Baron de Merxhausen just posted this on the Burning SEED Australia Facebook group. It’s interesting to see the Regionals struggling to get to grips with the Tin Principles That Are Just Guidelines, and very real issues like Consent and Decent Standards of Behavior to each other that don’t even appear in the principles. There were also some serious health concerns at this year’s event, which I will discuss at the end of the post.
I’ve noticed that the Radical Self-Expression principle has been getting a lot of air time, and as someone who likes to talk about anarchy, I thought I’d drop in my two cents about ideas of freedom and liberty and how they relate to RSE.
I’ll try to keep it as succinct as I can, but I’m a very flawed person so it will probably be very long and there may be some ranty bits. You might enjoy reading this if you ever find yourself wondering about what any of this hippy nonsense actually means.
* Feel free to interrogate any and all assertions made.
My feeling is that Burns tend to adopt a ‘liberal’ model of operation – people enjoy both positive liberties (I can fulfil my own potential aka freedom TO) and negative liberties (I won’t be interfered with aka freedom FROM). Liberties are like freedoms, except freedoms do not imply a limit, obligation or boundary while liberties acknowledge that we are social and therefore have to reconcile our obligations within a community. In other words, liberties have implied *potential* limitations. RSE would be positive liberty- the freedom to express yourself in whatever way you please. That it is a liberty and not a true freedom, the implication that it has boundaries remains.
There seems to be some tension where RSE is unclear on how much it is restrained by other people’s negative liberties – what exactly are we entitled to be free from? Which is another way of asking what non-interference actually means. How safe are we when people can express their inner psychopath?
There seems to be some consensus on consent being key, but where is the line drawn?
Consent was a really big focus this year, because consent is essentially about establishing where we are placing the boundary between what we don’t have to put up with and everything else.
There’s an added complication on this boundary when we take into account the tension between what is ‘offensive’ and what is ‘harmful’. That’s a really big discussion, and it varies from person to person, though for the sake of our community (principles 6+7) we need to try and do our best to make these lines consistent.
My personal feeling is that although there seems to be a strong call-out culture, emotional resilience is a trait we should try and cultivate so that the world isn’t quite as big and bad. I think many of you will agree that letting kids build cubbies and play in the dirt is a good thing for their development, despite it containing elements of risk. The same is true of our psychology; a little bit of muck, confrontation, repair and tolerance builds a versatile character.
So we have to ask ourselves when something is happening to/around us – is this thing *really* harming anyone? Is what I am doing going to hurt someone? We do these kinds of little calculations all the time, but there are times when we’ve got to dig a little deeper because of some nagging doubt, or someone shoots us a certain kind of look or gesture.
I do not subscribe to the position that a sense of a trigger alone is harm, and I think part of fulfilling our negative liberty is to allow others their space if we can see it’s not going to do any real or significant harm to ourselves or others, in which case our communal obligation might be to just walk away. With that said, I think the fundamental rule should be that if someone tells you to leave them alone, you should do just that.
This kind of discussion is especially relevant to issues such as ‘inappropriate’ jokes, cultural appropriation, et al. For example, a rape joke does not make you a rapist, they are seriously and qualitatively different things, and despite the cultural impact of such utterances (normalising, victim-blaming, etc) are bad, they are not in-and-of themselves particularly harmful. Does that mean the person should be treated like a rapist? No. Does that mean they’re good? No. Can you talk to them about it? Of course.
So in the context of a Burn, Radical Self Expression is there to try and say in a fun way, ‘do whatever the fuck you want so long as you don’t hurt anyone/thing**’.
This can be a double-edged sword because people have a fair degree of liberty to be dickheads within this framework. Of course this can be a bad thing, but it has a tendency to favour those who are positively expressing and cause those who are negatively expressing to both lose cred and see better examples. Compare this to the Meredith Music Festival’s model of ‘No Dickheads’, which, when someone is officially called out, will see them booted from the festival after a single warning. Not much opportunity for the kind of rehabilitative learning we’d like, but then, there’s also less dickheads (relative term).
I think the most experienced failure of RSE is where people aren’t (what others might think) just being jerks, but when they’re genuine creeps. That seems to me to be an intentional misinterpretation of RSE made by creepers, and why consent became such a big issue after last year’s Burn.
It’s a hard argument to make when your Expression, Gift or Effort harms someone, that it’s really coming from a positive place. We’ve heard stories of people given drugged food, without consent, and we’ve heard stories of people aggressively ‘sharing’ their personality with others-that did a lot more than offend someone.
In my view, Civic Responsibility is about acting on a considered and communicated negotiation between how we let people be their fullest selves and how we get together as a community to prevent ourselves from harm. This negotiation is an ongoing thing that changes along with the needs and desires of the community… but what do I really mean by this?
One of my serious peeves is with fucking *Tree Wizards*.
I apologise to those wonderful Tree Wizards out there for using this as my pejorative term for people (usually men) who espouse an esoteric way of life full of peace and love, but do little to critically analyse, engage with, or otherwise act upon the stuff they are talking about. Further, they act in ways that are fundamentally opposed to what they’re talking about.
In a vacuum, this problem of mine should be for me to grow up and deal with, but in my experience (and I’ve said this before) all the people I’ve met who’ve claimed to be gurus or shaman I’ve found to be not just charlatans, but genuine creeps.
There’s something both deluded and dangerous tied to the solipsistic belief that your word is the most profound around. It’s why they avoid any real critical evaluation within any proper or even basic philosophical or scientific framework – because it would expose them for what they really are: the hollow sophists and politicians of the hippy community, caught up in a massive ego trip, and using a few flowery tricks to snaffle sparkle ponies. It’s like the Game for Confest dudebros.
We allow these wolves-in-sheep’s clothing far more passes within our community because they don’t speak like, or look like, your serial Stereosonic fare, but my feeling is they are much more dangerous because they are insidious.
In my opinion, Civic Responsibility is helping both giving people tools to see if people are full of shit, and also responding appropriately to behaviour that is fucked.
What do you think that would look like?
If people can come up with responses, that is the community negotiating.
Soz for the long post.
Thanks to the Baron for that thought-provoking piece, and for giving us the term Tree Wizards. You can follow the discussion on Facebook, there are some great comments.
Burning Seed, one of two Australian official Regional events, opened this year with a deadly disease scare. Many people are reported sick after the event. Some attribute this to swimming in a dam, which apparently was prohibited in the Survival Guide. The organizers are emphasizing on Facebook that swimming in the dam is explicitly against the rules in their use of the property.
BMOrg, with their nearly three decades of experience in throwing events at remote locations, could offer a lot to their Regional Network in helping them deal with biohazard and consent issues. More established doofs in Australia like Rainbow Serpent and Earthcore don’t seem to have these problems, but they have little incentive to help an emerging competitor.