Could Burning Man be one more failed social experiment? Oh hell yes.

I did not see this art piece on the playa

A commenter named “First Timer” read my post chiding our community for the shared bicycle program, and leaped to the most pessimistic conclusions possible.

He or she wrote:

The concept of moving this (Burning Man) to the larger world seems destined to failure.

Its (sic) been tried thousands and thousands of times in the history of man.

It always works… until the group grows to the point at which there are strangers in the group. At this point the group shame that gets applied to slackers and non-contributors goes away for strangers and people start to take more than they produce or provide. This requires an organizational structure to enforce the rules. This enforcement is not voluntary cooperation so it takes an authoritarian form. As the group grows the power in this authority grows and absolute power corrupts absolutely.

Can someone explain how decomdification and communal effort differs from the basic tenants of socialism/Communism that have failed over and over throughout history?

The answer to that last question is an easy “Yes.”  Burning Man differs from Communism in that:

A)  Nobody is forced to participate.  In fact, you have to pay to get in – and that’s only if you’re willing to travel to a remote and inhospitable location, with absolutely no accommodations or luxuries other than what you haul yourself.

Which is to say:  in the Soviet Union, they forced dissidents to go to Siberia.  At Burning Man, dissidents get furious that there aren’t enough tickets.

B)  Communism involves seizing the means of production from the ownership classes in order to create a dictatorship of the proletariat.  Burning Man, by contrast, involves this giant man that gets burned.

It’s a subtle distinction, but crucial.

C)  Communism places no value on self-reliance – while that’s one of Burning Man’s core values.  People living in a communist society have the expectation that their shelter, food, and water, will be taken care of by the government.  Burning Man explicitly instructs you to bring your own goddamn shelter, food, water, and anything else you need.  People who don’t are seen as leeches and sparkle ponies.

Burning Man’s concepts of “gifting” and “decommodification” in a context of basically self-reliant individuals is completely different than seizing wealth in order to provide everyone with an equal standard of living.

In fact, for all the grumbling about people using wealth as a way to avoid participation on the playa (I’ve done that myself) no one has ever claimed that everyone on the playa should have an equal standard of camping.  Far from it.  Our objections aren’t to rich people bringing stuff to the desert – it’s that some of them mistake “having toys” for “participation.”  They’re not the same thing.

So, in short:  Burning Man is nothing like communism, you ignorant slut.

I think we can expect to have conversations like this a lot in the future.  Burning Man is unusual enough that it’s difficult for people who haven’t been there to take it on its own terms:  it’s easy for them to reach for an analogy that is quick, easy, and wrong.

And the more Burning Man talks about being a movement and changing the world, the more we’re going to be pushed into conversations along the lines of:  “aren’t you just like (INSERT HISTORICAL MOVEMENT HERE) and won’t you fail just like they did?”

It’s crucial then, to develop ways of talking about Burning Man that clearly distinguish it from other movements.

That said, the larger question posed by this first time burner is a fair one:  even if we are unique, what does make us think that we can actually change society?  First Timer is right to point out that history littered with the graves of self-important movements who thought they could make a difference.

Can we really change the world, or are we kidding ourselves? I’d be lying if I said I hadn’t asked myself the same question.

Let’s discuss.

The truth is I wouldn’t be doing this if I didn’t think Burning Man could be socially relevant as well as magical sexy fun.  But “changing the world” covers a lot of ground.  Before we ask “can we do it,” we need to know:  what would success look like?

A dear friend of mine had once been a part of the “back to the land” movement in the 70s.  I asked him, decades after the movement’s collapse, if he thought they had accomplished anything.

“Absolutely,” he said.


“They sell granola at Wal-Mart.”

That may be a punch-line, but it’s not a joke.  Movements like his led to the increased production and prominence of things like granola and organic foods, which increased the opportunities for others to experience it, which increased the demand for it, until it got appropriated by mainstream society.  The movement foundered, but the co-option of this positive good goes on.  They changed the world, and you’re eating that change.

If something similar happened to Burning Man, would we consider it a success?

What about Christianity?  As movements go, it was bigger than Jesus.  It inspired Western society’s code of ethics and major artistic accomplishments.  For millennia, governments had to be based upon it, and wars were fought in its name.  People were persecuted for violating its standards.  In many parts of the world, being Christian is still a litmus test.

Is that what success looks like to us?

How about the Brookings Institute?  It’s had a big impact on the academic and political discourse.  It can influence the conversation important people have about important issues, but it doesn’t … you know … actually *do* anything.

If Burning Man became that, would we consider it a success or failure?

We don’t have to adopt any of these models, in fact I don’t think we can.  Part of what makes Burning Man so interesting is that it is, as I’ve argued before, a truly unique cultural movement – warts and all.  I’m not sure anybody knows the best way to harness it yet – and we are almost certainly going to make mistakes.  But what we aim for matters, and it matters how we define success.

I’m not sure we know that yet.

My suspicion is that Burning Man will come to this crucial decision in an improvised, experimental kind of way … which is completely in keeping with its history as a major cultural touchstone that never actually envisioned being a major cultural touchstone until after the fact.

Still – we can learn from the mistakes made by movements in the past.  In that spirit I do have four pieces of unsolicited advice for Burning Man and its new non-profit about changing the world … whatever that means.  I hope it’s helpful.

1)  You can put a piece of shit on an art car and fire dance around it, but it’s still a piece of shit.  The trappings of Burning Man … the costumes, the music, the art cars … can’t change the world.  The more attention you pay to them, the less attention you have for what can.  Before you put any event or program together, ask yourselves if this is basically something you could see in Vegas.  If it is, try something else.

2)  Don’t casually embrace the political process.  Part of the reason people have such passion for Burning Man is that our political system is broken.  It’s broken because of the politicians who will happily embrace you if you’ll only play their game.  You have to work with them … you do … but the more you play along the more Burning Man will smell like a failed democracy.

Play with politicians only when they have something concrete to offer, and never give them a platform, even when they’re using it to say nice things about you.  They’ve already let down the people you most want to reach.

3)  Don’t follow the money.  I know that’s counter-intuitive … I know you need money and you need it fast because every non-profit needs money and needs it fast.  But if you let funders dictate terms they’ll never let you change the world.  If you prove you can change the world without them they’ll come to you.


Remember what a win looks like, and don’t kid yourselves.  To the extent that you create a mechanism for strangers to connect and collaborate in a meaningful way, you win.  This isn’t just “getting strangers together in one place to look at art” – that’s a movie matinee.  This isn’t just “holding a focus group to listen to what people have to say” – that’s a focus group.  We have those already.  You’re looking for a way that people can get together with strangers and make choices that are meaningful to their lives … about art and public space, yes, and also about sustainability and community and civic pride.  About, when you get down to it, whatever they want.

Anything that doesn’t accomplish this is a failure.  Potentially a worthwhile failure, potentially a necessary failure, potentially a failure you can learn a lot from … but it’s still a failure.  Don’t be afraid of failure;  fail if you have to, but don’t confuse it with a win.  That’s how we lose our way in this failed and toxic world – the world we want to change.

That, at least, is my advice:  I’d love to hear yours.  If you have some, write it in the comments section below.

Caveat is the Volunteer Coordinator for Media Mecca at Burning Man. Contact him at Caveat (at)

About the author: Caveat Magister

Caveat is Burning Man's Philosopher Laureate. A founding member of its Philosophical Center, he is the author of The Scene That Became Cities: what Burning Man philosophy can teach us about building better communities, and Turn Your Life Into Art: lessons in Psychologic from the San Francisco Underground. He has also written several books which have nothing to do with Burning Man. He has finally got his email address caveat (at) burningman (dot) org working again. He tweets, occasionally, as @BenjaminWachs

89 Comments on “Could Burning Man be one more failed social experiment? Oh hell yes.

  • blyslv says:

    “I’d love to hear yours.”

    OK, here’s mine. Stop trying to change the world. If your goal is that huge and vague, you’re going to fail. There’s nothing wrong with creating a social experiment. I’d always thought of experiments as a thing to do to learn about the world, not was a way to change it. So continue the experiment. Every year thousands, at the very least, get a glimpse of a different way to perceive social interactions, the meaning of work, how value is created. Some of them will indeed go on to change the world in positive ways. But for BM to change the world is a bit of a tall order, I mean it’s hard enough to get permits, placate local authorities and clean up the playa. Keep the focus on that, on providing the blank slate of the playa for people to come create, and the change will come.

