Posts for category The Ten Principles


July 22nd, 2014  |  Filed under The Ten Principles

The Barkinator — Testing the Limits of Radical Inclusion

[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.]

Someone once said to me that every year San Francisco builds a city in the desert and it’s called Burning Man. Hearing that made me think about why I came to SF in the first place 36 years ago. My mother called it a “push and a pole”. The “push” was getting out of the small town mindset that I had grown up in, and the “pole” was the fantastic “city of permission” that sat at the end of the wagon trail where all the whack-minded odd birds migrated to. I was certain that I, too, was a whack-minded odd bird. I was a starless-bellied Sneetch that had been shunned from the boat parties of the snobs and the too cool cruel schools.

I had a hunch that a more permissive place lay to the west where the radically minded set the stage, not the fad followers. On one of the first nights that I had landed in the city by the Bay in ‘79, I went to the midnight showing of Rocky Horror Picture Show on Market Street, and just like that, I had stepped into an entire nation of whacky birds and they all seemed to be crammed into one maniacal theatre! Still a small town pup, it was the most outrageous thing I had ever seen – right down to the six-foot drag queen sitting next to me handing me a lit joint. It was radical, and I was included!

DPW Parade and Green Man, 2002. Photo by Steve Saroff.

DPW Parade and Green Man, 2002. Photo by Steve Saroff.

Radical Inclusion sits at the cornerstone of the Ten Principles. It assembles the community in the first place where the other principles direct it. It’s also one of the tougher ones to hold to. Allegiances can be challenged when Techno Surf Camp, for instance, find themselves parked next to Camp Carp’s Black Sabbath Pancakes. Seems that putting up with our radical differences takes work. Wouldn’t it be easier to just surround ourselves with all things familiar so we never have to stray from our well-worn color wheels? But that’s when treasures of life start slipping by unseen – camouflaged by the shroud of unfamiliarity. We become imprisoned by our own opinions – by what we might consider to be in good or poor taste. Pablo Picasso once said that taste was the enemy of creativity. Taste forms a boundary that excludes.

Photo by Mark Peterson, 2011

Photo by Mark Peterson, 2011

Black Rock City was challenged with radical inclusion early on. Back when the Department of Public Works (DPW) of BRC was still newly forming, many of our first generation crews were members of the Black Label Bike Club. They were a brazen bunch that had the rough-and-tumble it took to pound those early cities into the summer playa with broken trucks and tools. They also knew the meaning of a good prank and had the brass to pull ‘em off. The Bike Club was pretty specific in its view of the world and every year their irritation would grow along with the swelling presence of rave and techno music at our event. They were fine with radical inclusion, as long as it didn’t include rave and techno music.

I would explain to them that all-inclusive meant just that and that rave camps were here to stay, but their irritation continued to grow nonetheless. That’s when they decided to create “The Barkinator!” They took one of the road warrior junker cars we always seemed to have on hand and loaded it up with this pretty massive sound system. Then they made a tape loop of vicious dogs barking – at ear-bleed volume – and blasted it as they drove around Black Rock City. It was the most obnoxious thing I have ever encountered out there. The complaints started flooding in.

“That’s not art!”
“That’s ugly and annoying and should be kicked off the playa!”
“It’s too loud!” (Actually, it was nowhere near as loud as a rave camp.)
“There’s nothing interactive about that horrid thing!” – and so on.

DPW Rolling in the Gremlin, 2004

DPW Rolling in the Gremlin, 2004

But the Bike Club held fast and flipped the pointing finger around back to them. “Your rave camps annoy us as much as our Barkinator annoys you! This just happens to be our form of expression.” Long story short, the court battle went up the food chain until a senior decision was handed down saying that the Barkinator had as much a place in our city as any. You can’t get kicked off the playa simply for being horrid. And so, the Barkinator barked on, wreaking havoc like a three-headed Cerberus in the night – that is until the third night when not even the Bike Club could stand it anymore and dismantled it the next day. But the point had been made!

The more mindsets we welcome, the more facets on our sparkling gem. A city that encourages a radically inclusive philosophy also encourages an environment of discovery. When you shine your one-sided beam through the prism of another’s perspective, who knows what kind of spectrums will be splashed before you.

Black Rock City – the bastard child of San Francisco – the runaway teenager that started their own production company while still grasping to the core values of their parent, which was to be a permissive city– to open their gates to any who have something to offer and to open their minds to the fanatical quirks they may bring. Black Rock City – where the Playa’s vacuum acts as the great equalizer sucking away even the biggest of egos – where dubstep can go on a blind date with gypsy music – where a billionaire’s next door neighbor is a guy in a tent – where failed art can receive just as much encouragement – where a grilled hot dog can taste as good as a filet mignon.

