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Opinions and other thoughts on A Burner Lexicon

Posted in A Burner Lexicon, and Burning Man

The rocket effigy ignites. Pyropolis 2005. Photo by Kit O'Connell.

In case I haven’t said it explicitly enough before, A Burner Lexicon is my attempt to define Burner culture as I see it and have experienced it during my time participating in these events. It is by its nature opinionated, and biased toward my experience. I hope it accurately reflects others’ experiences, and I think to a large extent it does. But there are definitely those who will disagree with me — and I hope to hear from them.

Today I put up a Lexicon entry (for “severely dehydrated”) that turned out to be incorrect — and possibly an inaccurate reflection on the behaviors of the Rangers, one of the groups I have the utmost respect for in our culture. As soon as it became clear to me that it wasn’t a “true” entry, I removed it from the lexicon.

I always try to respond to feedback — I’m not interested in glossing over any aspects of our culture, but I am interested in improving my work to reflect it better. I’ve corrected my entries many times and will continue to do so as I receive comments, emails, and other feedback — even months after I post them, if necessary. I’ve done this many times already and have tried to credit the contributors where possible.

I’m also interested in reflecting as many voices as possible. Comments are a good place to start — I encourage my readers to respond to any of my entries. I love getting comments and hearing your feedback.

However I am especially interested in reflecting a diversity of opinions in my upcoming entries on the 10 Burner Principles. I’ve privately emailed a few ‘great Burner thinkers’ but I’d also like to hear from more — what does the Gift Economy mean to you? What are the limits of Radical Inclusivity? Send me your thoughts — you can always reach me at kitoconnell at pobox dot com.

On the main page of the Lexicon, I call this a Devil’s Dictionary for the Playa. I’ve been doing this Burn thing for decade, and so my view has likely become cynical in places, and ridiculously starry-eyed in others. No matter how many people contribute, this will always remain my window on the community — ‘Burner vocabulary as seen through Kit’s glasses’ as one friend of mine recently put it. I hope you continue to enjoy looking through them with me.

As always, A Burner Lexicon can be found at

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  • Hey, Kit. I didn’t see the original post before you took it down, but can’t imagine why an apology is necessary.

    Burners, in my experience, make a big show about how they poke their thumbs in the eyes of “mundane” society. If they have a problem with being criticized, fuck ’em. That’s how it feels when the shoe’s on the other foot.

    Again, I didn’t see your original posting. What horrible thing did you say?

    • Kit

      I said that Rangers use ‘severely dehydrated’ as code for ‘this person is drunk and belligerent.’ I was told by some Rangers and people I respect that this is not true. I think some people may use this in the community in general, and I will redefine the word if I can verify this.

      More than that someone wrote to me to tell me that they find the Lexicon to reflect my viewpoint and not the global community so I thought I’d make it explicit — yeah, of course these reflect my opinion, and my viewpoint, and not everyone else’s.

      Finally I really would like more input from my readers, especially on the upcoming Burner Principles entries.

  • Jennifer

    Hey Kit. I boosted you a bit on facebook. I figure I’ve got some folks through there that are burners and Rangers and they might be willing and able to come read and participate here. :) Hope it’s ok…

    • Kit

      By all means. In fact, I just installed the social networking links you see on the bottom of this page to make it easier to Like and share my blog. I appreciate anyone who feels moved to share.

  • Will

    If you want some thorny and difficult questions to chew on regarding Radical Inclusion, check out the Wikipedia pages on “Temporary Autonomous Zone” and “Hakim Bey,” and then Robert P. Helms’ very well cited article, “Leaving out the ugly part”. Helms airs some grievances that I consider trivial, such as the ones about Bey being against abortion and Bey’s use of Latin, but he also makes a very solid case that Bey, besides being a philosophical godfather of Burning Man, is a pedophile attracted to boys who are barely pubescent or even pre pubescent. Should Bey or similar people be banned from Burning Man? Should the adults of Burning Man exclude anyone under 18 in the first place, since Black Rock City does tend to have a lot of public sex and drugs around, and the legal liability and ethical gray areas are indeed pretty darn threatening? Should Black Rock City be like any other city, and expected to include both kids and a few pedophile adults, and use normal “reality camp” mechanisms like parental supervision to avoid trouble? Plenty of fodder for angry arguments in all three of those questions.

    And speaking of consent, the page on the Ten Principles finishes the entry on “Radical Self-expression” by saying “It is offered as a gift to others. In this spirit, the giver should respect the rights and liberties of the recipient.” Just where is the line between performance art and unethical harassment, anyway? When and how should you or I or the rangers try to intervene if some jerks decide to set up a theme camp that interacts with bystanders in a way that we think is harassing, like enticing a bunch of half-delirious trippers into their camp and then cranking up the Faces of Death video after they’re inside? What are some examples of times when that line between self-expression and disrespect has been pushed or crossed at burn events?

    Of course, it sounds like you’re really looking for statements of fact and opinion as you consider the ten principles, and I’m just asking unpleasant questions whose answers I’m not sure about. But I hope that’s of some use to you as well.

    • Kit

      Actually these are exactly the kinds of questions I am hoping to ask. Thanks for your comments, I may quote them. Drop me an email if you have more thoughts on the Principles.

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