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  • Hey there,
    I really liked your response to the newbie { i am one too} but I thought it was a bit hostile. I think name calling even if you disagree is not ok. But hey freedom of speech. As a newbie I was really surprised at the old time burners jaded attitudes toward newbies. I did not find this with everyone from the old school but i felt that if they were so jaded why do they continue to come. I went to a staff bar {invited by friends working gate and perimeter} and felt very judged for being so enthralled by Bm for my first time. Isn’t new blood a welcome thing? It’s gonna take new creative loving energy to keep this thing goin. My camp participated with a useful cooling lounge , happy hour and free black light paint. I felt great by contributing. I really hope that people from the old school can be more kind. Of course not every newbie can contribute positivity. But please the less hostile the better.

    thanks for letting me write here.

    ive been thinking alot about this.


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  • Erica says:

    I agree with what you said up until you called the commenter an “ignorant slut.” Then I stopped reading. I didn’t see anything in the commenter’s statements that merited a personal attack (let alone slut-shaming).

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  • Rainbow says:

    fwiw Burning Man has definitely changed MY world… whether it is the experience itself, the burners, or the way I live before and after I do not know for certain – but the combination has been marvelous and I appreciate things every day that show me how burner spirit is making its way into the default world.
    Lustin’ for dust …

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  • Jake says:

    after my first burn this year Ive had so many thoughts and emotions and questions. Your article helped answer so many of those and have given me a better way to explain what BM really is and isnt all about. and yes, I too had once called it a sort of communistic experiment, but now i see it is so so so far from that. Indeed the only real way for BM to have distinct effect on American and Global society is for new people to attend. The “red cup frat boys” as some call them, have just as much right being there as any other. And the feeling of a dilution of intent is just an illusion, as you point out, you have to travel effin far and provide entirely for yourself, and then, immerse in this alternate universe where smiling and saying hi to strangers is the norm and soon enough, by weeks end as the temple burns we collectively sigh, understanding that no matter how unique and diverse and crazy we all are, we all share the same human condition, of life, empathy, happiness, sadness, and death. and that understanding is the key to inner peace, outer peace, and world peace.
    Thank you for your article.

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  • JV says:

    “Stop trying to change the world. If your goal is that huge and vague, you’re going to fail.”

    I disagree. You can start out with grand goals and succeed in smaller but important ways.

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  • PeterRabbit says:

    Can burning man change the world? You said it best my friend: “what would success look like?”

    I’d really like to believe BM can change the world. I really hope tomorrow or the next day a burner goes out and gives a hungry person a sandwich or expresses themselves so radically it makes people question their own style or holds an event or builds a sculpture that inspires someone to do the same.

    And I hope they do this outside their own (burner) community.

    However, I don’t think we can even ponder whether we can change the world if we can’t first change ourselves. Its my opinion we as burners don’t hold up properly to the 10 principles we subscribe.

    We say we are inclusive of everyone but we’re not. BM is way too expensive, the demographics are too homogenous, and the culture(techno, fur, blinky’s, free love, etc) is quite aggressive and pushes some people away.

    Also, BM as an event, is a bubble, and the 10 principles don’t hold up outside that bubble.

    1. BM as a culture is not decommodified. On the surface maybe, but the biggest financial beneficiaries of the event are places like HomeDepot, CruiseAmerica, Walmart, etc. You can even see some of these corporate logos around the playa.

    2. Are we really “leaving no trace” after a burn? We leave with garbage bags full of….garbage, but where does it all end up? It leaves a trace somewhere, just not on the playa. Just because we made sure all the cigarrette butts are off the playa doesn’t mean we should pat ourselves on the back for being stewards of the earth. Let’s not fool ourselves, the environmental impact of the burn is MASSIVE.

    Possible Solutions

    1. How ’bout we ban ALL logos at the event(decommodification)
    2. How ’bout we try having a burn where nothing new is purchased and only existing and recycled supplies are used(decommodification and leave no trace)[I really wanna see the crazy burner ingenuity tackle this one!]
    3. How ’bout we have a true tiered ticket pricing system where low income people actually get low income tickets(radical inclusion)
    4. How ’bout we have the burn in a different place to make it more accessible to other people(radical inclusion)[What would the burn look like in India??]

    Obviously these are radical ideas(especially #2 & #4), but, hey, we’re all about being radical, now aren’t we?

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  • Quadrusaurus says:


    I think you’re mistaken. Don’t interpret “change the world” on the scale of christianity or western democracy. Like the post mentioned, the “back to the land” movement changed the world, even if the world didn’t notice. Changes can be subtle, and they can also be grand. Woodstock changed the world – why couldn’t Burning Man? Rachel Carson’s “Silent Spring” changed the world – how many environmentalists even know that book was the birth of the movement? Ralph Nader’s changed the world with the first report on vehicles and seatbelts. LIttle things make a difference, big things make a difference. The key is to not set out to change the world. If you just try to accomplish your goal of providing an alternative perspective and stay true to your values, the change is gonna come.

    “It’s been a long time coming, but I know a change is gonna come.” – Sam Cooke

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  • Franko says:

    @blyslv speaks truth.

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  • Leanore says:

    I haven’t been able to go to Burning Man yet. I have many friends that have, and they always talk about how peaceful and loving the environment over all is, and I’m really excited to throw my bohemian outlook in the mix and see what happens!

    I’m glad that you believe strongly enough in your overall mission to reply so heatedly to nay-sayers. That’s how you know that you really care about what you’re trying to accomplish.

    “Anything that doesn’t accomplish this is a failure. Potentially a worthwhile failure, potentially a necessary failure, potentially a failure you can learn a lot from … but it’s still a failure. Don’t be afraid of failure; fail if you have to, but don’t confuse it with a win. That’s how we lose our way in this failed and toxic world – the world we want to change.” – this is one of the most honest, worthwhile, and meaningful things I have ever read online. Thank you. :)

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  • Dakota Blue Sky says:

    I think the phrase change the world could be refined. If we think about the world as a collection of individual perspectives working towards a common goal then Burning Man already has changed the world. I am a burner who has never burned so to speak. I’m a Santa Cruz native, a burner hot spot, and since I was a child we have been working on communes, co-ops and other community building projects around the country. The changes that reach the mainstream are the ones that find workable models based on social experimentation and depend on individual understandings. In order to take the idea from one person and make it a reality it must be coherent, applicable, and sustainable. Through individual understanding of what it takes to have a working, peaceful community the individual must change their world. I see Burning Man as a collection of people who want free expression, non-violence, non-judgment and all the things organizations like Homeland Security try to sell us. If we are to truly change the world and make it a safe place it begins with individual action within the community. This is where Burning Man comes in. It’s a social release where people can freely exchange ideas and expressions. People then take these new ideas to their home and through trial and error find ways to improve their life and community. At least that’s the hope. H.O.P.E – Helping Other People Everywhere. We change the world not because we wear feathers in out hats, but because no one questions the feather in the hat. By changing the way our minds see the world the world changes because our interaction with the world changes. The universe is limitless so why limit our selves to a finite reality. That’s why Burning Man has changed the world. Its a “safe” place for people to try out who they want to be/show who they are uninhibited, as well as see other possibilities for reality. Get what I’m trying to say? Again I am a burner who has not yet burned, but I something tells me I’m not off base.

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  • Potter says:

    Burning man is already changing the world. One virgin at a time.

    I came expecting dirty hippies, sponge-brained ravers, and debauchery.

    I saw all of these things that’s for sure. However what I really found was a world of creative people dying to express themselves.

    The ideals of burning man, have a lasting impact on people. That impact on those people changes the world. Its over-grandiose, and counter-productive to think of burning man as a political movement. Its not. Its social.

    It reminds people that you’re supposed to be involved in your community. If your neighbor is chopping up a tree that fell in his yard. You’re supposed to go give him a beer, and help him carry his moop to the street.

    It reminds people they’re supposed to make their communities better, by being more inclusive, by being more self reliant.

    It reminded me, that I’m not supposed to waste my creativity sitting on the couch beer drinking playing video games.

    It changes the world, one virgin at a time.

    See you back home next year =D

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  • grai says:

    burning man isnt trying to change the world its trying to change people, another subtle but important difference.
    if everyone who goes takes home for just one week the concept of gifting, or participation or self reliance and one other person takes it up, then my friends THAT is changing the world.
    you dont change the world all at once you do it in little steps until enough people are doing so the world seems to change all at once.
    one of my camp mates went to BM for sex and drugs. next year he wants to volounteer for lamplighters, theres the world changed a little already.

