Burning man’s #metoo problem

Burning man opens its gates today to ~70,000 burners and virgins, eager to express themselves, participate and enjoy the dynamics of one of the world’s most inclusive, radical and innovative communities.

Many people are changed by Burning Man, the vast majority for the better but some for the worse. As a glass-half empty kinda guy, I want to talk a about Burning Man’s constitutional failure to protect the innocent.

To put this in context, consider Burning Man’sĀ 10 Principles, most of which boil down to “let everyone do what they want, no matter how weird you might think it is.”

B.E.D. has the right idea.

But these ideals of “radical inclusion” do not touch on the most important element of freedom. i.e., freedom from being harassed by those “radically” photographing, approaching, andĀ touching others without their consent. Assault (menacing approach) and battery (actual physical contact) are, of course, banned at Burning Man in exactly the same way that they are banned in the “default world,” but they are not explicitly called out as inappropriate in the 10 Principles, which is why there have been more reports of sexual harassment, unwanted groping and rape at Burning Man.

Most Burners are aware of these issues, and the Bureau of Erotic Discourse (B.E.D.) has been active for years in promoting consent before engagement, but those efforts have not been adopted into the 10 Principles that are plastered all over Burning Man, featured prominently in the handbook sent to all ticket buyers, and so on.

My one-handed conclusion is that the Burning Man Organization (the Borg) must revise its constitution to add an 11th Principle: “Consent is more important than your radical expression, so ask first and anything other than Yes means No.”

Author: David Zetland

I'm a political-economist from California who now lives in Amsterdam.

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