Decommodification

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BZS Principles Decommodification 001.jpeg

Decommodification is one of the original ten 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.

Definition

"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 principle references two other Principles, 'Gifting' and 'Participation'.

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

Issues: conformity. Required in order to be recognized as an official burn. Languages and translations. Cultural biases. 'Gifting' is universal, included in all Burns. Some have substituted the name of their own Burns for '..Burning Man...'. Some have modified or adapted the words, including:

  • Blazing Swan "Blazing Swan is devoted to acts of gifting: giving freely, without expectations of return or exchange. The value of a gift is unconditional. A gift is anything given in this spirit, whether it is a physical item, a service or performance, or something less tangible, such as friendship or companionship. Everyone has gifts to give."

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, there is an additive effect.

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 party-goers 'general ethical guidance', "Don't be the dick." In the language of the Principles this would be known as an injunction against 'Radical Self Entitlement'.

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

  • This is - generally - the principle most likely to be violated by the Burn itself. The Burn that advertises itself, that sells tickets, than engages with contractors and has budgets of up to millions of dollars is scarcely able to claim that it is entirely untouched by commerce.



Activating Decommodification

A Blaze 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 gifting' include:

  • 'Explaining the process pre-Burn
  • 'Reinforcing the process at the Greeters Gate, especially that gifts don't have to be 'physical'.
  • 'Give off-playa examples and analogies to counter the 'christmas gift' sensibility. Eg 'Pay it forward'

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 Ten Principles, and these have been widely praised and adopted.

See Also

References