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  • Branden says:

    For those of you bashing the “ignorant slut” comment, it is clearly noted that Caveat doesn’t know whether First Timer is male or female (“He or She wrote”).

    Yes, it’s name calling but it was done in humor. This might be a generational theme but there is a famous SNL skit where Jane Curtain and Dan Akroyd would do Point/Counterpoint editorials and Dan would always call Jane an ignorant slut. Just an old joke from Caveat, not malice.

    As for the article, Caveat makes good points though I don’t consider Burning Man a social experiemtn anymore than I would consider Reno one. The event is so large now and the population does not represent anywhere close to just one viewpoint about the event, much less the world at large.

    Core Burners lament the Candy Ravers, Frat Boys, Glitter Ponies, etc but the very point of Burning Man is it is their Burning Man too. By definition if you attend, you are part of it. In my limited 3 burn experience, it has always been the Burnier Than Thou crowd that has been the most negative part of Burning Man, acting as if there is only one correct way to burn.

    For myself, I am generally shy but love the chance to expand my personality out on the playa. I’m no artist and so I don’t really feel I have something to contribute in that realm so I give hugs, support and appreciation to those who can provide those things for me to enjoy. To most, I would be simply a tourist and not worthy of “true Burner” status but that is what Burning Man is for me and the level I’m comfortable at participating.

    And what I take back into the real world are the greetings, friendliness, leave no trace and help your neighbor attitudes to try and make things just a bit nicer.

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  • Jazzy says:

    I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: The only way to change the world is to change yourself first. The people around you will notice the change and in turn begin their own transformation and then their friends will do the same and so on and so forth. Burning Man has the power to change people but that’s not what it’s about. It is about just being. About reconnecting with others and finding ways to make the survival aspect of it somewhat pleasurable.

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  • Jazzy says:

    then coming to the default world and making whatever you want of it from what you’ve experienced. Burning Man helps our transformation in the default world.

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  • grai says:

    oh and burning man is already held somewhere else- its called nowhere and is in spain in june.

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  • BBA says:

    “To the extent that you create a mechanism for strangers to connect and collaborate in a meaningful way, you win.”

    If we use the above statement as a metric of “success”, then my experience(s) on Playa over the past decade have been highly successful;.)

    I believe that “connecting and collaborating” with people in “meaningful ways” is how we begin to “change the world”- one “stranger”(human) at a time.

    Participating in this experimental community has changed my life in countless positive ways: I am a better father, creator, husband and human.

    For this I am grateful,

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  • whiskeygizzards says:

    Burning Man, to me, represents a community with arms flung wide open, ready to embrace whatever behavior or action or expression that you can think of. Anything that you’re motivated to bring into realization. It is this community that allows one to shed their skin(s), to push their personal boundaries out in a safe and inviting environment, without the fear of social repercussion in the form of ridicule or disregard. This is the value of BM that I cherish the most. In this way it has the chance to affect *anyone* willing to push their own boundaries back.

    All that the BM non-profit can do to stimulate this is to bolster it, support it! Provide us with the motivation to push out the boundaries, provide others with the correct mind-frame to allow for that community to continue to exist, thrive, and flourish. Also, provide us with the framework for making it possible, year-in, year-out through selfless dedication and organization. But honestly the non-profit cannot *require* people to push those boundaries out (or cast them aside entirely), it can only encourage it, and I feel the org has done a fantastic job at maintaining this arc.

    I understand the need for some “big picture” goal or aim, if only to satisfy the our attention until we finally make it home again next year, but honestly, why? Who can plan and direct the actions of 50,000 uniquely different perspectives and attempt to mold that into some world-changing, earth-shattering event that will go down in history with Woodstock or the fall of the Berlin Wall or landing on the moon? And why? Why must there be some underlying goal? Is it to justify the fact that we feel at home there and not here in reality camp? To feel a sense of “accomplishment” outside of the community that comes together each year with open arms?

    So Caveat, please don’t think that all first-time burners completely missed the point. Don’t get so outraged at someone’s dull and unenlightened comment! Those who don’t like it or don’t get it, won’t come back (good riddance..). I am all ready planning for next year. I can’t wait to go home.

    Here’s to next year’s burn being better!

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  • Bob Cumbers says:

    Similar to the post from Jazzy, by changing yourself, your world changes…thus it does change the world. But you also have to ask yourself what is the intent of your change? If its just change to fit in with other so-called Burners, then you are doing nothing more than continuing the facade seen in the world at large. Change for the better; change because you want to engage with people in a different, tolerant, and hopefully, more positive way.

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  • david crenshaw says:

    Sweden is socialist and is doing fine… albania is capitalist and democratic and is a disaster… its not so much the structure that matters but the attitude of the people involved…

    Leading by example tends to encourage self improvement in followers…

    Burning man has changed me from a “what can I get out of life” person, to a “what can I do to make the world a better place” person…

    And ironicly it makes me feel like I am getting everything out of life to live that way…

    You can lead a horse to water… and eventually they will become thirsty… show them how to quence their thirst and they will stick by your side =D

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  • Tanor Dracon Hearthfyre says:

    simply….heal thyself and you heal the world- change yourself and you change the world- each one teach one..and as you (BM)continue to grow and periodically wane, more lives will be touched in some indelible way that will be taken away with them…simple, not always easy but very simple…be the change you wish to see and even those in silent witness will feel the call in their souls that remind them of our collective humanity, of the creative spirit (perhaps momentarily dormant) within them and WILL bring some measure of it back into their own worlds…blessings for continued “success” however you define it, but don’t be afraid to just “be”
    be well, be loved and blessed be

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  • Caveat Magister says:

    Branden wins the gold star of nostalgia! Thank you for defending me on the reference. It’s appreciated. And I agree with you completely: Burning Man’s strength is that it does appeal to people utterly unlike the “core burners.” I’ll defend anyone’s right to make fun of anyone else at Burning Man (we’re all so mockable …) but never to exclude them in any way.

    Tbear, Erica: no real insult was meant with the reference. It’s a catch-phrase for comedy buffs.

    I’ve added a link above to a YouTube clip of Akroyd and Curtain debating on SNL.

    Finally, @WhiskeyGizzards: I’d never think that all first-time burners miss the point. In fact, I’m positive that some of them get it better than me.

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  • Johnny One says:

    This is so minor in comparison to the scope of the article, but I think it’s a little petty to include a “(sic)” in the original comment alerting us to the fact that the person forgot an apostrophe (and you caught it! Yay! They’re so ignorant! You’re so smart!), when you then go and make the same mistake in your reply (“As movement’s go…”). Pedantic, I know, but glass houses, yeah?

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  • Mancat says:

    Astonishing that the most insightful comment was from someone who’s never been (Dakota). Potter is right on too.
    The business about changing the world is such an outmoded pretense inherited from imperialistic ideological cultures that it amazes me people still energize its narrative power. I recommend forgetting that phrase entirely.

    Briefly: Creating a play-space for individuals to rediscover community and creative potential, resurrecting the Imagination through gratitude and ecstatic fellowship- an inspiring gesture of transformation of consciousness (not political revolution) is enough. We don’t need to avoid Wal-mart and Home depot(although that would be nice) so much as re-appropriate experience from the unconscious abstract entertainment religion of the day- what William Irwin Thompson calls ‘Disneyism.’
    Avoiding the economic environment entirely or holding utopian ideals about total decommodification is up to you, especially if you are a Marxist. But as the article said, B Man is not communism. Actually, it’s a joke turned social experiment, because jokes reveal truth, at least until the humor is lost, which is where you will see the ideologies emerge again. (See Cacophony Society, the original Burners)
    The event is supposed to be a bubble, a Temporary Autonomous Zone so that we may escape the persisting and inert forms of the default environment long enough to develop modalities of consciousness and social organization adapted to the current, invisible environment. Evolutionary harmony in a media ecology, NOT “changing the world.” It is an artistic endeavor.
    So have a sense of humor, realize that the guy who wrote the article that started this discussion was quoting a SNL skit from the 70’s when Chevy Chase referred to the other news reporter as “Jane you ignorant slut,” and that it doesn’t translate well in text and with people too young to catch the reference. It will be his karma to have any negative residue feedback into the way he sees the world, and that is OK too. My criticism to the initial article is that although the effect of the ‘looks like Vegas’ seems to be a good one, it is off base to judge any of what you see at Burning Man from the outside. Most of Burning Man looks like Vegas, look closer at both- you can see Buddha statues with offerings on the street in front of Caesars and you can see pole dancing near the temple. Don’t fool yourself into dualistic dichotomies. Burning Man is Vegas turned inside out, and Vegas is the shadow of Burning Man. The Dionysian form that transcends the dichotomy is an all pervasive environment.

