What is Burning Man?

Burning Man, an annual event that takes place in the Black Rock Desert of Nevada, is probably a mystery to those who’ve never attended. This year, it starts on Sunday, August 26th, and ends on Tuesday, September 4th.

But, what is Burning Man?

Unlike other multi-day, mostly-outdoor gatherings like the music festivals Lollapalooza and Coachella, Burning Man does not book music groups or entertainers. It isn’t sponsored by any corporations. It is typically described as a temporary city, a community gathering, and an opportunity for people to express themselves in “radical” ways. (Take a look at the Burning Man photo gallery and you’ll see a lot of costumed individuals and architecture/sculptures on display.)

So, basically, you can go to the Black Rock Desert, set up shop, and do whatever you want. Many people live out of their vehicles, RVs, motor homes, tents, or other temporary shelters during the time they are there.

According to the Burning Man website, attendees “are expected to collaborate, be inclusive, creative, and connective, clean up after themselves, and participate actively as a citizen of Black Rock City.”

The organization says it is guided by the following ten principles:

Radical Inclusion
Anyone may be a part of Burning Man. We welcome and respect the stranger. No prerequisites exist for participation in our community.

Gifting
Burning Man is devoted to acts of gift giving. The value of a gift is unconditional. Gifting does not contemplate a return or an exchange for something of equal value.

Decommodification
In order to preserve the spirit of gifting, our community seeks to create social environments that are unmediated by commercial sponsorships, transactions, or advertising. We stand ready to protect our culture from such exploitation. We resist the substitution of consumption for participatory experience.

Radical Self-reliance
Burning Man encourages the individual to discover, exercise and rely on his or her inner resources.

Radical Self-expression
Radical self-expression arises from the unique gifts of the individual. No one other than the individual or a collaborating group can determine its content. It is offered as a gift to others. In this spirit, the giver should respect the rights and liberties of the recipient.

Communal Effort
Our community values creative cooperation and collaboration. We strive to produce, promote and protect social networks, public spaces, works of art, and methods of communication that support such interaction.

Civic Responsibility
We value civil society. Community members who organize events should assume responsibility for public welfare and endeavor to communicate civic responsibilities to participants. They must also assume responsibility for conducting events in accordance with local, state and federal laws.

Leaving No Trace
Our community respects the environment. We are committed to leaving no physical trace of our activities wherever we gather. We clean up after ourselves and endeavor, whenever possible, to leave such places in a better state than when we found them.

Participation
Our community is committed to a radically participatory ethic. We believe that transformative change, whether in the individual or in society, can occur only through the medium of deeply personal participation. We achieve being through doing. Everyone is invited to work. Everyone is invited to play. We make the world real through actions that open the heart.

Immediacy
Immediate experience is, in many ways, the most important touchstone of value in our culture. We seek to overcome barriers that stand between us and a recognition of our inner selves, the reality of those around us, participation in society, and contact with a natural world exceeding human powers. No idea can substitute for this experience.

Basically, it’s a freeform festival / county fair / playground-for-grown-ups all rolled into one, without the usual structure and pre-planning that typically comes with these types of events.

It’s Vanity Fair, if you swap out the glitz, glamour, and shiny toys for heat, sand, and… more sand.

It’s a little bit of The Hunger Games, Westworld, and Lord of the Flies mixed together — without the high pressure competition, life-and-death stakes, or killer robots.

(Well, we assume there are no killer robots. There’s nothing stopping anyone from bringing a killer robot to Burning Man. “Radical self-expression,” you know.)

Also, WiFi connectivity is reportedly terrible.

–Joshua James