Some recent articles in the NY Post had some comments and discussion about the folks returning from that big festival in the desert you might have heard about. The first article, that says “Burning Man is a cry for help” seems a bit dubious. I know quite a few “burners” and most of them go there because they actually enjoy the art, enjoy making things, and enjoy the world that they live in. The bit that spoke volumes, however, is something from that second article, about coming back from Burning Man:
“How do you transition back? You feel fake — you feel like you’re an impostor. I experience depression because I have impostor syndrome — that’s what I suffer for weeks coming back,” says Joanna Nabholz, a mom of three kids under 6 who works in tech and declined to give her age. “You feel like you’re lying to yourself.”
It’s not uncommon for attendees to re-evaluate their raison d’être post-festival.
“You find people who question their job or who quit their corporate environment — some job that’s not their mission,” Kaplan says. “It’s a common story.”
Ah, the proverbial nail on the head. There is an amazing cognitive dissonance that happens when people see things like that, and then return to their previous lives. It’s almost like having a near-death experience, and then shrugging it off as a quirk, and going back to the routine you had, ignoring the reality of what you just saw.
As much as I’m not the hugest fan of the fossil fuels and extravaganza of excess that happens in the desert, the ethos of Burning Man does posit a different way of living and viewing the world, and for that, I think it is worth examining. The local “burns” that happen around the country are a bit more my style; they have far less of an environmental impact, and being smaller (Burning Man is over 50,000 people), they are a bit more “cosy” and are perhaps a little less overwhelming. As much as there is a lot of valid criticism of Burning Man (who can afford to attend, the environmental impact, the people who do attend, especially now), Burning Man and their smaller offshoots are trying to come up with different ways of viewing how people and communities can get together and get things done.
Of course, this isn’t all perfect. Some Burners believe in the techno-utopia (and quite a few folks in attendance hail from the Mecca of the Techno-Utopia, San Francisco); some may believe that all the world needs is the Ten Principles. But for a start on the way we might live our lives differently, this could be at least an interesting way forward. This will still have to square with things like Dunbar’s number, resource limitations, the ability of a community stay cohesive in the long haul (Burning Man is not religious or based on family ties, and may not hew to the “Communities that abide” template that has examined the “best practices” in community building).
One laughable comment that needs a bit of skewering, however, is one of the last lines in the second article:
“In a post-apocalyptic world, post-nuclear holocaust, this is the way people can survive.”
Uh, probably not. Look at any local apocalypse (any war zone) and it probably won’t look anything like a Burning Man camp, and most likely won’t have 50,000 people in a barren desert. Somebody has been watching a few too many Mad Max movies.
- What do you think of Burning Man?
- What are some of the best things that have come out of it? The worst?
- Which of the “Ten Principles” might be carried forward into the future?
- Have we reached “Peak Burn”, where tickets have become far too expensive, and too many turnkey camps have appeared?