We’re big fans of Caveat Magister, one of the last voices of reason to be heard at the official Burning Man blog – and always fun to read.
His latest post is on the infiltration of Burning Man culture by Academia.
The academics have come to Burning Man. They’re through the gates. They’ve always been here, actually: but now they’re getting organized
And, it appears, with the full support of the BMOrg. The Cacophony Society was all about chaotic and playful rebellion to the mainstream; Burning Man in the desert started off being about shooting things and blowing things up.
Now, it seems, our libertarian values have been taken over – by Millenials who want to change the world through a rave full of naked people; and academics who want to redefine the Sacred 10 Principles with their own views of what our culture should be, and promote that to classrooms all over the world.
The Burning Mind Project wants to categorize the 10 Principles, then decide which ones are more important than others. I think if you asked most Burners, they would put “Leave No Trace” at Number 1. But not this crew, they rank it at #9 out of 10:
The next question we considered was the most difficult: should failure to adhere to some principles disqualify a person from membership in a community? In some cases the answer is “no.” As mentioned above, plenty of people participate in communities without engaging in radical self-expression. Indeed, discovering the part of one’s self that needs to be expressed is often a big part of the experience. In other words, manifesting all 10 principles is not a requirement for membership in the community.
The Magister’s view?
I was at the very first meeting of “Burning Nerds,” a Burning Man staff initiated gathering of academics who attend Burning Man. I helped carry snacks for the party into Ashram Galactica, then stood in the corner and listened as meteorologists in leather skins and topless sociologists and dramaturges in fuzzy boots introduced themselves and discussed their research.
That was, I think, in 2010, and since then Burning Nerds has had more meetings in the desert and established a thriving email list. This year, they’re planning their first theme camp.
And good for them. The more participation, and kinds of participation, the better. But … lemme skip to the end here. I’ve reluctantly concluded that academia per see is very, very, bad for Burning Man – and that we’d be better off if Burners engage in a campaign of civil disobedience against it.
Not, let me emphasize, against the academics themselves. We’re all welcome at Burning Man, and the work they do just as legitimate as whatever other crazy project someone wants to put in the middle of the desert. I read all of their studies avidly, which is more attention than I pay to your theme camp.
But while any given piece of individual research is likely harmless, the project of academia itself is kryptonite to the spirit of Burning Man. Indeed, a case can be made that academia as an institution stands firmly opposed to the 10 Principles. Outside of “prison,” if there was ever a practice that contradicted “immediacy,” “radical acceptance,” and “radical self-expression” it is academia.
In our view, this type of academic infestation is a natural by-product of BMOrg’s obsession with
interrogation surveys and data-collection. Give us a bunch of meaningless and unused data, and we’ll show you an even bigger bunch of academics who want to write papers on it.
What is the threat to our culture? Well, check this out:
As part of their work to better understand the 10 Principles they have dissected them, dividing them into 5 “foundational principles” – the most important – and 5 “operational principles” that exist only because you have the first five. “Civic Responsibility,” “Gifting,” and “Participation” are foundational – while “Radical Self-Expression,” “Radical Inclusion,” and “Leave No Trace” are operational.
We’re already completely outside of my understanding of Burning Man – let alone my experience of it – but it gets worse. The primary purpose of the 10 Principles, they suggest, is the continued existence and support of the community as a whole. To quote: “In order to be a member of a burner community, one must make the health of the community one’s top priority.”
Not only do I have grave concerns about this … I think that if Burning Man’s first rule is “submit,” then a perfectly rational first response is “fuck you” … but it flies in the face of the historically strong libertarian component that existed since Burning Man’s formative years. The early burns were not a group of politically progressive hippies going out to the desert to make a better community. They were (among other things) a group of free spirits who didn’t like being told what to do by an over-regulating San Francisco government, which is why they went to a desert where there would be fewer communities to respect, not more. Sure we’ve gotten rid of the guns and added speed limits since then, but when the people at the gate say “Welcome Home,” they don’t mean “if you’ve done your chores and your homework.”
Well said, Caveat Magister. It’s good to see that there’s at least some voice of rebellion and freedom still alive within the BMHQ – if you ever want to join the “dark side” and start contributing to Burners.Me, you’d be welcomed.
We encourage you all to read his excellent post in its entirety.
How do we rank the 10 Principles? Let’s give it a try – if you had to pick one as the most important, what would it be?