Communal Effort

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The Communal Effort Pictogram by James Wickham

Communal Effort is one of the original 10 Principles of Burning Man. The Ten Principles were originally written by Larry Harvey in 2004 as a guide to the organisation of Burning Man, and later adopted as a model of thinking and behaviour for participants to follow at the event, and in their lives generally.


"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.."

This principle recognizes that while strangers may enter into a process of cooperation and collaboration, the process is infinitely strengthened and amplified if we use the opportunity of that association to better appreciate and respect each other. The artwork, the public spaces, the activities and the Theme Camps at Burns, even the Burn community itself, are the seed pearls around which we grow - through cooperation and collaboration - the entire Burn experience. It is significant, however, that while the principle references some of the key aspects of a Burn, it leaves it open to understand that this principle is applicable and of value in the wider world.

As a Burning 'Principle' and its relation to other Burning Principles

Communal Effort is one of the core burn principles. This must be included in any Burn in order for it to be officially associated in the Burning Man community.

It is important to understand that all principles apply equally and concurrently. The principles were designed to all work, and to all work together. No principle can be used to justify an act of commission or omission that violates any other principle. Principles do not 'conflict' with each other or 'contradict' each other because no principle is intended to be considered or applied in isolation from all the remaining principles. No principle takes away from any other principle. The principles are additive.

Neither the Principles or the Burning Man community have ever provided any sure guidance about what how to find the balance between different principles, or in their application and conflict with 'norms of society. A useful (but not universally useful) tool in such circumstances is to apply the event-goers general ethical guidance: "Don't be the dick."

Interactions between this principle and real world circumstances in the context of Burns

There is relatively little ongoing conversation about the Communal Effort principle. Rather than this being a sign that this principle is undervalued or disregarded, it is more likely that this is because it is uncontroversial and widely accepted. Many people see it as a natural counterfoil to the principles of Radical Self Reliance and Radical Self Expression. But it is more than that. And it is more than a call to 'work together' The Communal Effort principle talks specifically about building collaboration around creative work, and to build and strengthen systems (and opportunities) for communication to enable that to happen.

Working together to clear up MOOP is obviously a virtuous communal project, but it is really an expression of Civic Responsibility. Communal Effort invites us to find opportunities to work together on creative projects, artwork, art-events - building and expressing things that have never (or we've never) made before or expressed. It invites us to explore new boundaries in the company of others, to stretch and challenge ourselves (and sometimes fail) in the company of others. It wants us to engage our highest function, our most unique and often under-expressed talents and feelings in the company of others. The intention is not to challenge ourselves to co-operate in doing a task we are familiar with, one that we are comfortably competent doing - but to do the edgy stuff, the things that we might not have otherwise ever attempted except that we know that we have the encouragement and support of those around us, and we in return are giving that back to them.

Activating Communal Effort

A Burn Principle is not intended as a description of 'what is', but rather a guide to taking active steps - and not just within the Burn community. Examples of activating Communal Effort include:

  • Burners guides and 'how to' information
  • Collaborative workshops both on-playa and off-playa
  • Encouraging active social networks in person and via social media.

This principle in wider historic and philosophical contexts

The Ten Principles of Burning Man are in class known as 'Moral Systems' All attempts at creating a universal 'Moral System' have failed, and they have at times incorporated elements that we would reject, and have been championed and fought over at the expense of lives and nations.

Danny Usery makes the point that although sets of moral principles ideally should not contain inherent contradictions, in practice they often do. He suggests that in resolving those conflicts - which is necessary in order to follow those moral principles in 'real life', a person should apply a set of theory rules (or ethical principles) which will guide you in your application of those moral principles. He acknowledges the existence of multiple examples of ethical principles (such as Utilitarian or Kantian) and further acknowledges that the a person attempting to choose amongst these various ethical principles might seek further guidance, using some criteria to do so, and some ethical principles to understand which criteria to use, and so on ad infinitum.

The Burning Man Principles and Community provide no specific guidance on what 'ethical principles' should guide a Burners (or a Burn Organizer's) view towards and application of the Ten Principles. The 'purist' might hold that Burns should not charge money, and in fact should not be organized by anyone - but in fact organized by everyone. This viewpoint finds its nearest expression in the Rainbow Gathering movement. Others would hold that the Burn is an opportunity to showcase 'ideals', but the showcase has to exist in the 'real world' and comply with the economic and legal constraints of the real world as it stands now while we work to bring the 'real world' into line with our 'showcased world'. Some will hold that 'the pure is the enemy of the good', and others will say that 'If you want to do anything, do it now, without compromise or concession, because you have only one life. Gao Xingjian

Expressions and Artwork

On and off-playa installations have been created to express this principle. Perth graphic designer James Wickham created a set of pictographs in 2015 to illustrate the 10 Principles, and these have been widely praised and adopted.

See Also