Burning Man anyone?

While I am not going this year, I did go to Burning Man for eight years straight. Burning Man is an annual week-long arts and culture event held in the Black Rock Desert in Nevada. It is known for its principle of radical self-expression, elaborate art installations, community-based activities, and the ritual burning of a large wooden effigy (“the Man”). Once the week is over, this temporary city disappears without a trace.

What I love about Burning Man is that it gave me an opportunity to see the bright side of humanity. Imagine a city where money does not exist and there is no bartering. People not only bring what they need to survive but also contribute to the community by sharing their food, experiences, arts, and much more.

You can be walking on the street and someone randomly flags you down to offer you some ice-cold coffee. You walk another block, someone invites you to play shot roulette. Whichever direction you pick, you are guaranteed to find something interesting and friendly people sharing their experiences.

When you bike to the center of the city, where a giant wooden effigy sits (a.k.a. THE MAN), you cannot help but make multiple stops to see the incredible art and sculptures. These artworks are ginormous; some are buildings you can enter. People spent a significant amount of time and resources (many with their own money or crowdsourced funds) to build these artworks. They don’t have any agenda other than to share the art and experience with everyone for free (if you exclude the cost of the Burning Man ticket and the money you spend for the trip). Many of these artworks are burnt down before the week ends. If you missed it, you will never see it again… forever!

Last night at our post-Meetup socials, some of us were talking about how AI could be used to solve poverty and make resources so abundant that it is like Star Trek. While Burning Man is far from that dystopian future, it does offer glimpses of the following:

  1. A world without money.
  2. People prioritizing experiences over material goods.
  3. People teaching each other new skills.
  4. People helping each other.
  5. People welcoming each other, even strangers.

I never pictured myself as someone who would go to Burning Man. I did not like camping. The idea of camping in the middle of the desert for a week sounds ridiculous. There is no water (you’ll have to bring your own), and if you want a shower, you’ll have to build your own shower and a system to collect the greywater to bring them back. Spending a week does not sound like fun, but I was proven wrong. After my first year, I went again and again. It really is that magical.

If you are seeking to go to a place that is unlike anything you have experienced, I highly recommend going to Burning Man.

The main ticket sale is already over, but if you are lucky, you might still be able to buy a ticket through their STEP program: 2023 Secure Ticket Exchange Program (STEP) | Burning Man Tickets

I highly recommend buying the ticket through the program or from people you know. You do not want to drive all the way there only to learn you got scammed… it happens.

Anyway, have a nice and amazing Memorial weekend, everyone!! I’ll see you next week.

1 Like

Thanks for sharing your experience with Burning Man! I really hope we have a future like that ahead of us, and hopefully AI and automation will be a big part of that.

I’ve never been to a burn but I’ve met people who also really like the more regional/local ones. I think there’s a handful of them around the country, and I’ve heard they’re more true to the original BM vibe both because of the smaller scale but also lower cost and maybe a slightly more persistent community. But again all second hand information for me.

This one is in July in Washington but completely sold out which is both expected but also sad:


I’ll have to pay more attention next year and mark it on my calendar when ticket sales go live.

I will absolutely go if I could ever figure out how to get tickets. Bucket list for sure.

1 Like

And let’s see if we can embody your five principles in SAIS.

I think some issues with using Burning Man as an example of how to structure society in general are the facts that it is time-constrained and it is not a closed system. As mentioned, plenty of time and money goes into the event via pre-event preparations - resources obtained outside the environment of Burning Man itself.

If a BM-society had to run continuously and without outside resources, eventually resources would run out. How would they be replenished without a means of transacting? How long before people start complaining that someone else isn’t doing their fair share of work to maintain the system? How long before greed sets in among even a small number of people?

These are all great questions. BM is not a closed system and people do use the outside resources to sustain the city for that one week. Resources will eventually run out and things start to get ugly.

That said, it is fun to experience a gifting community where people bring extras to share with others and not ask for anything in return. Being immersed in that environment made me think harder on how to contribute to that community, even at times when unfairness is observed. I do not know if the advancements in AI and robotics will ever transform our society into a world where resources are abundant and wealth inequality is no longer an issue. I can only dream that one day it might.

Until that dream becomes reality, I believe Burning Man to be a place worth visiting. It does not have all the answers. Yet, the experience is quite inspiring.

1 Like