Davos Is Burning

Is Burning Man just a big party in the desert? Is the World Economic Forum detached from reality? Or is there an opportunity brewing for our burgeoning global community to change the world for the better? Here are some interesting thoughts from Burning Blog guest contributor Taro Gold:

You can stop war.

As you read this, more than 40 wars and armed conflicts are underway around the globe. Right now. This moment.

Whatever justification people claim for these wars, the suffering they cause is universal and devastating. The war in Israel and Gaza and the shooting down of Malaysia Airlines flight 17 are only the most recent examples.

It’s easy to feel overwhelmed. “I am only one person,” you might be thinking. “I can’t make the fighting stop by myself.”

But you can. The key is our human network.

Davos: squint a little and it looks a bit like the playa.
Davos: squint a little and it looks a bit like the playa.

That brings me to Burning Man and a surprising connection I made earlier this year with another event half a world away, the World Economic Forum (popularly known as “Davos,” for the Swiss town in which its annual congress is held).

I’m sure many of us have heard some colorful yet dismissive descriptions of Black Rock City (usually by those who’ve never joined us there) as “self-indulgent,” “insular,” even “frivolous.”

So I was fascinated this year to hear the same sort of disparaging descriptions applied to Davos. I wondered how this could be, since the two events are normally viewed as polar opposites.

When I serendipitously met up with other Burners at Davos earlier this year, it highlighted for me the commonalities of focus and activities in both movements.

Burners, sometimes described as dancing hippies in the desert, and Davos attendees, viewed as the world’s elite, have both been criticized as detached from reality, with Burning Man as a utopian fantasy lacking solutions for real-world problems, and Davos brushed off as ignoring the plight of the common man. Neither could be further from the truth.

My deepest impressions after participating in both Burning Man and Davos activities over the past few years are the open-mindedness of the people whom I befriended, the striking similarity of humanistic discussions I’ve held in both communities—on inequality issues, gender and LGBTQ rights, water issues, the climate change crisis, veganism, and Buddhism—and shared intentions to contribute our individual talents and influence for the betterment of humanity.

Photo by Scott London
Photo by Scott London

While it’s true that the origins of Burning Man and Davos are as different as the scorching summer sand of Black Rock City and the icy winter snow of Davos, there is a definite yin-and-yang quality between the two. As many of us are aware, Burning Man began in 1986 as a grassroots, organic movement, a tiny local neighborhood celebration of the solstice, which gradually grew to the event we know today with some 60,000 participants. On the other side of the world, Davos started in 1971 Europe with key leaders in government, academia, and industry.

What is most important today, however, is that both movements have grown into global networks, and in the process created community groups in which people can focus on specific issues, all aiming to improve the condition of human life on Earth.

Our beloved Burning Man movement officially aims to “lift the human spirit, address social problems, and inspire a sense of culture, community and engagement.” Similarly, the World Economic Forum focuses on its official conviction that “all issues are solvable if the relevant decision-makers are able to interact with each other.”  Although their original activities started from opposite directions (bottom up/top down), the current state of both movements is cross-pollination, bringing together those who share the founding spirit of each community across all sectors of society.

Both global communities are collections of smaller communities: Burning Man is a network of like-minded groups whose missions align, branching out to Black Rock Arts Foundation, Black Rock Solar, and Burners Without Borders. The World Economic Forum comprises 38 communities based on a stakeholder concept, including the forum of Young Global Leaders, the Gender Parity Programme, Women’s Communities, and Global Faith Leaders.

My experiences with Burning Man and Davos have convinced me that the members of both carry essentially the same spirit to foster peace, culture, and education in our respective nations and local communities.

In other words, I witnessed an active and engaged force for peace, a humanistic movement that will spread around the globe, one person at a time.

Are you “just one person”? Then you are exactly the person this movement needs now.

As we look forward to another successful Burning Man celebration, I hope we’ll consider the default world with continually wider hearts and minds, transcending all superficial differences and preconceived notions with ever-growing confidence that our intentions are shared by countless others around the world who may never have heard of Black Rock City.  Even Davos is Burning.

About the author: Will Chase

Will Chase

Will Chase is Burning Man's former Minister of Propaganda, working on global communications strategy. He was the editor-in-chief for the Jackrabbit Speaks newsletter and the Burning Man Journal, and content manager for Burning Man’s web properties. He also oversaw the ePlaya BBS and Burning Man’s social media presence. Will first attended Burning Man in 2001. He volunteered as the Operations Manager for the ARTery (Black Rock City’s art HQ) and was on the Burning Man Art Council from 2003-2008. He was Web Team Project Manager and Webmaster from 2004 until he transitioned to the Communications Department in 2009.

13 Comments on “Davos Is Burning

  • Hoopla says:

    Goddamn hippies.

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  • Daniel says:

    Burning Man will never change the world. I say this respectfully, but anyone who believes that it can, is naïve. I do believe though, that Burning man and its principles resonates with people who live all over the world.

    I also think that the idea of Burning Man and its principles can change people’s perspectives and win them over to its idea, but everyone in the world will never get onboard. I do think it can change some parts of the world, but not the whole world.

    It seems that the diversity of people who go to Burning Man reflects in part, the diversity of the kinds of people found all over the world. Some aspects of the human experience have a universality that forms a common link that many people from different walks of life can relate to.