Coyote Nose

The Generator, A Community Art and Builder’s Space

The Generator with LOVE by Jeff Schomberg and Laura Kimpton being moved

The Generator with LOVE by Jeff Schomberg and Laura Kimpton being moved

Gene kids2

Youngsters making things

There is a new art kid on the block! The Generator is a non-profit, inclusive, community art and builder’s space in greater Reno, Nevada (actually in Sparks). It’s open to anyone who wants to make art and be part of a creative community, and they run on their version of Burning Man’s Ten Principles.

I went for a tour a few weeks ago, and I was amazed. There is every sort of tool, and many different kinds of artists: painters, sculptors, woodworkers, Burning Man Honorarium artists, brand new artists of every sort, and children learning art. And the best part is there is no cost to anyone who wants to participate in making any kind of art.

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April 29th, 2014  |  Filed under The Ten Principles

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.

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April 25th, 2014  |  Filed under The Ten Principles

Why Doesn’t Burning Man Take a Stand?

[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.]

Now and again somebody tries to tempt (or badger) the Burning Man organization into taking stand on a political issue – most recently the dust-up at the Bundy Ranch in Nevada.

Why doesn’t Burning Man take a stand? The answer is simple: our principle of Radical Inclusion. “Anyone may be a part of Burning Man. We welcome and respect the stranger. No prerequisites exist for participation in our community.”

Patriotic Man Pin, 2009 (Photo by Steven Fritz)

Patriotic Man Pin, 2009 (Photo by Steven Fritz)

While many of our staff are politically active (across the entire political spectrum, actually), we pride ourselves on facilitating and cultivating a community that welcomes all political stripes. And religious stripes. And genders. And races. And creeds. And sexual preferences. And … you get the idea.

We believe the best way for people to develop and evolve their political positions toward a better future is through interpersonal connection, sharing ideas, and engaging in informed dialog with people representing a diversity of perspectives.

Face-to-face interaction is key in this equation … which reflects another of our 10 Principles: Immediacy. “Immediate experience is, in many ways, the most important touchstone of value in our culture. We seek to overcome barriers standing between us and a recognition of our inner selves, the reality of those around us, participation in society, and contact with a natural world exceeding human powers. No idea can substitute for this experience.”

One of those barriers is the anonymity of the Internet. (Have you seen the quality of political dialog on the Internet lately? Right … we rest our case.)

Whether you’re in Black Rock City, involved with one of our Regionals, or just quietly living a life based on Burner values, Burning Man provides the opportunity for you to discover your authentic self, and realize the potential of your true passions. We don’t deign to tell you what to do with that potential, or where to direct your activism, or your interests, or your anger, if that’s the way you want to roll. We provide a crucible in which you — any of you— can figure that out.

We want to better the world. We ALL want to better the world — and people have vastly different visions of what that actually looks like. We’re not going to tell you what that looks like, but we can provide the space to find out for yourself.

And perhaps that is what a better world looks like.

April 21st, 2014  |  Filed under The Ten Principles

Radical Inclusion: From Jesus to Jedi’s to Juggalos.

Happy Easter, Spring, Lunar Eclipse, 4/20, Passover, whathaveyou.

Writing on the Temple

Writing on the Temple

Easter time makes me think of Burning Man.

I was not always accepting of Christianity. In fact, I had a bitter life chapter where I woke up to the Lies of Institutional Religion(TM) with deep anger and judgment towards Christians and Christianity.

Then two things happened:

1) I went to Burning Man and learned how Radical Inclusion gives a framework to support others, even as you disagree with them.

2) I started co-hosting a podcast with my Grandfather, Rev. Caleb Shikles. And He showed me that Burning Man was my church.

Don’t get me wrong: I agree that countless atrocities have been done in the name of religion. And that blind acceptance of any teachings paves the way for horrible things.

But I would argue that the main difference between a student of the teachings of Jesus and a follower of the 10 Principles is the amount of dusty faux fur in their closet.

Grandpa on Halloween(NOTE: Near the end of his life, my grandpa actually called himself a “Jesus Man” or “Baptist Buddhist” because he felt that the word “Christian” had come to mean so many things in contrast with the teachings of Jesus.)

While I appreciate the teachings of Jesus, I am not a Christian, by any means. I don’t mean to defend or promote Christianity – only to point out that Radical Inclusion gives us a model for loving our neighbors – be they Jiffy Lubers, Death Guilders, Pink Hearters, or Human Caracas Carwashers.

This applies to “neighbors” on the default world, as well.

