In 2004, Burning Man co-founder Larry Harvey wrote the Ten Principles as a guideline to help maintain the event’s unique culture as the Burning Man community grew larger and larger. They were crafted not as strict laws or rules to govern people, but rather to be a reflection of the community’s ethos to preserve the culture as it had naturally been in the event’s early days.
After attending Burning Man, it was very evident how the ten principles manifested themselves in each individual participant and in Black Rock City as a whole:
1. Radical Inclusion
Anyone may be a part of Burning Man. We welcome and respect the stranger. No prerequisites exist for participation in our community.
There is no discrimination at Burning Man whatsoever. I met kids as young as three and seniors as old as 74. I met people from Sweden to Australia, and from Russia to Barbados. Anyone and everyone is welcome at Burning Man, and it means that those in attendance are very welcoming and open to connecting with each unique person. Granted, the idea of radical inclusion doesn’t mean you get to go be creepy or an asshole, but it means that you will generally be accepted for who you are.
Burning Man is devoted to acts of gift giving. The value of a gift is unconditional. Gifting does not contemplate a return or an exchange for something of equal value.
Burning man thrives off its gift economy. Unless you’re buying ice or coffee from Center Camp, no monetary transactions are allowed. There aren’t even banks or ATMs in Black Rock City. No one is reluctant to give; every participant is excited to share what they have with total strangers, whether that be a pancake breakfasts and mimosas, a bike repair, jewelry, a steam bath, grilled cheese sandwiches, a live performance, or just kindness and conversation. Since there are no expectations of anything in return, it’s really about the joy of giving and provided a beautiful glimpse of what society could be if everyone adopted this ideology of radical generosity.
In order to preserve the spirit of gifting, our community seeks to create social environments that are unmediated by commercial sponsorships, transactions, or advertising. We stand ready to protect our culture from such exploitation. We resist the substitution of consumption for participatory experience.
At Burning Man, you’re not just a consumer who can be “bought”; there’s no advertising, and people aren’t constantly trying to sell you things. Even top DJs such as Diplo and Skrillex aren’t promoted as they normally are. When Diplo played a sunset reggae set at Robot Heart, it was obvious that the burners in attendance didn’t care that he was a world famous DJ. There was no cheering and no crazed fan base, just a small group enjoying the ambiance that he was helping to create. Then, during the catacomb burn, Skrillex played a calm and absolutely beautiful set while watching the burn and laughing with friends, enjoying the sunrise not as a performer, but as a participant simply sharing his gift with fellow burners. Both of these experiences were truly magical. Decommodification is a push away from our consumerist society that is obsessed with labels, price tags, and societal value. It makes the week into a welcomed escape from the flagrant commercialization of the “default world” and helps participants to enjoy moments, not things.
4. Radical Self-reliance
Burning Man encourages the individual to discover, exercise and rely on his or her inner resources.
Surviving the playa can be quite a challenge and not for the faint of heart. Black Rock City lies on a vast, dry, alkaline salt flat with scorching hot days, freezing nights, and occasionally strong winds and blinding dust storms. There is no food, water, or shelter. The alkaline dust can lead to dry, cracked feet called “playa foot” and when inhaled can cause “playa lung.” Simply surviving this unyielding environment requires a great deal of planning and preparation, but the unique harshness of playa actually adds to the transformative experience as a whole. While you probably could attend Burning Man with nothing at all and rely on the gifting economy to provide, that would ruin the culture and the philosophy that not only should others be generous but you should be too.
5. Radical Self-expression
Radical self-expression arises from the unique gifts of the individual. No one other than the individual or a collaborating group can determine its content. It is offered as a gift to others. In this spirit, the giver should respect the rights and liberties of the recipient.
Self-expression means being yourself, plain and simple. The radically inclusive community at Burning Man allows you to shamelessly let down barriers that you may have in the default world. It provides the freedom to explore and find out how best to express yourself without any judgement. If you aren’t able to bring things to gift others during the week, you may choose to simply make yourself into a walking piece of art, which is also seen as a unique gift to Black Rock City. You have the freedom to wear (or not wear) whatever you wish, and while you don’t have to go wild and crazy with costumes, it is one of the best environments to do so, if you wish.
