Those Who Would Sacrifice Inclusion for Expression, Or Expression for Inclusion, Get Neither – “Too Offensive For Burning Man?” part 2

The second most common, and least helpful, way of looking at the question of “what to do about offensive art” is to put it as a contest between Radical Inclusion (making the argument that everybody needs to feel welcomed) and Radical Self-Expression (making the argument that everybody gets to express themselves however they want). Which of them should win? Which is the most important Principle?

But of course neither is the more important Principle: all 10 are equally important and equally indispensable. To the farthest point we can take it at any given moment, everyone is welcome here; and to the farthest point we can take it at any given moment, everyone gets to express themselves according to their own muse. Neither is really negotiable – and in fact, if you sacrifice one for the other on a routine basis, you lose both.

 


This is the second in a four-part series on how best to handle art that disrupts communities.  The opinions expressed do not necessarily represent those of the Burning Man Project. Once published, the whole series can be found here.


 

Imposing routine restrictions on expression will end up making more people feel alienated, and fear that what is authentically inside them is unwelcome and doesn’t belong.   While imposing ongoing restrictions on who can come to our events based on their aesthetics or politics will dampen peoples’ willingness to be authentic, for fear of accidentally ending up on the outside. Routinely subordinating any Principle to any other causes them to become slogans, not principles, and Burning Man to collapse into a summer school camp for earnest artists, something literally nobody signed up for.

Instead, the goal that we are always striving for – often failing, but always trying – is to have as much of all 10 as we can possibly get, at the same time. We don’t want to sacrifice inclusion for expression, or expression for inclusion: we want both. We need both, if anything we do is going to feel like Burning Man.

So the question to ask when confronted with acidic art is never “which do we value more: Radical Inclusion or Radical Self-Expression?” It is: “given the circumstances we’re in, how do we get as much Radical Inclusion and as much Radical Self-Expression as possible?”

(And this, it should be noted, applies to other conflicts between Principles as well: we don’t want to sacrifice Radical Self-Reliance for Communal Effort, or Communal Effort for Radical Self-Reliance – we want both. We don’t want to have to decide “between” Participation and Decommodification, or Gifting and Civic Responsibility, or any other hypothetical conflict – we need all 10, even when they conflict, especially when they conflict, if Burning Man is going to happen.)

And really, when you think about it, our goal here isn’t to exclude the makers of acidic art – who are in fact creating and participating – let alone to stifle the ability of people to say “I’m offended.”  If people feel they “aren’t allowed” to be offended by what honestly offends them, then they can’t be authentically self-expressive.  We want both groups of people to feel as welcomed and included here as possible, and to be able to express themselves as much as possible.

So when one encounters art that actually might be creating a problem – that potentially damages our ability to have an authentic community, rather than just offending someone – the goal is not to take the side of either expression or inclusion, but to find a way to use expression, inclusion, and the other 10 Principles to address the situation.

In the next installment, we’ll talk about what that looks like.

 

Cover Image:  Censored section of Green Illusions by Ozzie Zehner

About the author: Caveat Magister

Caveat Magister

A member of Burning Man Project's Philosophical Center, Caveat served as the Volunteer Coordinator for Media Mecca from 2008 - 2013, and the lead writer/researcher for Burning Man's education program from 2016 - 2018. Caveat is the author of the short story collection A Guide to Bars and Nightlife in the Sacred City, which has nothing to do with Burning Man, and the novel The Deeds of Pounce, which is about goblins. He has finally got his email address caveat (at) burningman (dot) org working again. He tweets, occasionally, as @BenjaminWachs

32 Comments on “Those Who Would Sacrifice Inclusion for Expression, Or Expression for Inclusion, Get Neither – “Too Offensive For Burning Man?” part 2

  • Lucy says:

    Hate speech isn’t protected under the 1st Amendment. I have a right to not be offended, and my feelings need to be protected. And for the children.

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    • Randy says:

      Nobody has the right to not be offended.
      Call 911 if you are iffended?

      So called “hate speech” is protected by the 1st amendment. Who defines what is or is not “hate speech”? Unless someone threatens violence or libels someone speech is protected.

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      • Lucy says:

        I guess you hate children then. So sad.

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      • Lucky says:

        Thank you BM staff for keeping these open discussions and for your concern & effort towards being all inclusive.
        I am a Trickster Hero and BM used to be our annual trade show. Before running the last of us off, I plead all of you to consider our importance throughout history (wiki: “Trickster”) and particularly our common roots in pre digital San Francisco. We are proud, independent and defiant, we are here to help you question your reality & we are here to entertain the future you. (not the ruffled in the moment you-the you that is safe by the fire telling your grandkids about us years from now when you’ve finally got the joke).

