Grover Norquist gets Burning Man – do we?

IMG_9529Every year hundreds of Burners-0n-the-internet are shocked to discover that someone they don’t like might come to Burning Man.

2014 was a big year for this, as many of the very same people who excoriate the rich for trying to turn Burning Man into a private club demanded that only people who think like they do should be allowed through the gates, because this isn’t a party for people with multiple opinions.

It’s all so much bullshit – but the internet amplifies bullshit and so we have to have this debate over and over again.  So once more with feeling:  the fact that Burning Man can attract people from all walks of life is a virtue.  It is a strength.  It is part of why our community works.

Grover Norquist has made this point perfectly.  He published his recollections of Burning Man on the website of the London Guardian, and while you may disagree with him about aspects of Burning Man, and while his experiences of 2014’s Burning Man may not be your experiences, there’s absolutely no doubt that he did, in fact, experience Burning Man:  that he got out of it what the rest of us get out of it, and that he wants more the same way we all do.

Good for him.  Good for us.  Not only because if “radical self-expression” means anything at all it means having your own opinions about important issues, and if “radical inclusion” means anything at all it means not imposing a party line if we can possibly avoid it.  More than that:  why would we want to belong to a movement so precious that you already have to agree with a set of pre-fabricated conclusions just to get your foot in the door?

Screw that.  If that’s what you want, there are already plenty of places you can go where people will sit around agreeing with each other in total smugness, thoroughly convinced that if there were to somehow be another opinion in the world it would be wrong because it would be different.

Screw that.

We not only are better than that, we have to be.  Burning Man wins if we meet three conditions:

1)  Burning Man is genuinely good for the people who participate
2)  Anyone can play
3)  We have more fun than anyone else

These are not easy conditions to meet, and there are legitimate issues surrounding each one, but it is to our great credit that we do meet them – approximately – most of the time.  It’s not always easy, it’s not always comfortable, but it’s so, so, worth it.  When we meet these conditions, we are unstoppable.  And we deserve to be.  We are presenting people from all walks of life with an alternative approach to living that they find better, and we do it without having to make a single argument.

The more conditions and fine print we try to attach, the further away from our best self we move.  The less we have to offer the world.

I happen to disagree strongly with Grover Norquist on some key political issues, as I suspect I disagree with many other Burners about such issues, but I am thrilled to be far-from-the-first person to tell him “Welcome Home.”

That said:  Grover, I think you went a little too easy on us.  Burning Man does indeed have “fools and malingerers” all over the place.  Burning Man is not a remedy for human folly.  But our fools and malingerers are passionate about being here and – much as I laugh at them – they too are part of why our community works.  A movement that has nothing to offer the fools of the world has no future.

But we can disagree about that.

Caveat is the author (under a clever pseudonym) of “A Guide to Bars and Nightlife in the Sacred City,” which has nothing to do with 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

22 Comments on “Grover Norquist gets Burning Man – do we?

  • merlin olsen says:


    There are way too many self righteous and narcissistic people on the playa and the internet that think Burning Man should be done their way and only their way.

    They dont like how others are camping or how the Org runs things or how bad the event has become…although many of the whiners still attend because all of their friends go. Hypocritical sheep.

    Radical inclusion means EVERYONE is welcome. If you dont like the people who are attending or how they are attending then dont come to the event. No one is requiring you to be there. Feel free to start your own event and exclude whoever you choose to exclude.

    Here’s an idea. Mind your own business and worry about yourself and not how others are burning.

    The best internet quote I have ever read is:
    “There’s a lot of judgement among veteran burners about newcomers who are Doing It Wrong. They can fuck off. It’s your burn…”

    For those of you who do attend, however you choose to attend or camp or no matter where you are from or what your ideals are about…Welcome Home.

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  • Sindy says:

    >Grover Norquist is just like ever other burner.
    >Make a blog post just about Grover Norquist.

    Grover Norquist

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  • Matt Mihaly says:

    Great post. So tired of the judgmental Burnier-than-though types out there, trying to enforce groupthink and group conformity on other Burners. It’s terribly ironic, and very sad to watch.

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  • Dan says:

    Thank you, thank you.

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  • greenmelinda says:

    Norquist declaring Burning Man free of “fools and maligners” is simply him being a virgin burner. Remember those feelings of “this is such overwhelming perfection” evinced at your first Burn? It’s sort of endearing.

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  • Steve Mobia says:

    Norquist attending the event isn’t as big an issue as the catered plug-and-play camps where the whole “radical self reliance” thing gets flushed. That’s the problem with documents such as “The 10 Principles” – they’re easily broken. The only objection I have to politicians or other celebrities attending the event is when they try to use it to their political advantage. For instance Norquist tweeted that BRC was full of Libertarians. Well possibly, but it’s also full of democrats, green party, technocrats, socialists and a-political anarchists as well. Having a celebrity, because they are famous, co-opt the event to make political statements is pointing in the same direction as corporate sponsorship of exhibits as was the case with “The Green Man” back in 2007.

