Embraced by Peace and Love

So. I just got back from New York. It was a hell of a week, in a good way. Lots of sightseeing and lots of meeting m’s friends and lots of excellent conversations about What Is and What Should Be and that sort of thing.

I have much to say about the trip, but I’ll start with the story that’s freshest on my mind, the story of Peace and Love. I met them both on the Playa, not in a metaphysical sense but in the sense that Peace is a frank, good natured, down-to-earth Russian Jewish man who grew up in New York and reminds me of my cousin, and Love is an exuberant, outgoing, unfailingly kind African American man from Michigan who has lived in Harlem for the last two decades and reminds me of a walking smile support system.

I had just abandoned my dear Frenchies (e, f, and g, conveniently), I think because they were headed dance-wards and I wanted to ride art cars. I found one, hopped aboard, and was soon convincing the bartender that I wasn’t an undercover cop by showing him my tits (hey, I was topless all morning, why not?). That’s when Peace found me. He introduced me to Love, and the three of us became inseparable for the night. We ended up spooning and talking until the early hours in the Sacred Spaces Village. I met them briefly in Center Camp the next afternoon, but our subsequent plans failed and we had not exchanged any kind of contact information.

Well, I remembered enough specific details about Love’s career to look him up online, and yesterday I contacted him on the off-chance that he’d have time to meet up for drinks. He responded immediately and m and I set off to meet him in Central Park. We scheduled to meet under a golden fountain. I was a tiny bit worried I wouldn’t recognize him right away, but this fear turned out to be unfounded…he was easy to spot in red pants, a yellow shirt, a green sweater, and a multicolored bandana, and most of all the huge smile that took up his entire face.

“Let’s get a picture of this!” he cried, recruiting a passing stranger who looked to be just over twenty and had on a large green sweater, pinstripe pants, and a sort of curl-hawk of black hair. “What are you up to? We’re going on a walk through the park!” Love told the young man, whose name turned out to be Ulrike. He was new to New York, a bit lonely, here on an art internship from Bogota, Columbia. Sure, he’d join us; why not?

M and I exchanged frequent amused and happy looks at the very Burning Man day we were suddenly having, no plans, just new friends and happenstance. “Let me tell you,” Love said twice, “why I didn’t meet with you. It’s a crazy story.” But he kept getting distracted.

Our group of four found a nice rock overlooking the lake and Love brought out his pocket vape. One of the best parts of hanging out with burners is hearing their stories and getting the wonder-chills, that vivid but brief memory of just what it felt like to be there. It’s been a while since I got wonder-chills on the regular, but they’ve been rather frequent lately.

My favorite story of m’s:

A friend’s boyfriend (we’ll call him Adam) was at Burning Man for the first time, and m and some others were showing him around their amazing camp. The boyfriend had his back to the tent flap, and, looking around in astonishment, said “This is bananas.” Exactly as he says this, a six foot banana ducks through the flap and stands there, unseen by Adam, who doesn’t understand why m and the rest are laughing.

The man in the banana costume ducks back out of the tent, and within seconds, bananas are pouring into the tent. Something like thirty bananas surround Adam in a giant group hug. M can’t even see him for all the bananas. And then, just like that, they leave again.

Sound improbable? That’s Burning Man. The Playa provides…

And then there’s Love’s story. Tell me this man doesn’t deserve his Playa name:

First, he sees two people, and they don’t look happy, not at all. Weird. It’s Burning Man! So Love talks to them, and sure enough, they’re not having a good time.

“Nobody’s talking to us, we flew all the way from Germany, it’s not what we thought,” they tell him.

“What are you talking about? Anyone will talk to you. It’s Burning Man!”

Love talks to them for a while. They’re starting to cheer up. He says, “I have to go meet someone–”

“No, don’t go!” they cry.

“You don’t understand,” he says. “It’s Burning Man! Anyone will talk to you! Sir?” He grabs a random person. “Do you want to talk to these two? They’re virgins.”

“Sure,” random dude says. “Are you two hungry? Would you like a drink?”

So he leaves them feeling a lot better about the festival, and in good hands, and heads back to camp for a nap. He’s incredibly tired by this point, just ready to collapse, and he sees this guy in even worse shape than he is. Some, you know, Republican looking middle aged dude. “He had no mask, no water, no goggles,” Love laughed. “And he looked just about done. I mean, done.”

Sort of resigned, Love offered him some water, said, “You don’t look like you’re having a good time. Is everything all right?”

Of course, the guy says, “No! No, everything is not all right. I parked my car at 2:30 L and I can’t find it, and I’ve been looking for four hours, and I’m never coming here again.”

His brother-in-law pretty much forced him to come, he tells Love. What kind of car? A blue Lexus.

