Burning Man – a reflection

So that’s what I did, now here are some of my thoughts.


You’re a Burner?

No, not really. I gave it a try, but never really escaped feeling like a tourist. I don’t know if that’s a good thing or a bad thing to be there, but it is what it is. I tried to contribute and not be an asshole. I did have a good time and I found many aspects of the experience worthwhile. Would I ever go again? Probably not.

What surprised you the most?

There was more hostility than I expected.

It wasn’t a ton, but you sort of imagine a lot of peace and love happening, which there is, but there is also a lot of resentment and selfishness like there is anywhere. Some of the hostility may have been a joke, some kind of performance, or just an ironic stance. But I did hear “Fuck your Burn” plenty.

I saw at least 2 fights, one over the people standing in front of the crowd at the burn of the Man, and the other when some neighbors were using a hand held slingshot to launch a rubber chicken. It hit a cyclist in the back, but she didn’t seem to care and left. Next thing I see is some man carrying the chicken and refusing to return it to the neighbors. It wasn’t clear to me if he just didn’t think they should be launching anything in the street or if he was mad they hit a person specifically. Either way, he totally stole the chicken and when they attempted to use hugs to resolve things, he was like, ” Don’t fucking touch me.” Moments after he was out of view of our shade tent, some people came from that direction with the chicken, so I guess they stole it back? Who knows. It was kind of a buzz kill. It didn’t matter if he was right or wrong, he was still being an asshole. He could have just asked them to stop throwing things in the street.

There is also a bit of resentment from people who have been going for many years, who feel a certain amount of ownership of the event, toward the younger Coachella-esque crowd, many of which just come in on the weekend to party. I think the term Sparkle Pony is used for people like that. They aren’t prepared to take care of themselves in the desert. They don’t bring any art or anything else to give.

There is also a resentment of folks who spend a ton of money there, even if it’s for creating art, which I was surprised to hear. Most of the animosity is toward “Turnkey Camps” though, which are camps that are set up for super rich people to just fly in and have all their meals taken care of there and never have to leave their camp. I guess it’s just so they can say they went? Maybe the do venture out to party, but that’s about it. So a lot of people don’t like them.

But here’s the thing, when you let an event grow to include 70,000 attendees, you’re going to have contingents that don’t fit your vision of what the event should be. So it may be unfortunate that these different factions can’t agree on what Burning Man is, but it’s really big and it seems like there is enough room for all of it. It’s a pop-up city, with city problems. You don’t have to agree with your neighbors’ lifestyle, but you can’t tell them not to live it.

Speaking of it being a city, how was the infrastructure?

Quite impressive. They had Ice available at Center camp so people could keep their food safely cold. The roads were occasionally wet by water trucks to reduce the dust in the air. There was even very good cell service. I had full bars and 4G out there, though I left my phone in airplane mode most of the time anyway.

They cleaned out the port-o-potties at least twice a day. The only thing was that the hand sanitizer all ran out by the end of Wednesday across the city. There were cases of illness as a consequence. They needed like 3 times the amount they provided. By the end of the week, someone had taped a huge sanitizer dispenser to the nearby pole with the empty dispensers, which was nice. I carried my own, plus I could wash my hands when I was near the RV, so we were ok. It was more a general concern for the community.

WTF is Radical Self Reliance? Sounds selfish.

Right? It’s one of the main tenets of Burning Man. Like “Radical Self-Expression,” which makes sense.

I think the intention is to make sure everyone provides enough for themselves to actually survive out there, and not assume your neighbor will give you water, food, and shelter. If everyone thought that way they’d all die out there.

But then people just use it to be selfish pricks, like the Standers on burn night. It felt kind of Ayn Rand-y. I’ve never read her stuff, but it kind of seems like that’s a part of Objectivism.

Everyone looking out for themselves isn’t really a tenet I expected to hear about so often.

What do you feel you took away from the experience?

It certainly affirmed my lifestyle choices. It made me feel very glad that I live the life I do. This isn’t to say people who love Burning Man don’t like their regular life. It’s more that it simply reminded me how much I love my regular life. They call it the “default world.” That’s cool. I’ll take it.

I like talking about movies and TV and dumb horseshit. I like going on social media and interacting with people online. I also like talking about loftier things in life, but it’s nice to not have to only talk about that stuff. It feels weird talking about the dumb stuff when you are out there.

I didn’t quite fit in there. I’m probably less of an extrovert than I thought. I certainly learned I don’t have Fear Of Missing Out, I have Fear Of Having To Pretend I’m Having A Great Time. I spent a lot of time hiding in the RV so I wouldn’t have to pretend I was enjoying myself. It was very overwhelming for several days and I sort of felt like I was disappointing people if I wasn’t all gaga for it. This is surely just in my head, but it doesn’t change how I was feeling.

At one point we met a woman who was basically in my same situation. First time, last time. She enjoyed her experience, but it wasn’t for her. I was so relieved to hear someone else say they weren’t just in love with it. I had a good time, but didn’t love it there. And that’s ok. I had an adventure.

I tried a new thing. I wasn’t super into that thing.

What was your favorite part?

Fighting in Thunderdome. Obviously.

After that, probably the lights and fire at night were really great. Also great sunsets. Lots of cool art to see.

What was your least favorite part?

The hostility I saw and heard about.

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