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  • Kanizzle says:

    How we change the world – more peace/love hippies and ravers able to deal with the fact that Burning Man has a lot of it’s foundations in a more punk rock Suicide Club attitude. ‘Unique experiences’ don’t always equal ‘more hugs’ and ‘shitty swag gifts’. And NO, I don’t want a drink off your bottle of whiskey you dirty hippie…I’ve made it this long without mouth herpes and plan to make it the rest of my life without them!

    As for the ‘Burnier than thou’ attitude many attest to….I think you got it wrong. They’re just testing you, to see if you can handle having all your personal space and morals and perceptions of what’s perceived as ‘cool’ in the burnerverse challenged. As someone who has only been involved for 6 years, but am HEAVILY involved year round…I can personally attest to the fact that most of those OG burners you speak of are really awesome people and most of them are quite happy to see the community grow….even Chicken John. Well….kind of Chicken John… I kid, I kid….

    Contrarians make the world go round. We challenge your thoughts and ideals, then you’re in charge of deprogramming your hard drive and reprogramming it with relevant data. Deal with it, you ignorant slut.

    Oh, and Caveat….I have plans on kidnapping you and leaving you in a cherry picker at the trash fence next year. You fucker. ;-)

    One last thing – in response to Peter Rabbits post about ‘banning all logo’s’. Theoretically, we as a community DO ban all logo’s….BUT, it’s up to the community to self police and enforce such rules. So, stop being an apathetic sparkle pony and take control of your world!

    Blah blah blah, peace love and dusty unprotected hippie sex ya freaks….


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  • FreedomFighter says:

    When I marched in 2002 and 2003 against the Iraq War, only to watch the bombs fall even after some of the biggest protests in history..only to watch the world burn and feel as if our protests were in vain…I did not give up and say OH WELL CORPORATE AMERICA RULES US ALL..NOTHING I CAN DO.. I TRIED..

    I went to college, studied the devil himself(political science). Worked here in Nevada to stop arresting people for pot by working to pass a ballot initiative that would have created a tax and regulate structure for the good ganja. We lost…but not by much and we educated a hell of a lot of people in the process.

    I landed a wonderful job with a great non-profit that defends the constitution and I make a difference, no matter how small or big..everyday.

    My point is you never stop fighting!! No matter how big or small the can make it happen with a little hard work. I’ll never forget knocking on this old grandma’s door and explaining to her why Marijuana should be legalized and the medical benefits. I made her challenge the drug war bullshit she had been fed her whole life and actually got her to support the cause after a long discussion.

    Change does not come overnight, or after one election. You have to keep fighting. This was my first BM and the most important emotion I got out of it was the feeling of knowing that I was not alone in my freakness. I am thrilled that the freaks at Burning Man want to step it up and try and change the world.

    I cannot believe the naysayers though. Tell the people in Egypt and Libya that “YOUR MOVEMENT WILL FAIL, YOU CANNOT WIN.” Soon Syria will fall because YOU HAVE TO KEEP FIGHTING IF YOU GIVE A FUCK!

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  • Netzard says:

    My two cents? This was the year I realized Burning Man was not for me. That is after devoting 17 years of blood sweat and tears to making Burning Man a great experience for myself, my camp-mates, and the people who visit our camp. Folks may miss us, but the welcoming and irreverent message we have long brought to the playa is mostly being drowned out. “There is no commerce at Burning Man” except for the folks who pay thousands for luxury Burning Man “vacations”, and the product placement and promotion I witnessed all over the playa this year. I did have a wonderful time, but as my view of the event and what it has become are now so divergent, I no longer want to do backbreaking work to bring my vision of Burning Man to the event anymore. I am dedicating my energies elsewhere.

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  • BoiseBurn says:

    The basic tenets of communism are not synonymous with the application of those tenets to the governance of Soviet Russia.

    Also, you need to do your homework. In reference to your claim that the basic tenets of communism do not involve self-reliance, I will refer you to Karl Marx, who is largely credited with: forming the basic tenets of communism.

    “The self-reliance of men – freedom – would first have to be reawakened in the hearts of these men. Only this consciousness, which vanished from the world with the Greeks and into the blue mist of heaven with Christianity, can again turn society into a community of men to achieve their highest purposes, a democratic state.”

    Writings of the Young Marx on Philosophy and Society, ed. Easton & Guddat (Garden City, Doubleday, 1967), 209-10.

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  • dusty rusty says:

    All non profits have to file initial paperwork that states what their organization stands for and what their educational or social benefits are (to justify their nonprofit status.) When I thought about it I really wondered how they/we would state/define this. I’d love to read the Burning Man Project’s statement.

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  • ConQues says:

    “You ignorant slut” is a joke from a classic SNL skit. I wouldn’t take it too personally. :)

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  • deknoggin says:

    If all 50,000 from this year buy tickets next year there will be no “First Timer” to poke a stick at. Will B man become a smake devouring it’s tail? Could this all end with a bunch of artist & friends sitting in the sand on Baker’s Beach sharing a bottle of wine around a bon fire laughing as the sun goes down?

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  • Binary says:

    To blyslv: Changing the world isn’t really that huge a goal (as Caveat pointed out it’s vague enough that even a small, insignificant change could be considered a success). I do however agree that Burning Man shouldn’t try to change the world, rather just provide “the blank slate of the playa” for people to come and experiment with social interaction. As more people experience this amazing event and take what they have learned out on the playa back into the default world, the change will come. Probably small changes at first and so gradual that you’ll barely notice it, but I think that’s the only way to change the world: any attempt to change the world overnight is doomed to fail.

    To Tiffany: 2011 was my first burn too and I have to disagree with you about the attitude of experienced burners. The overwhelming majority of experienced burners I met on the playa were nothing but friendly and helpful. They were all more than happy to give advice, even lend a hand or just hang out and have a chat. I can understand some scepticism from long time burners towards total newbies though. As the newcomer, it’s up to you to prove yourself, to show them that you can be a valuable member of their society, that you’re not just another leech. It’s like this in all societies.

    Finally, as a scientist, I just can’t resist pointing out the incorrect use of the term “failed experiment”. In the strictest sense, an experiment is a controlled procedure carried out to verify some hypothesis, that is to answer some yes/no question about the world. As such it fails only if it fails to provide any answer. An experiment (even in the broader sense in which the word is used here) that yields the opposite result from what you expected (or wanted) is still a successful experiment. So, even if Burning Man does fail in its goals, even if we do fail to change the world, the experiment will still have been a success.

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  • Swampdog says:

    Change the world? I’ll be content if I can change myself.

    Anyone who can make a statement like “Can someone explain how decommodification and communal effort differs from the basic tenants of socialism/Communism that have failed over and over throughout history?” is, in fact, ignorant.

    Let’s ask the Nordic countries how they feel about the universal failure of socialism, shall we? Maybe they’ll loan our failing capitalist economy some money!

    (No, I haven’t read all the comments so I may have repeated what others have said)

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  • nonparticipant says:

    One thing about Burn this year has kept bugging me. Around 4AM Thursday morning, I ran into a pair of pricks with a stencil spray-painting BORING on people’s stuff.

    It bugged me on several levels. First, vandalizing other people’s stuff is a dick move. Second, labeling something ‘BORING’ just because it doesn’t excite your beer-sodden prick is a totally assholish thing to do.

    My partner went off in search of a ranger while I slow-boated and drifted near them. They sneered at me, “Ooh! Whatcha gonna do about it!” …Yeah, you’re right assholes, a girl alone at night is going to engage with a couple of simians. Duh.

    But the final thing that bugs me is the way I did handle it. As I slow-boated, hoping my partner would return, I wandered up to a burn bin where there were some people gathered. One guy was talking with pride about the yurts that he’d built and how comfortable they were… The yurts right across the street that Dick and Dicker were tagging.

    “Those are your yurts? … There’s a couple assholes tagging it right now.”

    I made sure he found them. Listened half-heartedly to the lecture as I went to find my partner. He was a nice hippy guy and I’m sure they went right back to it a moment later and probably did a few thousand more dollars in damage. I probably should have waited until my spouse found a ranger but … prospect of two even more angry man-apes stalking me really hit some of my panic buttons. So I ran and caught up with my spouse. Meh.

    I guess it’s that last bit that keeps it stuck in my head. What should I have done?

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  • alex s says:

    B Man gives you a chance to get out of your own skin for a little while. I think that gives people some perspective, a good thing.

