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Burning Man's 10 Principles Are a Celebration of Life, Love and Respect



Burning Man's10 Principles, written by Burning Man co-founder Larry Harvey in 2004, are guidelines for those participating in the event. They are not meant to dictate how people should act, but to be a reflection of the community’s ethos and culture.


For Burners, the 10 Principles are a written introduction to our strange and exciting space, and something we all keep in mind during our burns. They are also used off Playa to inspire our interactions with our local communities, the environment, and the world at large.


Everyone interprets the principles differently, as they are meant to. This is my interpretation of Burning Man's 10 Principles, informed by my own experiences as well as wisdom shared with me by veteran burners.


 


Burning Man's 10 Principles Are a Celebration of Life, Love and Respect


Radical Inclusion


Anyone may be a part of Burning Man. We welcome and respect the stranger. No prerequisites exist for participation in our community.


Due to my life experiences, there are some types of people that I tend to avoid or be cautious around as a protective measure. At first it was hard to not feel a little annoyed when I came across these people at Burning Man, thinking "this is supposed to be a safe space, what are these people doing here?"


It was hard not to scoff at the old white couples with house-sized RVs, walk wide circles around the law enforcement on site, or make bitter jokes about the celebrities who had flown in privately while I took the bus and slept in a tent. However, I found myself slowly taking down this barrier by practicing radical inclusion.


This principle is a reminder to be welcoming to everyone. You don't have to become best friends or even interact, simply to respect them and understand that their burn is just as important as yours.


This does not only refer to identities or your place in society but also actions and experiences. For example, if you are camping beside a sound camp, it might help your burn to respect their experience and wear earplugs (or move) instead of spending your entire time being angry about the noise.


Gifting


Burning Man is devoted to acts of gift giving. The value of a gift is unconditional. Gifting does not contemplate a return or an exchange for something of equal value.


The culture of gifting at Burning Man coincides strongly with that of decommodification, where actions are taken without the expectation of a transaction.


Many Burners plan elaborate gifts or coordinate with others to provide one. This includes art pieces, music, food, drinks, mutant vehicles, spas, bike repairs and more. Some smaller gifts include spraying people with cool water in the heat of the day, giving a hug, or spending time talking to someone.


Gifting doesn't have to be planned or cost any money. It is often spontaneous, evolving as a way to bring your own needs and interests into the wider community of Black Rock City. I found that I loved to bike around late at night and pick up MOOP as a way to decompress and enjoy the atmosphere. At Flipside, I met a Burner who spent the majority of his time giving rides on his art car and listening to music. This was his gift to others, but also his way of having fun.


Decommodification


In order to preserve the spirit of gifting, our community seeks to create social environments that are unmediated by commercial sponsorships, transactions, or advertising. We stand ready to protect our culture from such exploitation. We resist the substitution of consumption for participatory experience.


Decommodification is perhaps the hardest to understand if you haven't experienced it. There is something special about being in a space without any capitalist expectations. No shopping, no advertisements, no numbers. Once on Playa we cover up logos, put away our business cards, and stash our wallets. We explore the world with creativity and freedom, without worrying about how it will affect the bottom line.


It is utterly refreshing to do something because we want to do it, not because it looks good on a resume or because it will solve society's problems. It reignites your faith in humanity to receive a gift or have a nice conversation with someone because they value you as a person, not because they want you to follow them on their social media.


We need to create these spaces of sanctuary because of how deeply commodified the world has become. Art pieces that are created for the joy of art, with no pressure to make money from them, are often the most inspiring. I could go on, but I imagine you get the point. Burning Man empowers people to do things they are passionate about outside of the construct of capitalism, which is priceless in itself.


Radical Self-reliance


Burning Man encourages the individual to discover, exercise and rely on their inner resources.


Burning Man is not a music festival. There is no market to buy ponchos if the weather gets crazy, no food trucks, and no merch. While people are happy to gift you what they can, you are ultimately responsible for yourself. This means coming to Black Rock City with all the food, water, shelter, and other items you need, as well as the skills to use them. This means lighting up your bike and body so you don't get into an accident at night, making sure you always have water to drink, and packing out all of your waste.


Self-reliance is not just about bringing all the necessary camping gear and learning how to solve problems, but discovering and exercising your inner resources. How do you emotionally react to new situations? Do you need to take a nap during the day to stay sane? Are you a workaholic, and get anxious without a structured schedule? These are the things we go to Burning Man to explore.


Sometimes being self-reliant requires asking for help. This is why people join camps and villages at Burning Man - to physically and emotionally support each other during what can otherwise be an overwhelming experience.