“I’m going to find your car,” says Love, “but first you should come with me back to my camp.”

“Why?” The guy asks.

“‘So I can kill you!'” I chime in at this point in the story, all of us laughing at the absurdity of the man’s question.

Ulrike is totally getting it. He’s already sworn to attend next year’s festival. I mean, he’s smoking on a rock with three total strangers in the middle of Central Park. He was going to find Home one way or another. Or maybe Burning Man finds us…

Finally Love convinces this guy Gary to come back to his camp, where Love’s friends help get him situated with water, food, shade. Gary looks bewildered.

“I’ve gotta find this guy’s car,” Love says, “So I look for a bike. There aren’t any bikes.”

This is during Tittical Mass, or whatever they call it, the topless bike ride. All of the bikes are spoken for by titty-havers. A lady in charge of the bikes I guess is listening to Love’s story, trying to help him, and she comes back with this little pink thing with streamers. “It’s my daughter’s bike,” she tells him.

So off he goes in search of this guy’s car. He rides all the way from 2 to 3, back and forth from M, L, K, J…doesn’t find it. Doesn’t find it.

He rides all the way back and forth, 2 to 3. This guy said L, it definitely wasn’t L, maybe he got it wrong. I, H, G…no car. “So at this point I’m wondering, am I ever going to find it?” Love tells. “Oh, by the way, I was naked at this point, since it was so hot and I knew I’d be riding around for a while.”

M especially finds this revelation entertaining. “That changes the whole story,” he says.

“You know where I found it?” says Love. “I found it on D.”

“D?!”

“D,” he confirms. “There it was. So I found it, and I started jumping around and dancing and screaming, because I found it, finally, and this man is sitting on the porch of this motorhome and he says, ‘Were you looking for that car?’ And I said, ‘Yes! I was! And I found it!’ And this old man says, ‘I’ve been sitting here all day waiting for the man that parked this car to come back. He parked the car like he knew what he was doing, got out, and walked away. He didn’t have a mask, or goggles, or water, but he looked like he knew what he was doing, so I’ve just been sitting here waiting for him to come back.'”

Love and this guy have a good laugh together, and then he goes back to camp to tell Gary the good news.

“I found your car!” he says, and Gary just looks at him. Finally he says, “What is this place? Your friends left, they made sure I had food and water. They left the door open in case I needed to get inside. Why are you doing this for me?”

Love smiles. “It’s Burning Man. Come on, let’s get you back, your brother-in-law is probably worried sick about you.”

They go through another small ordeal trying to find the guy’s camp, end up criss-crossing and calling out a name until the woman they’re calling says “That’s me!”

Love talks to the people at the camp, everyone is so glad they found this guy, and Gary turns to him with tears in his eyes and says, “You just changed my whole mind. I was going to leave immediately and never come back.”

My friend Love. You rock, Love.

Ulrike had to peace out but the rest of us had drinks with “the Germans” as everyone kept calling them (also burners; more on them later) and an impromptu rooftop party at m’s. Love called Peace and he joined us, and m’s friend d showed up, and it was such an unlikely little group and so much fun.

So that was the burniest one of my New York days. More to come.

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Zealotry and Motivation

I love cracked.com:

5 Popular Beliefs That Are Holding Humanity Back

“The logical part of the human brain has turned out to be a horrible motivator. The gut-level awe part of the brain is a fantastic motivator. It’s just the way we’re built. Those zealots are high on dopamine,which is the brain chemical that motivates us to act.”

What a fantastic article. Couldn’t have said it better myself.

And good timing, because I’ve been starting to feel like a bit of a zealot again. Which is scary territory. I’m still a few years away from being non-Mormon for longer than I was Mormon and let me tell you, it is an effective psychological trap. If you’ve never been part of a religion or believed in God or any of that, I’m sure it’s super confusing why it appeals to so many people, why it’s so hard to see the hypocrisies, why people don’t notice the Fence of Illogic that protects their beliefs from being invaded by such enemies as facts and reason.

A religion is sort of like an Idea Illness. It teaches the White Blood Cells of Reason to attack each other instead of obvious enemies like Circular Reasoning Viruses and Tautology Infections and Clear Contradiction Bacteria and Plagues of Blind Emotion.

This is how it takes hold of its victims:

Step One: INFECTION

The virus is spread verbally. One host, deep in the fever of the Idea Illness, shares the structure of the Illness with others. If they have not encountered an Idea Illness before and have no immunity built up, or if they have been weakened by circumstance and they can’t be reached in time with the antidote of Logic and Evidence, they may catch the virus, an early symptom of which is a warm, fuzzy feeling spreading through the body.

