False Freedoms with Wealth at Burning Man

“Burning Man foreshadows a future social model that is particularly appealing to the wealthy: a libertarian oligarchy, where people of all classes and identities coexist, yet social welfare and the commons exist solely on a charitable basis.
It doesn’t seem like Burning Man can ever be salvaged, or taken back from the rich power-brokers who’ve come to adore it and now populate its board of directors. It became a festival that rich libertarians love because it never had a radical critique at its core; and, without any semblance of democracy, it could easily be controlled by those with influence, power, and wealth.
As such, it is a cautionary tale for radicals and utopianists. When “freedom” and “inclusion” are disconnected from democracy, they often lead to elitism and reinforcement of the status quo.”
I know quite a few people who have or regularly attend the Burning Man festival(s) [if we include regional ones] and love some of those people dearly. Without having participated, I’m curious to hear their perspectives.
Based on what I know about how people can reclaim and beat “the tragedy of the commons” problems [0]–and more practically, my perspective on what citizens can do in the U.S.–I think I disagree with the conclusion that “it can’t be salvaged/taken back” etc.
At the same time, the critiques and parallels are spot on when it comes to addressing some of the systemic issues we experience here in the U.S. and the concluding sentence captures rings true:
“When “freedom” and “inclusion” are disconnected from democracy, they often lead to elitism and reinforcement of the status quo.”
“Free Market” economics don’t work when companies with a monopolistic grip on the industry and government write policy that excludes new and small businesses from competing on fair ground.
For example, with solar energy here in Michigan, we see DTE and Consumers Electric companies lobbying to force any community solar companies to pay the major utilities prices that makes installing solar electricity unprofitable and burdensome to start [1].
With schools in Detroit, we have lots of “privatized choice” but almost none of the private schools actually provide a worthwhile education and yet the public schools are getting dismantled in part by charter school lobbyists like the DeVos family and wealthy policy makers who benefit from their legal or undercover “gifts” [2].
The likelihood for substantive change does seem slim unless you don’t choose a hyper-local point of view, some people start off with advantages that aren’t even part of what most imagine are fair, and others aren’t allowed.
It’s not easy to make real changes in policy as someone who works multiple jobs when a handful of wealthy companies have full-time lobbyists living at your state and national capital working to crowd out the possibility of public oversight.
But once you know what’s happening, there’s hope and I believe we still have the chance to get people aware and prepared to do something about it.
Beating the tragedy of the commons:

[follow up commentary]

I think for most people who go–similar to what happens in the real world–there’s plenty to explore and learn just by living the Burning Man principles in the places you already have access to which still makes it worthwhile and enriching.
An example might be how there were vandals who disrupted/sabotaged a very exclusive camp and that several people at Burning Man didn’t even know it had happened until they left the festival and saw it in the news. Meanwhile, I’m certain my friends have been inspired and continue to carry some sense of wonder about their presence and the experiences they created.
For life outside of Burning Man, most people aren’t running into the lobbyists and the business owners who are responsible for pulling strings to push policy and control commerce in their favor.
Even when we do run into people who have this degree of impact due to their wealth, it’s not something most of us know to look for, or hold accountable.
Also important to note: I believe there are ways to ethically attain financial wealth, and there are some people who have rightly earned to a point of definite wealth.
Several online business models–or any business idea that can scale out without much cost for replication and without exploiting workers, the community, or environment–do exist. Most people don’t learn or hear about them and that’s a failure in the way education and access function. For example, the intuitive response from a lot of people might be something like a Robin Hood “redistribute wealth from the rich” which automatically shuts down any meaningful conversation about what’s ethically earned, what’s a product of exploitation, what ethical relationships for wealth creation really look like, and how it’s done. Those are the non-headlines that are real priorities worth discussing.
How many people are aware and understand the impact lobbying, PR & Government relations has on the public? How many people have actually worked with their representatives? Even voted?
At the last primary election, my home district (a relatively affluent area) had a 7% voter turnout. 7% turnout for filling in bubbles to give certain candidates a chance at being elected in a place where most people don’t need to rely on foodstamps/EBT/Bridge, and have a car.

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