        BM was fun-ctional when it was a confederacy; A gathering of tribes who agreed on some principles and often nothing else. Now I wonder if it mirrors American culture and government where pencil pushing,more rules and more infrastructure is better; that some how another law in print makes things safer or more inclusive. I wonder if one reality justifies it’s existence based on a preconception that BM will go Lord of the Flies if left unchecked. What if reality is that throughout history millions of people & families have gone camping, danced naked, didn’t hurt anyone and cleaned up after themselves without supervision? Contrastingly, Is there another place on Earth where a child and their guardians are more likely to get dosed?
        Maybe families should consider what Burning Man is instead of trying to make it into Chucky Cheese. I can’t speak for all, but as a stirrer of the pot, I independently take responsibility for my audience & respect their indoctrinated comfort and moral zones so as to be radically inclusive.
        I love all of you and in an effort to be further inclusive of the increasing amount of critical observers like Lucy, I suggest we start padded cell camp for those who’s right to not be offended has been violated & where we can safely protect their feelings. We can put it next to plastic bubble camp, time out camp and Plato’s fun house mirror dungeon.

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      • Quinn says:

        She is being sarcastic.

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    • J says:

      Specific and credible threats or instigations of violence are not protected under the First Amendment. Hate speech is, even abstract threats are protected. It’s not until you’re actually making a plan publically that you are breaking the law. And there definitely is no such law that makes hurting someone’s feelings illegal , that would be outright 1984 style fascism. Never being confronted with something that bothers you is decidedly not anyone’s right, as no one person can dictate what sentiments are allowed to be expressed in public places.

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    • Bron says:

      You have zero right not to be offended. If you’re offended by something, that’s your problem as you’re the one offended.

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  • Bron says:

    Why are all ten principles equally important? What does “radical inclusion” even mean at an event priced out of reach of most of humanity, even if they could manage to acquire tickets?

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  • Well, while I know I don’t like where you’re going here, let me stop you at this point and ask, “Why do you feel it’s so clear that the 10 principles are equal?” I think that’s far from clear. While Larry wrote them down, he was attempting to express community values, not hand down stone tablets. There is no declaration about which is more important than which, but nor is there a declaration that people can’t order and prioritize them, and that the community can’t.

    The first amendment is not just the law, it’s a good idea. While a private community can have its own rules on this, there is much to learn from the 1st amendment. It doesn’t prohibit hate speech as some people mistakenly think. The best lens to use on it is to differentiate actions from expression. The frequent example of shouting fire at a crowded art burn, I mean movie house, while actually a terrible historical story, can be easily understood as setting a false fire alarm, not saying specific words. Sexually soliciting children is an act, not an expression. Offense, though, is not an act in this consequence, because it resides within the offended, when they are an adult responsible for themselves.

    But the biggest reason for the 1st amendment, and not trying to regulate what is “acidic” to the community, is that history teaches us well that it is more dangerous to appoint somebody to be arbiter of what is acidic than it is to tolerate such expression.

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    • kae says:

      Parents have the right to decide what is appropriate for their minor children to be exposed to, and community has the right to ask that some things be curtained off and not on public displsonally ay such as Temple of Attonements 18 and over prolicy. Yes people have the right to be reflexively offended if it involves minors. And exposure to hate speech is not age selective.

      Personally I’m offended at the miles of garbage tossed at Exodus between BRC and Reno, but it is only a reflection of the gârbage coming out of the mouths of some of the participants. Trashy broken people show up at BRC looking for healing and acceptance while actively trolling the community and calling it boundperformadnce art. No one is suggesting the snowflake police approve of everything that is said, shown, and experienced in BRC, just a nominal request to reign in the trash talk and walk that you wouldnt want a kid exposed to in a place you are asking en to emulate in the default world.

      There have been years when our camp was not kid friendly because adults didnt want to police their own actions and speech, and there have been years we decided collectively to make it more kid friendly. As BRC gets older this will become a bigger conversation. Should it become an 18+ environment only to allow people to be as raunchy and ugly as they possibly can think up ways to be?

      It was about the time the term FUCK YOUR BURN came into common usage that the collective experience started to take a nosedive. Compassion and empathy started staying home and radical inclusion became a trope

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      • Matthias U says:

        No it should not become an 18+ event. But it should be, and/or become, a “when I take my kids or youths to this I agree to and accept that they may be exposed to sights, ideas and whatnot which the rest of the world may or may not think are age appropriate (not to mention toxic dust and crippling heat and/or cold). Fucking deal with it, or stay home” event.

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      • Matthias U says:

        Also, if you think “raunchy” and “ugly” are remotely synonymous then you definitely should stay home.