Most people have opened their door, at some point, to a squeaky-clean young man or woman saying something to the effect of “Have you heard the good news?”

Well, there are a lot of people out there desperate to hear good news. There are a lot of people pretty scared of death, scared of this chaotic world we share, looking for some kind of reassurance that everything is going to be okay. And that’s exactly what the virus offers: A promise that everything is going to be okay, and the same sort of warm fuzzy feeling you get when you know that Dad’s got everything under control, and if a bad guy comes Dad’ll just shoot him, that’s what.

Step Two: ADVANCEMENT

The warm fuzzies convince the host to accept the virus. The host begins operating in the service of the virus, denying and repressing his own needs and desires, depending on how strong the virus is and how vulnerable the host is to infection. In this stage, the host typically goes from being a carrier to a transmitter.

Self denial is a common feature of most religions. People like to feel that they have a purpose, that they’re doing something tangible in service of their beliefs. Telling people to fight against natural desires like sexual attraction and hunger serves the dual function of giving them a tangible (albeit theoretical) way to serve a higher power, and teaching them to obey even the most arbitrary seeming commands, much in the same way a dog is satisfied that it’s doing some kind of important job by walking the way you’d like it to or sitting on command.

The greater the denial, sacrifice, or self-subsumation, the more useful and good the adherent feels and the more positive reinforcement s/he receives from the others in the faith. Having found a community, “usefulness,” and a consistent source of affirmation, the adherent wishes to share this wealth with others, and starts believing that everyone in the world desires and deserves the same thing.

Step Three: SUSTENANCE

The hosts form elaborate systems designed to feed and sustain the virus. Certain hosts assume leadership and direct the others in reinforcing and refining the structure of the virus and, often, finding ways to spread it more effectively and quickly. The maintenance and service of the virus become central to the lives of the hosts.

Ironically, a large part of the reason why the Church of Latter Day Saints is so effective in spreading and maintaining its membership is likely the length and frequency of membership meetings. Three hours minimum of church meetings on Sunday (leadership, choirs, special committees, etc. carry on longer), one set of youth meetings once a month and another once a week, individual visits from “home teachers” and “visiting teachers,” and even pre-schoolday “seminary” for high school grades ensure that every member of the church is constantly reaffirming his/her “testimony,” or strong sense of certainty that the Church is completely true, every other belief system flawed, and that the best (/only) way to be a good person is to do what the church leaders say.

I’m not kidding when I say that the maintenance and service of the church becomes central to the lives of participants. Although the LDS church teaches that families are pretty much the most important thing on earth, many members ultimately prioritize their faith over their families, cutting off their association with family members who threaten their beliefs, whether by being gay, by believing something else, whatever.

I’m lucky enough to have parents who see the flaw in this logic and still choose to associate with their heathen daughters.

Step Four: ASSIMILATION

The host, subject to routine conditioning and positive affirmation, not only serves the virus completely but sees the world in the same way the virus does. The uninfected are seen as potential hosts, first and foremost. The host’s internal systems for discerning good and evil are overwritten; anything that builds and sustains the virus becomes “good” and anything that opposes it, “evil.”

When I was a kid, I was super eager to test my missionary skills on a non-Mormon, but I grew up in Provo, where non-Mormons were rather hard to come by. The first time I met someone who was a little new to Utah and had never heard of Mormons, I was soon reciting the entire “Articles of Faith” which outline the beliefs of the LDS church.

Anyone who showed outward signs of being non-Mormon, anything from smoking to wearing a bikini (good Mormons cover their legs to their knees and the tops of their shoulders and never show their midriffs), a tattoo or even long hair and a beard instantly became labeled as a lost soul, a mostly bad person that I should either avoid or try and rescue.

Step Five: EXTERNAL DEFENSE

Anything that opposes, contradicts, or otherwise seeks to defeat the virus and heal the host is seen as an enemy. The virus has convinced the host to trust it above all, above reason, above tangible evidence; now it convinces the host that anything which opposes it is a manifestation of a malicious antivirus. When confronted with pure and irrefutable proof that s/he is sick, the host will assume that some trickery on the part of the malicious antivirus has occurred and enter fight/flight mode. 

I once asked my parents point blank: “If there were absolute proof that your church is not true, irrefutable evidence, would you want to hear it?”

The LDS church, being a relatively recent religion, has a well-documented history, and of course there *is* absolute proof that Joseph Smith was a lying liar. He claimed he could translate hieroglyphics through the spirit of God, which is how he supposedly translated the Book of Mormon from the gold plates (conveniently taken back up into the sky). When a traveling exhibit came through with a page of actual hieroglyphics, church members got so excited about it that he indulged them and translated it, publishing it in a book called the Pearl of Great Price. His “translation” doesn’t even come close to the actual translation.

