Why Radical Inclusion should make us uncomfortable

I’ve always taken Radical Inclusion very personally because I’m convinced that, if it weren’t for Radical Inclusion, I never would have been let into Burning Man.  You didn’t know me back then:  somebody would have said “I don’t know about this guy.  Is he reaaaaally one of us?”  Instead they said “Welcome Home.”

Done right, Radical Inclusion is the engine that keeps our creative energies going year after year – and is frequently uncomfortable.  If it’s not at least a little uncomfortable from time to time, you’re probably just playing with the people you’d hang out with outside of Burning Man, and what good is that?

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

17 Comments on “Why Radical Inclusion should make us uncomfortable

  • Jazz says:

    >I’m convinced that, if it weren’t for Radical Inclusion, I never would have been let into Burning Man.

    Anyone can buy a ticket and get into Burning Man. In that way, it’s really no different than any other ticketed event. I’m not sure how radical that is.

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  • Caveat Magister says:


    As the video notes, in the early days of Burning Man there were fairly intense discussions about whether to keep it a private event for an elect crew of awesome people, or to open it up to anyone who wanted to come.

    That’s why anybody can buy a ticket.

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  • They even let ME in, AND let me wander around unsupervised among unsuspecting and playa-weary members of the press. I was even allowed to walk (supervised) in the HQ in San Fransisco.


    The jig may be up since I’m having some ticket problems.

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  • Willow S says:

    As someone who felt totally excluded from things (being shy and feeling like I didn’t fit in and wasn’t a “cool kid”) my first year, this rings really true for me. I really appreciate the sentiment and suggestions. And, yes, who ever said Burning Man was supposed to be easy!? ;) Thanks Caveat.

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  • HoneyBee says:

    Agreed. Stepping outside our comfort zone is a great way to expand on who we are. For those who insist on grousing about ticket prices, there are volunteering options and low-income ticket prices. Buying a ticket is a way for everyone to cover the costs incurred in creating infrastructure, obtaining permits, and greasing the wheels that make this thing roll.

    Uncomfortable? Sure! I call ’em growing pains.

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  • Simon of the Playa says:

    Damn Kids.

    Have Fun on the Lawn…

    Well done, caveat.

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  • Stray Cat says:

    Thank you soooo much!

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  • Boots Paramour says:

    Well said.

    I am interested on your thoughts about where it ends, however. Every once in awhile someone does something within the community that mandates they be asked to stay away, to the horrors and lamentations of a few. “I could just be asked to leave as well?” they ask incredulously. My answer is a resounding yes.

    Radical inclusion is not radical acceptance nor radical tolerance. The analogy I often use is thus: We are all in a big bathtub. Everyone is welcome to get in and take a dip. Everyone. But if you decide to piss in OUR collective bath tub, do not be surprised when you are asked to get the fuck out.

    Community can only be built were people feel safe and where people build, not destroy. If you are doing something to make the people within our community not feel safe, it is our obligation to revoke your pass.

    I am glad you got in. I hate the “fat frat boy” slur just as much as I hate the “shirt cocker”, “dirty hippy,” “raver kid,” “RVer,” “rich asshole,” “tourist” and every other easy target us “enlightened” Burner types use to create a “them” and “us” mentality. Everyone should get the chance to show their worth and participate, even if they actually are any of the above. If you prove to be useless, well then so be it, but uncomfortably allowing everyone that chance is what adds vibrancy and strength to who we are.

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    • Susan Singer says:

      I went home to Black Rock City in 2010 and 2012. The first year, due to an injury I had to borrow a wheelchair from the dept of mobility. Everyone was so helpful and encouraging! In 2012 a young man in the camp we were part of thought it was great fun to wear a fat lady in a bikini suit. Since I am and pretty much have always been a fat lady, I felt mocked and offended. No one else seemed to see the irony of finding pleasure in the insulting of ANYONE at BM. I may never go back. Radical inclusion should be protected by everyone.

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      • Pantsless Santa says:

        That sounds like a disturbing experience, but you surely can’t imagine that offensive (or any other type) of expression will be policed or prohibited by the organization.

        What should have been done about it? I feel like other people in your camp should probably have done something. If they didn’t, it was your terrible luck to wind up camped with shitheads.

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      • Boyscout says:

        I’m sorry to hear you had felt so bad about it. But I also have to ask, did you (or other camp members) consider going up to that person and asking him to not do so? Or telling him how you felt targeted in a very negative way? Sometimes someone doesn’t mean to be hurtful, and just needs to have it pointed out and make them aware that some things they are doing or saying actually seriously hurts someone when they did not intend it.

        It doesn’t mean he would take it off and apologize, or anything like that. But you can also use those times to try and educate others that there are certain attempts at jokes and/or actions negatively effects others.

        Last, as was said, you don’t have to like them, or their art, or their actions. And you definitely can (and perhaps should?) camp with others that you feel more comfortable with.

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      • OogaBooga says:

        It doesn’t seem right to throw out the whole event because of one thoughtless jerk. I’d like to see more fat ladies at Burning Man, I feel like there wasn’t enough varieties of body type (or age) the first time I went.

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      • Quentin says:

        You were included. You were treated like you belonged at a place where people go around making fun of everything and anything. If you took offense well that is your right. Perhaps you should not come back to a place you do not feel welcome. That doesn’t mean you were excluded just means you were unwilling to face the challenges that Burningman presents. Natural limits.

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    • OogaBooga says:

      Don’t forget the sparkle ponies.

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  • Quentin says:

    Radical inclusion was a great idea back when the event was basically secret (pre-internet ) But to paraphrase Groucho marx, ” I don’t want to be included in any event that would have me.” especially the non-costumed, uptight asshole that I was back when I first arrived. I was allowed to come in but there were substantial hurdles that I needed to surmount before i could get there. I needed to cross the country, and find an invisible settlement hidden in the desert, I knew no one, I had no money, and I had never been to a desert having grown up on the East coast. For 5 years i could not manage to transport myself to Nevada. Finally, I felt compelled to make it a reality and so I did whatever it took to make it real.. And my first trip to the desert was an even more powerful experience because i had to work so hard to make it happen. But today there is no hurdle except your own timidness. So now anyone ( whether they are a contribution or not) can get in relatively easily. I think you misunderstand the original meaning behind radical inclusion . If you could best the substantial obstacles arrayed before you and still get your ass to Black Rock ( it wasn’t a city yet) then ‘radical inclusion” meant that you would be treated as if you belonged. But don’t you see, if you take away the struggle then the prize is not appreciated. if you take away the hurdles then casual uncommitted folks will pollute the incredible buzz you have created. Radical inclusion without a test of will is a sad joke. The nature of our secret and the obscurity of our location conspired to prevent 90% of the detritus of the world from affecting an otherwise astounding event. But all the natural barriers are gone and the experiment was a failure. yes Burningman still happens but now women get raped, spouses get abused, property gets stolen, people go to jail, and people come specifically to spectate. I’m sorry folks but WTF do you think “No Spectators” is supposed to mean.
    Radical inclusion has opened the floodgates to thousands of spectators and it is only time before there is no one left to make and everyone left to take. Radical inclusion is not a victory it is an invitation to a potluck where no one ends up bringing food.

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  • Yes says:

    Nicely nuanced. Inclusion is about letting people into your home not your heart. Only you can decide who belongs in your heart.

    I often tell people that Burning Man is for me like the party with all the cool kids that I never got invited to in high school. That is genuinely healing. For me. For people who shared their creative love homes with me. For the people I share this creative love with.

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