Tag Archives: Culture

Burning Man: A Reflective Culture

The post-Burning Man euphoria is slowly passing as the flood of photos, videos, and blog posts are hitting the Internet. The first wave has passed and the second wave will be coming soon. While most of the comments and thoughts are positive and joyful, there will be many that have had a hard time with the events of such a festival. This is no surprise from an event that is “whatever you want it to be” because time, study and history has shown the people will find joy in their internal joy and misery in their internal misery.

Burning Man has been referred to by many social scientists as a Sub-Culture or a Counter-Culture, though this is done with hesitation. Part of the reason for the hesitation is due to Burning Man not fitting the finer points of the definition of sub/counter culture. Using a wide brush definition, then any group that have more than a handful of people could be seen as a sub/counter culture and in many ways that worked with the Burning Man groups for a while. But the growth and diversity of the groups within the groups of the population of Burning Man has revived this discussion.

Burning is Not a Sub-Culture

The definition of a ‘sub-culture’ is: “a cultural group within a larger culture, often having beliefs or interests at variance with those of the larger culture” (Google). And the definition of a ‘counter-culture’ is: “a way of life and set of attitudes opposed to or at variance with the prevailing social norm” (Google). As it can be see here, the definitions of each is the same as the other. So for ease of communication, from this point forward both with be referred to as ‘sub-culture’.

Sub-culture is about the opposed view or a variance (the fact or quality of being different, divergent, or inconsistent [Google]) from the larger culture and at first glance Burning Man and all of the smaller communities that have branched from it does fit the definition of a sub-culture because what is seen on the surface is a complete lack of control and what looks like a society built only on the use of drug and acquisition of as much sex as possible. While there are those parts it is on the surface, because it is what is or has been the most shocking parts; and Americans love the shocking. But these things does not make Burning Man a sub-culture, and in fact it helps to prove the opposite, the Burning Man is in line with the current culture.

One of the largest reasons that I have found outside of people referring to Burning Man as a sub-culture is the names. Because Burning Man has a name and the people that self-associate with the location, event, and activities call themselves “Burner”; is the reason that many will believe that there is a sub-culture there instead of referring to it as a very large crowd within the larger culture.

A Reflective Culture

As the title of this paper indicated, in order to explain what Burning Man is to the larger culture, a new idea had to be born and this idea is a Reflective Culture. A Reflective Culture is “culture within a larger culture that will reflect the views of the larger culture in either minimizing form or heightened exaggerated form.” While there are many people that might argue with this idea, spending a week or more at Burning Man might help to point out that this definition is a truer one than calling Burning Man a sub-culture.

In an effort to show that Burning Man is a reflective culture, here are five brief examples of things that are within the current scope of the American Culture and are being either exaggerated or reduced in the behaviors of the members of the crowd:

#1: Non-violence and Redirected Violence

The Death Guild and Thunder Dome has become one of the most well-known and popular attractions on the ground at Black Rock City. Partly because of the well-known dome and the association the Mad Max movies but more for the intense fighting that will be played out in the confines of the dome. Americans love to watch violence play out in many different forms and Thunder Dome is a form that has become a staple of the event. Outside of Burning Man, people will get their need for violence fixed through action movies and video game play; but at Burning Man, you not only have a chance to be part of the action but you can climb on to a large dome to watch it happen when others are fighting. In many ways, the presence of Thunder Dome helps to sub-due the need for violence that most people feel when frustrated.

Outside of the Thunder Dome there is very little violence, and as one person point out, there seems to be almost an excessive amount of love and happiness. In many ways, people seem to be compelled to be happy and excited all of the time. It could be argued that this is due to being on vacation but it is far more believable that the increased happiness comes from an environment that is encouraging of this behavior. This same sets of behavior is also found in American Culture in the form of the ‘be happy’ movements that started in the sixties and are still being forced on people to this day. In day to day life, most people are expected to be smiling and happy and if they are not, efforts are made to bring about this condition. One behavior that is often present is while people are walking down the streets, they will randomly yell “Woo Hoo” as if trying to encourage hyped up feeling and happy feelings.

Burning Man is an environment of emotional highs and lows. It is argued that the extreme highs and lows are because of the extremes of the environment, and while this might be true on the surface, the truth might fit more with the expectations of the environment. People are encourage to self-express their emotions with others, and recognize themselves; and this is exaggerated in the Burning Man environments.

#2: Community Involvement

America was built by smaller communities helping each other out and that is no different at Burning Man. The principle of “No Commerce” is in large part responsible for keeping the community support alive in a larger culture of purchase power. Interestingly enough, recent reports on the lower SES communities has shown that the power of the community is still very much alive in most of American culture and in many ways, Burning Man seeks to magnify these relationships. For many, survival in the harsh desert environment is about having a little help from friends and neighbors; and the community is heavily encourage to maintain these survival behaviors.