In any case, they hemmed and hawed. They said “we’ll get back to you.” They never did. Don’t they care about the truth? Sure–as long as it doesn’t challenge the Truth they’ve embraced as the most important, precious, rewarding thing in their lives. Something that would challenge their Truth can’t possibly be true anyway.

You can’t really blame them, I guess.

Whenever we argue about theological or political topics, it’s very clear when we cross the Barrier of Illogic. My parents are intelligent, rational people on a number of topics, but when reason starts to invade their beliefs (in the form of the secular view making more sense than their faith-based approach) they either become angry, hurt, or they completely shut down.

Step Six: INTERNAL DEFENSE

The virus cannot kill all white blood cells of reason, as some of them are needed for pure survival in the world. Once in a while, the white blood cells of reason will rally for an attack on the virus; but there are effective measures in place should this happen. The virus has taught the host that an excessive number of white blood cells is a sign that the host is not properly or adequately serving the virus. Even as the host tries to defend him/herself against the virus, s/he is invested in losing.

I was miserable for years and years without once thinking of abandoning my faith and trying something else on for size. My point of conflict (like Stephen Dedalus of James Joyce’s “Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man,” hence my Playa name) was sexuality and faith. Early experiments with my best girlfriend growing up were transcendent, delicious, beautiful–until I confessed to my mother, who cried, and my bishop, who gravely laid out steps to repentance.

At the time I was a willing servant to any and all authority around me, and I never dared pit my internal voice (‘sex is good! beautiful! fun! harmless!’) against that of the establishment into which I was born, the ontology to which everyone around me subscribed.

The common wisdom is that you only question your beliefs if you secretly want to sin more than you want to obey God. So whenever I did think, rebelliously, “why should I have this terribly irresistible natural urge that i’m not supposed to give in to? why would this thing that feels so great and doesn’t hurt anyone be bad? what kind of sick ridiculous joke is this?” I would instantly feel ashamed for letting my sensual, sinful nature overcome my higher, holier devotion to God, guilty for questioning in the first place, and newly resolved to rid myself of doubt and just obey.

Step Seven: INTERNAL DEPENDENCY

If the host resists the internal defenses and continues fighting the virus, the symptoms will begin to subside. The absence of warm fuzzies alone will often convince the host that fighting the virus is foolish and self-destructive.

The more doubt I felt, the less often I felt those nice warm fuzzies. In my early questioning, this was often enough to stop me. The bad scary feelings that come along with doubt were enough to convince me that I was venturing into the territory of the devil and God was leaving me all alone.

Luckily, my abandonment of faith happened soon after I left home for the first time and right before I started my undergraduate education, so I had plenty of new, inspiring ideas to buoy me up as the other positive feelings ebbed.

To leave my faith and gain nothing new would have been monumentally hard.

Step Eight: EXTERNAL REINFORCEMENT

Other carriers still operating in the service of the virus will often converge upon a fellow host who is recovering, and direct their efforts towards making the host more vulnerable and receptive to the virus.

In the Mormon church this is called “fellowshipping,” and if faithful church members are doing their job correctly, it is both innocuous and relentless. If someone’s faith is faltering, they will be showered with baked goods and friendly visits, warmly encouraged to join in both religious and more secular activities, promised that they will be welcomed back with open arms. Faithful members are reminded often that if they ever leave, they will be welcomed back with open arms.

The point is, it’s not hard to fall into, and it’s really, really hard to leave once you invest in it, regardless of its negative effect on your life (so just imagine if you mainly see positive effects!) Kind of like a co-dependent relationship. So really we should cut people some slack. Yeah, it sounds ridiculous and insane when some Republican senator says that God’s all about rape babies and we should force the victims to give birth to them. But he’s not stupid or evil, he’s just in the clutches of an Idea Illness. The virus hath spoken: cell cluster, zygote, fetus, whatever: inviolable. End of story. Because I said so.

There are strategies in place at every step of the process to herd non-believers back into the fold. Your own doubt and confusion and dissatisfaction are played against you, leveraged into a renewed desire for security and certainty. It’s really, really hard to escape from if you still believe even a little bit.

Religion, y’all. *sigh*

H isn’t super pleased with my newfound passion. He’s weirded out by it, and worse, he feels left out. C has been hearing about Burning Man for years and has a reverence for it that makes me adore her even more–it’s already a holy place for her, she’s a pilgrim who dreams of Mecca, and I feel guilty that I got to experience it first, when it really was more of a whim for me, initially.

I can’t, can’t wait for both of them to see it.

