“Humankind periodically goes through a speedup of its affairs, thereby experiencing the race between the renewable vitality of the living and the beckoning vitiation of decadence. In this periodic race, any pause becomes luxury. Only then can one reflect that all is permitted; all is possible.”
-The Apocrypha of Muad’Dib
To my eyes, this is the most intriguing aspect of Burning Man, irrespective of its transformation over time. This Grand Spectacle embodies and embraces both renewable vitality and gluttonous decadence while offering the luxury of pause to those who seek it.
All is permitted. All is possible.
“Possible,” not unlike its cousin, “potential,” is among the most dangerous words when used to argue for a swap of present wealth for future coin. Might we agree to eschew those people and ideas who offer little more than possibilities and potential? It would serve us well, as it is in their twined shadows that we too often drown our precious and shared now. For every forged ducat of possible, forever unspendable in the present, there are sunken galleons of real gold.
In his Society of Spectacle, Frenchman (and penultimate coward, but I digress) Guy Debord echoes in some sense, this skepticism of our contemporary deification of potential, when he argues that the history of social life can be understood as “the decline of being into having, and having into merely appearing.” Further, he argues — and I have to wholly concur with the sentiment — that this is the “historical moment at which the commodity completes its colonization of social life.”
Having reached this historical moment, the time for dreaming is past. Now is the time for doing. Or, perhaps, the conscious undoing of the dream-state doings. Given the pause provided to us by the luxury of fossil fuels, we’ve spent decades contemplating myriad futures while employing armies to mine the future. Jackhammers have replaced jack boots. Similar goals. Improved results.
Today with alarm bells ringing, rather than wake and do the hard work, we allow ourselves to be lulled back to sleep. Who doesn’t prefer the soft pillows of dreamland over the hard edges of waking life? Who wouldn’t rather selfishly indulge — for noble spiritual reasons, of course — in the ‘responsible abdication’ of actual responsibilities? We live in an age of immense peril, surrounded by imminent dangers whose increasingly audacious presentations are matched only by our willful blindness.
What do we watch instead? Our (smart) watches. And instead of investing in improving our reality, we invest more in virtual reality than it would require to feed and educate all those who go without. Rather than preserving the best of what’s left of our gorgeous planet, commence healing, and finally learning how to be good stewards, more than a few of our greatest minds are distracted by the possible potential of colonizing and dominating other worlds. What. The. Fuck. We already know what we need to know and possess the tools to do the work that must be done. There is a way. There is simply not nearly enough will.
The irony and hypocrisy of Burning Man are well-chronicled and are of little interest to me, as hypocrisy is a necessary function of the full-spectrum human experience. Of course, I will nod with a wry smile as the white hot flames of hyper-consumption lick and consume a Grand Effigy of each and every participant and likely suffer a small death of disappointment, knowing that my species has learned to commodify even the holiest of all that remains — the ashes.
Despite my misgivings about, and sometimes dour view of the character of my species, during my week on the playa among dear friends and the strangest of strangers, I earnestly vow to pause, seek, and permit because, after all … all is permitted and all is possible.
Update: I’m done with this particular spectacle. The marriage of Silicon Valley, which was once birthed by the psychedelic explorations of scientists and madmen alike (see John Markoff’s What the Dormouse Said: How the Sixties Counterculture Shaped the Personal Computer Industry), has become too incestuous for my taste. I do believe, too, that the LED-clad Oedipus will kill off his once flame-breathing father before long.