Radical Inclusion is one of the original 10 Principles of Burning Man. The Ten Principles were 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.
- 1 Definition
- 2 As a Burning 'Principle' and its relation to other Burning Principles
- 3 Interactions between this principle and real world circumstances in the context of Burns
- 4 Activating Radical Inclusion
- 5 This principle in wider historic and philosophical contexts
- 6 Expressions and Artwork
- 7 See Also
- 8 References
"Anyone may be a part of Burning Man. We welcome and respect the stranger. No prerequisites exist for participation in our community."
This involves challenging ourselves, rather than challenging the stranger. Furthermore if we commit to this principle we also commit to the inevitability that our Burns will change along with the 'exterior' world. We announce that the Burn is open to new people and to new ideas. As are we.
Caveat makes the point that Radical Inclusion is not simply 'Inclusion'. 'Radical Inclusion', he suggests, isn't inviting your friends, or your work colleagues, or someone you admire or want something from to join you. All of that is 'easy'. That's not radical. Being radical is opening yourself, or your camp or your event to someone you wouldn't normally meet or include. You might find that you don't like them, they might be your new best friend. We choose, and whatever happens we learn something from the stranger - and we learn something about ourselves from our reactions to them.
Radical Inclusion doesn't start and end at the event gate. People can be estranged within the event. Sometimes by their own choice. There's a fine line between perpetuating isolation, and leaving someone their 'personal space'. Radical Inclusion might be a powerful principle, but it's also a very nuanced one that calls upon each of us to exercise judgement, generosity, and honesty.
As a Burning 'Principle' and its relation to other Burning Principles
Radical Inclusion 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. Some Burns have modified or adapted the words, including:
- Blazing Swan Anyone may be a part of Blazing Swan. We welcome and respect the stranger. No pre-requisites exist for participation in our community. Every person in our community is a valued member.
- AfrikaBurn Anyone may be a part of AfrikaBurn. We welcome and respect the stranger. No prerequisites exist for participation in our community. This means that anyone can partake.
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 nor the Burning Man community have ever provided any sure guidance about finding the 'right' balance between different principles. A useful (but not universally useful) tool in such circumstances is to apply the party-goers 'general ethical guidance' - "Don't be the arse."
Interactions between this principle and real world circumstances in the context of Burns
The requirement to purchase a ticket or membership to a burn event appears to contradict the '..No prerequisites exist for participation in our community." You can be included, but you have to be able to afford (and be lucky enough to acquire) the ticket or membership.
The first thing to note is that the 'Event' is just one expression or aspect of the burn community. Burn communities exist outside of any annual event. So it couldn't be said that a person unable to participate in the event is excluded from participation in the community. That said, the event is usually a very significant aspect of the community.
As the size and reputation of a burn event grows, the cost of running the event increase which flows on to higher prices for tickets or membership. So also does the likelihood that tickets available to the 'general public' will be sold out within minutes. Many burns reserve blocks of tickets, often at reduced prices, for groups associated with Theme Camps or for people who have registered as volunteers at the event. This has the effect of reducing the number of tickets available to the general public and puts pressure on burn organisers to increase the price of these tickets to offset the discounts offered elsewhere. The Stranger might not be unwelcome, but they might face significant hurdles in accessing the event.
Several burns offer low income tickets, and reduced price tickets to the communities that host the burn. Some burns release blocks of high priced tickets aimed at those who can afford them, and use these to subsidise low priced tickets. Most burns offer a path to reduced cost tickets through volunteering, but generally this in only available in the year following, which leaves the problem of access in that first year. An unrecorded number of event tickets are purchased and then gifted by people who can afford to do so - but this more often involves enjoining people known to the gifter rather than Strangers. Altogether these efforts go some way to reducing the barrier of ticket prices.
