The “Burning Man” website proclaims that the “Burning Man” Festival is a place that encourages “radical self reliance” and “radical self-expression,” though it does claim that it also claims to encourage “civic responsibility.” We know these things because the Burning Man group has posted, in the place of ten commandments, ten principles, a short perusal of which yields at least ten contradictions.
For instance, under the first principle we find that “[n]o prerequisites exist for participation in our community.” But under the third we see that “[i]n order to preserve the spirit of gifting, our community seeks to create social environments that are unmediated by commercial sponsorships, transactions, or advertising. We stand ready to protect our culture from such exploitation.” In other words, vendors and businessmen, people who know an opportunity to make money when they see one, are excluded. Or how about Principle No. 7 which states “We value civil society. Community members who organize events should assume responsibility for public welfare and endeavor to communicate civic responsibilities to participants. They must also assume responsibility for conducting events in accordance with local, state and federal laws” compared to principles No. 4&5 which state “Burning Man encourages the individual to discover, exercise and rely on his or her inner resources” and “Radical self-expression arises from the unique gifts of the individual. No one other than the individual or a collaborating group can determine its content. It is offered as a gift to others. In this spirit, the giver should respect the rights and liberties of the recipient.”
After having invited absolutely everyone except, of course entrepreneurs, to participate no matter what personal philosophies they might harbor regarding radical redistribution or confiscation of personal or community property by personal fiat, the Burning Man encourages the rabble to discover its talents in this area, then radically express them, without violating any laws, of course. Pardon us for believing the “organizers” of Burning Man are trying to achieve some kind of oxymoronic zen state of controlled anarchy.
Suddenly from the smoking pile of self-contradictory ash that was the Burning Man Festival of 2007 comes the story of one Paul Addis, a “performance artist” from San Francisco (where else?). It seems that Mr. Addis took the principles of radical self-reliance and self-expression to heart and exercised and relied on his previously discovered “inner resources” for arson and radically expressed those resources in the form of setting the giant Burning Man effigy on fire 4 days before the scheduled torching. Mr. Addis apparently had no difficulty reconciling his radical self-reliance and self-expression with the civic responsibility principle of the Burning Man. After all, they were going to burn the thing anyway. And according to a story on the Bakersfield NOW website run by KBAK/KBFX in Bakersfield CA, the “organizers” were able to build another 40-foot burning man and burn it on the scheduled day.
Mr. addis was unable to convince a Nevada judge that the encouragement by the organizers of his radical self-reliance and self-expression meant that he could actually express himself freely. He was equally unsuccessful in convincing the judge that principles 9 and 10 (“Our community is committed to a radically participatory ethic. We believe that transformative change, whether in the individual or in society, can occur only through the medium of deeply personal participation. We achieve being through doing. Everyone is invited to work. Everyone is invited to play. We make the world real through actions that open the heart” and “Immediate experience is, in many ways, the most important touchstone of value in our culture. We seek to overcome barriers that stand 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.”) actually meant anything. He was ordered to pay $30,000 for his “radically participatory ethic,” his “deeply personal participation” and his “immediate experience that stood in the way of the recognition of his inner self.”
No word from the organizers of the Burning Man on how they plan to reconcile the glaring inconsistencies between what they say they want and what their actions in having Mr. Addis tried for radically expressing his deepest inner self show that their own true inner selves want.