The beautiful thing about a religion or tribe is that it gives us a congregation. It gives us a non-biological family to reflect and affirm us. When we are “Welcomed Home” we come to understand that “who we really are” is okay. Not just okay, but amazing. This community acceptance allows us to recognize and cultivate our true selves.

It was Burning Man that showed me the power of this type of community – and the powerful impact on personal growth. But as I grow in the world, I see people blossom in all types of loving congregations. I have seen magical communities grow around Comic-con, Knitting, flow arts, and even the Insane Clown Posse. Yes, god bless the Juggalos.

Grandpa at Temple

Putting up a Grandpa memorial at the temple

As we congratulate ourselves for casting off the chains of our socialization, it can be tempting to judge others who have attached themselves to belief systems or communities that differ from our own. But the whole point of Radical Inclusion means accepting those who have taken different paths and express themselves differently. We must remember that in today’s world “being different” can mean clown face paint, but it can also mean being devoted to an ancient tradition or long dead prophet.

It is easy to throw out baby Jesus with the bongwater – but the path of Radical Inclusion means we need to practice accepting everyone.

During today’s HugNation broadcast, I went deeper into these ideas:

March 19th, 2014  |  Filed under The Ten Principles

Education is Everything: Better Behavior Through Learning

[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.]

Here’s what I remember being surprised by the most during my first visit to Black Rock City, in 1998: No garbage cans.

I had come utterly unprepared, and had little idea what going to Burning Man meant. Traveling separately from my only other friend who was going, I grabbed a spot on the Green Tortoise, packed a couple of bags, and made my way to the playa.

Danger Ranger, Burning Man Cultural Ambassador, 2013 (photo by Mark Hammon)

Danger Ranger, Burning Man Cultural Ambassador, 2013 (photo by Mark Hammon)

Even today, I frequently recall wandering the Esplanade during Burning Man 1998, a wad of garbage in my hand, and simply not grokking why there was no place to throw my trash. Having failed to read the Survival Guide, that just didn’t make any sense to me. Not that I was the kind of person to blithely toss crap on the ground, but I had no idea what to do. Eventually, I found a nook in some wooden structure crammed with others’ refuse, and jammed mine in alongside.

That was more than 15 years ago. But just a few weeks ago, I was walking through my local farmer’s market with some trash in my hand and no obvious place to put it. I spotted a cigarette butt in a small bin underneath the leg of a merchant’s Easy-Up, and mistakenly thought I was in luck. The merchant was not amused, harshly letting me know the bin was no garbage can: it was a weight holding down the Easy-Up. Read more »

March 19th, 2014  |  Filed under The Ten Principles

Why The 10 Principles Will Never Help You Win Your Argument About Burning Man With The Shirt Cocking DJ You Hate So Much

[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.]

Worst.  DJ.  Ever.  I hate him so much!

Worst. DJ. Ever. I hate him so much!

Someone recently told me that he knew his camp had become an important part of Burning Man culture after someone accused them of ruining it.

I laughed for a solid 10 minutes.  It’s that funny because it’s that true.  For every person who is active in Burning Man culture, there’s a Burner convinced that person is selling it out.

Is this a “teachable moment” – or are we just assholes?

Anthropologists and historians remind us that “culture” is not a monolithic thing – it always contains cross-currents and subcultures and family feuds.  There is no single “American Culture,” or “Christianity” or “Hollywood” – there are only currents, united to a greater or lesser degree by a common history, sensibility, or project.

There’s no reason Burning Man should be different, and even a casual glance at the playa revels that under the blinking lights we are a community diverse enough to be divided.  Not so much by race or creed, but by whether we like dub-step, whether we know our enneagram score, and whether we want to prank the world or save it. Read more »

March 4th, 2014  |  Filed under The Ten Principles

Radical Inclusion: That’s So Gay?

[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.]

Photo by Steph Goralnick

Big Words by Laura Kimpton, Burning Man 2011. Photo by Steph Goralnick.

Of all the Ten Principles, I think the one most of us struggle with at one point or another is Radical Inclusion. Usually, that’s because it is in near-direct opposition to Burning Man’s North Star, the ideal that brought most of our bedraggled, bedazzled butts to the Black Rock in the first place: Radical Self-Expression.

Usually, when I think about Radical Inclusion, I think about the way we judge other Burners for doing it wrong in various ways: Too much oontz oontz or a preponderance of yarn dreads…wearing cargo shorts instead of hot pants…watching the event through the window of an RV…marching around screaming CHIIIRRRRRRRP when other people are trying to sleep. There are a million ways to do Burning Man, and just about any way you choose to do it, somebody’s going to have a problem with it.

But recently, my perception of the Radical Inclusion debate shifted, when I realized that we as a community might have an inclusion problem on a much more basic level.

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