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  • Norquist’s article is lovely, and I have nothing against the man. However he goes out of his way not to mention:

    1) he had a home base with shade all set up by the DPW and ready to go for him in First Camp — unlike other burners, to be sure, who must bring their own housing and *not expect to set it up in the well-appointed “backstage pass” area — and

    2) every single piece of infrastructure Norquist experienced as part of Burning Man — roads, traffic, power, transpo, DPW services, free medical help, law enforcement, fire — was paid for by his ticket price (if he and/or his wife bought one, which they probably didn’t)… in the default world, the ticket price would be TAXES.

    Yes, Burning Man is a Utopia in part because our infrastructure is entirely paid for on the way in. By society members. Whose “tax money” covers the cost of livings we are forced to cover ourselves in the default world as well, at much more inflated and ridiculous price points (unless you’re a corporation, then you get subsidies, tax breaks, basically the Norquist-at-Burning-Man treatment).

    From someone who was raised Libertarian, I’d say it’s a nice theory but just that, and it’s better when mixed with a little (gasp) socialism. Don’t think about how America should nationalize our gas and oil profits in order to clear the debt and cause everyone to live like we live at Burning Man — with all our basic needs met by pooled financial resources from the get-go.

    Norquist’s discoveries about Burning Man are disingenuous in the absence of his application to his own life and theories, in which somehow, two decades later with an incredible infrastructure Burning Man would still be free of charge because _____ (?!) something something America.

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  • Frack Daddy says:

    Summer – you’re setting up a straw man my friend. Grover is not opposed to taxes, just to increases in our already high tax burden. The type of basic infrastructure covered by burning man ticket revenue is not opposed by modern libertarians like norquist. You are (intentionally I suspect, because you seem pretty sharp) conflating hard core anarchists with libertarians.

    The irony of course is that although many burners would recoil from the thought, burning man is pretty damn close to a libertarian utopia.

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  • G says:

    All for it. The more muckity-mucks that come and be part of the community, the better, that is if they truly participate. I’d moop or pound rebar with anyone. Rush Limbaugh, Sarah Palin and Mr. Obama come to mind. :P Maybe their minds would expand a little bit, or even better, a lot.

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  • Emberwyn says:

    Well said Caveat, thank you.

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  • False Start says:

    Thanks for writing this! There was quite a bit of chatter from my group about what “was” and “wasn’t” Burning Man this year, who should be here, who shouldn’t–it was hard to hear from my campmates and was starting to put a damper on this year’s burn for me. I’m excited for anyone who chooses to be a part of this community, once or decades over.

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  • Flick says:

    I would not begrudge any individual for attending the event, but if private clubs for the wealthy are cool in Black Rock City, then I guess the real bullshit is the “10 Principles of Burning Man.”

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  • Lentil says:

    I’m all for Grover at Burning Man, but as Summer mentions, why is he being hosted at First Camp? (Dennis Kucinich was also hosted there, and I think that is equally problematic) I have no problem with the Org supporting itself with DPW infrastructure, but what is its justification for hosting exclusive VIPs? I imagine the justification has something to do with wanting to increase BM’s global influence, but this seems like a slippery slope. Generally, organizations seem to be very good at convincing themselves that, because their organization is “good”, then anything that helps that organization gain power and influence is also by default “good.”

    Because of my role in BRC, I spend a lot of time around First Camp and it kinda creeps me out. The rows of luxury RVs, the private “Kanteen”, etc. Maybe it only creeps me out because I’m ignorant of how it actually works..but I’m not so sure. I’d like to expect better from the org and I’d love it if someone would shine a light on how first camp functions.

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  • Coyote Kid says:

    > The irony of course is that although many burners would recoil from the thought, burning man is pretty damn close to a libertarian utopia.

    Frack Daddy, A Libertarian utopia where you can’t spend money and where there’s no market except what’s provided by the governing establishment?

    I think you meant to say “socialist” utopia.

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  • David F says:

    There was an article in NY Magazine where he mentioned seeing an antique car with a Nixon/Agnew bumper sticker. That’s my car.

    I don’t know if he realizes that the reason I put that on the car is that Nixon was the only president to have resigned in disgrace, as I feel all presidents should do.

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  • Steve G. says:

    Speaking of radical self expression, just try wearing a tutu on any other day than Tuesday at Burning Man. See how much people appreciate your choice to wear what you want! ; – )

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  • Captain Vic says:

    Grover Norquist did not attend Burning Man quietly, he attended as a political activist and celebrity. He got quite a bit of media attention before attending, and made a big fuss about his experience on the playa in interviews and newspaper columns. Given this context, I don’t think it is inappropriate to comment on his politics, or his role in attending Burning Man.
    I don’t know much about the political views of most people I meet at Burning Man, but I sure know a lot about Grover’s Politics. As I would with anyone attending the burn, I would give him a drink at our bar, share water and shade with him if he needed it, but if I do run into him on the playa, I will also tell him what I think of his politics.

