Is BRC really the land of freedom?

Share your views on the policies, philosophies, and spirit of Burning Man.

Is BRC really the land of freedom?

Postby timschapker » Tue Dec 04, 2012 9:21 am

So one thing I hear from many burners is how they love the freedom and lack of rules in BRC. Yet I keep seeing posts and comments about how real burners should act, what newbies do wrong, do lists, don't lists, complaints about music, complaints about behavior,etc. And the BMORG and community work very hard to make sure people follow certain rules and protocols. When people break the rules in BRC, they are quickly corrected or sanctioned by fellow burners (try standing at the temple burn and you'll see what I mean). In fact, I know of few other festivals that come with so much pre-event social programming (jackrabbit speaks, survival guides, etc). So I wonder — Is burning man really that free, or do we simply buy into a set of social constructs and laws before we ever hit the dust? Do people really want a community that's free of rules, or do they prefer a more structured community? Does BRC really allow more freedom, or do we simply subscribe to a different set of norms? Is the idea of community antithetical to personal freedom? Thoughts anyone?
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Re: Is BRC really the land of freedom?

Postby Dr Helix » Tue Dec 04, 2012 10:04 am

It's a camping trip. With great art and music. Lots of good people. Some asswipes. Really, that's about it.
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Re: Is BRC really the land of freedom?

Postby Ugly Dougly » Tue Dec 04, 2012 10:20 am

It was once free as the wind. But the longer it went on, and the more people showed up, the more abuse was taken of the freedom.

The playa is freest when there are no people on it, say on a day such as today.
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Re: Is BRC really the land of freedom?

Postby Simon of the Playa » Tue Dec 04, 2012 10:28 am

freedom is an illusion.


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Re: Is BRC really the land of freedom?

Postby theCryptofishist » Tue Dec 04, 2012 10:48 am

Hermits have a lot of personal freedoms.
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Re: Is BRC really the land of freedom?

Postby wh..sh » Tue Dec 04, 2012 11:09 am

timschapker wrote:Is the idea of community antithetical to personal freedom?

You pretty much answered it for yourself.

Community good precedes personal freedom. In our human history, we have only managed to survive and flourish as a community. No one ever heard of that single guy in the forest who took over the world.
An ideal community is one where personal freedom is respected and encouraged while instilling community ethics.
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Re: Is BRC really the land of freedom?

Postby Simon of the Playa » Tue Dec 04, 2012 11:12 am

theCryptofishist wrote:Hermits have a lot of personal freedoms.




so do hermetics.
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Re: Is BRC really the land of freedom?

Postby ygmir » Tue Dec 04, 2012 11:15 am

Simon of the Playa wrote:
theCryptofishist wrote:Hermits have a lot of personal freedoms.




so do hermetics.


so do we heretics
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Re: Is BRC really the land of freedom?

Postby H.G.Crosby » Tue Dec 04, 2012 11:17 am

and Lunatics as well.



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Re: Is BRC really the land of freedom?

Postby Roberto Dobbisano » Tue Dec 04, 2012 11:25 am

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Re: Is BRC really the land of freedom?

Postby 5280MeV » Tue Dec 04, 2012 11:26 am

Ugly Dougly is right, the playa is very naturally the land of freedom, both for the characteristics of the land and the unique governing situation. I don't think that there exists another place where the federal, state, and local officials care so little what one actually does. The complete lack of - well - anything allows one to do outrageous things, like drive really really fast. I know a guy who uses the salt flats to see how fast they can get ultra high performance pickup trucks to max out at.

My knowledge of the early culture of BM is that it is rooted in the notion of "making your own show", and so it naturally allows for a broad range of outsider art. I think that this is the freedom that it allows for - one is given the social leeway to make or do weird shit simply because it occurs to you to do such things. The burn not only allows for this, but creates a forum to showcase this. While I always believed that I had the capacity to do creative shit, for a long time I was not actually doing creative shit - at least not for fun, and since going to BM this has very much changed. BM and even regionals provide not just the freedom but also the impetus for this sort of exploration and development. This is where I think that the whole burner idea truly shines.

Urbanization and development restricts freedom in many ways, but opens other opportunities. I can coat myself and blue paint and scream about the apocalypse by myself in the open desert, or I can do it while chasing an animatronic cat-car. These are different experiences, and the latter sort of thing is generally not possible without other people doing other stuff nearby. Such is the tradeoff.
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Re: Is BRC really the land of freedom?

Postby ygmir » Tue Dec 04, 2012 11:56 am

I also see a conflict, between freedom, and being obnoxious.
Seeing many things folks do there, just for shock value, or to be offensive. And then, when called on it, get to claim it's the "right" to do as they wish in a free zone..........but bitch and whine that they got bad or angry feedback.
Freedom is a two way street, and yours, stops at mine. If they overlap in happy ways, great, and if they overlap in conflict, one or both must recede.
the mechanism of said recession, is a very open field.