Well, so anyway. I’m a Burning Man Zealot. Am I sick? Am I infected? Burning Man is giving me hella warm fuzzies and yeah, I want to tell everyone about it, I want everyone to experience the awesomeness of it.

But…it doesn’t ask any self-denial or repression. In fact, I’m encouraged to follow my passions and explore my desires, to design and pursue my bliss as I see fit. Sounds good to me.

It has elaborate structures built up around it and many, many people devoted to maintaining it, and for many people, Black Rock City is Home. A lot of people change their lives entirely after they’ve once experienced Burning Man. Sounds real cult-y, right?

But far from turning its infected against the uninfected, it encourages an open mind and accepting attitude towards everyone. It reminds us that deep down, we’re all the same, that all of these trappings of status and political party and class and race and etc. are ultimately hugely inconsequential in the face of our shared humanity, our shared love of beauty and energy and creativity and community. It helps us to see past the all of the barriers to other people’s bright inner core.

I’m going to write a post on my feelings about guilt (it’s useless and impedes personal progress), but guilt and shame, which in religions play a huge part in keeping people in line, are completely absent from Burning Man. As long as you’re not hurting anyone else, whatever you want (or dont want) is just fine. There’s no attempt to guilt or herd or force anyone to believe in the Ten Principles of Burning Man–if they work for you, awesome. If not, cool.

And last, when Burners are nice to you, they are nice without agenda. It’s part of the Gifting principle. Social interactions are not about getting something you want–they’re about connecting and giving unconditionally. They’re not actively trying to recruit or retain you. They’re just operating on the Principles.

I can be as zealous as I want. Zealotry in itself is not a bad thing. What’s that Bible scripture? “By their fruits shall ye know them”? You know religions are illnesses because they spread at least as much discord as harmony, because they cause people to kill, oppress, and restrict each other. Because they teach people to eliminate or assimilate the opposition. Because they discourage people from intelligently integrating observations, ration, and reflection into their worldview. Because they consistently and routinely hinder humanity’s social and scientific progress.

Burning Man, as far as I’ve seen it, does the opposite of all of those things. I think it’s an evolutionary mutation. I think it will continue to gain momentum. Everyone who visits BRC sees the kind of world we could live in if we followed the Ten Principles. We all observe its success and I think this makes an imprint on our very DNA. We are designed to teach and learn from each other–that’s why religions take hold so quickly. Let’s see how much more quickly a non-manipulative, highly functional and harmony-inducing system, with no middleman and no bullshit between the words and the actions, can spread throughout our broken world. Let’s see if it can help us evolve fast enough to save ourselves from extinction.

Burning Man Revelations 1:1

There is SO MUCH to learn from Burning Man. I’ve got at least three more posts on the back burner about why I think the Ten Principles are the ideal foundation for a wholesale re-imagining of societal structures.

Principle #2: Gifting
Burning Man is devoted to acts of gift giving. The value of a gift is unconditional. Gifting does not contemplate a return or an exchange for something of equal value.

This is probably the first principle of Burning Man that you will notice and appreciate upon attending. I was inspired to write this post when I saw some pictures of Robot Heart on Facebook. I was thinking about those DJs, and what made dancing at Burning Man so much more special than clubbing at home, and looking at the DJs’ faces, I had my answer: the enjoyment is multiplied exponentially when the giver is giving without expectation of return other than the receiver’s joy.

Not a single person is driven by money alone. The desire for money, like any other misdirected longing, has at its roots the desire for validation  and admiration of the community. When you remove money from the equation, this becomes suddenly crystal clear. Far from money being the only motivating factor–money is the unnecessary middleman keeping a great deal of our energy from working towards our true desire: to be useful to and valued by those around us.

Every good and service provided by others suddenly becomes more precious and valued. Instead of trying to see how cheap you can get something for (i.e. how little it is worth to you), you appreciate it for what it is, a gift, something someone else did so you wouldn’t have to do it, and you both get to feel the joy of being part of a community that gives and receives open-heartedly and generously.

If people are out there giving and giving, and nobody’s keeping tally about who is doing work, who’s to stop people from just taking and taking?

I saw several individuals (and camps!) manifesting this fear in some form or another, usually an angry indictment of people who think it’s okay to take without giving back, to consume instead of participating. The worst I saw was a sign that said “If you drink here, stay here–we deserve a chance to try and sleep with you.”

The “give an inch, and they’ll take a mile” attitude is such a pervasive part of our dominant narrative that even devoted Burners often overlook a vital part of the second principle: gifting does not contemplate a return or an exchange for something of equal value. They express disdain and exclusion towards those they perceive as lazy, entitled, or ignorant–a violation of the first principle of radical inclusion.

