Why We Do It :: Why we put so much effort into one week in the desert.

by Syd Gris

It has come up as a frequent topic of conversation. The country has slowly descended into a subtle police state run by morally corrupt gangsters. They are highly effective at accomplishing many of their goals (financial gain for their cronies), but highly ineffective at being leaders of pluralistic vision and progress for those not connected by money and political lineage. They successfully stole 2 elections and were probably complicit in some form in the 9/11 attacks. (Up for debate of course, but if you still buy every spoon of the official story you haven’t done your homework.)
The land of the free has become a well crafted machine that fits our own definition of a terrorist state. We don’t really support democracy, we support the interests of the elite corporate hierarchy. This is not news, this is simply fact. And here we are, perhaps the most educated generation to date in the most progressive area of the country. What are we doing about it? Not much, really. We like to bitch and moan, we might attend a protest or sign an on line petition that literally is as much work as the click of a mouse. We vote (sometimes) and try to be conscious about our choices as consumers. But have we really held our representatives to task for being a pathetically weak voice of opposition to the trampling of the constitution or an illegal and immoral war? The last election may suggest so, and my yearning for hope wants to say yes, but the jury is certainly still out on that. I haven’t seen many signs the fundamental workings of the maching have been or will be altered (though the recent lobbying reform legislation was a nice step, forgive me for being cynical it will significantly take money out of politics). The moral back bone of our country remains far from the good of the many. Our military spending is a disgusting and obscene orgy of waste beyond anything we can take in all at once.
And what are some of our community’s brightest and most creative minds doing? Many are doing great things, of course. But let’s be real, many of us are not, to a significant extent, putting our time into social change movements, grass roots legislation, civil disobedience and protests at the slaughter of innocents in Iraq for dishonest and nefarious reasons. Instead, we’re spending a good deal of time and resources on Burning Man.
Burning Man. One week in the desert for an experiment in a temporary city from a year round community, an experiment in the reaches of creativity, gift economies, tribal based work pods, and so on. Why? Why do we, we who see through the mist of the consumer culture illusion, claim this as one of our most important statements of what we can manifest?
The project I’m involved in, the Opulent Temple, will raise and spend around $50,000 dollars this year. How many meals would that buy? How many kids would it educate? How much medicine would it buy? I really don’t think I want to know, for the tension of the dissonance would only grow more taught and stressed. Nevertheless, by asking the question we’ve pondered the answer and must come to terms with the implications. One week in the desert, in which there is beauty and deep wells of creativity, community connection, inspiration, hedonism, psychic journeying, generosity, selfishness, unprecedented joy and withering despair and shades of everything in between.
There are many answers. Among the top for me is the consistent renewal of faith the event gives me in the human race. It sounds a little dramatic, but it’s true. One week in the desert there is a level of cooperation, giving, creating, and bonding that is unparalleled in such intensity anywhere else of which I know. There are expressions of the human spirit and applied use of intellect and vision that is a marker of what is possible. The event brings this out in us in many ways in many contexts, and in this day and age of despair that is worth a lot. Many of my generation grew up in a certain kind of Reagan-esque illusion of the country’s moral authority and benign history of expanding freedoms. Of course, some of this is true, but as we got educated we learned much of it was a facade. Us, the ‘good guys’, the righteous ones, have been involved in plenty of evil that we must not shrink from. Wide spread murder and the support of butchers around the world, corruption, lies, and all the consistent trappings of power. They’re not the least bit new or unique, but the reality is a bit of a slap when contrasted with what we thought we knew.
The (supposed) greatest country in the world has some of the same banana republic tendencies of many another land, just done with a certain sly and well marketed American panache. Obviously the Bush years have added to the despair against the machine and threat of wide scale calamity because of our unwillingness to deal with climate change, the war, a spineless Congress, etc. What I see happen in the desert, under the stars, especially within the shared beat of a contained musical vibe that we specialize in; it is a dash of hope in a world in which I often feel powerless. To awaken our sense of inner power is to lay down tracks of possibility as we go. Burning Man does that for me, and I think it does it for others. It reminds us of the beauty of people and the human spirit, that the vast majority of us are basically good in our hearts, and that we have the power to organize and actualize.
It is my hope, and I’m sure the hope of others, our skills learned on the playa will serve as a template for living and acting in the world. I know this is not a new idea, but one which I firmly stand behind. Perhaps this is a clever rationalization, but a rationalization works because it’s true. Obviously there are many less lofty reasons we pour our hearts and resources into Burning Man. We get a platform to share our talents, we party like rock stars (I’m not so sure rock stars have anything on us, actually), we get away from our normal responsibilities for a week, etc. But none of those would be enough for Burning Man to become what it has.
Renewed hope, faith, love, community, inspiration, art, friendship, celebration and these other intangible human needs and aspirations are what comes out of one week in the desert. And that as they say, is truly priceless. To quote Samwise Gamgee, it reminds us that there’s good in this world, and it’s worth fighting for. The question of course becomes, when will we fight? If and when the day comes, I know that many of my playa brothers and sisters will have my back, and I theirs. That certainly makes the fight seem more winable, and therefore, more likely….