Certainly, Burning Man is a society that deviates from The Norm. But it would be silly to suggest that Burning Man is a place without norms. One of the truest conceits of Burner culture, in my opinion, is the distinction between “home,” the playa, and the “default world,” which gives our annual gathering a sense of deviation, but also one of return. We leave behind our default values and behaviors, and we return to something more natural and fundamental to us.
But clearly, “home” is not an arrangement without order, tradition, or hierarchy. I doubt humans can help themselves. We may not like to think of Burning Man as a stratified place, but it is.
Nothing wrong with that, though. Not inherently. The fact is, some people have been burning for 20 years, some for 10, some one, some none. Those are remarkable differences in experience of something so extreme and dynamic as Burning Man. It’s only natural that those who’ve been before will set the tone for those still bewildered by the blinky lights.
The vets have built Black Rock City before.
They know what will stand up to the winds and what will blow away. Their art can refer to ideas that have bandied about the playa before, continuing the long conversation.
They know how to chill their beer, heat their shower, and evaporate their gray water.
In fact, these skills are second-nature to them now, so they can concentrate on participation and immediacy.
For a newcomer, logistics can be the whole festival, if one isn’t well-prepared.
That’s why joining an established camp is such a good idea. Speaking from what little experience I have, there’s no better way to be brought quickly up to speed than by camping with a seasoned outfit willing to accommodate newcomers. It may take a couple years to get your sea legs, but the everyday pulse of being part of a theme camp naturally encourages growth, if you fall in with the right people.
You might start by unloading dusty couches off a truck or driving stakes all day, but there’s no better motivation to jump in with both feet than watching those bad-ass leaders directing traffic at your camp. Your awe will urge you to participate. Sooner or later, after you pour enough drinks or sweep out enough dust, people will start remembering your name, or they’ll make you up a new one that will stick, and then you’ll start to feel at home.