While there is increasing bemoaning of the loss of community, Burning Man actually shows that community does still exist and can thrive. The difference is where we are looking for people’s communities. Many people all over the country have communities, but they are not made up of their next door neighbors. Country clubs, churches, schools, local hang-outs and even online chat groups are the prime areas for finding communities. Burning Man is another place to develop communities and in many ways, is help to create national and international communities because the individual of a group are in fact scattered all over the world. For many Burners, it is the exaggerated community and sense of belonging that keeps them coming back year after year.

#3: Gender Roles

Gender roles and gender discrimination has been a hot topic on the news, in the government and in many areas of life for the better part of the last 40 years of American history. This issue has be focused on from many different angles including: sexual rights, reproductive rights, work place discrimination, affirmative actions, safety, violence, etc. Observations of interaction at Burning Man has shown that not only are gender role beliefs suppressed to a point of non-existence but there are environments in which people can work together and there is little to no bias based on their gender, sex or orientation. Burning Man is well known for being an environment that encourages people to look at skills, strength and weaknesses beyond the visual assessments. Unlike with the ‘be happy’ movement and community involvement, both magnified in the Burning Man culture, the gender roles is sub-consciously suppressed and has little influence, just as it is becoming in the larger American culture. It has been a slow process and there is more work to do, but Burning Man is leading the way into a less discriminating world.

#4: Drugs and Alcohol

One of the big concerns about Burning Man is the amount of drug and alcohol used there. While there are law enforcement officers at the event and they often ticket people for possession and use of illicit and illegal drugs, it does not change that there is a lot of it all out there. For some people, the start their drinking when they get there and might sober up enough to drive at the end of the week.

Many have complained that the excessive use is one of the variance items that makes Burning Man a sub-culture but that is also not true. Americans drink, and do drugs… a lot of them. In many ways, some of the foundations of American interactions are found in bars and parties, though not to the point of being drunk for a whole week. It is fairly common for a person to have a cocktail at the end of the day and for many, getting drunk on Saturday is the highlight of the week. For proof of how much Americans like their drugs and alcohol, watch television for a while or sit outside of a bar for a while.

Burning Man culture does not encourage people to drink too much, but it does nothing to stop them outside of asking people to be healthy and safe and when the person falls down, the community tries to get them to a safe place or a medical station. This is no different than would be found on the streets of any American city or town but at Burning Man it is magnified and larger.

#5: Sexuality

Much like with drugs and alcohol, Americans like sex and a lot of it. American culture has roots going back to the Age of Enlightenment, of which sex was believed to not only be something to embrace and enjoy, but also a fundamental right (the belief in the right has it’s own problems but that is for another paper). Evidence of the right to have sex is seen in the various different assaults and other sexual activities that have become increasingly public. Play parties, polygamous relationships, Viagra commercials and even sex therapy are points of evidence that Sex is seen as a right deserved by all willing and able people. In fact, sex is a very publicly private thing in American society, as could be seen in the ways in which American will show availability and public efforts to engage in sex.

And just like with drugs and alcohol, Burning Man culture does not stop people from seeking out what they think is their right to pursue, but instead asks people to be respectful of other’s rights and safety. The big difference between Burning Man and the rest of the America is that Burning Man takes the transparent world of sex and allows it to be see-through there. Many of the people in the culture treat sex as a fact of life and nature and so should be seen as an obvious fact of existence.

Conclusion

A first time attendant said to the author “Burning Man is not a vacation, but a survival experience.” This statement is very true and the culture of Burning Man has weathered it much in the same ways that the American culture has survive over time and through trials. Another person said that “Burning Man was a micro-cosmos of the development of America” and this is also a true statement. While Burning Man is reflecting the larger American culture it is also calling America what it is: an adapting, survivalist culture. Looking through the American history books and the media, one can see that Americans are invested in survival and when the world has gotten to easy to survive in, they will seek out another environment to survive in. Burning Man is surviving because of the facts of life (drugs and sex), shifting responsibility (gender roles or lack there-of), a little help from friends (community) and the ways of violence and happiness… and these are the same ways that America is adapting. The survival of America is not based in staying the same but instead adapting to the future and in many ways the magnifying glass and fun house mirror of Burning Man is showing the ways America is adapting, for good and for bad.

Authors Note: This document is wholly the opinions and thoughts of the author and has not sought or received approval from Burning Man LLC.

Sense of Self : Identity Theory (Paper #1)

Authors Note: This paper has be divided into three parts because of the length of the full document. Much like the stories told in serials during the 1800’s, the next paper will pick up from where the last one left off. The second paper will be posted next month with the third to follow the month after. Thank you for your patience.

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Sense of Self: A New Theory of Identity and Personality

After reading a few thousand plots and spending a number of years studying humans thinking, feeling and moving; one begins to see patterns. Novels are a great example of what will draw people to read and invest, such stories as a ‘true love plot’ or the ‘over-coming an enemy’ plot, but one plot is the most compelling and drawing to the audience: the ‘coming of age’ or ‘finding one’s self’ stories.

