Second thoughts about Burningman
Sent: September 18th 2002 9:00 AM
I am sort of back into the routine. I do not know if this is good or bad. When I first got here, I sat down at my desk, looked at the stack of papers and letters and magazines and bills and opened the screen to the avalanche of email and my heart said, almost with a gasp "this is NOT my desk and this clearly cannot be my life!"
Since then I have made some progress, even had some victories that remind me that I am actually still sort of good at what I do and somehow, that seems to mitigate those other feelings a bit. But I still feel acutely divorced from relevance, and that worries me.
The Burningman I experienced was by and large divorced from relevance, albeit deliberately. The majority of my own deepest experiences there were internal and thus private, rather than shared. Obviously, that mostly reflects my own closure, as there were many "open" people around me with whom I could undoubtedly have shared more of myself than I chose to. And yet, because my relationship with the community was largely passive - I was mostly a role-less observer of situations and people, rather than a hub or a connector of people and places and things - my own dialogues were mostly internal.
On face, Burningman was primarily about hedonism and flauntulism - the flaunting of the surficial fruits of our current economy of continuing excess. I recognize that I only got to see an infinitesimal fraction - 1:50,000th of what really went on there, but still, there is validity to this observation: it is the face the festival presents. Burningman was fat - the place was full of people with wallets that were full - and unlike the "Road Warrior" encampment on which so many based their costumes, art-cars and imagery, there was an enormous, almost embarrassing surplus of food and water, and most people arrived with their beer coolers, water jugs and gasoline tanks full. There were deeper aspects - there were fascinating juxtapositions of points-of-view and as a result, astounding almost indescribable beauty was created from time to time - and I very much appreciated the luxury of having access to so many people whose hearts were pried open by whatever forces were acting on them - and the range of heart-opening forces was enormous - but in many ways I was more aware of the hints at unexpected possibilities and the missed opportunities than I was aware of a flood connection. So much so that I am not sure I actually believe in the reality of a flood of connection. Some people were overwhelmed by perceptions, but that seems more likely to reflect their own internal conditions than the "consensus reality" that was available.
Because while I was there I was acutely aware that Burningman's primary focus and its intent was fundamentally escapist - that while we were there, the machinations of the outside world continued, that The Global Summit on Sustainability - an international party of about the same scale (45,000 participants from around the world, including a number of major HOGS - think Colin Powell instead of Steven Spielburg) was taking place in Johannesburg SA and that it was going to accomplish almost as little and perhaps even less - burning the hopes and aspirations of the Third World instead of burning the man or burning the Temple of Joy, at comparable cost. And that the approximately $50 million USD that was spent to make either of these parties happen could somehow have been put to a better use, had there been a compelling, clearly articulated vision or even a just a detailed map and a to-do list.
So here I am, still wondering what to make of it ...