Grover Norquist Does Burning Man
Anti-tax activist Grover Norquist went to the Burning Man festival in the Nevada desert and tells the tale in The Guardian.
What is Burning Man?
It is a larger version of … what? Woodstock? That was a bunch of teenagers coming to watch artists perform. At Burning Man, everyone is expected to be a participant. Burners bring their art work, their art cars, their personal dress and/or undress: everyone is on stage. The story of Woodstock was thousands of young people, without the sense to bring their own food and water, being rescued by the state police and sensible bourgeois rural folks. The story of Burning Man is one of radical self-reliance.
It is a more intense than … what? Not quite the Edinburgh Fringe Festival. Burning Man is an arts festival in the middle of the Nevada desert. It takes hours to get there, and you must bring what you eat or wear or need: you cannot buy anything there. Burning Man is more like Brigadoon – a western ghost town that springs to life. Dust storms. Cold nights. Black Rock City is completely built and then taken apart and disappeared each year, by 65,000 people.
Burning Man is greater than I had ever imagined. I have been to large demonstrations in favor of the environment, and the trash left behind is knee-deep. At Burning Man, you are hard-pressed to find a cigarette butt on the ground. There are no trash bins. Participants carry it in, and they carry it out. I have been to the Louvre. It is a very big place with many nice paintings. I knew that. I was not disappointed. Burning Man is more like Petra, the lost city in Jordan, which I found more impressive than its advance billing or reputation.
Some self-professed “progressives” whined at the thought of my attending what they believed was a ghetto for liberal hippies. Yes, there was a gentleman who skateboarded without elbow or kneepads – or any knickers whatsover. Yes, I rode in cars dressed-up as cats, bees and spiders; I watched trucks carrying pirate ships and 30 dancers. I drank absinthe. But anyone complaining about a Washington wonk like me at Burning Man is not a Burner himself: The first principle of Burning Man is “radical inclusiveness”, which pretty much rules out the nobody-here-but-us liberals “gated community” nonsense.
Before my wife and I arrived in Nevada last week, we were showered with kind comments from Burners disassociating themselves from the idea that Burning Man belongs to any political camp. Indeed, I found political allies who gave me wonderful advice – they had been participating for years.
A community that comes together with a minimum of “rules” demands self-reliance – that everyone clean up after themselves and help thy neighbor. Some day, I want to live 52 weeks a year in a state or city that acts like this. I want to attend a national political convention that advocates the wisdom of Burning Man.
I was invited to speak to a group one night for an hour. Moments before I spoke, I was told that I was the last speaker in a series focusing on psychedelic drugs. My talk was on freedom. I left untouched the cup of coffee and opened soda at my side. The questions lasted two hours. We had a ball.
The demand for self-reliance at Burning Man toughens everyone up. There are few fools, and no malingerers. People give of themselves – small gifts like lip balm or tiny flashlights. I brought Cuban cigars. Edgy, but not as exciting as some “gifts” that would have interested the federal authorities.
I’m hoping to bring the kids next year.
On my last day of my first Burning Man, at the Reno airport, a shoeless man (he had lost his shoes in the desert) was accosted by another dust-covered Burner carrying sneakers: “Take these,” he said. “They are my Burning Man shoes.” The shoeless man accepted the gift with dignity.
Cross-posted from The Sensible Center