Yes, there are people who take advantage of the gifting culture. There’s even a nickname for them: sparkleponies. They ignored the principle of Radical Self Reliance and didn’t bring all of the gear they needed. They don’t pull their weight around camp. Maybe they came with one of these “Plug and Play” camps and instead of helping, they pay caterers and workers. Who is going to punish them if we don’t leave them out in the cold? How will they ever learn?

If you read many personal accounts about Burning Man, you’ll soon discover a common theme: most people do not set out to be sparkleponies. In fact, many of them desire, more than anything else, to avoid being labeled as such. But most virgin burners do end up being sparkleponies at some point. There’s just no way to fully prepare for your first Burn.

I was definitely determined, once I started researching Burning Man, NOT to be a sparklepony, and yet time and time again I found myself out in the desert helplessly asking a stranger for some water. They call this phenomenon “going down the rabbit hole”…things just happen. And since anything’s possible and you don’t have anywhere to be, you go along with it. And you lose your headlamp and your friend g’s goggles, and you lose the beautiful belt that h gave you. But you know everything will be okay in the end. Your missing items will help someone else (as the fur vest I found on an art car saved me for the time I borrowed it) and others will help you. You might even experience some true Playa magic, as I did, in the form of missing items finding you again.

So your virgin burn, with any luck, you learn gratitude (for all the people who helped your annoying ass), humility (as the owner of said annoying ass), and you gain a desire to be of service to those around you, instead of just taking. And you discover the special kind of magic that occurs within a community of people who are dedicated to the welfare of all, of strangers, not just kin, not just friends, not just those who can benefit them. Those who experience the gifting spirit at Burning Man seldom feel the need or desire to take as much as they can get away with. See, the whole “without expectation of return” part of the giving culture means it’s redundant to try and get away with anything. You can relax. No one (living the Ten Principles correctly) is keeping score of how much you give vs. how much you take. If you want to be Lazy Asshole Person, you can.

When most people around you are making a studious effort not to judge you, you start to notice something amazing…there is one single person ruling over all of those judgments you imagined coming at you from every direction. One person is orchestrating them into a chorus of paranoia and self doubt. And that’s you. Even if no one else is judging you for being Lazy Asshole Person..especially when no one else is judging you…you will not want to be that person for very long. Trust me.

It’s one of those things you learn by living. Come to Burning Man and see. I think this is the primary reason the festival is so addictive, so generative, so inspiring:

The whole world, when you think about it, is just a bunch of people looking out for each other, trying to protect and love one another, making and doing cool shit to show one another, to make each other’s lives better, to be of service to the community, to improve the planet we share. The world is just like Burning Man, only there’s a bunch of antiquated, barbaric, and unnecessary shit mixed in, like money, like class systems, like abysmally huge imbalances in the way we value labor, like war.

Why does Burning Man give people hope for humanity?

Because…we’re so close, guys. Really. Come and see. We’re so, so close.

 

Spark

I just finished watching “Spark: A Burning Man Story” and it reaffirmed for me all of the things I experienced, and reignited the fire inside of me to do whatever I can to help spread this phenomenon. People play down the power of Burning Man and what the community stands for and what it means for humanity: It’s a fun social experiment. It’s a unique vacation. It’s inspiring. It gives one hope.

I think it’s way, way more than that.

First I learned about Whiteness Theory, and I was like “Eureka!” and then I read “Pedagogy of the Oppressed” and said, “Here is my hypocrisy-proof ethical model, done and done.” And then I go to Burning Man and …holy shit. I think the empathetic, trust-first, ask-questions-later, sharing economy type models are spreading so fast because humanity is hungry for an upgrade. We’ve got a lightning-fast, intelligent and empathetic globalized society still run by antiquated, barbaric and error-riddled systems of government. Everything in this world has been rapidly evolving but the social order. It’s time for a change. In Egypt, in Iran, in China, in Chicago, in Detroit, in Mexico, everyone is looking around and saying: Jesus H. Christ, can’t we do better than THIS shitshow?

This is what Burning Man means to me: I think it’s the Great Blueprint. I think it’s the common ground. I think it’s the idea that could unite the world. It’s our model for rethinking the way society works. I don’t believe in a static utopia, only the constantly evolving attempt, but I swear to goddess, Burning Man is the closest mankind has gotten to a moral code that could sustain a working utopia.

More on that later.

In any case, I was very impressed with “Spark.” As you can probably tell, I am very passionate about Burning Man and the heart and soul of what it represents, and I thought it was a well made documentary that captured the spirit of Burning Man, including its very multifaceted nature and the range of participation levels, excellently.

M for Mature

Last night, GTA V threw me another curve ball, told me to put my money where my mouth is, in the form of a scene where the player tortures a dude for information using a variety of instruments, from a heavy wrench to a car battery to gasoline. I felt myself cringing again, wondering “is this okay?” and feeling a bit incensed.