Radical Self-expression


Radical self-expression arises from the unique gifts of the individual. No one other than the individual or a collaborating group can determine its content. It is offered as a gift to others. In this spirit, the giver should respect the rights and liberties of the recipient.


Radical self-expression does not just refer to wearing fun outfits, but any way of expressing yourself. Naked bodies are not sexual, simply naked bodies - this is why there are so many of them running around at Burning Man. Your car wrapped with your face on it is celebrated. Your abstract art will get some appreciative onlookers at some point. You will receive no judgment while dancing your heart out, howling at the sunset, or moaning out loud while you eat greasy grilled cheese at 3am.


One of my favorite moments at Burning Man was coming across a camp that had created an entire haunted house. It was opening night, and they were clearly nervous to share for fear that people would judge their creation. Some of the jump scares didn't work due to the electronics being caked with sand, but the costuming and atmosphere was on point, and it was one of the most creative things I had ever seen done for free.


My friends and I had a great time jumping and screaming, and poured on the praise after the performance. This was their gift to others, and it was their love letter to all things campy and spooky. I love seeing people feeling inspired to express themselves so fully, and this is celebrated at Black Rock City.


Communal Effort


Our community values creative cooperation and collaboration. We strive to produce, promote and protect social networks, public spaces, works of art, and methods of communication that support such interaction.


Burning Man would not survive without cooperation and collaboration. During the burn we all work together to pick up MOOP, keep the portos clean, provide entertainment, and stay safe. Volunteering for vital roles like greeters and rangers helps the burn run more smoothly, while simply taking part in set up and take down of your camp will make the experience more enjoyable for others by spreading out the work.


No matter your skills or interests there are exciting ways to contribute some of your time to Burning Man, such as helping to build an art piece, staying behind to restore the Playa, or taking part in a project that takes place outside of Black Rock City. You can also donate if you have the means - it is a nonprofit organization after all, and the funds go to ensuring the future of Black Rock City as well as supporting artists, community projects, and sustainability practices.


Civic Responsibility


We value civil society. Community members who organize events should assume responsibility for public welfare and endeavor to communicate civic responsibilities to participants. They must also assume responsibility for conducting events in accordance with local, state and federal laws.


Civic responsibility can be seen as trying your best to leave communities in better condition than you found them. On Playa, some ways to take part include following the speed limits (including on e-bikes!), picking up MOOP, registering your art or mutant vehicle, and filling out the census.


This is also one of the easiest principles to apply directly to the default world. Every community can benefit from its members contributing, whether its organizing a beach clean up, volunteering at an event, or voting locally. If you don't know where to start, there are many networks to connect with Burners who are making a difference. Some include Burners without Borders, regional burner groups, and local volunteer projects or meetup groups.


Leave No Trace


Our community respects the environment. We are committed to leaving no physical trace of our activities wherever we gather. We clean up after ourselves and endeavor, whenever possible, to leave such places in a better state than when we found them.


Burning Man is unique in that it takes place in the Black Rock Desert, a wilderness area managed by the Bureau of Land Management. Black Rock City is truly temporary in that all evidence of it has to be removed after Burning Man - down to the smallest food wrappers and zip ties. Unlike a normal campground, this leaves Burners extra accountable for our waste. Anything you bring in you need to pack out, including wet waste such as grey water and motor oil drips.


It helps us confront how much waste we as humans create in the modern day world, and be creative about ways to reduce it. On a large scale, Burning Man is working on a sustainability roadmap. It includes multiple moving projects with goals to handle waste ecologically, create a net positive ecological and environmental impact, and remove more carbon from the environment than we put into it. This is being done by educating Burners, holding us accountable for our actions, and giving us the tools to make sustainable choices.


On an individual scale some steps to take could include adding solar power to your camp setup or art project, composting your food waste, carpooling, learning how to moop sweep, using reusable products instead of disposable ones, and volunteering for or donating to sustainability projects.


How you treat the Black Rock Desert during your burn can be seen as a mirror for how you treat the earth in your everyday life. If it would be an easy change to make when camping, such as caring for your possessions instead of littering them in a public space, wouldn't you want to make it in your everyday life?


Participation


Our community is committed to a radically participatory ethic. We believe that transformative change, whether in the individual or in society, can occur only through the medium of deeply personal participation. We achieve being through doing. Everyone is invited to work. Everyone is invited to play. We make the world real through actions that open the heart.


At Burning Man there are no bystanders. You don't go to Black Rock City to receive a service, but to be part of a temporary community. Every Burner participates in a way that fits their burn, even if that begins with simply observing. However Black Rock City thrives on active participation, whether that is performing, dancing, driving an art car, participating in a workshop, climbing death-defying heights, or biking across the empty Playa.