I have the freedom to sit in camp, or go dancing, or be quiet and enjoy it.
you have freedom to walk around naked, dance, or listen to loud music.
but, you come sit on my chair, without a towel down, and I'll kick your freedom into the street. off my chair, or, if you pull up to my camp at 4 a.m. and play 100 db dubstep, I may exercise my water cannon on my fire truck at your speakers..........
unless, as with all things, we can talk it out and agree, with respect, which is the first choice.

Just sayin "freedom" is a very relative term.
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Re: Is BRC really the land of freedom?

Postby Ugly Dougly » Tue Dec 04, 2012 12:01 pm

Yeah, you could search around little, too. No freedom without self-reliance.


It was once OK to drive around the open playa at any speed day or night. Wheee! huh?
It was also OK to go out onto the open playa and camp by yourself in the darkness, under the stars. Wheee! huh?
Then somebody got run over and died.
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Re: Is BRC really the land of freedom?

Postby theCryptofishist » Tue Dec 04, 2012 12:12 pm

Ugly Dougly wrote:It was once OK to drive around the open playa at any speed day or night. Wheee! huh?
It was also OK to go out onto the open playa and camp by yourself in the darkness, under the stars. Wheee! huh?
Then somebody got run over and died.

It's my understanding that we still have those freedoms, but not at the burn.
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Re: Is BRC really the land of freedom?

Postby ygmir » Tue Dec 04, 2012 12:23 pm

theCryptofishist wrote:
Ugly Dougly wrote:It was once OK to drive around the open playa at any speed day or night. Wheee! huh?
It was also OK to go out onto the open playa and camp by yourself in the darkness, under the stars. Wheee! huh?
Then somebody got run over and died.

It's my understanding that we still have those freedoms, but not at the burn.


yeah, but I think the O.P. was addressing the Burn specifically?
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Re: Is BRC really the land of freedom?

Postby Savannah » Tue Dec 04, 2012 12:39 pm

A place of ultimate freedom--no. But many freedoms. I agree with Ygmir--freedom is relative. And I think having such a large population is what makes the event less than free, simply by necessity. This doesn't bother me personally, however, as no one ever gave me the mistaken impression that Burning Man was Ultimate Freedom.

If 1 man stands alone on the playa, he's pretty damned free. Possibly also lonely, and his party is guaranteed to suck. He can pass out and choke on his own vomit in peace, if he wants to. His art might be great, or it might be terrible. No one will know, either way. It'll be peaceful as hell though, very, very beautiful, and probably not too dusty.

If 5 people stand on the playa, they're still pretty free. The rules will be unspoken, and consist largely of "Be Cool". What "be cool" means will probably not have to be explained. The likelihood that one of them is a breathtaking artist is not that high. If one of them pees or showers directly on the playa, one may be subject to social sanction if a respectful perimeter is not observed. Everyone can clamber into a single vehicle, drive at top speed and fire guns without hurting anyone. They will not need street signs. Their party will still suck.

(They do, however, have the beginnings of a dance troupe.)

If you have 20 people on the playa, they will start to create rules so that the rum and cup o' noodles lasts. A driveby shooting range will need to be located more thoughtfully than before. Devoting thought to sanitary conditions begins to be important for public health. Due to the size of the group, a person can go missing in the nearby hills without it being immediately apparent. Conflicts become more likely due to the number of personalities. Social loafing becomes possible. A leader will be uncovered, whether or not they want to be. Someone in the group is likely to be able to create something beautiful worth discussion. Theatre may break out. Dancing becomes especially celebratory with this number of friends, and a party seems actually rather well-advised.

So--ultimate freedom? Of course not. I would posit that true freedom, whatever it's worth, can only be found alone. In mixing with others, one sacrifices a little freedom for other things, which may or may not be worth it to the individual.
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Re: Is BRC really the land of freedom?

Postby Ugly Dougly » Tue Dec 04, 2012 12:40 pm

Thank you, Ygmir! (and Savannah!)

Participation at Burning Man is a privilege, not a right.
(Man, I feel so OLD saying that.)

BTW, Simon is right, freedom is an illusion, particularly if you felt you need to ask your question in the first place.
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Re: Is BRC really the land of freedom?

Postby trilobyte » Tue Dec 04, 2012 12:51 pm

A lot of good stuff has already been said in this thread. It depends on your point of view, I think. For many, the first trip to Black Rock City is a very freeing experience. Not because it's completely lawless (it's not), but because a lot of the rules and expectations of regular society (aka the default world) either don't exist, or exist in very different ways. Peel away the expectations and social obligations, and you're free to rethink how you interact with campmates, friends, and strangers.

