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.
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) Burningman.com