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  • Reid White says:

    One word can change the world. And I’ve encountered so many new words/ideas/people and Burns that I’ve no doubt we can too.

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  • Yikes says:

    I’ve been farting around that filthy, salty, dust-hole for the last 16 years, though I’m deeply temped to go on an old timers rant about how much better it was back in the day , I’ll spare you. Want it plain and simple? It’s a playground. It’s not a movement, it’s not a religion, it’s a blank canvas and you get to go out there and do what ever crazy fucked up shit you can dream of. Isn’t that enough? I go out there to play with other people. I have a blast doing it. Don’t undervalue that. When a bunch of smart, creative, resourceful people get together and play it’s pretty fucking spectacular.

    As far as I’m concerned anybody out there who wants to turn this into some sort of religion is an asshole. Same goes for trying to exploit it for personal gain. That’s the kind of bullshit I’m going to getaway from. By all means get inspired, take that out into the world. but please stop trying to elevate this into some sacred bullshit. Don’t we have enough self appointed holy men, do we really need another movement? How about a little more irreverence?

    Those simple rules, like, “please don’t shit on the playa”, as hard as they are to follow after your sixth hit of whatever, exist so you can come back next year and do it all over again. The social contract, sharing, participation, no commerce that’s just the lube. It keeps the whole thing pumping along nicely. There’s no need to make it into scripture, the thing in itself is good enough. So stop taking it all so seriously, make some fucking cool shit, get your ass out there and have some fun.

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  • Pam says:

    This was my first burn and it was one of the best weeks in my 54 years of life. While I can’t say it’s, ‘changed my life’, I can say that it’s affected my life in positive ways and I will be counting down the days until I can participate again. I loved being there, being a part of it. It’s not for everyone and perhaps the negative newbie is one that need not participate. Much easier to just have said, ‘It’s not for me.’…

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  • binya says:

    ditto what others have said. slut-shaming is NO way to treat someone, whether they are “ignorant” or not. definitely not cool.

    also, there is so need to red-bash. many burners are communists, socialists and anarchists who bring their radical politics to the burning man community to not only fight for fun stuff (like burning a giant man), but for the elimination of sexism, racism, homophobia, etc.

    without the larger struggle for a better society, it’s nothing more than privilege.

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  • Mark Sighclops Oneeye says:

    Interesting that anyone should even consider ” BURNING MAN ” as an example of how one should perceive or try and run an organization as large and complex as lets say the UNITED STATES. I am even more confused that it should be compared to ” COMMUNISM “. I will admit that if you chose to do so that’s OK by me and good luck to ya. For me the burning man was a place I could go and be part of and not be criticized for doing what I want to do as long as I do no physical harm to living things and not destroy any natural environmental things like–land–water –plants –soil –etc. You get the jest of what I am saying.— I never really expected to get anything from going to the ” BURNING MAN ” that I could bring back with me that I would then spread around the community where I live in, in hopes of improving the lives of other people or as it is more commonly said–spreading the word–LOL..I went so I could stroll around nude and enjoy that experience because I do so love being nude in the sun and wind and the coolness of night. I also enjoy seeing others nude in their natural state because in the general public nudity is illegal and in many cases appropriately so due to health reasons and sanitary reasons. Make no mistake though ” THE BURNING MAN ” has become the victim of the human element or the human condition where if there is more than 1 person then you’ll need regulations and laws and permits licenses. I stopped going to the ” B URNING MAN ” because there were too many spectators and I was being insulted by those spectators because they were not part of the community known as the ” BURNINGMAN ” but of the general public and they were not contributors or participants they were spectators and they brought with them they’re ignorance’s and prejudices and warped religions and hate and closed mindedness. I can get that shit at home for free never mind paying for an exuberantly priced ticket. There are POLICE there now and you can not do whatever you want to do because it is ruled and governed by the very public authority I was looking for a little relief from.There is no escape from the law of man kind in a social structure

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  • Cindy Says says:

    I only heard about the Burning Man Festival this year from my daughter. I asked her who was performing – she seemed confused, “It’s not like that she said, it’s everyone performing.” So I said, “Let me get this straight, the audience is the show?” Wow, nowhere I have ever been has the audience been the show.
    What a group effort from people who do not even know each other, to come together, and pull off a wonderful event without any serious situations arising. I think it was fabulous. Where else has this happened where people who total the population of a lot of cities in this country can come together, coexist without incident and when done leave the area as if they had no been there. Maybe this is simplistic assessment but I think its wonderful.

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  • I think part of the power of Burning Man is that it is so radical. That you get just this one week to totally rearrange your mind and how you engage with the world around you and if that were to become blase, it would lose its power. My husband and I have been several times and each time we remark about how it couldn’t really exist long term because the thing that makes it work is surplus. People come in with all they need for the week and more, and thus have no problem being generous. The minute commodities grow scarce, the generosity will fade and fear sets in.

    However, while I don’t see Burning Man taking over the world wholesale, that doesn’t mean I don’t think it can change the world in small, but vital ways. After our last burn in 2009, my husband and I suddenly found the courage to leave our “perfect little life” and move to a totally foreign country where we now do humanitarian aid work. That burn taught us not to fear: that we can be UNcomfortable and it’s okay. It pushed secret hopes and dreams to the fore and made us ask: what the hell are we waiting for? What are we so afraid of? I don’t have any pretensions that we’re changing the world. But I do like to think we have made a change towards living a more authentic and intentional life and that can’t be a bad thing. And hopefully we’re helping a few others along the way.

    By being so radical, I think Burning Man has the power to change, at least for one week, the entire paradigm about how people see the world around them and their role in it. It’s not about whether Burning Man as itself is sustainable long term, but what those people bring home from the Burn that matters. How does it change them? Does it encourage them to live their own lives with a little more generosity, love, kindness, forgiveness, or courage? I don’t even think it’ll effect people all in the same way, and that’s okay. There’s beauty in the diversity too. But if it can at least get people to question the most basic assumptions of their existence, then maybe it can help people get a little closer to being their most authentic selves.

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  • Pooh Bear says:

    Burning Man doesn’t need to artificially become anything, it’s already what it is and it’s already changing organically. Why force it? It effects the people that come and they can’t help effecting the world they re-enter when it’s over. Burning Man has a wider effect. Some of those effects can be measured by sociologists, most cannot.

    Also, Burning Man cannot change the world if the dominant music is Rave music (in all its varieties). I like Rave music. I think it’s closer to classical music than the pop music of previous generations. But they weren’t playing Mozart in Chicago in 68. No songs, no movement. Just a great party.

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  • ~lancho! says:

    FOLKS: the “ignorant slut” thing was pure humor….. geeeez….. follow the link, and lighten up!

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  • BurnerWannaBe says:

    I have no doubt that BM has a different meaning to almost everyone there. From the dips who are there just to act like jerks, to those that come to socialize and feel free from the world, to those have mountain top experiences and feel closer to god or people to even themselves. Even the tourists have their agenda and some itch they come to get scratched. For me, I want to experience BM first hand and have made it my goal to attend in 2013. For over a month I have followed online the conversations about the preparation, I listened to the web-enabled BM radio, I have watched the resulting videos, I bought a photo book, and I continue to look for what people say about their experience. I think that all of us are seeking something and to expect that 50,000 are all out for the same thing is silly. Me, I just hope to experience a society were there are lots of good people who are there to have fun with others, not at the expence of others. I want to volunteer, to meet others, to smile endlessly and to just be the me I cannot be in the real world.

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  • BurnerWannaBe says:

    typo – meant “expense” not “expence” – for anyone paying attention.

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  • ~lancho! says:

    If you read any of the posts above, read “Yikes”…. she/he/it nails it.

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  • hungry mounten says:

    burning man is changing minds, hearts and intentions in amazing loving potently imaginative ways !!! yeeehaw

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  • I have a more extensive answer on my blog but here are the high points.

    1. Dress better.

    2. Hug more.

    3. Invent rituals.

    4. Observe traditions.

    5. Start a supper club.

    6. Start a gifting circle.

    7. Buy less, more durable.

    8. Reduce trash.

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  • jackiejack says:

    Calling her an ignorant slut *would* be uncalled for…if that wasnt a direct quote of a famous SNL skit and relevant to the point/counter-point theme and linked in the article directly to the video, FFS.

    Accepting swords from a watery tart is the only way I want my world leaders elected from now on. I’ll take a dusty tart as substitute, though. Because sluts and tarts rule!