6. Communal Effort
Our community values creative cooperation and collaboration. We strive to produce, promote and protect social networks, public spaces, works of art, and methods of communication that support such interaction.
Burning Man is all about human interaction and working together to survive and thrive. You may contribute in a variety of ways. As a first time burner, this year I contributed mostly to my camp, whose communal effort contributed to the community as a whole by providing sausages to hungry burners and a themed party one night. I contributed financially by paying camp dues, and I worked my scheduled shifts, which included cooking dinner and cleaning up. Looking back, I realize that this is nothing compared to what some people collaborate on, like building massive sound stages and intricate art cars. There’s so much opportunity for more participation. But the point is that you should at least make some effort to collaborate with others to contribute to the public space.
7. Civic Responsibility
We value civil society. Community members who organize events should assume responsibility for public welfare and endeavor to communicate civic responsibilities to participants. They must also assume responsibility for conducting events in accordance with local, state and federal laws.
All Burning Man participants are expected to be responsible citizens of Black Rock City, taking care of each other and the community. On an individual level, you’re responsible for following the rules, such as speed limits and cleaning up your own moop (“matter out of place,” in other words, litter). On a higher level, people organizing events need to adhere to public welfare guidelines to ensure the safety and wellness of others. Since my camp served sausages, we were required to have a food permit, maintain proper temperatures in coolers, and heat sausages to a certain degree before serving. Then at our party, we had designated camp members checking IDs before serving drinks. While Nevada authorities are present in Black Rock City, each individual is responsible for following the rules for the good of the community.
8. Leaving No Trace
Our community respects the environment. We are committed to leaving no physical trace of our activities wherever we gather. We clean up after ourselves and endeavor, whenever possible, to leave such places in a better state than when we found them.
It’s almost magical how Black Rock City emerges from dust and then completely disappears without a trace. Attendees are very serious about this principle, both in order to protect the environment, and because it’s a requirement to continue holding the event. Everything you bring to the playa, you must pack out, including water. Having to live with and pack out all your garbage makes you realize how much waste you generate on a daily basis, and encourages you to cut back. Instead of bringing paper plates and cups, we used reusable cups, plates, and cutlery all week. Each camp has daily moop volunteers, multiple moop sweeps after camp has been packed up, and after everyone leaves, a team of event volunteers scour the entire 7 sq. mile section of desert inch by inch for any remaining moop, including feathers, small pieces of string, and even glitter.
Our community is committed to a radically participatory ethic. We believe that transformative change, whether in the individual or in society, can occur only through the medium of deeply personal participation. We achieve being through doing. Everyone is invited to work. Everyone is invited to play. We make the world real through actions that open the heart.
There’s a reason people who attend Burning Man are called “participants” instead of “spectators.” Each attendee should be involved in the community and become an integral part of the Black Rock City community. There are countless ways to participate; you can do so by giving or accepting gifts, creating (or experiencing) art, attending workshops or other events, or just by engaging in conversation with people. The entire week surrounded by passionate and creative people is truly inspiring and leaves your mind radiating with ideas of how you’d like to more actively participate the next year. Your method of participation is up to you; just don’t be a tourist.
Immediate experience is, in many ways, the most important touchstone of value in our culture. We seek to overcome barriers that stand between us and a recognition of our inner selves, the reality of those around us, participation in society, and contact with a natural world exceeding human powers. No idea can substitute for this experience.
Immediacy is about the “here” and the “now.” You may be on your way to grab a drink but come across a playground that you just have to stop at. Or you may pencil in 10am yoga but sleep through it because you stayed up all night to watch the sunrise. You’ll miss a lot of the plans you make at Burning Man, and that’s ok, because you were being spontaneous and enjoying the “here and now.” Lack of phone service and wifi really helps with this principle, because it vanquishes the distractions that normally prevent us from fully immersing ourselves in our direct realities. While our schedules in the default world are always full of meetings, appointments, emails, and other plans tying us up, it’s nice to just live in the moment.
Have you been to Burning Man? How did you see the Ten Principles reflected? Comment below!
As always, keep on livin’ pura vida ✌