The accusation of price gouging has sometimes been levelled against burns. However, a burn which rapidly increases ticket prices is usually not doing it 'because they can', but more often because they are insolvent as a result of charging too little in previous years. Furthermore people might not recognise the cross-subsidy mechanism behind the creation of blocks of high priced tickets. Burns generally keep public accounts, but relatively few burns are successful at explaining those accounts to the general public. Nor are they usually successful in conveying an understanding of how extraordinarily expensive it can be to run safe multi-day events in remote locations with minimal infrastructure.
The increasing popularity of the burn experience now results in an increasing number of burns 'selling out' within minutes. As burns respond by reserving blocks of tickets for returning participants this only increases the scarcity of tickets for new participants. As more people miss out, burns have responded by introducing ticket lotteries or switching to a membership model where people can join all year round - if there are vacancies. Altogether, however, these efforts can do no more than democratise the process of missing out. They don't increase the number of tickets available.
Increasing the size of a burn in order to make more tickets available, but it's not an option for most burns, and not always the best option. Increasing size increases costs. Each burn is different and there is no 'optimal size' in terms of economic efficiency, and in any case burns are more often sized according to the desires of the organisers to balance intimacy and diversity, and to conform with environmental and legal restrictions. A major impediment to many burns increasing in size in the availability of volunteers, particularly those able to put in effort that is required 'all year round'. Increasing in size can be a hazardous option for many burns.
The ultimate solution to rising costs and limited accessibility is to spin off more small local burn events. Not only are small burn's cost lower which results in lower entry or membership fees, but accessing those events is easier because there is less competition to 'get into' any particular burn. Could the worldwide burn community sustain more events? Yes, of course. There are over 100 burns around the world at the moment, there could easily be thousands. Would people at a small burn have the same 'mind blowing' experience as they might at a large burn? Again yes. If you have participated in a small burn you already know this. If your only experience is of a large burn, John Halcyon has a few words about smaller regional burns here... https://journal.burningman.org/2019/11/global-network/regionals/regionals-are-time-machines/ The unresolved issue here, however, is how comfortable existing burns are with the creation of 'competitors' to their own events. That's too broad an issue to canvas here, but the essential questions are (1) will this reduce the attendance at the pre-existing event, and (2) will the reputation of the pre-existing event be damaged if the new event doesn't uphold high standards? These concerns can be addressed, but it would be unwise to say they don't exist.1
It is also important to note that if we talk about sustainability and burns we must recognise that the largest part of the carbon cost of a burn is not the effigy, but the thousands of vehicle miles (and flight-miles) that participants expend getting to and from the major burns each year. Having more small local burns not only increases access to a burn 'near you', but also reduces the cost of you getting to and from those burns. It's something to consider.
Minors are not permitted unless accompanied by an adult or Guardian. Some Burns and Burn related events exclude children entirely. It should be noted. however, than some burns suggest that children are ideal participants and that they should be encouraged to move freely about knowing that the burn community is a safe place for them.
Radical Inclusion operates alongside all the other principles and particularly alongside 'Civic Responsibility'. It is sobering to reflect that the vast majority of burns require children to be supervised and be under the protection of their guardians. The alternative - that the entire burn is a safe place for children with everyone at the burn sharing in the care and supervision of those children - is not something that most of us could easily imagine. It's an intriguing notion though. Perhaps we should aim for burns to be safer places for children than the 'outside' world, and think about how we can make that happen. It's something much more achievable in the context of a small local burn serving a small local burn community, and an argument for the creation and proliferation of more small burns. From time to time there has been discussion in the worldwide burn community about creating burn events specifically designed for families and children. At this time the closest to achieving this are the 'Figment' one day public arts events.
There are no bars in respect of ethnicity, beliefs, gender identification or orientation, appearance or ability. That's the ideal.