Why are these plots of novels being addressed here? This is the simplest answer: because it deals with how we become the people that we are. How we become who we are and what we think we are is a never ending source of fascination and has sparked many different debates in the ‘how we become” and “what we are”. Some of the debating has gone so far as to digging inside of the brain to find the on/off switch and other have turned to magic and philosophy for answers… but none have been found to 100% satisfies the appetites of those that wish to know the ‘how’ and ‘what’ of the individual. Examples of this have included the work done with Clive Wearing (the man with no memory) after he lost his memory, testing of hormone levels in the brain and even the efforts to control bodily possession by spirits, palm reading, and the Ancient Greek humor system.

This paper is going to propose a different way of thinking about what we are and who we are, but taking a different look at how we present ourselves. A professor asked once, write a list of who you are, your identity, and I wrote down my name; this was not the goal of the assignment but the wheels did start turning on how we are taught to identify ourselves. This paper is going to show how identity is the complicated part of who we are, not the personality.

The major point of this paper to convey an idea, and not to recite resource after resource of different works by many different people; the definitions are developed by the author to explain the idea with simplicity. The goal is presentation and argumentation of an idea. Flaws in the idea because it does not fit with the goals of a different author are not a flaw in the idea. If there is interest in expansion of the base concept presented in this paper, it will be produced at a later time. Citations offered will be limited to improve brevity.

The simplicity of the definitions and the diagrams is to not only help with comprehension but to also encourage flexibility for factors that the author might have missed and encouragement to expand in the future. Theories are observation, rationalization, and art mixed together into a picture that is moving and stationary at the same time. Many have debated that Warhol’s soup cans are art, focusing on issues of whether it is good, or has a point. Opinions will vary and fresh ideas will expand or at least give us clearer ideas the world we live in; just like abstract art.

To assist with the understanding, there is a diagram provided at the top of the text and there is an item by item review of each branch of the diagram, an explanation of the interactions of the different branches, several examples of how the model works in a functional environment and the final sections will focus on possible flaws that the author has observed and the arguments to whether these are serious flaws or benefits to the theory. No theory is 100% perfect every time and the flaws should be seen, known and addressed.

In addressing the future, remember the past; for they walked this ground before.

Who are we, what are we, and how did the ideas of ‘the self’ get to where it is? The history behind ideas of personality and identity date back to the oldest documents of medical care and science. Some of the first questions asked in medical science dealt with the idea that there is something inside of each of person that makes them who they are. Aristotle and Plato were some of the first to debate this subject with regards to what the primary factors that play into the development of the person’s uniqueness. The examination of what is nature and what is nurture started with the Ancient Greeks and was called “Nativism” and “Philosophical Empiricism”. “Nativism” purposes that there is much of the individual that is inborn and innate, leaning to the idea that a personality is a fixed object at the time of birth. While “Philosophical Empiricism” suggests that a person learns all that they are from their environments (Schacter, Gilbert, & Wegner, 2013).

While this debate has gone on for several thousands of years, there is still no specific rule as to whether, the innate/inborn or the learned has greater influence. Each set of thinkers, scientists, and philosophers has leaned more one way or the other, while many have made an effort to remain in the middle of the discussion saying that the influence is 50/50. Research has committed decades of work to the topic and still has no solid concert answer.

The search for the personality and by philosophical extension, the soul, has also driven theorists to attempt to come up with new and different explanation for the development and strength of the personality. Carl Jung believed in the influence of spirituality and roles in the world through his archetype theory but also developed the original idea of the mix and match traits (Craver & Scheier, 2012). Many theorists have taken the idea of the humors (four element system [earth, air, fire and water] found in most cultures) of Greek Medicine and tweaked the ideas to fit more with modern beliefs, such as seen with “The Color Code” by Taylor Hartman. Then there is the belief that a higher power provided the personality to the individual and it is visible through markings of the skin (witch trial documentation and notes in the Christian Bible indicating this belief [statements like the lepers are judged by god to be of bad character]) and the use of star maps to explain the individual differences and similarities. No matter how many different ways in which there is to examine, explain, and decode the development of the personality, it has come back to the nature verses nurture debate. Even now with new technology working hard to locate the genes of the personality and the parts of the brain personality is hidden. At the end, how the personality is developed, maintained and transmitted is still undetermined and debated.

Everything and Nothing of What Once Was

To comb through personality theories takes a great deal of time, and in many ways there are ties from each theory to the next one. Each theory moves forward with a piece or pieces of the past theories and it is no different for this theory. This theory attempts to honor all of the theories that came before it while also being a new and more inclusive explanation of a concept that has been very difficult to understand and define.

One key problem of past theories has been the focus on the cause of the personality instead of looking at the collection of influences and factors. Much of the science is focused on finding causation, instead of looking for patterns and methods for usefulness. This theory attempts to find the balance points of all of the influences. Instead of looking for a single cause, this point of view tries to show how parts of all of the prior theories works together in a single theory.

It should be said at this time that theory would not work if it did not stand on the shoulders of so many theories before it, and as each section is described and explained, it will be obvious to the intense students of personality theories, what is being included. All of the greatness from before has helped to lead the way to greatness in the future and this idea of the sense of self is an example of how the transition is to be approached.