I don’t know what I was expecting from Burning Man, but what I got really surprised me. At about hour 12 of driving home–physically and emotionally exhausted, and feeling a bit light-headed from constant heat, minor sleep deprivation, and overwhelming gratitude–I realized why they say that the drive in/out is part of the Burning Man experience.
Burning Man isn’t just an event. It can be a pilgrimage. It was for me. And an important part of a pilgrimage is the road back home, where you mentally distance yourself from the strange dream-land where everything is different, and return to the solidity of the real world. A tried-and-true way of doing that involves actually putting physical distance between yourself and the dream-land. It allows you time to ruminate, and differentiates the two places.
As it stands, Burning Man isn’t remotely sustainable. The society is optimized for human social flourishing, rather than creating wealth. Trying to do work in such an environment would be extremely inefficient, if not impossible. One burns through previously-stored up wealth to enjoy Burning Man. The only way this could possibly persist is in a literal post-scarcity society, where all wealth is created by autonomous non-sapient robots and distributed to humans to enjoy.
Burning Man is also uncomfortable. This is a feature, not a bug. You no longer take anything for granted when you have nothing and the desert is trying to kill you. Even getting cold water or a brief shower feels immensely satisfying. Everything is more intense.
But pilgrimages aren’t supposed to be comfortable, or sustainable. They are supposed to be different worlds, set aside from the rest of reality. Burning Man achieves this in spades.
It feels weird to see so much effort and labor, so many resources, being put into creating a city in the desert… knowing that it’s designed to be destroyed. After a few weeks a fair bit of wealth will be intentionally destroyed in rituals of fire-sacrifice, and everything else will be disassembled and taken away again. But this extreme impermanence, the embrace of temporariness, is much of the driving force of the Burning Man ethos. It is worth the cost, to create this dreamtime for a week each year. To be in a different place, and to get a taste of what a post-scarcity future society could look like.
I strongly recommend that everyone go at least once in their lifetime. Obviously for some people it’s just not their thing, and I imagine those people already know who they are. But for everyone else, consider this some evidence strengthening your “I should try this” intuition. If you somehow get a ticket but don’t know anyone else going and are at a loss for what to do next, contact me and I’ll do what I can to provide guidance. :)