What I learned at Burning Man 2012

I spent the end of August at Burning Man, in the wonderful Black Rock City, Nevada. I had a fantastic time. Such a good time in fact that I've been avoiding writing this post as a method of avoiding the remorse of not being there anymore.

This post is kind of long, but I think I should sum it up with two points: a) People are crazy and b) Given enough passion, duct tape and freedom, people create some pretty interestingstuff.

Helicopter Art Car

When I was preparing for the playa (the slang name for the dry lake bed where Burning Man occurs), I was informed that this year would be dusty. So dusty in fact, that it would be worse than this:

On the Tuesday following Burning Man 2002, a thousand or so poor souls experienced "Alpha", which started with no warning at midday and lasted for almost three days, with sustained winds at 70mph gusting to over 100mph. DPW did their best, they locked down Burning Man (you couldn't see to find your way out anyway). People were injured (although none seriously) and everyone was left shaken and reminded why it says on the ticket "By Attending This Event You risk Serious Injury or Death". Greeters told us "we dodged a bullet, this could have caused great injury and even fatalities". We helped our friends (11 year veterans) in desperate need and I left with a determination to tell the story of Alpha/2002.

-- Bruce Damer

Duckpond 2012

The article goes on to talk about barrels taking out people, and all kinds of other scary things. So I went to Home Depot and REI and hunkered down. Thanks to the help of Reed and the Duck Pond (seen in photo, the camp I stayed with) I survived, and also, it was no where near as scary as purported on the internet.

Anyways, I have been debating on how to best frame this article and how I experienced Burning Man. It did not turn my life in one hundred and eighty degrees like it does for some attendees, but it did change me and make me think about some things.

Probably the best way I can frame this, I think, is to explain how I experienced each of the ten Burning Man Fundamentals. I've included both my thoughts, and what is posted on the Burning Man website about each fundamental.

Radical Inclusion

Anyone may be a part of Burning Man. We welcome and respect the stranger. No prerequisites exist for participation in our community.

This is the hook to Burning Man. Anyone can come (given money and time) to the event. I was actually very surprised when I first met the Duck Pond, because most of the group was older, but instantly I was invited to join and help out. I was assigned some tasks, and began working with people to make it happen.

Once at Burning Man, everyone welcomes you home, and makes sure you feel included.


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.

This is really cool. Everyone is just sharing. Constantly. Duck Pond creates a gigantic bar, and shares music, free booze, and plastic cups. Other groups create cars for people to ride around on, food, sculptures, music, bike repair, etc.


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.

This I think, was the most inspiring part of the playa for me. It felt so empowering to see people working together to create things. No one was working for some large corporation, or some disembodied franchise, everyone was part of some small community, working together.

Radical Self-reliance

Burning Man encourages the individual to discover, exercise and rely on his or her inner resources.

Bring everything you need to survive.

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.

See photos.

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.

I think the scale of burning man is kind of insane. It was probably what overwhelmed me the most. When I arrived, a camp-mate told me, "I'm sorry your brain is about to explode.". About an hour later, it had indeed exploded. I think I was able to gather all of the pieces back up by Tuesday. When you see your first three story building made entirely of wood with no metal fasteners holding tens of people climbing all over it, things kind of fall apart.

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.

This and leave no trace go together. Basically our community had to work together with those around us. Not hurt the ground, clean up our messes and keep our shit together.

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.


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.

This speaks for itself, I believe.


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.

The thing about Burning Man, is if you see something, you have to check it out, because it may not be there tomorrow, or ever again. You get on the car if it's stopped in front of you, it doesn't matter where it's going or who is on it. Just enjoy the ride and have fun.

I hope that gives you some idea of what I experienced. I'll leave you with a nice slide show.