Ten Principles of Burning Man
I've had some strong words with people over some of the principles, and seen them enacted in different ways. I've seen them ignored entirely, as well. And I've seen the amazing results of the application of the principles result in events that attract people who just want to indulge in those results, without bothering with their own adherence to the principles. I am going to cover here some of my thoughts on the various principles, both in a general sense and as applies to specific scenarios I've encountered.
In theory, a burn is welcoming to anyone and everyone. In practice, the communities that surround a burn, as well as local legal concerns, tend to filter out some undesirable elements, such as those who commit assault, rape, etc. Also, as a practical concern, a burn costs money to organize and host, and that leads to ticket prices that can exclude some potential participants. Some of those people will be again included according to arbitrary criteria, including merit and bartering. And, more relevant to some events than others, but particularly to Burning Man itself, there are often caps on the number of people who can participate that are set by organizational concerns that cannot be easily avoided, leading to some people being excluded purely by chance or misfortune.
We all have things that are more valuable to some others than to ourselves, and thus are excellent candidates for gifts. Less commonly it is possible for a gift to involve more investment than return. Time and effort can be gifts, as can skills and physical items and even money. Some aspects of gifting behavior implement an economy of scale, wherein one person or camp might be able to entertain or feed or clothe a large number of people more efficiently than those people could themselves, and this economy is what leads to the gifting being practical. Some are due to an imbalance of ability, whereby an accomplished artist or cook can relatively produce a work that is of extreme value to anyone who could not reproduce it on their own.
This principle has two very different angles. The foremost is the elimination of commercial transactions where possible. It is very rare to find things for sale at a burn. One common exception is ice at burns set in extremely warm climates. The other aspect of this principle is avoiding even non-commercial intangible transactions of a one-directional nature. You aren't at the event to "find" or "see" or "get", you're at the event to "be part of" or "do".
Every attendee is expected to be capable of relying on themselves for the things they need. This applies to physical concerns, such as bringing a tent, food, water, etc, as well as to behavioral concerns, such as being able to find your tent, not get so drunk that you need an escort, etc.
Whatever makes you you, show it off if you want. This is the principle most often in conflict with the others, because the way in which you wish to express yourself could be contrary to one or more other principles. Where that balance lies is up to the individual, the community, and the organization of a specific event. If Agent Orange is your chosen method of self-expression, local and national authorities may also get involved :)
Most things can be done more efficiently and effectively with more than one person. Many things benefit from having as many people involved as possible. As a community we accomplish things that would be impossible otherwise, and that outcome is a goal of this principle.
We are a society, however small. There are some behaviors that are detrimental to the functioning of that society. Don't do that. There are some situations where choosing to behave responsibly will benefit the people around you. Do that.
Leave No Trace
Take only photos, leave only footprints. These events are usually held on land that is more wild or virgin than most camping events of similar size. Don't cut down trees. Don't leave burn scars. Don't dig holes. Don't drop trash on the ground. Coupled with Self-Reliance, don't expect someone else to collect and dispose of your garbage. There are many exceptions to this rule, but they are explicit and specific. Burning the effigy and temple usually leaves a burn scar. Large camps usually arrange for collective trash management, especially around their kitchens.
Don't just watch. Don't just see. Don't just listen. Do. Play. Perform. Make.
Try something, right now. Go do that thing you're considering. Don't get stuck with regret for putting something off. That performance? It's only ever going to happen once. That art? It's going to get burned tomorrow.