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  • g says:

    Alright people with no sense of humor (if this is not a good description of yourself ignore the comment). The “you ignorant slut” comment is a JOKE, an old one at that. Follow the link and you will see for yourselves if you haven’t seen/heard this already on SNL.

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  • 666isMONEY says:

    A true communist believes in eliminating money. If BM wants to change the world, they should name the theme for 2012: ABOLISH MONEY.

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  • Mark Atwood says:

    I like much of your article, especially the statement “Before you put any event or program together, ask yourselves if this is basically something you could see in Vegas. If it is, try something else.”

    However, the part where you make fun of the comment making the point about population scaling issues with social shared resources is entirely correct just makes you look like an ass.

    You didn’t want to try to refute it, you didn’t engage with his words or his points. You instead he elected to ridicule it, and did so by stuffing words he didn’t say into his mouth, and then refuting those.

    Completely dishonest, utterly lacking in good will, and very bad form.

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  • lifeisshort says:

    “you ignorant slut”….valid or not…… made me laugh

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  • everything in the article after “you ignorant slut” sounds like Dan Akroyd. ;)

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  • simon of the paya says:

    you’re not changing the world right, you ignorant slut…

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  • Dada Dodo says:

    We change society, in every moment in which we interact in society. How much of a change can one expect? A butterfly in China?

    Granted, that’s the only point of view from which I could accept the notion that Burning Man would be a socially changing event – namely, in that it’s a socially changing event simply in that it is a social event.

    Contrarily, I’m aware that some social events – in the “default world”, as I hear it would be referred to in the local language – some such events (such as a typical workday, on a bad day) may seem so mind-numbingly repetitive, contrived, and only superficially relevant, one would wonder how it serves to accomplish anything. One might even prefer to be a character in a Camus novel, by contrast.

    The default world is default because _____. I’d fill in the blank, there, with the assertion: Because people in the default world are so preoccupied with insular private agendas, and so incapable at communicating about said agendas, it’s really no kind of friendly society.

    We change society, whenever we interact in a genuine way, in society. Here’s to!

    – Burning the year round, your BM virgin truly, Dada Dodo

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  • Glow says:


    “I agree with what you said up until you called the commenter an “ignorant slut.” Then I stopped reading.”

    Ditto. The hostility seems over the top for someone who made a few uneducated statements. A better solution, instead of demeaning the person, would be to educate them from a perspective of compassionate; not everyone has had the experiences and education that we have had, and they won’t know any better until someone explains things to them.

    But no one wants to listen to/be understanding toward someone who is calling them names.

    I’m surprised and disappointed to see that this article is a post on the official Burning Man blog. The education aspect is beneficial, but with the imbedded hostility, it ruins the whole effect.

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  • kupeee says:

    I see Burning Man as a psychedelic drug trip, only the trip takes place not in entheospace, but in “real” space. There’s the preparation phase–making sure your body (or camp) is properly prepared, and making sure you know more or less what to expect during the trip. Then there’s the experience itself, and for many people, Burning Man seems to be a kind of personal vision quest; you come to the Playa with questions, and the Playa delivers by the end of the week, much like psychedelic substances. Then there’s the coming down phase, where you get back to the city, and suddenly everything seems drab in comparison, and you long to be “home” again. But eventually you return, fully, to the “real world,” where the great challenge (and the great fun) is to somehow bring something back from the “trip” to the real world.

    The transition phase after my first couple of Burns were rather difficult. I was depressed, and couldn’t understand why the default world couldn’t be a kind of utopia. I was angry at people. This year, however, I’ve been going to these local Burner get-togethers in my town, and I feel hopeful that I can create a community that is full of light and love. I’m no longer trying to create a utopia for all of mankind, just for me and my circle of friends.

    I can tell the difference, these days, between someone who has gone to Burning Man (or something like it), and someone who hasn’t. You can see it in their eyes; there’s a child-like playfulness, and an understanding that all of life’s experiences are ultimately absurd, beautiful, and illusory. When I interact with a fellow Burner, I feel like I’m on stage, doing improvisational comedy. Something about the vibe is fluid and clean, and beautiful.

    I think the biggest change that Burning Man can make is in each individual. It simply expands people’s consciousnness and that is beautiful in its own right. It may be asking to much to attempt to quantify or articulate that change in terms of “society as a whole.” The best we can do is get more people we love to Black Rock City. But not too many people ;)

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  • simon of the playa says:

    “I’m surprised and disappointed to see that this article is a post on the official Burning Man blog. The education aspect is beneficial, but with the imbedded hostility, it ruins the whole effect. ”

    yup. thats the sound of an ignorant slut jumping the shark.

    ps…it’s “embedded”…

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  • Astro says:

    Embedded hostility indeed. If BM is going to change the default world then it’s going to have to move beyond the default world’s out-modded concept of *the other* – the person or persons who are responsible for spoiling things for ME. The list of others I often hear recited both on and off the playa include:

    frat boys
    burners with megaphones
    thumping art cars
    and now sparkle ponies

    A few years back Andie Gracie made a plea in the JRS for burners to grow up and stop stealing BRC’s street signs during the man burn. She made the good point that this could delay emergency crews and endanger lives. So who would do such a lame thing? Why *the others* of course, most notably the frat boys and yahoos who just don’t get it. That same year during the burn I got to witness a band of rowdy partiers driving through BRC’s empty streets in a truck, stealing street signs and hooting it up. Who were these others? Why the very people who put the signs up in the first place — BRC’s Department of Public Works. OMG – the others are US! I later asked Andie why she was calling burners to task when the problem was, at least in part, rooted within BRC’s own structure. Her reply was curt and defensive, as I’ve come to expect from the high falutin folks at the top of the BM pyramid, along the lines of “So I guess they’re responsible for EVERY street sign that’s been removed.” Well, no Andie, but that wasn’t my point.

    As seen in this blog post, 25 years of men burning and we’re still pointing fingers and calling names.

    What happened to radical inclusion Caveat, you magnificently ignorant slut?


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  • First Timer says:

    Wow, my initial comments created an interesting discussion.
    BTW I saw the ignorant slut comment as humor as intended,so lighten up people.

    Burning man is a wonderful expression of art and creativity. A place to throw off some social norms, a place to create for the sole purpose of creating. all of this is good. A place to live life in living color for a week. We should all strive to live life in living color all year long. If I had to pick a single word to describe this life in its deepest form I would use the word liberty.

    At the same time there are a lot of burners trying to turn it into some kind of religion or movement. My initial comments were aimed at the hypocrisy that drips from some of these comments. The personal liberty and self reliance aspects of this can be moved into the default world and we would all be better for this. Be kind, care for others, be generous if you are successful etc.. are all just good goals to live by.

    Yet among the hard core burners 10 principals etc there is an anger there at the corporate capitalist world that made it possible for you to have this festival. This festival did not start in the USSR, it did not start in Scandinavia, or China, it started in the country that has become rich from the benefits of economic liberty.

    The Native people of the pacific northwest had incredible art and culture.
    In some ways burning man reminds me of their concept called the potlatch.
    Their art and culture was not so much more sophisticated than the native people of the east coast because they were better, smarter, or superior, it was better because they lived in an area of incredible abundance. The natives of the PNW had the riches necessary to allow them to devote time, thought and effort to art and culture.

    We have burning man because our society is rich enough to be able to devote though time and effort to it. We are at the very top of Maslow’s hierarchy of needs. To bash the very institutions that brought you this wealth seems juvenile and hypocritical.

    The comments have been interesting to read.
    I think Yikes got it close to exactly right.
    Swampdog also points out that my core point that social structures work/fail at different scales was never addressed in any of the responses.

    (For those that love labels I’m a married 49 yr old successful geeky white guy ;-)

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  • First Timer says:

    I got names wrong, in the last post my comment about swampdog should have been about Mark Attword.

    Mark said:

    “However, the part where you make fun of the comment making the point about population scaling issues with social shared resources is entirely correct just makes you look like an ass.

    You didn’t want to try to refute it, you didn’t engage with his words or his points. You instead he elected to ridicule it, and did so by stuffing words he didn’t say into his mouth, and then refuting those.”

    I have to agree with that comment.

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  • PaddyD says:

    “Glitter Pony “- Thanks for the new term.. LOL

    1. Sparkle Pony
    A high maintenance person at the Burning Man Festival who is unprepared for the harsh camping environment and becomes a burden to their camp-mates.

    I think the mainhead wind faced here with scaling the project beyond just 2 dimensions the reality that there are a lot of glitter ponys out there in the default world – perhaps the objective here is to…do something about that?