There may not be any explicit bars, no sign that says 'XYZ' not welcome. But there might be a culture or a reputation, or something not apparent at all, that deters certain people from attending. Event organisers should be doing some objective surveys to see if that's actually happening. That's a good first step. Then they might look at what barriers might be causing the participation rate of some groups to be lower than expected. We should note that it's often the case that we are blind our own involvement in creating an 'exclusive' environment. Ask outside your community, and don't dismiss the responses (as I've seen done) as 'invalid' because the person with the uncomfortable observation has 'never been to a burn'. Of course they haven't! They're the people who feel for whatever reason they are being excluded! It's not rocket science. But is it a bad thing if some people don't come to the event? Not everyone can, not everyone will want to. Our job is to do the hard work of review and self examination to make sure that we aren't excluding people who could come, who want to come, but for some reason aren't coming. It's not just the case that these people are missing out on your event, but your event is missing out on these people. And maybe you need them more than you know.
Burn sites are often selected for remoteness, minimal facilities and some degree of hardship. The choice of site might have the effect of creating barriers to participation by people with impaired mobility or impaired health.
Perhaps the answer here is not about avoiding harsh or remote sites, but about making the extra effort to make it possible for people with impaired mobility or health to attend. In many jurisdictions people with impaired mobility have a right to access public events (and don't pretend a burn is a private affair). People organising such events often have a legal requirement to take all possible steps (not just reasonable steps) to enable that access. Self reliance might suggest that people with impairments should look after themselves, after all it is their choice to attend. But before requiring someone else to be Radically Self Sufficient we best remind ourselves of our own responsibility to exercise Radical Inclusion AND Civic Responsibility AND promote Communal Effort and Participation. Most people with mobility or health impairments do actually manage themselves extremely well. They've generally have had a lot more experience looking after themselves than you have them. Take the lead from them and ASK. And if you think that having someone on the playa with a heart condition is a tiresome burden that requires you to bring along a defribilator, you might be grateful you went to all that effort when it's you who having an unexpected heart attack. Having a environment that is friendly to people with mobility and health impairments makes for an environment that is friendly to everyone, and anything short of that is not Radical Inclusion.
A criticism levelled at Burns is that Radical Inclusion appears to be an open invitation to people who espouse hate speech or who have a history of violence or disruptive behaviour.
This is the commonest criticism from people who don't know anything about Burns and would never want to attend one, but have an opinion anyway. So should they be ignored and dismissed? No. Because they are a loud voice that might dissuade others from attending. They're also a loud voice that people in the community which hosts your event might hear and believe. And maybe it's a loud voice warning you about someone who really is a danger that you have overlooked. Step aside from any sort of defensive response and examine the validity of the criticism before dismissing it.
Don't take risks if you have established that an intending participant has espoused hate speech, or has a history of violence. But - and this is a very cautious 'but' - if we deny the possibility that a person who has offended in the past might never reform, then we are denying the possibility that the Burn community will ever influence or change ourselves or the world for the better. Because if we deny the possibility of reform, we are denying the possibility of change. If we are approached by someone with such a history who wants to join our community talk with them about this. Ask them to propose an arrangement that will encompass their rehabilitation that will receive the assent of everyone in the community. Honestly assess your own community's ability to monitor and mentor this person and the person's willingness to work inside any arrangements you agree upon. But ultimately if you have to protect your community, protect your community.
Activating Radical Inclusion
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 Radical Inclusion include:
- 'Reduced price tickets programs. To encourage and diversify inclusion
- 'Stranger welcome' programs. To encourage out of town,state,country visitors to attend Burns and engage with local community
- 'Locals programs' To encourage locals where the burn occurs to join with the Burn community
- 'Improve access and health care onsite'.
- 'Ride share programs' To facilitate attendance
- 'More Burner Events' To facilitate attendance
And in terms of ensuring Radical Inclusion is a positive for the community...
- Maintain records of persons or camps which are excluded no the basis of previous on-playa 'violations'.
- Require references, police checks or 'Working with Children' checks in appropriate circumstances.
- Check social media history of people applying to join the communities social media spaces.
- Build and maintain a community which is encouraged and enabled to report concerns in a manner which is fair to all participants.
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.