Burning Man – Radical Inclusion

The Burning Man 10 Principles matter to me. Participating in the Burning Man community has been a life-changing, ecstatic experience for me. It can be hard to identify exactly which aspects of the Burning Man thing make it so transformative, but it makes sense to start with the stated guiding principles. One post at a time, I’m going to delve into my thoughts and feelings about each of the 10 Principles.

From the Burning Man website: “Radical Inclusion: Anyone may be a part of Burning Man. We welcome and respect the stranger. No prerequisites exist for participation in our community.”

Radical inclusion. Everything about Burning Man is radical, to be sure. It starts at the very basics, though, and says anyone may be involved.

First, let’s get the objections out of the way: there are clearly some prerequisites involved in attending Burning Man. You have to buy a ticket, which costs $200-$300. You have to be able to get to Black Rock City, which often involves even more hundreds of dollars. You have to be in a physical and mental condition that you think can withstand the weather and social climate of the event.

I don’t deny that these are some serious prerequisites. However, they are mitigated as much as possible. Some number of subsidized tickets are sold each year to people who have trouble affording a ticket. People are fairly helpful with one another in getting themselves out there. I’m paying for a $400 plane ticket. Other people I know are pooling together and going out on a bus, at around $250 a person. Some people manage to hitch and bum rides for much less. Obviously, the closer you live to the event, the easier that is. Here on the East Coast, it’s a bit harder for us to get there cheaply.

People with physical or mental difficulties can find a lot of help and room for themselves, too. There are lots of camps providing chill, shaded zones away from the heat of the day. There are art cars to give rides to people. There are all manner of support group meetings and camps as well as people providing direct physical medical care and mental counseling on-playa.

There are certainly more difficulties for some people over others when facing the conditions of Black Rock City. These conditions are integral to the rest of the overall experience, though, and BRC isn’t going anywhere. Still, the Burning Man network is growing and growing, and almost anyone can find a regional burn near them, usually with even fewer prerequisites, including fewer financial or physical/mental hardship issues.

Second, let’s get the easy bits of radical inclusion out of the way: Age, race, gender, religion, and sexual orientation are irrelevant for getting yourself into Burning Man. People of all ages (including children), people of all races, people of every gender, all religions, and all sexual orientations make their home in Black Rock City every year.

That part seems easy to me. Well, maybe not easy as there’s certainly plenty of oppression of one type or another running around. But it seems more obvious, and therefore easier to face and embrace. Here’s something harder: what about people I don’t like?

“People I don’t like” or “we don’t like” can take on all kinds of meanings and permutations, and this is where I think the principle of Radical Inclusion really shines. For all its chaos, Burning Man can seem to be one thing or another, which can make people question why people of another sort are present.

I think the most common interplay of that is between the “hippie” and “punk” stereotypes. One person at Burning Man might revel in the hippie-love, yoga, massage, chanting, earth ritual aspects, and then find themselves wishing someone would outlaw the violent, angry, screaming, breaking shit people. Another person might be busy building things then breaking them down, shouting insults, making wild mischief, playing music that sounds nothing like Kumbaya, and get irritated about the places where they’re asked to be quiet to not disturb the meditation session.

bman350Stepping back a bit from any individual moment, though, its east to see that the Burning Man environment thrives on the stress points between any particular way of being. To list some stereotypes again, beyond hippies and punks, there are also countless numbers of geezers, frat boys, fairies, Pagans, Rastas, 12 steppers, furries, crafters, makers, geeks, cowboys, and on and on at Burning Man, all being crystal clear versions of themselves, and this creates an environment and social landscape that’s hard to comprehend without experiencing this.

All in all, this is a striking difference from many other communities. People who are devoted to putting no chemicals in their bodies party alongside devoted pill-poppers. Naked people run amok amongst people decked out in 80 piece costumes. Heavy metal music plays in a tent one over from one with some light jazz. Pacifists bow their heads in silent meditation practically in the shadow of people bashing it out in the Thunderdome. It’s a cacophony of social possibility, and seriously a wonder to behold and be welcomed to.

The other thing that strikes me about this acceptance is that it is just that. It’s acceptance, but that doesn’t mean anyone has to like anyone or treat them a certain way. It’s “you’re welcome here, but then you’re on your own,” which I immensely appreciate. The pacifists are free to protest the fight-clubbers. You can set up a booth to shout hot-or-not at the passing naked folks. You can stand nearby and heckle the yoga practitioners. You can say, “I hate you frat boy types,” or “Take a shower, hippie,” and you’re free to get heckled right back if you go this route.

It’s like hippie acceptance wrapped in punk confrontation. It’s perfect.

Learn more about Burning Man (affiliate link) – the history and the continuing magic written by a true believer.

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