There are many ways to help make the burn happen that will keep you busy all year long and spread joy to other burns. Burning Man needs staff and volunteers both before and afterwards, camps and villages need volunteers, artists can build pieces or convert vehicles and bring them to the burn, you can devise creative gifts for your fellow burners, and regional burns take place all over the world.


Immediacy


Immediate experience is, in many ways, the most important touchstone of value in our culture. We seek to overcome barriers that stand between us and a recognition of our inner selves, the reality of those around us, participation in society, and contact with a natural world exceeding human powers. No idea can substitute for this experience.


As a small business owner, scheduling and planning can sometimes be a mental barrier to fully immersing myself in any experience. I'm always worried that I'm not fully maximizing my time and spending the present moment thinking about what I'm going to do next.


When going to a music festival I use these skills to plan my day according to the lineup, making sure to make my favorite artists' sets and exploring the market or going to workshops in between. However, Burning Man has taught me how to experience things with immediacy - no planning, no self-judgement.


When biking, dancing, conversing, or working on Playa I am completely engaged in what I'm doing, including the sights and sounds, the movement of my body, and the people I'm enjoying it with. I attended my first burn during a period of grief, and Burning Man was exactly what I needed to learn how to center myself and reconnect with my immediate surroundings. 

Consent, the Unofficial11th Principle


At such a large event, some things may happen which are nonconsensual. While it is important to know how to keep yourself safe, you also do not want to contribute to these unacceptable interactions.


Touching someone when they don't want to be touched can ruin someone's day, even if you were enthusiastically giving a hug and didn't notice that they were reluctant. It is important to be accountable for the effect your actions have on others, and understand that sometimes people feel pressured to agree to things they are not comfortable with.


Many people don't know how to say no because we don't embrace consent in the real world, especially for women, POC, and LGBTQ people who are taught to make ourselves small and deal with discomfort for the sake of others.


This principle is perhaps the most refreshing for me, as someone who has had my boundaries broken many times by people not caring to ask for consent or not taking no for an answer. I am camping with Pink Heart, which gives special attention to this principle. We take a course about consent to ensure that our camp is a safe space for everyone. The basics of consent at Burning Man:


  • If its not a hell yes, its a hell no! Ask before doing something that may make someone uncomfortable. If they say yes, but their body language or some other sign shows that they don't really mean it, this is still a no!

  • Its always a no if the person is under the influence or otherwise not thinking straight. Do not take advantage of people who are drunk, high, tired, emotional, or otherwise unable to give an enthusiastic yes.

  • Consent is important for more than just physical touch. Someone may not be interested in having a deep emotional conversation or want you to join them to dance. It is a good idea to ask for consent before sitting next to someone in a small space or complimenting their body in a way that can be considered sexual. Our emotional energy, time, and space are just as sacred as our physical bodies.

  • Just because it was a yes for A doesn't mean its a yes for B. Someone can give consent for a kiss but not want to have sex, or start a conversation and decide they want to leave it.

  • This includes people who are unaware of you. If you take a photo of someone being their awesome self, such as dancing or watching the sunset, make an effort to ask for consent, especially if you will be sharing it online.


Remember: consent is sexy! "It ruins the spontaneity", is not an excuse. There's nothing sexier (or friendlier) than confidently asking for consent, and graciously accepting a no if that is the answer.  Asking for consent gives others a voice, proactively avoids negative interactions, and shows respect for others.


While some may use them as an excuse, none of Burning Man's principles support nonconsensual behavior. We work together to learn how to implement these principles, including having structures such as Rangers to help with disputes. We are all here to express and love ourselves, but not at the expense of someone else's safety.


It All Comes Together


Burning Man Principals often connect with one another both within and outside of the burn. Our community is wide, active, and enthusiastic when it comes to gifting, communal effort, participation and more. This is where regional burns, Burners Without Borders, and other programs come into play. Even if you can't make it to the big burn, you can attend a Burner event or join a volunteer program to make friends, volunteer, or make some art. If you are interested in something that doesn't exist, you can get it started!


These principles are also not the end all be all - other events like regional burns and transformational festivals often have their own, which are just as valid. The fact that they are not rules to be enforced by others but instead meant to make you think for yourself about how you interact with the world is what makes them so special, and helps people to dive in enthusiastically.


Principles like these help us to find our best selves and have more positive interactions with one another and our environment. Even if you are not a Burner, taking the time to critique how we interact with the world will make each of us better community members, not just at these events but at any time in our lives.

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I'm an environmental project manager who decided to make a change from office life to to outdoor projects and small business ownership.

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I love self expression, hiking, music festivals, and Burning Man, and want to show that celebrating diversity in the outdoors makes it better for everyone.

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