Experienced at burning man -- Life without scarcity

For me, Burning Man was 35,000 people (camped on a dry lake bed for 8 days) acting differently than they do at home. For example, smokers, who normally throw butts out their car windows, carried little containers to catch every ash. Not only did BM get people to strangely honor the ground on which they walked, it got them to honor the strangers they walked with.

These strange behaviors extended beyond "do no harm." The Burning Man environment fostered genuine giving. I was treated better by

complete strangers than I am in my own home, where everyone struggles daily to be nice to each other under the crush of their “do lists.” Every human contact, visual, vocal, or physical, was given and received as a gift. Every person, from the front gate forward appeared to act as an aid not an obstacle to my path forward.

I am a careful observer, and no alcohol or drugs altered my perception. I don’t think I imagined this idyllic Burning Man environment.

As an engineer it took me a long time to even hypothesize what created it. I think it occurred because everyone was supposed to bring enough resources to support themselves, and some to give away .

Everyone’s needs, above what they brought, were very low. So everyone knew contact with strangers meant gifts not demands. Receiving or giving gifts was what happened.

The burning man environment may have stumbled on a key to peaceful human existence - individuals not being a burden on someone else, also means each is not taking anything from anyone else either - that is nothing by either physical or economic force.

Taking is the act that creates the “feeling of being taken from” – from there it is a small jump to social conflict. Maybe a peaceful social design exists when no one needs what another has. Maybe that was what was created at BM. Maybe that is what we all tasted and enjoyed -- a community without scarcity.

True, it was an artificial community created for 8 days by immerse up front outlays of time and resources.

However, that investment did demonstrate another view of human existence. Each "Burner," as the attendees are called, just did not need what the other person had, except his or her love.

And when each individual gave anything, the receiver was not taking it. He or she just received it. And instead of costing the initial giver something, he or she got self worth from the giving act.

These transactions were contagious and regenerative at least inside of this cocoon called Burning Man.

Most Burners must have felt it. That’s why they reported that it took the week after BM, for each of them to readjust to the real world (of scarcity.)

You probably have already read SKIL Note 31 "A Mechanism of Civilization Collapse." I wrote it during my week of BM decompression. It is about the creation of scarcity. My work is on societies that don't create scarcity. Something I have theorized but never experienced until Burning Man. For this gift of clarity I thank all "Burners."


Jack Alpert (Bio)     mail to: Alpert@skil.org       www.skil.org      Other position papers

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