A nonsensical pilgrimage to the Black Rock Desert


Somethings make perfect sense.  Once a person gets used to the technology changes that gave it birth, the Internet and all of its applications and uses makes perfect sense.   The growth of major cities into multimillion person centers of commerce, culture and religion makes perfect sense once you understand their location and natural resources.  Even a city like Mecca makes sense when a person knows that there are a billion Muslims in the world and each one hopes, at least once in a lifetime, to make a pilgrimage to Mecca.   Once the technology was developed for making movies the long-term development and sophistication of the movie industry makes perfect sense.   Banking makes sense, grocery retail makes sense, postal service makes sense, the importance of cars makes sense, marriage makes sense, aging, as ugly as it is, makes sense  – lots and lots of things make sense.  But not everything.

I understand the annual Hajj or pilgrimage to Mecca; each year approximately 3 million people spend 5 days in Mecca performing the a ritual that has been performed since the 7th century and even before Islam there were pilgrimages to the Kaaba in Mecca. For centuries every Muslim has thought of going to Mecca – it is one of the five basic principles of Islam.   It makes total sense in a religious context.  However, I do not understand another pilgrimage, now in its 26th year – Burning Man.

At the moment, some 60,000 people are sitting in the Black Rock Desert of northern Nevada.  Every year for a week or more, people gather on the playa; they bring with them works of art, costumes, their children, bicycles and a sense of tolerance for diversity in appearance and behavior; with limited water, hot, glaring sun, no shade, constant winds, dust and a hundred other challenges of living in a temporary city a hundred miles from civilization, the pilgrims annually act out a very unique ritual.  It is a cultural phenomenon and attracts world-wide attention.  The Reno newspaper, the Gazette-Journal, posts pictures and videos twice daily from Burning Man.  But if you don’t get the Gazette, you can find the pictures online and on other media outlets worldwide.  Over the next month or so, there will be hundreds of articles written on Burning Man and its importance to art and culture.

How and why did it happen?  The details of its history and a list of the events and happenings on the playa don’t explain the phenomenon, they only describe it.  At least, none of it makes sense to me, and that leads me to think that somethings just don’t make sense – but they exist all the same.  What explains the popularity and economic impact of the Superbowl?  What explains the “reality TV” phenomenon?  Why was “My Big, Fat Greek Wedding” so successful?  Why Hitler, Roosevelt, Alexander the Great, Napoleon, Socrates or Attila the Hun? Somethings make sense and somethings do not make sense; I cannot get a closer to the truth at the moment, so I think I will go for a walk – it is good for my health and that makes sense to me.  And maybe if the Black Rock Desert was closer I would walk by and have a look.

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2 Responses to “A nonsensical pilgrimage to the Black Rock Desert”


  1. 1 rexdstock1 September 2, 2012 at 8:31 am

    Burning Man is simply an attempt to show the world that there are different ways of thinking about the world, that our mission should be to leave this world by contributing ideas that helps sustain it for others, and to leave the playa in better shape than it was before…

    The last part is tough and more symbolic, because, as any good environmentalist will tell you, playas are delicate ecosystems that should not have vehicles tearing it up…

    ________________________________

  2. 2 Ken Adams September 2, 2012 at 10:38 am

    The question is not about the intent or purpose of the organizers, but how it captures the imagination of 60,000 people willing to life in the desert for a week; and even if that were self-evident, and it is not to me, why has it captured the imagination of the world media? And except for going to and fro – on the playa they are no mechanized vehicles.


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