Burning Man Symbolizes Western Civilization’s Devolution Into Debauchery

by Glenn Franco Simmons

Over the past week, competing with heart-breaking images of Hurricane Harvey were images from Burning Man in the Nevada desert that glorify hedonism and debauchery.

Approximately 70,000 festival-goers, inebriated with the excesses of materialism, gleefully partied away without a care in the world, while hundreds of thousands suffered, dozens died and thousands more were left without homes, possessions and pets in Texas.

Risking their own lives, regular people, as well as official first-responders, banded together to rescue hundreds, if not thousands, of residents facing drowning and death.

Could there be a greater contrast, a more profound dichotomy, of the American psyche?

After all, I didn’t read anything about prayers being said at Burning Man for Harvey’s victims, nor did I read anything about a Burning Man fundraiser to help victims (if there were prayers and/or a fundraiser, please let me know in the comments).

Tragically, there was a real burning man this year. A man ran directly into the large fire that was consuming a reportedly 40-foot-tall Burning Man effigy. Even though he was pulled from the flames, he died.

The tragedy occurred at a festival that had the audacity to claim this year’s event a spiritual quest. Equating a carnal festival — which is known for nudity, orgies, drugs and alcohol*— with the Divine is something I wouldn’t do, but festival organizers did.

“Beyond the dogmas, creeds, and metaphysical ideas of religion, there is immediate experience,” according to the High Authority known as the Burning Man website.

“It is from this primal world that living faith arises. In 2017, we will invite participants to create interactive rites, ritual processions, elaborate images, shrines, icons, temples, and visions. Our theme will occupy the ambiguous ground that lies between reverence and ridicule, faith and belief, the absurd and the stunningly sublime. The human urge to make events, objects, actions, and personalities sacred is protean. It can fix on and inhabit anyone or anything. This year our art theme will release this spirit in the Black Rock Desert.”

Without any sense of irony or introspection, Burning Man’s website has the chutzpah to claim the festival as sacred.

“Sacred things appear to come from some profoundly other place that is beyond the bounds of space and time,” it proclaims. “It is as if a window is thrown open on another world that is more real than real. This absolute uniqueness of all sacred things releases powerful emotions: joy, awe, wonder, dread, and, in its most transcendent form, pure exaltation. The sacred speaks to us of vastness and of union with a power larger than our conscious selves. The sacred gives us access, it is felt, to greater being.”

A festival steeped in materialism and drowning in excess is a spiritual path to the Divine? Are you serious?

“This year’s theme is an attempt to reinvent ritual in our post post-modern world,” the Burning Man website proudly declares. “For this purpose, we will disregard assertions of belief and concentrate instead on the immediate experience of play. Beliefs contain, define, and limit meaning. They can reduce truth to a rational commodity. But play can free us to envision truths of which we have no proof or warrant. Such play, as we conceive it, breaks down the distinction that divides belief from make-believe. Whole-hearted and creative play induces self-surrender to experience that is beyond the scope of reasoned thought.”

OK, so you are going to “play” your way into a spiritual state in the middle of a hot Nevada desert with tens of thousands of others. Does the scorching heat free you to “envision truths” that you say you seek? Do the “playfully” designed art-less vehicles transport you to some sort of dust-storm Zen?

Were there scribes armed with iPads to write down the wisdom revealed by such a momentous spiritual gathering? I mean, we would not want the profound truths that were playfully gleaned to disappear from humankind. They could hold the key to future world peace, couldn’t they?

Just so you know, the elite, the wealthy, Hollywood royalty, musicians, Silicon Valley millionaires and billionaires, and other self-professed personages, as well as the common folk, all suffer hardships at Burning Man, or so says Chris Taylor, who wrote a Tolstoy-like treatise about the post-modern festival in Mashable.

“… This is a week-long art party in a handmade city in an environment that is doing its level best to kill you,” he opined. “Either the sun is baking dry ground that is blinding white, leeching water from your body, or the wind is blasting mile-high storms of dust across this enormous barren plain at fifty miles an hour, enough to take your tent away if it isn’t attached to rebar, or a starry desert night is damn-near freezing you to death.”

I guess I’m supposed to feel sorry for Taylor and his fellow party-goers, but I’m more concerned about the plight of the Yazidis, for instance, than I am for a bunch of spoiled party-goers who presumably delude themselves into believing that Burning Man is some sort of spiritual quest.

But, wait, the suffering gets worse.

“Occasionally the climate likes to remind you you’re actually partying on an ancient lake bed — the playa — and rains for days until the solid dusty ground turns to thick soupy mud that adds inches to your shoes in seconds,” Taylor whines.

Yeah, in the grand scheme of human suffering, such as running for your life as ISIS attempts to liquidate you, your family and your village, the pampered and flamboyant Burning Man party-goers are sure suffering, aren’t they? Oh, the horror.

Facing such tribulations begs the question: Who, in their right minds, would want to brave such dangers?

“Who thrives in that environment? People who are a little bit crazy, quite a bit determined, and a whole lot of wiry and smart,” Taylor proudly admits. “People with an Iggy Pop-style lust for life. Here are punks of all stripes: cyberpunks, steampunks, biker punks, punk punks. People who do what it says on the ticket — voluntarily assume the risk of death. People who are brought roaringly to life in this killer of a desert, and fight fiercely to build an all-inclusive volunteer-driven civilization that lasts for as long as a mayfly.”

Burning Man attendees are so self-delusional that they are often described as finding a “non-monetary” way to live, but Burning Man is dependent on money — and LOTS of it. After all, there are vehicle and attendance fees. Many attendees come from far away, so there are flight, hotel and food costs.

And, don’t forget the tall piles of cash that go into making all the sculpture art, gadgets and other things possible. If there were not very, very, very deep pockets, Burning Man wouldn’t exist as it does.

Plus, Burning Man, the organization, pulls in millions of dollars in revenue.

Far from requiring any real sacrifice necessitated by a sincere spiritual quest, Burning Man symbolizes Western Civilization’s devolution into extravagant self-indulgence. If you doubt me, Google it, or look at Burning Man images on Twitter. It’s enough to turn one’s stomach.

The wasteful materialists fool themselves into believing they “leave no trace” on the Earth, but that neglects to take into account those who take carbon-producing jets to travel from distant locales into whatever airport (often Reno) they land at, all the carbon-fueled cars and trucks that roar into the desert, the wasteful misuse of resources that go into constructing all kinds of boorish kitsch art in the form of motorized and non-motorized contraptions, the fireworks, and the annual profligate burning of a wooden effigy (Saturday) and an irreverently described temple (also wooden, on Sunday) without any environmental awareness of the trees that produced the lumber or the greenhouse gases released in the toxic smoke.

Burning Man is the pinnacle of a soul-less materialistic civilization that flaunts its hedonism and glorifies its debauchery at the neon-lit altar of the high god of materialism: the burning-man effigy itself, which represents no humble spiritual rebirth.

On the contrary, the effigy represents plutocratic excess by the self-entitled and privileged children of a culture that promotes consumerist extravagance that culminates in the wasteful burning of wood that could be put to much better use.

It’s no surprise that self-absorption — antithetical to a true spiritual quest — is required to enjoy Burning Man.

That a man died in this spirit-less setting should not be surprising.

* (Sources: Burning Man advice column, Sex At Burning Man, Debauchery At Burning Man, Naked, Get High & Orgies, Drug-Addled Debauchery, What Drugs Are At Burning Man?, Drugs, Booze & Sex, Burning Man Turns 30, and Burning Man Is Bad For Environment.)