December 31st is one of maybe three nights a year that non-party people decide to give “drugs + dance music” a spin, even though they may not be a fan for the other 360ish days of the year. Thousands of bloggers will post articles about how those junior varsity people should party to be safe. This article is not for them. Continue reading
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.
By Terry Gotham
No discussion of harm reduction can stay on drugs forever. While we’ll continue our cavalcade of questionable substances next week, I wanted to take a quick break to chat about something that goes hand in hand with intoxication: Consent.
As we saw in the Burning Man crime reports, Black Rock City has made stunning progress on this front. More so, I believe, than any other festival or large scale music event in the world. Going from 13 to zero sexual assault arrests in 2 years should be congratulated, especially with what happened in 2012. While it’s possible that sexual assaults occurred that were not reported, that would have been true in the years with high arrest numbers as well. To that end, it’s important to recognize when efforts are being made & good things are happening, and this is a good thing.
Consent violations, big or small, are some of the most unacceptable & problematic experiences that occur in adult environments, especially when assumed participation in radical self-reliance, potent internal & social pressures and controlled substances are present. There are a couple of different kinds of consent, so I figured just in case anyone needed a refresher, I’d go over them really quickly.
Express consent is probably what you’re thinking of when someone uses the word “consent.” It’s usually given in some confirming way, whether it’s verbal/written, or non-verbal, through hand gestures or head nods. This is not something that can be given while rolling face, tripping or drunk off your ass. This is a type of consent that’s also “ongoing.” To explain, just because someone consented to getting to 2nd base, that doesn’t mean they give consent to go any further. There’s a related, modern type of consent that’s being used that I support heavily, called Affirmative consent. This is also known as getting an “Enthusiastic Yes” as opposed to just waiting for a no. Consistent checking can create a comfortable & consensual crib, yo.
Implied consent is just what it sounds like. Even Wikipedia describes it as
“a controversial form of consent which is not expressly granted by a person, but rather inferred from a person’s actions and the facts and circumstances of a particular situation”
As you can imagine, this shit does not hold up at universities or in court. So, just because you think it’s been given, don’t assume. Make sure, as the absence of no doesn’t necessarily mean yes. In more clinical or formal settings, Informed Consent is used. For example, if you join a medical study, you usually sign an Informed Consent form, which details the nature of the study and any risks/rewards of participating. Informed Consent is required in environments where Express consent would not be enough. Additionally, a conversation about the study should be had before the form is given to you. Don’t just sign something if you haven’t read it. I know, none of us read the iTunes terms of service either, but this one’s important, especially if you’re in a medical or legal environment.
Finally, Unanimous consent is something you may find a little more often in groups of people who take drugs, or in other cases, poly relationship systems. There are times where consent isn’t a negotiated one-on-one thing. If you & your campmates want to get blasted on Tuesday night, sometimes it won’t happen unless everyone decides to do it. That’s a good way to think of Unanimous consent. Additionally, in sexual activities that have more than 2 people in them, or relationships that aren’t simply monogamous, sometimes unanimous consent is required before something can happen. This is a much more complex form of consent, as any one person can break it down and bring the negotiating process to a halt. There is a lot of empathy and understanding required here, because attempting to seek a “compromise” can be seen as pressuring and inherently inappropriate. Making sure the least comfortable person feels they’re being heard is a great place to start. There’s some more information about consent violation, especially in the kink world here. For a giant resource center focused on Sexual consent violation, head here.
There’s a lot more here, so definitely hit up the 11th Principle. They’ve worked hard to make consent a visible part of the Burn. Say hi, like their page & tell them Terry Gotham and Burners.me sent you.