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  • Jeff Schiffman says:

    I want to thank everyone that put in so much hard work before, during, and after. You made it a comfortable place to be nuts. Many of us (old farts) perseverate on all the great times we had in the ’60’s and ’70’s. For me, this was more fun than anything back then.
    How about just having fun?!

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  • joe says:

    Of course Burning Man can and does change the world. Just ask my wife who just returned and can’t stop talking about it, no beaming about it. Burning Man changes the world in the most important way ever, by changing the individual. This is huge and not something that most political or social movements address at all. When individuals change they alter what is around them. Call it a happy and empowering disease! :-)

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  • CosmicCarl says:

    Will we change the world? I don’t know. Will we leave our mark? I feel we have. (the only part of our society that isn’t leave no trace.) Leave traces all over the planet. Not Moop, but stories and ideas that aren’t preachy. Just offerings. Kesey said it best, you don’t point and tell someone where to go. You go there and you make a case. If what we are doing is really the best thing for people they won’t need any convincing or argument. They will just need to see it. Believe it if you need it if you don’t just pass it on.

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  • Another damn kiwi says:

    I am the walrus.

    Any time I hear the word “tenets” attached to isms, i can’t help but think of Donny.

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  • Fargonaut says:

    Nearly everything is eventually found out to be wrong eventually, it has been that way since we crawled out of the dark ages. We’d be kidding ourselves if we could sit around thinking we’ll come up with the solutions a 100 years from now people will look back and say “Gee those folks in 2011 really had it figured out.” Burning man is a part of life, which is a constantly ongoing and changing process. The best we can hope for is to be less wrong. What we should aim for is to just be.

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  • dr bacon says:

    great read! bm changed my world and thats the one i live in :-) <3

    im homesick

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  • MJ says:

    I’d like to say something to all the First Timers, and the devirginized-but-still-newbies…

    This whole article got started because someone experienced Burning Man for the first time and come to some conclusion about it. And as I’ve read along in the comments there’s a lot of people saying this year was their first year and putting in their two cents about whatever, or getting pissy about how harsh everyone is towards newbies.

    Let me say this: Come back next year, and then tell me what you think…

    This year was my second year, and I’ll be honest I was completely disappointed. But I think I know why. I’ve met a lot of people who’ve only gone twice, and all last year I couldn’t understand why anyone would ONLY go TWICE and not FOREVER!!! But this year, I got it.

    Last year, my first year at Burning Man, my mind was forever blown by the amazing community that is BRC. It was a whirlwind of everything I never thought possible, a universe of endless possibility, and FUN! More fun than I’d had even as a kid!

    This year, I came back, expecting to be spoon fed the same dose of awesome as last year. But it doesn’t work like that. This year’s Burn, for me as a second year-er (?), made me realize that if I wanted it, I had to make it. I am no longer ignorant to the possibilities; I have seen what can be done. And if I want it to happen, I have to make it happen. I have to participate. Not just fill a roll that was already created by a veteran camp like I did last year, but really put out an effort to make something awesome.

    So for all you First Timers who think you’ve just experienced the most amazing thing in your life, and don’t understand why the old school burners have no respect for you, I urge you to come back, not just next Burn, but to the Burn that comes after a really shitty and disappointing Burn. Keep coming back. Respect your elder Burners, yea, though they give you shit and call you Sparkle Ponies. Learn to not take offense. I don’t know about everyone else, but the harsh vulgarity of some burners is something I actually like. I asked my friend how her Burn was going and she turned to me and said, “Y’know what, Fuck your Burn!” Maybe that’s a sick twist in my head, but if someone chooses to express them self by calling me an ignorant slut, that’s them. It’s their expression of their feelings, it really has nothing to do with me.

    Like the author of this article said, in a Communist situation basic necessities are distributed to the people. And even in non Communist countries like the US, we still expect things to be taken care of for us. We do not come from a world where real participation is encouraged. We don’t problem solve for ourselves, we pay someone to do it for us. We don’t work out our differences, we call the police. We don’t ask strangers for help or things we need, because even in the real world people have excess that they’d be happy to see someone else make use of. But instead we go buy a new one with the money we know we shouldn’t be spending because we need to save up, and we buy it from someone who “just works here”, and we’re by no means grateful for the thing once we’ve obtained it. Burning Man is full of practices that are not normal for most of us. “Practices”, as in habits, as in done on a regular basis, as in not just done once for the novelty of it but made part of daily life.

    So for all your First Timers, you have much to learn young Dusthoppers. But fear not, it’ll be awesome.

    And if anyone else went for their second year and felt disappointed too, we should meet for bacon Bloody Marys and start building something for next year. Or we should start fighting the system that shut down a bunch of food serving camps this year because of “health code” issues. I didn’t like that.

    So yea, that’s my rant.
    Love and Dust… and fuck your Burn :)

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  • TimTime says:


    If it makes you feel any better, the ‘BORING’ douches were nabbed by rangers and punted off playa in the middle of tagging a bunch of BRCAC infrastructure. (4:45 & B-ish)

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  • dustbuster says:

    “Do not let great ambitions overshadow small successes” – Chinese Proverb.

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  • jonathan schork says:

    what a fascinating conversation. as a veteran burner who has participated as a journalist (’06, ’07, ’09), theme camp operator (’07), filmmaker (’07), and artist (’06, ’07, ’09), i may have a useful perspective to contribute. i love burning man, and have, i think, lovingly portrayed it to my audience outside the burner community. i have, moreover– and unsuccessfully– attempted to import some of the burning man ethos– mostly around the ideas of community, participation, and personal responsibility– to my home in key west. i seem to be having much more success in my other home, gulfport (Fl). i remain dedicated to the principles that make bman great, though i suspect my ambitions for inaugurating change are somewhat more modest that the lofty goal of changing the world, or even just changing the country. but a thing our newby blogger referenced has stuck in my mind: the propensity of an over-expanded community to invite non-participating people resulting in a trend toward hierarchic modes of enforcement, in which i must admit with chagrin my own experience being bullied and threatened by bman “volunteers”, one of whom even threatened to have me expelled because i was not “properly respectful” of his position on the DPW– this whilst i was trying to finish installing a monumental sculpture i had hauled four thousand miles to erect. this person’s mutant vehicle co-pilot even went so far as to accuse me of being rude & vulgar, all in a vocabulary so abusive and festooned with profanity it would have made my old skipper blush. on another occasion– our arrival, actually, another volunteer gave us inaccurate instructions for returning to the overflow parking, and rather than apologize for the mistake confined us in the overflow parking and forced us to stay there nearly an entire day, despite the fact that we were supposed to be setting up our theme camp, all of this merely on the authority of a badge issued to this person by bmorg. authoritarianism is a dreadfully easy and addictive habit; the fact that so many of the volunteers, especially in DPW, have been given authority without being educated in the responsibilities incumbent in that authority– of courtesy, helpfulness, and patience– has resulted in some unfortunate experiences for me, and i’m sure i’m not alone. these habits would– i submit, represent a betrayal of the bman ethos, and it might behoove us to be vigilant in addressing them. it is a testament to my enthusiasm for bman that, in spite of these kinds of experiences, i continue to participate, and expect to return in 2012 with a new theme camp.

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  • Anonymous says:

    “At Burning Man, dissidents get furious that there aren’t enough tickets.”

    Or we just sneak in. :D

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  • Cinderalli says:

    First burn, and it absolutely CHANGED MY “default” LIFE for the better.

    It has most definitely changed the world (as most things do). It continues to do so every day through lives that are touched…and on and on…

    DPW exit quote (leaving the playa) “Be careful, it gets weird out there. Real fuckin’ weird” True, it felt like “home” – but I took away ideas (and skills) to make this place feel like home…and I keep finding it everywhere! By just opening my mind (and heart) I keep finding burners out here who have never burned, never even heard of the burn. I think it’s in (almost) everyone. Even just a little more engagement that gets others to open up (and live) more fully = Win.

    I know next year is going to be more work and I am SO fully stoked for that. Ready to participate more, work hard to build my own reality and do more for others!!! Who knows how many years I’ll make it, but 1 year at a time is plenty ;)

    I was SO humbled by how much work so many people did to make my “last minute” burn spectacular. Wow. Just Wow. (Thank you!!!!)

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  • I don’t see why moving Burning Man to the larger world is “destined to fail.” The experiment which has been tried ‘thousands and thousands of times” *does* sometimes succeed.

    I say this as many of the questions and criticisms you cite are often directed to the place where I live.