So I told myself, “Yep, I’ve established for myself once again that I don’t believe there is any problem, big or small, that violence won’t make worse,” and then I relaxed and calmly watched my friend pretend torture the fuck out of an imaginary human. (P.S. Yes, that is almost an exact paraphrase of what Marie’s therapist tells her on Breaking Bad when she fantasizes about killing Walt with poison.*)

And then fucking GTA V, with its lovely subversive politics, has a little rant about how torture never got any information out of anyone, and the politicians should just admit that they do it for fun. Because it feels good to hurt your enemies.

 

*Her reply: “I know, I would never hurt anyone…it just…feels good to think about” = pretty good summary of my post yesterday

 

The Ethics of Fantasy

I found this event last weekend, and it’s the perfect segue into something I’ve been thinking about for the past couple of weeks:

Race: The Final Frontier

‘Even the most hardcore Pervert will back away from the topic of Race Play. The idea of playing into stereotypes, slurs, scenes that recall grotesque horrors from some of the darkest moments of human history is, in many folk’s opinions, best left buried un-addressed.

But for those who are drawn to explore deeper and deeper crevasses of our psyche, the desire to explore even that taboo a play style can be compelling. From the man of Jewish descent who wishes to experience domination at the hands of a partner in SS Regalia, to the African American woman who secretly harbors a fantasy of being forced to submit to “the white man”, to a Japanese-American who ponders a recreation scene of an WWII internment camp, these desires are not to be closeted in shame, but explored and discussed. Even if you are not desirous of acting, real time, on these fantasies, taking charge of them and letting go of the guilt can be an amazing release. And, if you DO decide to act on these fantasies, you’ll get some tips on how to approach this very edgy play, what to do if things do not fall out as planned, and the pros and cons of doing these scenes in public venues. Expect the unexpected, and prepare to surprise yourself.’

Is this alarming? Oh, absolutely. That a part of us, any one of us, could be attracted to dark and twisted things? Yes. It’s icky, the things that make certain people shudder with glee. Prime example: teenagers (or adults, for that matter), playing violent video games.

Recently, my neighbor, i, got Grand Theft Auto V. The first few times you hear someone cackle happily over seeing a man punch and kick a woman, or watching a guy get curbstomped, you’re bound to feel mild (or severe) revulsion. What sick people, you might think initially. How could they take pleasure from such inhumane acts? 

Or maybe that’s just my judgy ass. In any case, I found myself thinking something along the lines of Oh you like to beat women? You misogynistic… but then my bullshit alarm went off.

Note on the bullshit alarm: although it is something I prize greatly these days, for a long time growing up, I didn’t recognize it for what it was. I knew my conscience was there to tell me when I was doing something “bad.” Once in a while, I’d get this icky, uncomfortable feeling when I was hurting or lying to someone, and it wouldn’t go away until I made it right.

But every once in a while, usually in the midst of a discussion with someone, I’d find myself feeling angry, small, like I was losing ground. I figured I was just feeling that way because the other person was being a jerk. The bullshit alarm was trying to tell me pretty much the opposite, though: I was the jerk, here. I felt like I was losing ground because I was. When I hear my bullshit alarm going off now, instead of squirming and getting angry at the jerks making me feel this way, I listen closely, because if I’m wrong, I want to do something about it.

A bullshit alarm does simply this: it alerts you to cognitive dissonance. Any time you’re holding opposing bits of knowledge, oxymoronic beliefs, or mutually contradictory ideas about the world, whenever you touch on either of the conflicting ideas, your bullshit alarm will start to sound. As I was judging my friends for being violent towards women, my bullshit alarm went off. When I thought about it some more, it occurred to me that I know them each personally to be feminists, fairly sensitive to and knowledgable about domestic violence and similar issues, and furthermore routinely kind and respectful towards me and other women.

It also occurred to me that the violence being enacted on the screen isn’t real. It’s a zero consequence environment. No one is getting hurt. When these boys are pleasuring in the destruction of others, they are not pleasuring in the actual hurting of actual people. They are enjoying imaginary destruction. At whose expense? Nobody’s.

Now, I’m a firm believer, along with our revered Founding Fathers, that the Pursuit of Happiness is a right that every one of us has innate claim to. I would go further than that, however: I think a utopic society would seek to enable all of its members to do so. Anything that makes people happy and doesn’t immediately harm others is pretty okay.

That’s not all there is to it. There are a whole lot of other, interlocking ideas that contribute to a working philosophy that points me towards contributing to the world, finding inner peace, and loving people well, but that’s the gist of it. Nobody hurt? You’re having fun? YES! Do THAT.

