Posts for category The Ten Principles


August 5th, 2014  |  Filed under Afield in the World, The Ten Principles

The Ten Principles: What Do Kids Know?

Rebecca Gasca recently spent an evening with some kids who have not been to Burning Man, discovering how the Ten Principles might impact their lives:

Are you still looking for the fountain of youth? After an evening talking with The Squaw Valley Kids’ Institute about Burning Man and the Ten Principles, I am pretty sure that, at least for me, this proverbial oasis is actually a fire hydrant of intuition surging somewhere between all the pages of the “What Where When” guide and my own cesspool of fears.

Trampoline fun! Photo by Garry Geer, 2011

Trampoline fun! Photo by Garry Geer, 2011

Truthfully, I wasn’t really sure what to expect from these undoubtedly bright kids. With a discussion topic as complex as “Creativity and Statistics vs. the Depths of Expression and Experience at Burning Man: THERE IS NOTHING AS POWERFUL AS AN IDEA!” where could I even begin? So I did what my mom did when I was a child—I brought out my box of costumes so that we could begin on an even playing field. While dressed in a business suit that hid my Burning Man regalia underneath, I watched them lasso the unknown, adorning themselves in whatever they fancied from my selection of playa treasures.

Once creatively situated in leather chaps, faux fur vests, wigs, goggles, sarongs, bandanas, and sufficiently playafied boots, they sat back to discuss their own creative experiences and relate them to the Ten Principles at Burning Man. Though none of them had actually attended a single Burn, it was enlightening how easily all of them, ranging from age 8 to 14, discussed each of these core values as ordinances that Black Rock City has grown up with. Some imagined that a world without logos would be colorful and perhaps quite confusing, admitting not knowing how to assign tangible or relatable value to an object, interaction, or experience. (Yes, that is Decommodification at its finest!)

Collectively, they grasped how important self-reliance would be in the Black Rock Desert. These kids understood immediately that surviving on the playa and in life means that we must work together; each individual would have to show initiative. They also reminded themselves that self-reliance can also mean asking questions. Perhaps most importantly, they pointed out that you are less likely to thrive if you don’t participate. Together we conceptualized a Burning Man lesson plan so that kids could receive school credit for attending the event, but these students struggled with making dramatic and surreal personal experiences “count” by fitting them into boxes of educational requirements. Why was it so difficult? It struck me that our educational system is hammering down on creativity and spontaneity with its one-ply exams and two-toned templates of pass or fail.

Indeed, “We don’t grow into education, we grow out of it. Or rather, we get educated out of it,” Sir Ken Robinson, who was to speak at the Squaw Valley Institute shortly after that evening, has profoundly noted. With a bit more conversation and context, these creativity enthusiasts churned out ideas for a Kidsville curriculum: writing assignments that might muse over what participant’s lives are actually like in the default world; inventing a prayer or mantra to share at the temple or as a gift; and science experiments involving fire, weather, or water usage at Black Rock City. One participant opined that kids should bring their schoolwork to burn it with the Man.

While I went that night prepared, in a state of default, to “teach” these kids about Burning Man, I learned instead that not only did they already have the spirit of Burning Man pulsing through them, but in some ways, they understood how to apply the principles better than I did. It makes too much sense that this type of primal wisdom comes naturally to us in our youth, but too little sense that it must be re-learned with intention and purpose as we age.

By the end of the evening, I was received with smiles by my costumed comrades as I shed my business attire and revealed to them the crazy legging, funky dress-wearing Burner that I really am.  As I left, I couldn’t help but think that it is in Nevada’s biggest little desert where we can become reacquainted with the fountain of youthful wisdom in all of us. I also realized that if I ever have the hope of raising a child who can intuitively rock hop between the “choose your own adventure” pages of life, regardless of their fears, I’ve got to make damn sure that they don’t have to be re-wired with the Ten Principles as an adult. What a gift that night was.

Rebecca Gasca went native on the playa when, as the lobbyist for the ACLU of Nevada, she taught Burners how to lovingly interact with law enforcement at Burning Man while refusing consent to searches. She has since founded her own community and government relations firm, Pistil and Stigma, where she practices her favorite of life’s twenty seven thousand principles, Civic Engagement, on a daily basis. She also sits on the Board of Directors of Friends of Black Rock High Rock although they, nor Burning Man, nor anyone else for that matter, endorse these or any other Hansel and Gretel-related thoughts about children that she may have.

July 29th, 2014  |  Filed under The Ten Principles

Consensus, Collaboration, Hierarchy, Authority and Power

[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.]

Consensus and Collaboration

Photo by Vertumnus

Photo by Vertumnus

At every level of its organization, Burning Man employs consensus making and creative collaboration. Consensus means that everyone who is party to a discussion agrees to a course of action. For a decision to be adopted, everyone must give his or her consent. This does not mean that everyone agrees that a particular decision is the best decision. It simply means that they have all had a chance to participate, to recognize and address the issues, and to understand how and why the ensuing steps came about. When consensus has been achieved, the group agrees to align with the decision, and to work together to implement it as effectively as possible. This process only works if people share basic values and operate in a climate of trust that is rich in shared information.

Read more »

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.

Read more »

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.

Read more »

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 »