At some point, though, you may experience a 'there is no spoon' moment when you realize that you can rethink interactions back in the default world. Be nice and helpful to strangers, gift things when you can, etc). Ultimately, the experience is what you make of it - whether that's feeling restricted or free is up to you.
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Re: Is BRC really the land of freedom?

Postby Simon of the Playa » Tue Dec 04, 2012 1:10 pm

ygmir wrote:
Just sayin "freedom" is a very relative term.




BINGO



as the Master Wrote...

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Re: Is BRC really the land of freedom?

Postby Token » Tue Dec 04, 2012 1:14 pm

Fuck freedom if there is no audience to heckle!
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Re: Is BRC really the land of freedom?

Postby timschapker » Tue Dec 04, 2012 1:42 pm

Savannah wrote:So--ultimate freedom? Of course not. I would posit that true freedom, whatever it's worth, can only be found alone. In mixing with others, one sacrifices a little freedom for other things, which may or may not be worth it to the individual.


Savannah, I wholeheartedly agree.

It seems to me, however, that the principles of Radical Self-Reliance (#4) and Radical Self-Expression (#5) are touted endlessly, yet I've never heard anyone expound on the importance of Communal Effort (#6) or Civic Responsibility (#7). We talk about Radical Inclusion (#1), but are quick to call out people who aren't "true burners" or just "don't get it." I think many burners would eschew the concept of social control, yet there are lots of examples of social control in BRC. Try standing at the Temple Burn, even 50 ft back. If someone shows up later and wants to sit, you are expected make way for them. It doesn't matter than they didn't plan to arrive earlier, that there is a huge amount of space around the Temple, that they could simply move 50 ft to the left or right, or that you have a bad back and can't sit on the ground. The person standing will be publicly ridiculed, called names, and condescendingly instructed on the proper way to experience a temple burn. While sanctioning exists both inside and outside BRC, the reaction to breaking unwritten social norms can be vicious and vocal in BRC (and here on eplaya as well). Are we acknowledging the true nature of our community, are we imperfectly moving towards an ideal world, or are we deluding ourselves by reciting a kind of patriotic slogan about freedom, self-expression, and inclusion in BRC?
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Re: Is BRC really the land of freedom?

Postby timschapker » Tue Dec 04, 2012 1:50 pm

And on a related note:
Is BRC society really embracing all 10 principles, or just the ones without words like "responsibility" and "effort?"
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Re: Is BRC really the land of freedom?

Postby Savannah » Tue Dec 04, 2012 2:00 pm

Are we acknowledging the true nature of our community, are we imperfectly moving towards an ideal world, or are we deluding ourselves by reciting a kind of patriotic slogan about freedom, self-expression, and inclusion in BRC?


Random thoughts:

* I think we are imperfectly moving towards improvement. Possibly. :)
* I think you have a good point in saying that some principles are worshiped at the expense or exclusion of others.
* I think thought and evaluation are necessary in an ongoing way in order not to be completely stupid, yet we should guard against obsessive navel-gazing at the expense of joy and life.
* And it sounds like your Temple Burn experience was really irritating for you. I wish I had a mutant vehicle, Tim. I would let you sit on it, so you wouldn't have to deal with jerks. I hope it was still a worthwhile evening.

. . . I was on shift during the Temple Burn, and comforted myself by driving a golf cart around the perimeter on my way to various destinations.
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Re: Is BRC really the land of freedom?

Postby MacGlenver » Tue Dec 04, 2012 2:55 pm

Thanks to Sav & Trilo -- what you wrote expresses how I feel very well.

As for whether burners neglect certain principles in favor of others, I would say that any list of principles is bound to be flawed or lacking in some way, and has to be tempered with some critical thought. You cannot follow every principle to the extreme, and there are times when principles may conflict with eachother. Radical Inclusion means that you welcome all without prejudging (in other words, you give everyone a chance); however, if someone proves to be an asshole, you are free to Radically Express yourself.
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Re: Is BRC really the land of freedom?

Postby VultureChow » Tue Dec 04, 2012 3:01 pm

Adults love to instil in children this wonderful belief in freedom and value and it's as false as Santa Clause. There is nowhere on earth where everyone will appreciate you for your inner beauty, where the shallow skinny models are ostracized and the average artist makes as much money as the average banker. "It gets better" doesn't mean people get better. Adult society is just the playground with more dire consequences. But as an adult you get to choose your playground. Burning Man is no different. Same people, different playground, different rules.

Savannah wrote:* And it sounds like your Temple Burn experience was really irritating for you. I wish I had a mutant vehicle, Tim. I would let you sit on it, so you wouldn't have to deal with jerks. I hope it was still a worthwhile evening.

. . . I was on shift during the Temple Burn, and comforted myself by driving a golf cart around the perimeter on my way to various destinations.