Well, what about dark impulses? They exist. They Are. And they are titillating. One of the limitations or constraints of this animal form we’re in, and possibly just one of the things that exists in the universe at large, is the desire for destruction, the urge to tear down, the lust for death and pain and mutilation. We want to hurt things less powerful than us sometimes, just because we can. Sometimes we want things more powerful to hurt us. Sometimes we desire our own pain. Is it bad to feel attracted to the idea of horrible things?

You know, I don’t think so. I think the world of ideas, like the world of dreams, is a wonderful playground of possibilities, all of which can and should be thoroughly explored and enjoyed. And even if it was bad to simply possess a desire, it’s a ridiculous battle trying to fight back the wellspring of them that simmer up through the unconscious to tickle and tease the conscience mind. Anything that looks like success can be easily revealed to be unsustainable repression–but that’s my experience (and a large number of Catholic boys’ experience…and multiple Republican senators’  experience…and etc….just saying’). You can’t stop yourself from desiring; only from acting on desires.

I used to look askance at people with a lot of facial hair/tattoos/piercings, sexual deviants, and people who didn’t believe in God. Now I tend to trust them just a little bit more than the squeaky-clean cookie-cutter types, because chances are, they’re living more honestly, which in my book means doing what the fuck they want to do. People who are doing what the fuck they want to do have less investment in controlling other people’s lives, they’re less likely to fuck with other people’s right to do what they fuck they want to do, and they are more likely to have fully operational bullshit alarms.

When you’re constantly trying to re-align your beliefs and desires to match someone else’s model, your bullshit alarm tends to go off pretty frequently, until you teach it not to, or you teach yourself not to hear it. Or, like I did, you just go around thinking other people are jerks for making you feel small, trying to pretend you don’t like things you actually like, spending all that time trying to convince yourself that you’re not a bad person when you could just enjoy the fantasy and remember the comforting reality that as fun as it sounds to rape someone in the eye socket, you don’t like hurting others and would, in fact, take much less pleasure from such a thing in real life than you do in this sick video game.

In the end, it’s extremely illogical to have the same feelings about video game characters as you do about human beings. If you can’t differentiate the two, that’s a whole new can of worms. Killing video game characters does not make you feel more okay about killing people unless you have some deeper issues. It’s more like a pressure valve: by indulging your sick, nasty unconscious with video game violence, you’re stopping it from building up into a craving for actual violence. Disagree? Show me some research. (I like research!)

How does this all connect to Race Play?

The scenario described in the excerpt above is pure fantasy. It’s not an exercise of actual, irrevocable power differentials. It’s a consensual activity between people who are invested in one another’s pleasure and enjoyment.

My rape fantasy is much the same. In fact, I would put it on the same level as “taking back the night”–living out the experience of being helpless, with my boyfriend or girlfriend playing the role of someone using me for pleasure. Instead of reinforcing how fun rape is, rape play actually reinforces the fact that a) this person could, indeed, hurt me at any time but chooses, all the time, not to–and will stop immediately should I ask, and b) sure, power imbalance can be sexy from either side of the divide. I typically get off on the submissive end of things, but I’m actually quite turned on by being in control as well. Just as I frequently like to imagine myself helpless and innocent at the mercy of a sensual and greedy predator, I sometimes like to imagine my lover as a tragic victim of my powerful, unstoppable lust.

Maybe you have never felt any inkling of any of theses urges. Maybe you’ve had experiences that push such things far out of the realm of playfulness and pleasure and into the realm of PTSD. The actual experience of rape, as we all can imagine, is nothing like the fantasy version. It’s not fun to be at the mercy of someone for whom your well-being is little more than a side note. Similarly, the actual experience of curbstomping must be deeply shocking and dehumanizing for the aggressor, let alone the victim.

There will always be things people do that make us feel icky inside. Is that a sign that we should stop the other person from doing them? Hell no. That’s a sign that there are still things we can’t face up to with calm rationality–things we experience through an emotion-laden fog. We have options when this happens. We can go the other way (and find our thinking eternally driven to and fro by our emotions, by our fog) or we can flip on our fog lights (I’m experiencing strong emotions; what does that mean?) and cautiously move forwards.

With my fog lights on and my reason backing me up, I found myself enjoying GTA V. Giggling after dragging a little cyber-woman under my car for many yards. Trying to get one of the more adept players to hijack a bus and drive it off the bridge. Walking up to some poor cyber asshole and punching him right in the head. I haven’t noticed a decrease in my basic empathy, but I’ll keep you posted. Likewise re: whenever my lovers and I act out this rape fantasy I’ve never fully gotten to indulge.