Radical Self Reliance, Fly-In Culture, and Leave No Trace

Image: W Magazine

Burning Man’s airport is busier than ever, with BMOrg now pushing to bring in larger capacity planes. Image: W Magazine

A guest post from Jal Lee Mon, who poses a provoking question for your thoughts.


Ok everyone. Let’s get a conversation (not a name calling contest) going on a subject that is related to another open sore that festers still in our community. And by guilt by proximity, it is being called out as tabuoo as well, even when it really isn’t.
I’m going to start by saying this idea I want to talk about is, technically, following all of the tenants we so love and uphold. So just read the whole thing before you judge and unleash on the comment section.

I’ll lay it out as a story, to catch your attention.

This guy wants to go to Burning Man, as he has done ten years previous. But, he is unable to get the funds needed, which come to around $1000, all said and told. So, he has given up hope of making it, missing yet another year. Missing home. He has tried volunteering for the BMOrg, but has heard no response. He has contacted the Temple crew to help. He is covering all venues. Thinking up new ideas. And, one day, while talking to a friend who lived out of the country, he had a bit of an epiphany.

Imagine you are from another country, or even just really far in this one. Say, Maine. You want go to the Burn, but the thing that is holding you back is that you can only really, logically, and in many cases technically, get there by plane. This does two things instantly. It means you are sleeping in a tent, or bumming space from somewhere. If you are really lucky, you flirt with the guy who has the huge RV and he lets you stay with him.
Second, it means you are limited to what you can carry. Food, costumes, personal supplies. Etc.
In other words, being “Radically Self Reliant” becomes a gambit of bumming favours, buying shit from Walmart you will later give away or dump, and relying on beef jerky and diet shakes for your meals. Then there is the bike. Shit, I’ll just grab a $50 one from Walmart. The one in Reno overstocks hundreds of those cheap cruisers right before the Burn. You know the ones. They are abandoned by the hundreds when the burn ends.
Here is where the thought came from. By “forcing” this Law upon people, we are in fact making it harder for them to participate, and are actually directly responsible for a large portion of all the shit that gets left behind.
Stay with me here.
So, you have a veteran Burner, one that has been there and done that. He has all the extra gear, all the extra tools and needed supplies, and even an extra hexayurt. But, he can’t make it to the Burn, for lack of funds.
Enter the Burner that is coming in from the airport with a backpack and a few bags. Instead of them dumping hundreds, thousands and in a few cases, tens of thousands of dollars into cheap shit that will later be tossed, rental cars that are going to clog up the Playa, consume that much more fuel, and likely cost the renter that extra “cleaning fee” the rental shop nails Burners for after the event, etc, etc….
::takes breath::
Why not have them pay someone like the Vet, which would get him to the Burn, where he would supply the other Burner with the essentials. This would end up costing less, wasting far, far less, and it would facilitate the attendance, participation and enjoyment of someone that might otherwise decide it was too much money/trouble/etc?
This touches dangerously close to the Turn Key subject that drew so much hatred and anger, that it is a discussion we should have. Because there are a lot of Burners who are able to drive there with a thousand pounds of gear, and they could help those who can’t. Hell, who knows…there might even be a organization that already does this.
Is it breaking the rules if the services you are giving make you just enough to get you a ticket and to the Burn? No profit. Just, some kind of weird BM Air BnB that helps two people.


Transformation and Community at Burning Man

thanks to Simon Yugler from Travel Alchemy for this guest post. Other Burners, if you have something to say, please follow suit. Share your perspective with the rest of our community.

In my opinion, you guys hold down the most relevant and thought-provoking media and information circulating about Burning Man. Thanks for all the work that you do, and for your devotion to the Burning Man community. It is truly appreciated. Recently, I’ve noticed that the majority of Burning Man-centric content I’ve read has highlighted either the many problems associated with the festival’s growth, its significance to Silicon Valley “tech elite” culture, or the torrential rain that closed the gate. That, or the untimely death that has already occurred this year, and related incidents in the past. All of this information is relevant and appreciated. And, as a contrast, I’d like to offer you an article I recently wrote regarding my take on the Burn, and how the event was essential in helping me discover my larger community through personal transformation.

Transformation and Community at Burning Man


Beneath the flashy displays of art and technology, the massive sound systems, and the scantily clad attendees, Burning Man is a visceral rite of passage that beckons participants to embrace the mythic journey that is their life. 

In traveling to Burning Man, one leaves behind the realm of social norms and linear time (forget what you know about sleep,) and enters into a world of transformation where, for just over a week, anything is possible.

For many, Burning Man is the greatest party on earth. While this may be true, this physically, emotionally and psychologically grueling event is also the closest thing American culture has to acollective ritual of death, transformation, and rebirth.

I attended Burning Man in 2011, after spending much of my final college semester writing about the festival and its significance as a modern day ritual for my studies in anthropology and religion. In deep synchronicity with the timing and focus of my own life, the theme of the Burn that year was Rites of Passage.

Freshly graduated, I applied for a scholarship ticket, was invited through some miracle to camp with a group called Fractal Nation, and prepared to fully immerse myself into the transformational journeythat is Burning Man.

I danced harder then I ever had, partied on a Golden Dragon with internationally renowned musicians, helped manage one of the biggest stages on the playa, and didn’t sleep for nearly four days. I also had the pleasant experience of being left in the desert, only to find a better, more exciting way home.

Burning Man influenced my life in countless ways, many of which I am still discovering. Experiencing a devoted gift economy (the playa is a cash-free zone,) dancing to some world class DJ’s, and witnessing the cutting edge of American art culture was just the tip of this hot and dusty ice burg.

Yet perhaps the biggest gift given to me by that that massive expanse of sweltering, alkaline desert, the one that continues to effect my life every day, was the discovery of my community.

Today, three years after my first burn, my everyday life is a reminder of the Burning Man ethos and community. I currently live in an intentional community household with people I met, in one way or another, through Burning Man. Most of my friends and collaborators throughout the West Coast festival community stem from my involvement with the initial Fractal Nation camp, and many artists who I had previously only know through their music I now consider dear friends.

Fractal Nation Community, Burning Man 2011

Burning Man catalyzed many relationships in my life that were key to helping me discover an inspiring, deep, and meaningful community of like minded souls.

When you meet people on the playa, you share a deep bond with them, one that cannot be simulated or recreated through any other means. Just the sheer intensity of the environment alone, creates a space where the superficial formalities and concerns of daily life simply melt away, and allow for a rapid rate of human connection.

It doesn’t matter who someone is in the “default world.” If you meet at Burning Man, you share a genuine and profound kinship. What happens next is up to you.

Recently, the festival has gotten a lot of media attention, mostly focusing on the negative aspects of its growth, its popularity in certain “Tech Elite” circles, and how much it has changed over its nearly three-decades of existence. Like it or not, either through fashion, popular media, or sheer word of mouth, Burning Man is now a mainstream fixture in the American cultural imagination.

No, “it’s not like it used to be,” as many veteran Burners continue to mourn. But then again, nothing is. Nothing as dynamic, creative, and iconoclastic as Burning Man could ever stay the same.

I have not returned to that mystical expanse of flame and sound since I first set foot on its soft, powdery soil three years ago.

Whether or not I ever go back (I plan to,) the spirit of Burning Man transformed my life, deeply empowered me, and was essential in helping me discover my community, my family, and my tribe. 

What has Burning Man given you?