September 8th, 2003

hat

I discuss self-reliance

many articles about burning man neglect to mention what to me is one of its most central attractions: the lack of commerce. the only things you can buy at bm are ice and coffee (proceeds go to gerlach community organizations). the only thing you can sell is: nothing. no corporate sponsorships, no brands, no sales, no discounts, no advertisements. this doesn't mean barter either. in the gift economy, you're expected to bring everything you need to survive, and give what you give freely, without expecting anything in return. you would be surprised (or maybe you wouldn't; maybe you are less cynical than me) by how much people give, and by how good it feels when you contribute something to this community. the looks of delight on people's faces when they saw their pinhole portraits were immeasurably satisfying.


lack of capitalism also means lack of people to do things for you, and this brings up another point. morning after the burn, az. and i walked to center camp with mike to get hot cocoa. we hadn't spoken much to mike at that point, but he turned to be a very philosophical and interesting guy. he led us into the kind of conversation that i used to have all the time in college but rarely have anymore. he talked about how in this era of increasing specialization, fewer and fewer people know how to repair or operate the systems they depend on for survival. plumbing, sanitation, water, electricity, cars, whatever. mike felt that something important in the human psyche is being lost as we become less self-reliant. one of the great things about burning man is that it inspires you to reverse this trend. you go there and you see people working on art cars and fixing things and you start to think, i could do this. there's nobody there to do things for you so you need to know how to do them yourself. also, as he put it, "everything you don't know is an obstacle to your creativity."


burning man is sex and drugs and rock n roll, but it's also summer camp for adults. this year i learned how to solder, sew, cook for 43 people, develop photos, fix bike tires and handle gray water. yes, it's true that i got to do all this because i'm a upper-middle class salaryman with disposable income, and many people don't have that luxury. but the true sins when confronted with luxury are 1) not taking advantage to the fullest and 2) not sharing. i want to share this with you.