    And it is this universality that makes it possible to believe that we can come together on the basis of some common human experiences and perspectives we share as simple human beings. The problem lies in those aspects of human thought, belief, and temperament that we don’t share with each other.

    The lack of commonality between us in those areas of human existence in its most extreme aspects, causes us to be so unalike as to make us totally alien to each other.
    Some human beings are so alien in their natures, that they might as well have come from different planets.

    There is an idealism in the ethos of Burning Man as well as in the premise of the World Economic Forum. Both have a concept of how to make a better world, but I believe their ideas of what a better world is are completely different from each other.

    The financial elitists of the World Economic Forum envision a better world in terms of acquiring absolute control of the world’s recourses and its people to the total enrichment of themselves, and the total enslavement of everyone else. They are arrogant enough to think that they know best how to reorganize the world to make it better, but their definition of better is more like a blue print for a hell on earth for everyone else who resides outside of their small but powerful fraternity.

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  • keri says:

    Will Chase. can we republish this in our print publication ? and post on our website?

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  • My father said man would never (never) get to the moon. Some predictions, firmly held, nonetheless turn out to be incorrect.

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  • I’m crowdfunding a film called GOLDEN CITY that mirror’s Burning Man’s efforts to “lift the human spirit, address social problems, and inspire a sense of culture, community and engagement.”

    This documentary explores how technology is transforming housing and transportation in San Francisco, a city that many BRC residents will return to. I sincerely hope many of you support this project: I’m creating a shared frame of reference for the rapid changes sweeping this city. To make a holistic, representative film, I’m interviewing people from ALL walks of life: artists, tech workers, small business owners, displaced tenants and many others.

    I’ve worked in community management for several years: I was an early employee of tribe.net, one of the first online communities that recognized Burning Man as a growing movement in San Francisco and beyond. The Burners I know are socially aware and are rooted in their local community, so I hope many of you will support this project.


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  • Daniel says:

    True, but it is easier to go to the Moon than it is to change humanity.

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  • John Henry says:

    If one person is changed, then the whole world IS changed, whether you RESPECTFULLY disagree or not. Picture a football, (soccer) stadium, filled to capacity; 60 to 70,000 people; Each came in ONE AT A TIME and each is JUST ONE PERSON. Now, picture if each of these people put their trash from ONE DAY in the center of the pitch “Why, I’m only JUST ONE PERSON. How much difference could just little old me make?” Now imagine, if EACH of those folks changed their buying, consuming habits, for ONE DAY each month. Now the world over… Of course not everybody in the world is going to change. No one expects that. But, if there are even a fraction who DO change, or enough like you, going around saying “well, you can’t get the whole world to change…blahblahblah …” Which has a better CHANCE of affecting positive outcome? What YOU do, affects ME!

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  • CeCe says:

    Burning Man will probably
    never change the world…
    But the people who create/attend it most
    Definitely have. Be the change you
    Wish to see in the world.

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  • Edward says:

    I agree with Daniel.

    Burning man will not change the WORLD (I mean THE WORLD, not just an individuals perception of their world). It may change the lives of the individuals. Unless they take that change and spread it across the world, most people will continue to live the same lives.

    Also the people in positions to solve these problems (the “40 wars and armed conflicts”) are not going to Burning man. And likely are fighting for something they believe (whether that means greed, religion or freedom) so you aren’t going to change them.

    Remember that most people who are in the world don’t have the money or the time for Burning Man or its ethos. They are too busy trying to survive and figure out their own immediate problems (hiding from the gunmen rather than trying to stop the gunmen.

    Go enjoy your Burning Man, but when you are spending all of your money going out to the desert to “change the world” ask if the money and time you are spending is really making the difference you claim. Be reasonable about why you are going. And try not to perpetuate the notion that Burning Man is a insular group in telling people who don’t go that they just don’t understand or that they aren’t living a full life.

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  • Bibi says:

    Burning Man cancelled due to Climate Change.

    Oh,The Irony….

    BWAHAHAHAHA Take that, Pretendians!

    Or, Could be that the desert just flooded from all the ice bucket challenges flowing out of California.

    I agree with the post. Davos people and Burning Man people are both neoliberal apologists. Same old, same old…

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  • Em says:

    ok, go to crazy indulgent festivals, be inspired.(or perhaps shocked and amazed and sometimes disgusted).
    learn something. go and find out about something u didn’t know. something that could make something “better”. for me it would be avoiding waste ideas, or how to harness the sun’s energy.
    NOW – you – the ‘just one person’ – have a CHOICE about what to DO with YOUR ENERGY, YOUR TIME, YOUR MONEY. Going back to learn/do the same thing over and over, talking about it and not doing anything about it, and not putting your knowledge or skills or ability to good use IS self-indulgent. But if it truly feeds you to do good in the world, then it has a worthy place.
    Only you know this.
    But that is worthy discussion. Not just justification for indulgence.

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  • Daniel says:

    I’m fine with indulgence.

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  • Joz says:

    The closest I’ve gotten to Burner was a bf who I lived with. He was a sex addict, unconcerned with too many world issues, prejudiced, abusive towards women, and more concerned of how his body would look for the next Burningman party. So far, I’m not too impressed, but II’m sure the Party attracts all types

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