Monday, June 22, 2015

Pontifications on the Ten Principles

Since I'm fresh back from Wicker Man, the Ten Principles are on my mind. For those who aren't aware of them, the Ten Principles of Burning Man are the ideals intended to create a specific type of event normally called a burn. It's a kind of temporary autonomous zone (for more on that, check out the book by the same name) constructed around creativity, participation, inclusion, and service. I'm listing the Ten Principles here for reference:

Radical Inclusion



Radical Self-reliance

Radical Self-expression

Communal Effort

Civic Responsibility

Leaving No Trace



The more I see what a temporary community guided by these principles looks like, the more I feel like we need to spread them to society at large. Luckily, this already seems to be happening to a certain extent. For all they get made fun of (and tend to take their ideal a bit far), Social Justice Warriors dream of a world in which radical inclusion is the norm. And I suspect decommodification is at the heart of what Occupy is about... not to mention Bernie Sanders, who has said as much. 

But there is more, so much more. Imagine a world in which we have no police, but rather highly competent volunteers whose job it is not to catch criminals in the act, but to provide help to anyone who needs it. In the world of burner culture, these people are called rangers, and they are armed with walkie-talkies, information, connections, and responsibility. It's quite a combination, and it works because the community trusts volunteers to be self-selecting (Radical Self-reliance, Participation, Civic Responsibility).

Think about what it might be like if instead of prosecuting graffiti artists, every public works project were to have a designated space for anyone to draw or paint whatever they like. Think about how much more beautiful our cities would look, not to mention the talented creators we'd be encouraging instead of throwing them in jail. Beyond that, imagine what we might see if we paid attention to the voices of those who might not have the chance to tell their story any other way. (Radical Self-Expression, Participation)

What if we could rely on the majority of people to be mature, responsible adults who handle their shit (Radical Self-reliance), while also being able to trust that if something goes wrong, our community has our back? (Civic Responsibility)  I used to think these two principles were in conflict, but really they're complementary. Trying to help someone who never takes care of themselves gets old really fast.

I'm a big fan of gifting and decommodification as both a socialist and a student of religion - one cannot serve both God and money, after all - but the most powerful of the principles to me is Radical Inclusion. I'm going to reprint the way the Burning Man site talks about it here, because I like their wording so much:

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

While there are limitations - "Don't be a dick" being the main one - this really is true in nearly every case. And it's huge, especially as a person who (like me) was bullied all through elementary and middle school, and ostracized by most of my high school. And who has social anxiety on top of that. 

Huge gatherings of people I don't know are normally pretty hard for me. And while I have to admit I've still had struggles at burns, I can't overstate how important it is that a burn is a safe space where I know I'm not only free to be myself, but others actively want me to be. The rise of groups that practice radical inclusion seems pretty new to me - maybe within the past 50 years at most - because traditionally the way to form any group is to decide who isn't allowed to join. To quote one of my favorite musicals, Anyone Can Whistle, "The opposite of safe is out. The opposite of out is in. So anyone who's safe is in... That's how groups begin - when you're in you win!"

So... radical inclusion means that everybody wins. You can always kick out the dicks once they show themselves. And though groups based on inclusion rather than exclusion are new as far as I know, there seem to be plenty. The other main one I need to acknowledge from my own experience is Dystopia Rising. Their entire membership and community guidelines talk about inclusion exhaustively, but I like the intro best:

Welcome to Dystopia Rising. We are a community. We are a community of people who come together because we share a common hobby, and it doesn’t matter what our day-to-day life is like, it doesn’t matter what our day-to-day ‘social standing’ and responsibilities are. Here, we are all gamers. Regardless of race, religion, philosophy, gender, sexuality, political background, or any other categorization that can be used to describe a person, here we are all gamers.

We come together to share a hobby that we love. We come together to revel in a community of our peers who will treat us as one of their own.

The reason why I feel it's so important to acknowledge those groups leading the way on spreading Radical Inclusion is that it seems to me that economic, social and political justice will all flow from making it one of our core values. If we truly consider everyone to be part of our community, then we can't let them starve or go without healthcare or get sent to jail unjustly, because that would be like letting such a thing happen to a member of our own family.

May we all live to see the day when this comes to pass.