This is a response to the feedback on my list “12 Shocking Revelations about ultra-rich Burning Man plug-and-play camps!”
Before I answer the headline, let me clear three things up:
1) I don’t speak for Burning Man, I’m not part of the Org, I’m not on their payroll, and they had no idea that this post was coming. They don’t edit my stuff and there’s no approval process, so: they found out I’d written this when you did. Nothing I say represents them, or is a statement of what they believe on any issue.
2) Do I care about the problems caused by commodification camps? Absolutely. In fact, one of my first posts for this blog called for the creation of “Art Vikings” to stop plug-n-play camps. I wrote:
Camp Art Vikings will send our Viking scouts across the playa to find package tour camps and paid labor. Then we will send our war parties, on Art Longboats, across the dust to Art Raid them. We will take their meat and their women and their best alcohol, deliver them to a random camp, and celebrate together.
So I’m probably more radical on this issue than you are.
3) Do I think the ORG should be more transparent. Yes. Stop. End quote.
So why am I making fun of terribly sincere burners with a legitimate grip whose issue I basically agree with?
Because people are demanding that the Org come up with an immediate solution to what is at heart an intractable societal problem: the gentrification caused by income inequality.
The success of Burning Man meant it attracted rich assholes. Rich assholes came to Burning Man and acted like rich assholes. And because they’re very rich, they have a capacity to be assholes that exceeds the ordinary capacity of ordinary assholes. Now Burning Man is facing a gentrification crisis, where rich assholes who don’t care about our neighborhoods or history or culture are moving in and pushing other people out because they’ve decided that, thanks to our hard work (or rather: your hard work. You, the participants), this is now a desirable place to get a condo.
As a result, long-time residents are squeezed out; prices go up for everyone; the neighborhood is confronted with some non-contributing neighbors who build fences instead of community. It’s terrible. It’s awful. Everyone has a right to be angry.
But nobody has yet devised a real solution.
This isn’t just Burning Man: it’s New York, it’s San Francisco, it’s Boston, it’s D.C., it’s Seattle, it’s Atlanta …
Mayors with budgets that dwarf the size of Burning Man; think tanks; neighborhood activists across the country – all of them have been trying to find ways to stop gentrification, and no good solution has emerged.
Burning Man has capacities that other communities don’t: control over its ticket mechanism and placement mechanisms, for example. These are important things, and maybe will allow Burning Man to succeed where other communities have failed and are failing. Could be.
But at the moment a significant part of our community is demanding that the org solve gentrification and income inequality NOW NOW NOW! And that’s absurd.
And I reserve the right to make fun of anyone who thinks that Burning Man is taking too long to figure out a strategy to solve the crisis caused by the unequal distribution of income in the latter 20th and early 21st centuries.
I just do.
If I did it badly – if I wasn’t funny enough – well, for that I apologize. There is no excuse for a guy trying to be funny and failing, and if you didn’t laugh at my post, I am very sorry that you didn’t laugh. Humiliated, in fact.
But I reserve the right to try harder next time.
Because while I share your sense of urgency … this is an issue that must be addressed … I also know that anyone who thinks gentrification can be solved quickly, on the fly, without a lot of careful groundwork and outreach, is setting themselves up to look foolish sooner or later. As a matter of personal preference I would prefer that it be sooner, and that I be there to watch.
For those of you who are Burning Man volunteers who feel hurt – well, I’m still going to laugh at you if you think gentrification has a quick fix and that Burning Man already knows what it is and just isn’t doing anything about it. But you are also my heroes. I am in awe of everyone who helps build the city, run a camp, makes an art car, creates an art project … however much I laugh at you for saying something I think is ridiculous, I’m in awe of your gifts, and grateful beyond measure for your time. You’ve changed my life.
But, listen, seriously now: if you can’t make fun of what you love, Burning Man will break your heart.
It’s that kind of place. That’s why we love it.