31 Aug 2010

I'm off to Burning Man

Burning Man is an experimental community (this year's theme is "metropolis") in the desert with lots of art, music, drugs and sex -- but NOT water. It's also a place where only gifting, not exchange, is allowed. Although most people prepare to be self-reliant (Burning Man is NOT sustainable), gifting adds a wonderful spin to everyday interactions.

The main exceptions to this are the sales of ice and coffee, which upsets some people. This essay by Larry Harvey (founder of Burning Man) gives an interesting perspective on coffee sales:
Some critics of the Burning Man Project insist that by allowing coffee sales in our city’s Center Camp Cafe we violate a tenet of our non-commercial ideology... My reply is that we’ve never espoused a non-commercial ideology. To be against commerce is to oppose the very existence of civilized life. Even hunter-gatherers engage in trade in order to survive.

When most people say that any thing or act is too commercial or has been commercialized, very few of them mean to say that the practice of commerce is necessarily bad. Instead, they are expressing the feeling that something essential -- something that should never be bought and sold -- has been commodified. This is why we have always been careful to use the words commodify and decommodify.

Our annual event in the desert is meant to provide an example what can happen in a community when social interactions cease to be mediated by a marketplace. Until quite recently, all societies have provided many different kinds of rites and rituals – set apart from daily life – that rehearse and reaffirm certain core spiritual experiences that are held to possess an unconditional value.

[Keep reading]
I'll be back in a week, but the blog -- like any good zombie -- will keep posting


  1. Have you ever looked at the relatively sustainable festival of Glastonbury? Temporary cities are never really going to to be sustainable but I think most people leave Glastonbury aiming to be greener in their home lives. iOne amusing way they do this is they have green police to stop you weeing in bushes etc! All disposables on site are compostable (including "plastic" glasses and all cutlery etc).

  2. EF emails: "You mention that there are lots of sex, drugs, music but not water at Burning Man. First, I find the perpetuation of Burning Man as this hedonistic place full of sex and drugs unfortunate - I've been six times and those elements are there, but mainly if you look for it (and there's so much more to Burning Man). Whereas, if you need water at any given point, you can find it easily and openly. In the same vain you mention there are drugs, music, etc. at Burning Man (all brought in by participants), there is a lot of water brought in by participants too. This is evident at the end of event, where donations of water to DPW stack-up. (Unfortunately, most in disposable/recyclable containers.) And yes, the event is not sustainable for the most part - but it would be interesting to see how much is saved from people not driving during that time, being off the grid, eating less, not shopping, and just sharing with each other."


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