So, what the fuck is burning man? Before I participated in it, I thought I knew what it was... then I actually saw it, and this is my take.
Because of the 11th principle of buring man, Consent, I'm gonna try to communicate this while avoiding photos that contain people.
The first thing I didn't realize about BM is how much is actually about cars.
We arrived about 2pm, and didn't get to our allocated camp site until dark at around 8pm.
Here is a photo I took later in the week, from "the skybar", which is a scaffolding tower, 5 floors high.
Yeah, so basically burning man is a refugee camp in the desert. 70,000 refugees from the default world drive here in their RVs, pickup trucks, cars, etc. Then leave them parked with the engine idling (to drive the AC) and have a massive party. It's called Burning Man, and man, there is a lot of burning stuff here.
One day, I rode a bike out to the depot, here is one photo of it.
This is the not a party section of burning man. I wasn't really ment to be here. As you can see, there is a chain link fence and signs that say "no party", and yeah, trucks full of burnable dinosaur.
Running Burning man takes some serious infrastructure. Somewhere there is a burning man high command and they need to know what is actually going on. This is also at the depot:
Anthropology is based on the idea of Participant Observation, aka, Deep Hanging Out. I started probing the general social structures of burning man. Black Rock City is the whole thing, and that is divided into villages and camps. The villages basically organize themselves however they want. There is a huge diversity of organizational principles. I saw one camp that had it's own mess hall with benches lined up. We stayed in hushville - where the basic idea is to be quite, and no generators! next door was kidsville (where they are trying to raise 2nd generation burners)
One of the most amazing things about burning man, is that while it's an enormous out of control party, everyone picks up out of themselves. This is called "leave no trace" and is taken very seriously. What you call "rubbish" BM calls "MOOP" - Matter Out Of Place. Everyone trains everyone to not drop moop.
After everyone goes home, a team from the DPW (department of public works) goes over all the camps with rakes and records how much moop they find.
Here is their map from 2006
The moop map is one of the few aspects where coearsion is applied to the BM social structures. Moopyness is one of the factors that the placement committee considers when giving out areas for villages. If you are bad, you might get moved from your preferred location, or worse, not allowed to return next year (the worse punishment!)
Here is the map from 2016, which shows the system works! far more green, also note the map is a lot more detailed
The leave-no-trace principle is one of the things that makes burning man possible, because it's a condition negioated with the BLM (Bureau Of Land Management, i.e. the actual US federal government). It's essential that everyone cleans up after themselves so the government allows it to continue.
I spoke to a BLM agent, he was wearing a uniform and had an actual gun on his belt. Their camp had a CCTV camera... and the best map.
There was a map given out to participants, it was generally useless - not much detail, and many things missing. Eventually I discovered the DPW map, which actually had all the camps labled (including infrastructure which participants don't need to know about) and the BLM had their own copy of this map which also had their own colour coding system on top of the DPW map.
I took photos of the map they had on display and then used that. It's laid out like a clock, times out from The Man in the center, with cross streets A-L around that.
Speaking of guns, on 4 days, there was a fighter jet fly by. It was nevada, so there is military stuff nearby (area 51, right?) but it didn't just happen to fly near, it flew very purpously, very low, very loud, right down the 6:00 main street, then turned very sharply. As if to remind everyone that the default world exists and who is in control of it.
It occured to me that BM is large enough to have millitary implications. You can certainly see it from space. One consequence of all the requirements of moop, and surviving the heat, is that BM actually has to be organised, so there is 70k people who can work together, outside of the default system, and do it well enough that spending a week in the desert is actually fun.
The thing I liked least about burning man is how wasteful it is. We basically trucked in a large amout of capalitistic surplus and burnt it. Burning Man is not economically or energetically sustainable. It's socially sustainable, because it has inspired a huge number of people to come every year. That was another striking thing - the range of ages there is very wide! There where a lot of people with grey hair! I'm 34, which is probably in the middle.