After the Burn: Evolution

Part IV of IV

man-at-nightMy impression of Burning Man this time was that it had changed. It might have been, in part, due to our location as a theme camp. We were one block off the Esplanade (the main street of events before hitting the open playa), which was very convenient in terms of our proximity to things happening. But it was less convenient as it may have attracted a different crowd than the more residential types of streets that were further away and also quieter.

Nevertheless, most of my impressions of the general atmosphere and attendance were, I think, not particularly related to our specific location. There were more darkwads this year (people who do not light themselves up with glowsticks, LEDs, or headlamps at night), thus endangering themselves and others by reducing visibility. There was more thievery (though this might be more a function of our location). I had never before felt the need to lock up, but this time several of our camp had lost things and had to be more protective of their things – a reality completely counter to the ethos of Burning Man. There was less truly large-scale, astounding art, perhaps due to the economic woes of the times, but it does suggest more observers attended than participants. And the overall sense of community seemed to have dwindled. People smiled less at each other, greeted each other less along random street passings, and were in general less open than I remember in the past.

I realize that this post comes across quite cynically (and I hope people will read the other posts – see links below – to put things in the right proportion). I want to say that the sense of community was still much stronger than in the default world, and I would by no means say it was anywhere near lost on the playa. (And by many accounts, in many ways, this was the best year ever.) But this year, the sense of community did not overwhelm and engulf me to quite the extent as it had in the past. I remember before how people passing in the streets would call out genuine compliments, welcome virgins home, and show their appreciation for one another on a continual basis. It seemed such warmth was harder to find this year in comparison. It would seem more of the default world had infiltrated Burning Man.

The initial reaction is to reject and to protect that which has been most precious to us. What I first started thinking of was ways to keep “true burners” protected and weed out the darkwad thieves of our utopia. But this sentiment too, is antithetical to the ethos of Burning Man. We must accept human beings in all their states and forms, for even trouble and sorrow have their place and right to be.

So rather than rejecting that which is foreign and hunkering down in like reactionaries hoarding our goods, burners will have to learn to evolve with the changing times. Along with the darkwad thieves, Burning Man is also seeing more diversity: more foreigners and more people of color, and that is something that should be cherished. (And no, I’m not suggesting the two trends are linked.) So with the bad comes the good and Burning Man must evolve and adapt to continue being more inclusive while still preserving its signature ethos and character. Apt, considering this year’s theme was Evolution.

Maybe next time, I’ll bring extra glowsticks and hand them out to all the darkwads. Also, I will be sure to smile and compliment more, so that I might be the change I wish to see.

For the previous posts, click the links below:
Part I
Part II
Part III

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3 thoughts on “After the Burn: Evolution

  1. oh jade, that is too bad. i understand what you are saying. you're not being negative, you're just explaining a shift in community. funny that burning man was the thing to really smack you in the face with this soul crushing reality. certainly ironic, yet, this was probably the most needed revelation for anyone living in the 21st century, unfortunately.

  2. It really wasn't that bad either, just something I kind of barely noticed in the back of my head until I actually took some time to think about it. From many accounts, it was the best year ever, so this observation is probably no where near universal and could have been based on so many different factors, it's hard to pinpoint. But whether on point or not, I think the theme this year was a good one for us all to remember. The rigid reed will break, but the one that bends with the wind will remain strong and survive. Isn't there a proverb like that somewhere?

  3. I haven't heard it before. I'm not the most literary person, anyway. I do think the alienation we experience in society would make its way into burning man. It would be lovely if people believed in a communal lifestyle. By politics today it seems there is a greater division today than in generations past.

    Oh well.