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A Burner Lexicon: Radical Self-Reliance

Posted in A Burner Lexicon, Burning Man, and Guest Bloggers

A Burner serves pancakes with butter and jam to other self-reliant participants. Black Rock City, 2008. Photo by Jeanine Anderson.

Radical Self-Reliance, Though it has its origins on a San Francisco beach, the home of Burner culture is the Black Rock Desert — an expanse of dusty, unforgiving emptiness with no shade, no drinkable water and almost nothing alive at all. The idea of going to such a harsh place to throw a big festival requires a certain degree of competency from its participants. Along with understanding the risk of injury or death (see safety third), Burners also agree to bring everything they need for a week in the desert or whatever supplies are appropriate for the environment and duration of their regional.

Radical Self-Reliance is obviously at odds with other Burner Principles like Gifting and Communal Effort. Very few theme camps or art projects at these events are one person efforts, after all, and it would be a strange Burning Man event for most if they ate only their own food and never visited a costume camp or a bar camp. Despite the best efforts of the greeters there are those who show up with few supplies out of laziness, whether they term it an “art project” to depend on community generosity or are planning on relying on sex appeal.

At the same time, the volunteers that make these events happen are some of the most competent people you will ever meet. They might be skilled in anything from welding to accounting, skills in many cases learned through a Burner project or gained through their connections with others.

Radical Self-reliance is one of the ways we discover our art — by relying on our own abilities, we learn what we are capable of and what we still need to learn.

The Lexicographer has been soliciting opinions from other thoughtful Burners on the Ten Principles. Below you will find another opinion, but more are still welcomed. Use the contact information at the top to send your thoughts.

For more entries in A Burner Lexicon, visit

Brandon is the writer behind the Burning Log, a source of often sarcastic Burner opinion. He wrote:

In 2009, a group of Aussies told me a tale about a young woman who conned a pilot into flying her to Burning Man. She arrived dressed in a string bikini and with only two supplies: a cowboy hat and a single jug of water. The Aussies were astounded that anyone would have the gumption to travel to one of the harshest landscapes in America with so little in tow. They rounded up their neighbors and provided her with a tent, a sleeping bag and other supplies. She spent the week dancing and roaming from meal camp to meal camp. By all reports, she not only survived the week, she had a great time. Heed this warning: if you don’t look fantastic in a swimsuit and/or don’t have a lovely pair of breasts at your disposal, do not attempt this. You. Will. Die.