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  • I have longed for years to punch Grover Norquist in his bullying, doughy, self-righteous face.

    HOWEVER, even though this tightass wonk’s life-quest is based on the false, cruel and short-sighted premise that taxes should never be raised under any circumstances … and his obstinance has stunted the growth and vitality of our country when we needed it most, I am going to give him props. Norquist attended Burning Man. And, apparently, he got it.

    This man, who for decades has fought tooth and nail on the wrong side of social history, wrote, “Burning Man is greater than I had ever imagined. I have been to large demonstrations in favor of the environment, and the trash left behind is knee-deep. At Burning Man, you are hard-pressed to find a cigarette butt on the ground. There are no trash bins. Participants carry it in, and they carry it out. I have been to the Louvre. It is a very big place with many nice paintings. I knew that. I was not disappointed. Burning Man is more like Petra, the lost city in Jordan, which I found more impressive than its advance billing or reputation.”

    I feel you, Grover. I’ve been to Burning Man 7 times.

    My crew was called Juicy Camp. We served fresh fruit smoothies in the scorching heat of the day, under a carpeted, geodesic dome pumping with great dance music. We planned for months and worked hard to make that camp the oasis that it was. And those parties remain some of the best I’ve ever thrown or attended. Truly joyful. Our guests came in every stripe, costumed and bare (it didn’t hurt that Swimming Pool Camp set up right across from us). I always grin thinking back to rocking out in my friend Vivian’s nurse’s uniform.

    read more here –

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  • Pink says:

    I’d have loved to listen in on Kucinich & Norquist having a conversation. It’s a libertarian utopia! No it’s a socialist utopia!

    I’m with G. I’ll pound rebar with anyone, show ’em how to MOOP, explain greywater evaporation. I don’t care about your bank statement or your politics, just how willing you are to put on some work gloves & help create the city.

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  • Discobug says:

    Im writing to Mr. Norquist who, as several articles claim “got” Burning Man; presumably because he appreciated the art, witnessed generosity, self-reliance and camaraderie, etc… even from naked drug users – gasp! – and has decided he wants to spend 52 weeks a year in a city like Black Rock City.
    Given his tax policies, I ask him to consider the following – “what about his sh#*t”? I’m guessing he generates his fair share – and I’m guessing his experience of Burning Man would have been quite different if he were trying to avoid piles of mine everywhere.
    Seeing as how I personally believe staying in an RV in BRC is something like taking wheeled luggage to the beach (maybe not the best analogy) – I tent-camp and like so many others, rely on the many shared port-o-johns rather than RV/servicing or an alternative means of returning it to nature and am incredibly appreciative that at some point, BRC residents collectively recognized that they/we would gladly pay ‘taxes’ in the form of ticket purchases rather than wallow in each others’ excrement all week. Take collective handling of shit away, BRC would be a different place. [In fact, it would be very similar to Woodstock ’94 where storms, resulting mud and poor and inadequate planning in general prevented servicing of portojohns for days causing them to overflow and valleys of human waste and mud to form through which attendees had to cross and form human chains to get each other down and up the slopes as quickly as possible – -I was there, it was a nightmare.]
    Grover’s stated “Burning Man is a refutation of the argument that the state has a place in nature.” Apparently he failed to consider federal-government-protected land we were all on or the substantial highway infrastructure that got all of those people and the grant/ticket/”BRC-tax” funded art work out there – which he presumably enjoyed. So yes, Grover, everyone tolerated/included your nasty smelling cigars and aura of douche-y-ness (personal vibe-based opinion) and we probably all hope we rubbed-off on you and you on whom you could at least in some way – my personal hope for you is that you might recognize that personal liberty can co-exist and even benefit from collective efforts funded by taxation, levied to enable and sustain something greater than the free-est of free individuals – a whole society/civilization that is grander, more powerful and more beautiful than the sum of its parts that is sustainable due to individual contributions to a shared idea of a “State” – a system that recognizes that everyone has their own shit to deal with and the best way to do so and to also avoid having to constantly deal with everyone else’s as well is to collectively fund systems that deal with it for us. And those with the most shit should maybe pay a bit more than those who are barely eating enough to need to.

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  • G says:

    Spot on Discobug.
    Reviewing Mr. Norquist’s essay just now, I wonder if he even recognized that BMORG itself constitutes a considerable body of non-legally binding laws (rules) without which the temporary society and culture that is the event simply could not exist or transpire. He does not mention it. I suspect he did not grok it.
    That said, the event is indeed one gigantic Rorschach test for everyone involved. Each and every one of us sees in the event what we are preconditioned by our outlook, our life’s experiences, our Karma.
    Organization generally wins out over anarchy, and if my understanding of Burning Man history is correct, it is living proof that the anarchy that libertarianism tends towards, is untenable. The BMORG kept the event alive by establishing rules and principles.

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