stand on the street corner talking about the transformation of self and society for a half-hour, even if it means missing his best friend’s birthday party.”

That’s never really happened, of course.  I don’t have a best friend.  Or get invited to parties.

There is a question out there as to whether Burning Man is the latest answer to a historical movement in society following “the death of God.”  Which doesn’t necessarily mean Burning Man is a replacement for religion (which I’ve argued it cannot be), but does mean that there has long been a concern that Western society is now lacking – depending how you think about it – either a center around which everything can orbit or a bridge between the mundane and the transcendent.

Is that a niche Burning Man can fill?

The answer, right now, is a solid “maybe.”  But I’ve been very struck by this question as I’ve read  a read a book that (so far) hasn’t mentioned Burning Man once:  Terry Eagelton’s new exegesis “Culture and the Death of God.”   Sections have been jumping out at me, time and again, as potentially relevant to the broader cultural world Burning Man finds itself in.

I’ve put some quotes below.  I’m using an eReader, so I can’t give meaningful page number citations, but I will group them by chapters.  You might not see the relevance – it could just be me.  But questions of how much guidance Reason (capital R) can give Culture (capital C), how art and aesthetics interact with society, along with the symbolic resources cultures require, and the conditions necessary to create and keep them,   strike me as very relevant to Burning Man’s future … in the most abstruse, round-about way possible.  But still.

Does anyone want to join me in the book?  I’m only a quarter of the way through – if anybody wants to try a book-club like discussion on this blog, send me a note and let me know.  Or just stop me on the street …

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

(more…)

Research tip for Burning 365 days a year

"If you had three wishes that could be expressed in bacon form, what would they be?"
“If you had three wishes that could be expressed in bacon form, what would they be?”

[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.]

Those of us wondering how we can live the playa in our daily lives might want to review some research profiled in last week’s New York Times.

Many of us – especially those from low-touch, high privacy cultures (like, ahem, me) – assume that most of us are happiest when people are left alone in their zone of privacy:  don’t disturb people you don’t have a reason to talk to.  It’s a gesture of politeness and respect.  We’ve internalized that.

It usually makes people like me uncomfortable when others breach these rules, but the research conducted in Chicago by behavioral scientists Nicholas Epley and Juliana Schroeder suggests that our momentary discomfort might make us happier in the long run.

(more…)

The Burning Man Minute for April 25, 2014

Burning Man is happening around the world, at the speed of fire, with the strength of a hundred DJs!  Here at the Burning Blog we want to keep you up-to-date every minute, on the hour, weekly, across time zones, in perpetuity!

Hence I am proud to introduce The Burning Man Minute, which will disrupt your mobile app and change everything you thought you knew about watching people talk about Burning Man!  The future is already late for its appointment with technology!

 

 

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

It’s a new era. The Future of Burning Man belongs to …

Photo: Bobby Pin
Photo: Bobby Pin

If I tell you that “Western Culture” is dying, will I seem alarmist?

If I say that it is our responsibility, as citizens and Burners, to pick the gauntlet of culture up, will that seem absurdly triumphalist?

It does to me.  But, over the next thousand words, that’s pretty much where I’m going to go.

Dammit.  I hate it when I get like this.

A sense of mission looks bad on Burners, we’re much more appealing when we’re just having fun, but ignoring the evident is worse.

***

I missed this year’s Global Leadership Conference, but I am told that a moment came when a mass of people finally acknowledged that the idea of the “default world,” a real world from which Burning Man is an escape, no longer holds water.  There are too many leaks.  There are hundreds of thousands of self-identified Burners engaging in hundreds of regional events around the world.

That’s what makes this era of Burning Man different from what came before.  We can no longer even pretend there is a “default world.”  To quote the 1980s:  we are the world.  Only a small part of it, but inseparable from.

(more…)