You know it's interesting. The temple meant nothing to me. I got choked up and emotional the first time I saw Pier 2, but spent like 3 minutes at the temple and was done. Maybe because I had no recent losses. It just felt hushed and saccharine to me.

The burning of it was less emotional than the Man as well. But that might have been my entire Sunday. Seeing everyone packing up on Sunday morning hit me really really hard. I had planned to leave late Monday early Tuesday and wound up packing and bailing right after the Temple burn. I got restless and anxious and had to leave.
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Re: Is BRC really the land of freedom?

Postby timschapker » Tue Dec 04, 2012 3:41 pm

Savannah, my temple burn was great, but from what I saw of shushing and complaining at the temple and afterwords online, I'm guessing that many people felt their temple burn was ruined by others (which is it's own discussion), and I think many would like to see some customs (rules, laws?) followed for the temple burn. I saw some severe ostracizing and sanctioning at the temple burn, which was especially funny amid the "we are one" mentality than many people adopt there. I would take you up on an art car ride though :D Sorry our paths didn't cross.

Given the 2013 theme, I would LOVE to see some academic ethnographic studies of BM society and it's formal and informal power structures and laws, by skilled sociologists who are entirely outside the culture. I wonder if we would be startled by our own reflection.
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Re: Is BRC really the land of freedom?

Postby Bob » Tue Dec 04, 2012 4:34 pm

You mentioned "social control" (singular). I think the broader term is "controlling processes".

Everybody who's made a habit of going to the Black Rock Desert is aware that the law and certain social norms exist there as much as anywhere in these United States. People who started Burning Man out there obtained BLM permits from day one, but ignored their responsibility as caretakers and trashed the place with burn scars and piles of debris that had to be cleaned up by later groups of participants post-1998. Freedom can suck if you think it implies license for *whatever*. The Temple is a perfect example of a huge cleanup liability that ticket-holders wash their hands of when they rush home.
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Re: Is BRC really the land of freedom?

Postby theCryptofishist » Tue Dec 04, 2012 7:34 pm

And then there's the fact that a lot of burners shoot off their mouths without regard to what's actually true, but with what they want or believe to true.

And I'm not sure about academic studies--although, I guess this year that would be totally thematic.
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Re: Is BRC really the land of freedom?

Postby BBadger » Tue Dec 04, 2012 10:38 pm

So is BRC the land of freedom? It certainly is. And so is any society. Freedoms are inherently bound to the larger society--something you are given (allowed) by others. Some have even tried to attach freedoms to an ultimate authority such as God to make such rights irrevocable (we all know how far that got them). Still, what this means is that abusing such freedoms means that such freedoms can and will be taken away--as they should. So when you see people ostracized for exercising/abusing their freedoms, well, that's just how freedom works. You're allowed to operate within certain bounds that society--where you are--determines. Overstep those bounds and there will be hell to pay.

Black Rock City is simply a place where people are more tolerant of things that the wider society may not be. That doesn't mean, however, that there aren't standards. Or that those standards aren't enforced.

Some of these standards are codified in the Burning Man Principles, many of which are there to help BRC fit into the larger society (e.g. LNT for BLM cleanup standards, decommodification/gifting = avoiding having to enforce taxation and permits and advertisement conflicts of interest, radical self-reliance = avoiding the need to provide community services), or to keep things in the spirit of BM (the previously mentioned principles, self-expression, immediacy, etc.). An important thing about the principles is that people are aware of them, so that at least many will try and maintain them. That's usually not enough though, and positive feedback through the actions of others helps promote such standards.

Other standards are socially enforced to keep society civil so the event remains tolerable for most of its participants. "Radical" self-expression has its limits even among the most tolerant of us. We're not going to tolerate something like sexual harassment, or vandalism. We're also not keen on carrying the weight of people who are lazy and useless. These are generally the same guiding social norms in any society, only without some of the limitations (like bans on nudity).

And finally, there are the standards enforced by law enforcement. BRC is not an island. We're bound to the laws of the land, and there is enforcement of such laws, even if the event is private and some of the rules are more laxed.
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Re: Is BRC really the land of freedom?

Postby jerroc » Mon Jan 07, 2013 2:34 am

You are free to stand at the temple burn. I am free to tell you to sit the fuck down. You are free to be an asshole, And i am free to call you an asshole, you are free to do what ever you want. Smoke weed if you want, so long as you understand and accept the consequences. Freedom as stated is a 2 way street. I find freedom and common respect at BM sometimes off balance. I read a post where someone felt free to damage some art at Barbie death camp and then justified it. Some one felt free to blow dust into cars intake system claiming its going to happen anyway. People feel free to use other people's camp as a pissing spot. Or feel free to help them self to water that is not there's because it's a gifting community.
And the stories of shit bags goes on and on. Most of them taking the word freedom and confusing it with stupidity and selfishness.
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