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      • Leslielandberg says:

        What the heck is this FUCK YOUR BURN stuff? I haven’t been an active part of the community for seven years and this doesnt sound like the event I remember.

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      • Rodo says:

        I was in center camp one year and observed a mom talking to a ranger about moving / covering up nudity in a painting because there were children around. She was serious, too. The ranger wrote on a sign something like : paintings may include nudity – and tacked it to the wall.

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      • Wolverine says:

        @kae This is precisely why I think children should not be coming to the burn. It is asking far too much of the community and especially LEO in accepting/tolerating/and acting on art or actions by adults that children should not be around. I remember when the Burn was shut down as a 16 year old disappeared a few years ago and one wonders why the parents left a 16 year old at the kids camp and wandered away. You got a newborn. Stay home, you have a three year old can’t get grandma to watch stay home, got a fiesty 16 year old that wants to get out there and express her radical self she should have two more years to think it over.

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  • Rascal says:

    Acidic Art? Pertaining to who?

    Radical Inclusion? BM has NEVER been able to radically include all those who want to attend. Pompous.

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    • Leslie Landberg says:

      All sets are limited. That doesn’t mean they are not relevant to those included. Also, aren’t there many ways to get a ticket free or at low cost?
      The event costs money to put on and so it isn’t free. I find it odd that people are still making existential arguements about BM. If you wish to protest it as exclusionary, don’t go and hold your own festival for free!

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  • Taboo Tony says:

    What is Taboo in one country is normal in another. Is there a line to be drawn? It comes down to situation and how to address it appropriately I doubt censorship is the answer.

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  • steve Boverie says:

    This is a tough problem. We should respect the opinions of others but we are not obligated to agree. I remember the camp that got tossed because they were beyond offensive. That camp left a mess for others to clean up. That they did not bother to clean up was an act that showed disrespect to the community. That example is rare.

    I have not seen art that was disgusting enough to ban. Most artists have a message and they should feel free to expess it. As long as the art follows the requirements to presented in a safe manner and the area around it is frequently demooped then there should be no controversy.

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    • Leslielandberg says:

      I recall there was a group that covered them selves in animal blood to protest the violence of the human race. They ate raw meat and rolled around in blood, It was gross and shocking thing. out in the open but at specific times with warning signs all around it.

      I think it was an important piece and the people who put it on made great sacrifices and suffered the ordeal in order to make a valid artistic point. I didn’t like it but I thought it was important. I think they took the right amount of responsibility.

      Bottom line, if you suspect that your piece could offend or shock, let people decide if they want to view it. Warning signs in the perimeter should be plenty. That way there is no self censorship just a recognition on the part of the artist that they belong to a Community.

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  • Mutagen says:

    The easy solution to the illusory conflict between expression and inclusion is in the recognition that there is a great gap of subjective interpretation between any expression, however edgy and transgressive, and the feeling of exclusion in the perceiver. This is related to the Burner concept of “being responsible for your own experience”, which is an antidote to the censorious culture of offense spreading virulently through the default world.

    It is also as impractical as the concept of “hate speech”, and for the same reasons, namely, that opinions vary widely on what fits the category, and such constraints will be set by the most easily offended, and manipulated by those who manufacture consensus for political ends.

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    • Leslie says:

      What about my comfortable lockstep into Hell? Don’t take that away! Then I’ll have to take responsibility. And think (shudder ) for myself! Microaggression!

      Report comment

  • Remember Jiffy Lube says:

    Folks, all this talk is useless as the die was cast in 2001. Larry Harvey isn’t around anymore to explain why the Jiffy Lube sign of two guys doing b*** f****** had to be moved to a safe place. The theme camp people argued it was censorship, Larry basically said the LEO’s could shut down Burning Man if it was not moved.
    The “incident” was amazingly caught on video. Three parts. Do a you tube search for Larry Harvey and Jiffy Lube. Step back and see when (IMHO) the music died…. bye bye miss american pie…

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    • Remember Jiffy Lube says:

      Larry gets the megaphone in video 3 at about the 2 minute mark. FOR SURE worth it to watch him speak infront of a somewhat hostile crowd. Reasoned, backstories of his experience with local politics, and he’s logical. Pick your battles. Lengthy negotiation can work. However, some of the crowd were clearly of the same mind as those in this conversation: “We have every right to not be censored and shut down. No reason at all to move this art to a “safe” place.”

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  • Just another burner says:

    What about when the “art” is spray paint over someone else’s art? I’ve seen this happen with increasing frequency around Black Rock City, and it makes me angry and sad to see someone’s art defaced with careless spray painted arcs. It makes me sick.

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