Image by mr. nightshade via Flickr
Black Rock City -- the temporary city (built and erased within a month) where the event goes on every year, the week before Labor Day -- has a tendency to expand horizons, reveal possibilities, and question the assumptions most of us make about how we're supposed to live our lives.
Burning Man does this, I think, because of a combination of factors. One of them is the sheer size and scope of the thing. 50,000 people. Hundreds of cars and trucks modified to look like dragons, whales, radios, and steamboats; many breathing fire; most with dozens of revelers dancing on them. It's like "Mad Max" meets "Blade Runner" meets "The Ten Commandments," and it's real, it's actually happening.
And it's happening without capitalism. There's no vending at Burning Man -- it's a gift economy. Entire "theme camps" exist just to give away spaghetti, to serve people free margaritas, to make pancakes. Yes, it does cost a lot to get in (between $150-350), but that mostly pays for the rental of the land from the government, the porta-potties and other infrastructure, and grants made to large-scale art projects. No one -- not the celebrity DJs who were there this year, like Armin van Buuren and Carl Cox, and not the people who build the solar electrical grid -- gets paid. No one is making a buck.
This is incredibly liberating. It's not sustainable, but it is a temporary autonomous zone of bullshit-free living. And just being there, just participating in the creation of an entire city devoted to what we want to do, rather than what we have to do to make money, has the tendency to invite self-reflection