Burn2 and Burning Man – What is it all about?

Many of you have probably heard about Burning Man or Burn2 and I bet quite a few of you wonder what it really is. I know I did, so I did some research into this event.

Burning Man is an annual festival held in the Black Rock Desert, a 40 square mile area of dry mud surrounded by mountains. Due to the harsh environment, the participants needs to be able to survive. They need to know how to survive in a hot arid environment, they need enough water and food to survive, but Burning Man is not about survival.

Since it is a festival, they also need to make room in their packing for party food, drinks, music, entertainment and festive clothing. Many even make room for entire buildings, right there in their back packs.

The main event, as the title of the festival suggests, is the burning of a wooden figure in the shape of a man. This was started in 1986 when two men, Larry Harvey and Jerry James, brought an 8-foot statue of a man made out of scrap wood to a beach and set fire to it. It got the attention of people around them and a small crowd formed to watch the man burn. Out of nowhere, the crowd began to “give into the burning man”, one person performed an act of kindness towards the man, another picked up his guitar and made up a song on the spot about the fire and soon they had a party going around the burning man.

The next year, the duo repeated the burning on the same date as the year before and this time they brought a much larger wooden man to burn. The crowd was larger this time, but the response was the same. They repeated the event every year, same spot, same date and it became a cultural event. That didn’t last forever thou.

In 1990, the crowd reached several thousands of people and police was called to the beach because the beach could not hold all of them and it became a hazard. This is when Michael Michael and John Law stepped in. They rescued the statue from the San Francisco beach and hauled it to the Black Rock Desert. When people came up in their cars to join the festivities, Michael Michael drew a line in the sand and proclaimed that whoever crossed that line would be forever changed.

All of this helped form what is today the 10 principles of the Burning Man. These principles are known by all participants of the burning culture and adhered not only during the now weeklong event, but through their whole lives. Over 50 000 participants braves the desert each year to build a town around the Man and party for a week, yet the day after the festivities, not a speck of dust shows that anyone had been there.

The 10 Principles:
  1. Radical Inclusion
    Anyone may be a part of Burning Man. We welcome and respect the stranger. No prerequisites exist for participation in our community.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. Radical Self-reliance
    Burning Man encourages the individual to discover, exercise and rely on his or her inner resources.
  5. 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.
  6. 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.
  7. 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.
  8. 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.
  9. 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.
  10. 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.

How does this translate into Burn2 and Second Life?

In 2003 a small corporation formed to create a virtual world. This corporation is today known as Linden Lab and the world is Second Life. Many of the “Lindens” (employees of Linden Lab) were Burning Man regulars, but the development of Second Life prevented them from going to the event. Phoenix Linden asked the Burning Man organizers for permission to recreate the events in a virtual format and they built a digital replica of the Man and “burned” it in Second Life.

Over the years, several different Lindens have helped facilitate Burn2, but in 2007 the whole company was too busy with new developments to take care of the event, so private interests took over from there. The new organizers had never been to a real burning and only had previous Burn2’s to go by along with the principles, so they decided to stick as close to the 10 principles as they could.

Concerns arose about how the events would be portrayed in the future and how well the principles would hold without official backing, so Everett Linden, the head of Community Initiatives and experienced burner, hired Dusty Udal, one of the worlds most experienced burners, to make sure the events held true to the real Burning Man.

In 2010 Linden Lab suffered from some downsizing and the partnership between Linden Lab and Burning Man was dissolved, but on friendly terms. From that moment and still today, Burn2 has been in the care of the real life Burning Man organizers, to ensure that the events mirrors those of the real life burnings as closely as possible.

These organisational shifts also mirrors the real life shifts, as Burning Man underwent similar organisational shifts in its youth, until it found the stable organization it has today.

Burn2 will be held from October 19th to October 27th this year. If you are interested about the events or would like to participate, you can check out their website for more information.

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