Burning the man and cooking the ribs


The neon-tubed Man at the 1999 event

It is Labor Day weekend, actually it is Monday and the end of the long weekend; in Reno the burners are beginning to dribble back into town covered with the white dust that marks off from the rest of the population.  In Sparks, people are wiping the last of the dripping fat and barbecue sauce from their faces. The annual Burning Man Festival in the Black Rock Desert 110 miles north of Reno drew over 50,000 people this year – up from 40,000 last year.  It is variously called an art event, a social event and a spiritual event; which I suppose depends on what you bring to the playa, what you do there and how you do it. It started over 25 years ago and moved to Nevada in 1990, by 1997 there were 10,000 people attending.  How many people will there be at Burning Man in another 25 years; will there be a Burning Man in 25 years?

Burning Man is growing the way events grow, or the way a new business concept grows.  It could become an event that last hundreds of years with generation after generation of devotees spending a week in the desert and the dust with thousands and thousands (dare we think millions) of like-minded people.  Or it could reach some point of being too big that might lead to too much control, too many rules that would reduce it to the state kind of experience that one might have on any holiday in any major city.

Reno has other events that are about the same place in their development – Hot August Nights, Reno Rodeo, the Nugget Rib-Cookoff, Balloon Races and the National Air Races.  All of these events attract many thousands of people to the area and their unique activities, somewhere between 150,000 to 50,000.  Each like Burning Man could continue to grow or they could whither and die due a variety of events.  However, this year when nearly every business is reporting less business all of these events attracted more people this year than last year (the balloon and air races are later this month, so we don’t know yet how many people will attend.  Hot August Nights is going to morph into two events next year with a second – actually a first as it will before the Reno event – event in Southern California next year.  Rib cookoffs already exist in many other communities – the Reno event tries to one-up the others by calling itself the Best in the West; rather subjective but for the moment the Nugget event is the largest of its kind. And of course there are many other rodeos and other balloon and air races around the country.

So that is a third possibility Burning Man could be a generic event with separate initiations or even franchises all over the country. I have no idea, but stuck as I am in thinking of change – evolution if you would – I don’t see anything as a fixed event, but as something in the process of transitioning from what it was “in the beginning” to what it will be or not be at some vague time in the future.  I am convinced that we have to learn to think that way to understand our world better.  I also think we have to understand change to be able to live successful in the economic world, our natural environment – there are very, very few human beings that live in a simple agricultural world or any other environment where plants and animals behavior determines the rules rather than an exchange of money determining them.  The economy is our natural world, our forests and our fields.  And like the real natural world of plants and animals our world is constantly changing and we have to be constantly adapting; whether that be when burning the man, cooking the ribs or driving cars from another era.

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