Burning Man co-founder Larry Harvey wrote the Ten Principles in 2004 as guidelines for the newly-formed Regional Network. They were crafted not as a dictate of how people should be and act, but as a reflection of the community’s ethos and culture as it had organically developed since the event’s inception.
Here, we offer our thoughts as Blind Burners, based on our experiences in Black Rock City 2019 and in the Multiverse burns of 2020.
First, we invite our friends in the Burning Man community to add an eleventh principle, which we feel is a pre-requisite for Immediacy, Radical Inclusion, and all that flows from those foundations. This principle is Accessibility.
We take your Radical Inclusion, your Immediacy, your Self Reliance and we raise you one “Accessibility”.
How does inclusion work when sign-up processes to online burns are confusing or have not been tested in multi-modal user testing with participants who may be visually impaired, or with other sensory, physical or cognitive disabilities?
How does inclusion work when you are in a room full of beautiful dancing souls but none of the visual splendour and movement is described? When voices don’t even announce their name so you can connect a voice with an identity, with a sequence of words and other expressions of self and community?
Virtual worlds offer the promise of improving on the physical world. Conferences can be a nightmare in the physical world. If you can’t see, how do you know who’s in a room? And how do you keep pushing yourself out of your comfort zone to start conversations, when folk keep wandering off without letting you know? Virtual worlds can address many of these challenges. But only if we as visually impaired participants can get through the door!
Our current focus is on the perspective of blind and partially sighted participants. Clearly there are many other groups who are currently excluded and discriminated against, both in their daily work and social lives and within our culture.
The Right to Culture
Article 27 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights states that “everyone has the right freely to participate in the cultural life of the community, to enjoy the arts and to share in scientific advancement and its benefits.” Cultural rights are, therefore, inseparable from human rights, as recognized in Article 5 of the 2001 UNESCO Declaration on Cultural Diversity, and can be defined as the right of access to, participation in and enjoyment of culture. This includes the right of individuals and communities to know, understand, visit, make use of, maintain, exchange and develop cultural heritage and cultural expressions, as well as to benefit from the cultural heritage and cultural expressions of others.
The Right to Burning Man Culture
So until our community and leadership improve their “Radical Inclusion” game, we humbly request that Accessibility be a principle in its own right.
Without it, “Radical Inclusion” feels empty to a great many individuals who are excluded from our culture. To quote a wise 2020 phrase du jour, this is not okay.
And even when our current goals for accessible digital culture and VR have been met, Accessibility is a journey, not an end state. Healthy societies change, reinvent, and harness technology in line with strong values. We accept that there may always be a small % of the world that is inaccessible to some, but a culture that knowingly and needlessly excludes hundreds of millions needs to reflect and change, now.
The 10 Principles
Let’s look at these. Plain format text are the original principles as set out by Larry Harvey. Blind Burners’ reflections in italic.
Immediate experience is, in many ways, the most important touchstone of value in our culture. We seek to overcome barriers that stand between us and a recognition of our inner selves, the reality of those around us, participation in society, and contact with a natural world exceeding human powers. No idea can substitute for this experience.
We at Blind Burners aree that this is, absolutely the most important touchstone of value in our culture.
Anyone may be a part of Burning Man. We welcome and respect the stranger. No prerequisites exist for participation in our community.
How do you dive into the Immediacy and Serendipity of the Burning Man Multiverse when your eyes function differently?
Burning Man culture invites us to place ourselves in strange situations and crazy constraints, to express ourselves with immediacy and a spirit of gifting and communal effort.
How do these principles survive when our community’s magic is created without a visually impaired perspective in mind?
Burning Man is devoted to acts of gift giving. The value of a gift is unconditional. Gifting does not contemplate a return or an exchange for something of equal value.
Oh my, how we’ve loved this. We’re only just getting started, but so far we’ve gifted Indian Head Massage, Camp Cuisine, Aluminet Shade Structures, Silly & Soulful Cabaret.
And we have plans for so much more.
In order to preserve the spirit of gifting, our community seeks to create social environments that are unmediated by commercial sponsorships, transactions, or advertising. We stand ready to protect our culture from such exploitation. We resist the substitution of consumption for participatory experience.
Nothing to add here.
Burning Man encourages the individual to discover, exercise and rely on his or her inner resources.
Awesome, we love being self-reliant.
How DOES a blind person navigate the world?
Our mental and physical self-reliance, creativity and harnessing of technology is off the scale.
We hope you enjoy exploring this with us as our community grows.
Radical self-expression arises from the unique gifts of the individual. No one other than the individual or a collaborating group can determine its content. It is offered as a gift to others. In this spirit, the giver should respect the rights and liberties of the recipient.
Awesome. This is why we are here.
In the default world we are Snowboarders, Burlesque Performers, Marathon Runners, Writers, Historians, Painters, Photographers, Choreographers, Videogamers, Climbers, Cavers, Chefs, Cyclists, Classically Trained Singers, MCs and more.
On playa… well, wait and see!
We are here to learn new stuff and dive beyond our comfort zones.
Visually Impaired Shibari workshops? Walk this way…
Our community values creative cooperation and collaboration. We strive to produce, promote and protect social networks, public spaces, works of art, and methods of communication that support such interaction.
Well, if our community values creative cooperation and collaboration, let’s strive to make our promotion and social networks, public spaces, works of art, and methods of communication and digital experiences accessible.
Remember that feeling as you kick on your bike pedals, turn the wheel, and begin propelling yourself that beautiful desert earth on the eighteenth century’s greatest invention. You take a left or two, a right or two, then get your first clear eyeline down let’s say 3, and make visual connect with the man. ‘There’s the man’ you say. ‘The what?’ your friend asks? Let’s say you’re blessed and you’re bringing a virgin to their first burn. They hear the gradually increasing volume of thumping bass, there’s a cloudy mess of light up ahead. Holy smoke what ARE these moving carnival floats? Art cars you say? That looks like a giant pineapple moving slowly along. Ummmmm, the sky is FILLED with green lasers spreading out like the quill of a peacock’s feather. How do they do that?
Let’s all spend some time thinking about how to describe this stuff excellently, to communicate some of they wonder, the drama, the beauty, the choice.
We value civil society. Community members who organize events should assume responsibility for public welfare and endeavor to communicate civic responsibilities to participants. They must also assume responsibility for conducting events in accordance with local, state and federal laws.
Leaving No Trace
Our community respects the environment. We are committed to leaving no physical trace of our activities wherever we gather. We clean up after ourselves and endeavor, whenever possible, to leave such places in a better state than when we found them.
We are down with this.
Our community is committed to a radically participatory ethic. We believe that transformative change, whether in the individual or in society, can occur only through the medium of deeply personal participation. We achieve being through doing. Everyone is invited to work. Everyone is invited to play. We make the world real through actions that open the heart.
We get it, accessibility sounds a little dry.
So come play with us. As we never tire of saying, we’ll look after you. That’s a promise.
We celebrate and recognise the value of our collective knowledge, skills and experiences. We seek opportunities to share and build upon this fundamental pillar of our community.
We value the transformative experience of sensual and consensual touch, play, and interaction. We believe that consent plays a vital part in our connectivity and community. Our vision is that all parties participate in a physical encounter from a place of enthusiasm and autonomy. Consent must be explicitly granted from an individual who is clearly in a state of mind to be able to grant it.
We at Blind Burners take this seriously