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Immediacy. A pictogram by James Wickham

Immediacy is one of the original 10 Principles of Burning Man. The 10 Principles were originally written by Larry Harvey in 2004 as a guide to the organization 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.


"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."

If we discard the commencing opinion, and the negative emphasis, and the concluding assertion, we are left with:

We seek to:

  • recognize our inner selves,
  • recognize the reality of those around us,
  • participate in society,
  • and have contact with a natural world.

It is particularly the case that when we strip away the negative emphasis ('overcome barriers') that we can clearly see that this principle is much more than a call to discard a few things such as mobile phones and cameras and network connectivity. Just stopping doing these 'negative' things isn't necessarily going to make any of these other four things happen.

It is not clear whether the principle is suggesting that 'immediate experience' is the mechanism to achieve these four goals, or whether these four goals (in sum) are what we mean by the expression, 'immediate experience'. It's probably a bit of both.

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

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

The assertion that 'No idea can substitute for this experience.' is contentious. Given that the principle is itself 'an idea' there's a circularity here, because an idea can be experienced as much as a wave that dumps the unwary swimmer on the beach or a blow to the head, and in some cases is experienced with equal disorientation, confusion or enlightenment.

There may be a case to suggest that using the expression 'Engagement' might convey a clearer sense of what is being proposed here:

  • Engage with your real self
  • Engage with others real selves
  • Engage with society
  • Engage with nature

Activating Immediacy

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 'Immediacy' include:

  • Volunteering
  • Participation in presenting a Theme Camp or Artwork
  • Following the precepts of 'Gifting' and 'Immediacy'

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


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