In my last column, I wrote about attending Burning Man for the first time. I included lots of links that I highly recommend you click on if you have not yet done so, as they will provide a basic understanding of the beauty of Burning Man. At the end of that last column I wrote:
“Next I will look at Burning Man 2012 through the eyes of a futurist as for me that was unavoidable. There is much that Burning Man has to help humanity face the transformational changes we face here as we enter the Shift Age.”
As a futurist approaching Burning Man for the first time, my thoughts were that this annual event might well provide some metaphorical directions for the future of humanity. Having now become a “burner” and experienced it for nine days, those thoughts were accurate.
The ten principles of Burning Man are not for all humanity but many represent aspects of what humanity must embrace as we fully enter the Shift Age and are at the beginning of the Earth Century. Here are just some of the ones that have clear suggestions for how all of us must live.
Leaving No Trace
Think about the fact that some 62,000 people attended Burning Man this year and that the trash or garbage was minimal. The goal is to have no more than one cubic meter of matter left. I was not there at the very end, but it was clear that this consciousness of leaving no trace was being actively lived all the time. Our Future Wow! team of seven people left absolutely no trace, nor did the Sacred Spaces Village camp of 240 people that we stayed in. None.
Think about the last time you went to an outdoor musical event or concert and how full all the garbage cans were by the end of the evening, mostly filled up with packaging for food and drink. Dozens, if not hundreds, of overflowing garbage cans for a few hundred to a couple of thousand people. Burners tend to bring little or no packaging with them, using Ziploc bags for food, as they can be reused, and do not generate much space when taking them back to home. For nine days of being at Burning Man, our team took back two full garbage bags of trash to deposit back in the default world [what burners call the world outside of Burning Man]. Most burners carry MOOP [Matter Out of Place] bags with them to pick up litter and all have a MOOP patrol when breaking camp.
It is clear that in the next few decades, the definitions of growth and sustainable growth on the planet must become ever more congruent. We simply cannot sustain the species if we spend the planet’s resources and next few decades not moving toward a model of highly sustainable growth. As many of you know, one of my favorite quotes is from Marshall McLuhan: “There are no passengers on Spaceship Earth; we are all crew.” I have never experienced that more fully that at Burning Man. Everyone was crew at Black Rock City.
Radical Self Reliance
The great American transcendentalist, Ralph Waldo Emerson, wrote the great essay “Self Reliance” almost 180 years ago, and it has been a constant theme in American culture ever since. The ability to be self-reliant and not dependent, to be able to sustain oneself simply, was the theme of Thoreau’s in “Walden” some 160 years ago. These are two of America’s greatest writer philosophers. In America we have become detached to a great degree from their writings.
We have become dependent and reliant on systems and institutions for much of our lives. Burning Man, more than anything else I have experienced, resurrects – and yes – radicalizes to some degree the thinking of these two greats. After using one plate, one cup and one set of utensils for a week, riding one bicycle (often through white out dust storms) as my sole means of transportation other than walking, wearing a single pair of boots and carrying all my own water definitely increased my sense of self-reliance. It also made me realize how little I need to be happy. This, of course, goes along with leave no trace. Less is more. (If you haven’t read Walden in a while, burners, you should.)
As I wrote here at www.futurewow.com, Burning Man will take you down to who you are, let you realize who you are not and will then give you the opportunity to live the rest of your life from that point forward. Almost every burner I have spoken to has had the experience of getting rid of “stuff” and living with less after they have left Burning Man. “Stuff” encompasses physical stuff, mental stuff, emotional stuff and psychological stuff. At Burning Man, people were letting go and releasing stuff to an intense level. This, of course, is something essential for humanity going forward. We have to release our collective past to some degree to move forward.
Years ago I wrote about the great reorganizational recession of 2007-2012 when I called it the “too much stuff recession.” This is a common thread among burners and a rapidly growing number of people in the world. We are realizing we can be much happier with less stuff; who we are is not defined by what we have.
I could easily go down the list of the ten principles as many are truly head-on for humanity as we enter the Shift Age, the 21st century and the new millennium. Communal effort, gifting, civic responsibility and participation, all at the highest level, are ideals that humanity has always referenced but now must live them to a greater degree than in the last century.
The simple reality that everything at Black Rock City was brought in and taken away is totally overwhelming when one is there. All the electricity for the incredible lights and monster sound systems, all the water, food, beautiful structures, art and mutant vehicles existed and created magic in the middle of a desert, and then were all taken away.
As a futurist, it seems quite appropriate that the largest number of people to ever attend Burning Man occurred in 2012. Humanity is experiencing change at an ever-accelerating rate; the default world seems somewhat out of control, so the counter-balance of record attendance this year seems as it should be.