I'm tired of making fun of Objectivists. Let's make fun of Burning Man.
Having known of the existence of this "event" for decades, I never paid the slightest bit of attention to it. My knowledge of its workings was limited to the idea that it's a bunch of people getting stoned to the tits, listening to horrendous music, and watching something burn in effigy. Then, upon learning that someone I once knew is willingly attending this spectacle, I devoted five minutes to learning more about the event.
I have seen dumber things and I have seen bigger wastes of time, but never have I seen a stronger, more desperate effort to dress up selfishness in the language of nobility. It actually calls itself "an experiment in radical self-reliance.
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" If that is not enough to make you wish that everyone involved had one face and you were punching it, let's look at their idea of self-reliance and environmental responsibility.
First, the event is held in the middle of a pristine desert, one that certainly benefits from having a few thousand people drive into it, burn a lot of stuff, and camp there. But everyone packs out their own litter, so it's all OK! (note: every year there's a mountain of litter left behind). Second, it emphasizes its ecological responsibility by banning driving – which, you know, is kind of pointless since there's no need to drive once your there. And people drive hundreds of thousands of miles (collectively) to get there. So, yeah, after you drive 1500 miles to get there from Kentucky, no driving. Give Momma Earth a hug.
You know what else Momma likes? Gigantic wood fires. Those are environmentally friendly. Or the "artwork" created in 2007 which burned 900 gallons of jet fuel and 2000 gallons of propane to shoot flames everywhere. Even for hippies, watching this and talking about environmental responsibility is impressively stupid.
And now the best part.
The event is also an experiment in "decommodification", i.e. no cash transactions. Oddly enough this noble policy does not extend to the $300 admission fee. Cash is OK for that. At the event, though, in lieu of cash participants are encouraged to participate in a "gifting economy." Without saying so explicitly, I can think of no more obvious sign that you are going to end up blowing some guy named Chad for shrooms. Saying that the event's "economy" is based on "favors" is about as subtle as that massage parlor on the highway that offers "full service" massages.
People think I'm prudish when I go on this kind of rant but I should emphasize that I don't have a single critical thing to say about people going to the middle of nowhere, listening to godawful jam band shit, getting higher than Jesus, and circulating herpes. If that's what you want to do, by all means do it. What I find offensive are efforts to dress up such behavior in the pseudointellectual language of social consciousness. Burning Man attendees are no more going to the event to experiment with radical decommodification than sorority girls are going to Cancun Spring Break to experience foreign cultures. You are not being environmentally friendly or in any way making a political statement – you are going on an expensive vacation to do lots of drugs and blow strangers. That's great. Embrace it. Stop trying to assuage your consciences by pretending that it's a spiritual quest or a social experiment. Experiencing decommodification does not cost 300 good ol' American dollars and driving a thousand miles to watch an enormous open fire is not saving the environment. If you gave a shit about either of those issues you'd stay home.
But therein lies the rub. At home, who would be watching to validate what a good, crunchy progressive you are?
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