    I live in a 42 year old intentional community where one of the two rules is “don’t do anything you don’t want to do.” If anyone or anything was destined to fail, you would think it would have been us. So don’t give up too easily.

    And if you fail, well, failures are data too – I say this as ours is an experimental lifestyle, and many of our experiments have been failures.

    Like Burning Man, no one is forced to participate and you do have to pay to get in. We tell anyone who will listen that our lifestyle is not for everyone. And our lifestyle is so unlike what people expect that its easy for people who haven’t had the experience to “to reach for an analogy that is quick, easy, and wrong.”

    Over the years we’ve taught thousands and thousands of people – but nothing like the tens of thousands who go to Burning Man each year. We believe that in our own way we have changed the world, but nothing on the scale of Burning Man. So, experiment!

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  • Jack Trash says:

    Love the comments, felt the need to chime in…

    BM is not a change-the-world event. There is not one movement, event, or belief that has done that historically, ever. It is a change-your-world event. A realignment of personal perspective. It is not green, red, or even pink. The art is there because that is what happens when you get creative people together, year after year.

    Someone above in the comments mentioned it as a playground, an escape. That is really what it is (to me, at least). I always thought of it as a Cult of the Trickster, within a “default” world that celebrates “logic” and “progress”. Why would we, the assclowns, want to live in a world like ourselves? Better to jest, and contribute to the flavor of the world as a spice, not the meat and potatoes. Let’s not make BM a meat-and-potatoes part of the world. Let it be the bitter, salty, tangy, and sweet flavoring that the world needs. History chews the meat, but loves the spices.

    I was in Burners Without Borders in Peru for a bit, and if you want to see BM changing the world, put some burners who share a common bond like BM, in all its manifestations of ingenuity, resourcefulness, and creativity, in a world far removed from the playa or the Bay Area or the US. That is where we truly shine, because we are more like the outside world than the world most of us live in. Art, music, heart, family, and mirth are an every day part of so many peoples around the world, and I think the reason so many of us like BM is because we live in communities that have lost a little touch with the important things that we as “burners” cherish. Peruvians were always asking us how a “fiesta” inspired us to go out into the world and help people (not change, mind you). We would ask ourselves that too, and I think the answer most of us came up with is that BM was the kick in the ass we all separately looked for, and enjoyed collectively.

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  • Erich Laskowski says:

    A couple of comments that I would like to share with the group out there. First, when using humor, it is important to know your audience. If you do not get it right, it takes away from the rest of what you have to say and Caveat Magister has a lot to say that is important to think about.
    Can Burning Man change the world? Probably not so much. However, can Burning Man foster, facilitate, and spread cumulative change in the de fault world? I would wager that it can and is actively doing so, on small step at a time. How do I know? You all out there tell me so in your posts, blogs, and videos. I have worked professionally in the Nevada desert for many years and know the Black Rock Desert well. It is one of the more inhospitable places in the US west and yet you come to this place year after year. Why? Because this gathering of kindred spirits at BRC gives you something that you cannot find anywhere else and so you come. A reoccurring thread in your posts tells us of how your experiences on the playa in late summer have changed you in small ways and large. You bring those changes back with you to the de fault and fit them into you lives there. You model those changes for others to see. You lead by example. Think of it as the ever expanding set of ripples spreading outward from a pebble tossed into a still body of water. So…. change creeps stealthily along unnoticed, but one day you will say to a friend, OMG but we were doing this at BRC years ago! Who knew?

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  • mindy look says:

    hey stop right there,I get treated like a stranger every year by a group or two,I have been going when I was underage,im 32 now!!!!!go figure.i kinda stay to myself,anywho yes it can work in the real world except for the prick at the indian taco place the night me and my mom left tuesday i think.he was so mean to the sweet native girl,and he was a BURNER!!!!the problem is US!!!we dont take the same outlook on the default world as when we do when were at black rock!stop being double life livers!!!!I wanna buy property and make the burn happen 24/7 who is with me?but we will grow our own food!etc,etc,etc, here is my email for all who our serious!I need art!big art!!!!
    I do have a small plot for real serious takers today!!!

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  • Catie says:

    I think that EVERYONE should try to change the world, and you DON’T have to have a very aggressive motive. Instead, you could be the change YOU want to see, and everyone will do that in an individual way. Burning Man has a very non-aggressive motive… that’s why it’s so “vague”… if it had a specific aggressive agenda, then no one would show up! SO many people show up because they have the freedom to make Burning Man mean what it means to themselves! The theme there is definitely self-reliance and exploration of life independent from corporate power, the power of religion and the power of social norms. After you release yourself from those things, you’re free to be YOURSELF. And that’s why you get so many weirdos out there just doing whatever they would personally like to if they had the freedom!

    If you ask someone what they would wish for if they could three wishes, for anything they wanted, no one will tell you the same three wishes! Many people will wish for money though, and that is because money rules all! So when we release ourselves from that, the human imagination can run wild! Most people would agree that Burning Man is about releasing human nature, which includes a few oppressed aspects of the human psyche… sexuality and imagination! Yes, many people there envision practical solutions for how to improve the world, and it is an open forum for methodologies and different perspectives. No one is being forced to follow any particular ideology. There are infinitely many ways to pursue personal liberty and happiness. Societal structures and our economic system tell us that there is only one way to succeed… and that’s just to win the competition for wealth.

    The reality is that human nature is very complex, random and wild, and only the structures that we consciously create in a given nation or state keep us so controlled and synchronized. Burning Man is a place where people are given the permission to act out. This is phenomenal. Real change begins deep within a person’s mind. I’m sorry that some of you don’t get it! But you don’t need Burning Man to figure that out. Just because you went to Burning Man once doesn’t mean you will learn that. You have to think independently and realize this for yourself, BEFORE you come to Burning Man. If you expected to learn that by going to BM, then you’re not ready to be there. BM is for people who already understand this!

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  • Paul says:

    Is there a great similarity between the concepts of the burning man community and the community of Freetown Christiania in Denmark?

    Is it an experiment in anarchy, anarchy in the good sense of the serious sort and not people just breaking stuff for the sake of being destuctive.

    I’ve often wondered if this model of community / colony might not lead to some solution for the homeless…give them a spot and let them build a civilization.


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  • HairBear says:

    I’ve never been to the Burning Man before. I live in Germany and been going to the Wacken Open Air Festival.. basically because I love mud, heavy metal & beer. ;-)
    The same arguments and whiny discussions have also existed regarding our festival. Things change with time, and that’s good. I have decided that I want to experience the dust, and atmosphere of Burning Man. I have made it my personal goal to visit Burning Man in 2013. Keep up the good work.

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  • Cirta1990 says:

    I have never been to BM, but it seems like the best of places. Any newbie who is criticizing the OG Burners for things said to, must realize that they are acting on one of the ten principles of BM, radical self-expression. They head to BRC year after year, not to insult anyone, but to be themselves, have fun, appreciate art and life, and make a lasting impression in their own lives, as well as those they encounter. I only became of BM a few days ago, but I don’t plan to judge it, even after I try it. Whether BM is for you or not for you, the goal, it seems, is to go out and enjoy yourself. I hope to make it to a burn soon. Can’t wait to interact!


    P.S.- Would love to be a part of the burner community, but it seems pointless to wait almost a whole year just to get involved. Don’t know where to cast my line in order to get pulled in…maybe some help? Would love a reply from any returning burners…hit me up, please.

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  • Stiabhna says:

    I was in Dublin for the 2010 Bloomsday which is tragically only kept alive by the efforts of a dwindling few. Dwindling, because they’re dying of old age. (Dublin scarcely bothers to advertise the day anymore, except by pubs eager to get tourists to pay double for their drinks while they listen to an actor recite lines from “Ulysses” for a few minutes before he’s shoved aside for the next session of fake ‘Oirish’ trad musicians belting out their carefully-legally-paid-for cover tunes.)

    Anyway, I met a Polish woman who’d sat in the middle of the real Joyceans, futiley trying to act invisible. She explained that she’s a cultural psychologist and she’d been travelling Europe for a couple of years observing specific historical and cultural festivals. It was her first time at Bloomsday. (I think she was a bit surprised by all the heavily drunk women in Edwardian clothing chatting into their smartphones.)

    Anyway anyway, I told her about Burning Man. She’d never heard of it.M
    About an hour later she vowed to travel there after I told her that it was, in a sense, a walkabout in a fixed place for many people. That it’s in America and it’s in a remote location could be a problem but I hope she’s made it.

    So, mam nadzieję, że cię tam, Lucyna!

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