Burning Man festival: a libertarian's delight?

Art at Burning Man 2011.

I’ve been intrigued by Nevada’s Burning Man festival ever since a long-ago co-worker painted a glowing picture of it – and the art I’ve seen in photos of the free-wheeling festival looks wonderfully creative. But not being a fan of public nudity, banned substances, dust or heat, I have no desire to go myself.

Among other things, Burning Man seems to me like the epitome of libertarianism – from what I’ve heard and read, no one gets fussy about casual sex, illegal drugs, or other things that tend to matter to responsible people. But it’s not quite as lawless as you might think: Food inspectors still have to step in to avoid a public health menace, as The Wall Street Journal points out in a fascinating look at the festival.

And let’s not forget the laws regarding disposal of human waste! By all means, ignore all the other laws, but Burning Man does NOT want you using the desert as a toilet: “If you see somebody dumping waste, please help the community by letting them know that what they’re doing is illegal and report the matter to the Black Rock Rangers.”

You can find this information and more in the official Burning Man Survival Guide (which was organized and copy edited more carefully than most publications – so the laws of grammar were not violated here either).

Violence is not a big problem at the festival, which is to the credit of those who attend. The Wall Street Journal reports:

For an event its size, Burning Man draws little violent crime. In 2011 Pershing County sheriff’s deputies made just four arrests for battery. “This isn’t the place people go to start sā€”,” said “Sunflower,” a 25-year-old man from Berkeley, Calif., biking in a pirate’s suit toward the wooden statue of the man that is set to burn Saturday. “Here, it’s all about letting go.”

Letting go sometimes means inhaling, which forces authorities to look the other way. Smoking marijuana is a Class E felony under Nevada law. But pot smoke floats among Burners as does the white alkaline dust that covers everyone and everything.

You can’t help but wonder, though, if this were an indefinite situation (Occupy Black Rock, maybe?), if the letting-go goodwill would disintegrate eventually … leaving people hungry for some decent government.

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  • Utah Burner

    You’ve completely overlooked the fact that Pershing County Sheriff and the BLM Rangers are on patrol at Burning Man. The laws of Nevada and the United States still apply and are enforced, even at Burning Man. You really shouldn’t be writing about something that you obviously know nothing about.

    • Pam Whitmore

      First, I hate to disappoint you, but I don’t think burners are a threat to society (conservative or otherwise). I’m fascinated by Burning Man, not scared of it.

      Second, I’m writing a blog post for a conservative think tank, not an investigative piece of journalism for an objective media organization, and I am in no danger of confusing the two. :)

      Third, no, I have no personal experience with Burning Man. I’m commenting on what others have written, pointing out a couple things I find interesting or amusing. Commenting on other people’s reporting is done through every range of writing, from your neighbor’s blog to The New York Times. This is not unusual, nor is it unethical as long as it’s not plagiarized, and as long as the difference between (attributed) facts and opinion is apparent.

      Thanks for reading and commenting, and please forgive my tardy reply.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=1237914831 Jean Simenon

    Actually to understand the event better, I recommend to check out the history of the event first. And for that I highly recommend to watch Dust & Illusions (http://dustandillusions.com) and “This is Burning Man” the book! Very much worth it, and of course the documentary is a must with all its archival footage! :)

    • Pam Whitmore

      I appreciate the references – I’ll check them out. Thanks!

  • Dan

    I mean this respectfully: Don’t you think implying libertarians are irresponsible is itself irresponsible? (Or, at the very least, fallacious)

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