Radical Inclusion

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File:BZS Principles Radicalusion 001.jpg
The Radical Inclusion Pictogram by James Wickham

Radical Inclusion is one of the original 10 Principles of Burning Man. The Ten Principles were originally written by Larry Harvey in 2004 as a guide to the organisation of Burning Man, and later adopted as a model of thinking and behaviour for participants to follow at the event, and in their lives generally.


"Anyone may be a part of Burning Man. We welcome and respect the stranger. No prerequisites exist for participation in our community."

This is a 'gatekeeper' principle. 'Participation' which might be deemed to be about the 'same thing' applies more to involvement WITHIN the community. Radical Inclusion is about JOINING the community. Radical Inclusion recognizes the possibility that as the outside community changes, or the people becoming involved with a Burn changes, then the Burn may change. The Burn is open not just to people, but to ideas.

Caveat makes the point that Radical Inclusion is not simply 'Inclusion'. 'Radical Inclusion', he suggests, isn't inviting your friends, or your work colleagues, or someone you admire or want something from to join you. All of that is 'easy'. That can be no more than no more than self gratification and indulgence. That's not radical. Being radical is opening yourself, or your camp or your event to someone you wouldn't normally meet or include. You might not like them, you are not required to like them, but you will learn something from them - and you will learn something about yourself from your reaction to them.

As a Burning 'Principle' and its relation to other Burning Principles[edit]

Radical Inclusion is one of the core burn principles. This must be included in any Burn in order for it to be officially associated in the Burning Man community. Some Burns have modified or adapted the words, including:

  • Blazing Swan Anyone may be a part of Blazing Swan. We welcome and respect the stranger. No pre-requisites exist for participation in our community. Every person in our community is a valued member.
  • AfrikaBurn Anyone may be a part of AfrikaBurn. We welcome and respect the stranger. No prerequisites exist for participation in our community. This means that anyone can partake.

It is important to understand that all principles apply equally and concurrently. The principles were designed to all work, and to all work together. No principle can be used to justify an act of commission or omission that violates any other principle. Principles do not 'conflict' with each other or 'contradict' each other because no principle is intended to be considered or applied in isolation from all the remaining principles. No principle takes away from any other principle. The principles are additive.

Neither the Principles nor the Burning Man community have ever provided any sure guidance about what how to find the balance between different principles. A useful (but not universally useful) tool in such circumstances is to apply the party-goers 'general ethical guidance', "Don't be the arse."

Interactions between this principle and real world circumstances in the context of Burns[edit]

The requirement to purchase a ticket or membership to a burn event appears to contradict the '..No prerequisites exist for participation in our community." You can be included, but you have to be able to afford (and be lucky enough to acquire) the ticket.

The first thing to note is that the 'Event' is an expression or aspect of the burn community. The event is not - in itself - the burn community. Burn communities exist outside of any annual event or gathering, or any one location. So it couldn't be said that a person unable to participate in the event is altogether excluded from participation in the community. That said, the event is usually a very significant aspect of the community. Several burns address this by offering low income tickets, and some offer reduced price tickets to members of the local (geographic) community in which the event is held. Most burns offer a path to reduced cost membership through volunteering. A significant number of event tickets are gifted by those who can afford to do so to those who can't. The principle of Gifting is not restricted to the event.

But as the size and reputation of a burn grows, so will the unavoidable costs associated with it grow, and the organisers would be irresponsible not to attempt to cover the costs involved in keeping the event safe and meeting all the requirements of local authorities. It might seem that large burns are charging higher fees 'because they can', but by exposing their accounts to scrutiny they should be able to demonstrate that the fees are justifiable in relation to the actual costs. It's somewhat ironic that burns which raise their fees from year to year - and hence are more likely to attract the accusation of price gouging - are usually going from a situation of 'ongoing insolvency' to 'break-even', rather than going from 'break-even' to 'profitable'. Exposing - and explaining - the burn accounts to the burn community has an important part to play in maintaining the respect of the burn community.

The ultimate solution to the rising costs of large burn events is to spin off more small local events. Not only are costs lower which enables the burn to set lower entry or membership fees, but accessing those events is easier because there is less competition to 'get into' any particular burn. Could the worldwide burn community sustain more events? Yes, of course. There are over 100 burns around the world at the moment, there could easily be thousands. Would people at a small burn have the same 'mind blowing' experience as they might at a large burn? Again yes. If you have participated in a small burn you already know this. If your only experience is of a large burn, John Halcyon has a few words about smaller regional burns here... https://journal.burningman.org/2019/11/global-network/regionals/regionals-are-time-machines/

If we start to talk about sustainability and burns we must recognise that the largest part of the carbon cost of a burn is not the effigy, but the thousands of vehicle miles (and flight-miles) that participants expend getting to and from the major burns each year. Having more small local burns not only increases access to a burn 'near you', but also reduces the cost of you getting to and from those burns. It's something to consider.

Minors are not permitted unless accompanied by an adult or Guardian. Some Burns and Burn related events exclude children entirely. The definition of minor or child might vary between Burns in different countries, but it's often a reflection of local laws. It should be noted however, than some burns suggest that children are ideal participants at a burn, and that they should be encouraged to move freely about knowing that the burn community is a safe place for them.

Radical Inclusion operates alongside all the other principles. And particularly alongside 'Civic Responsibility'. It is sobering to reflect that in the vast majority of cases, burns require children to be supervised and be under the protection of their guardians. The alternative - that the entire burn is a safe place for children with everyone at the burn sharing in the care and supervision of those children - is not something that most of us could easily imagine. It's an intriguing notion though... Perhaps we should aim for burns to be safer places for children than the 'outside' world, and think about how we can make that happen. Even if we don't achieve that ideal, at least we have been trying to make the burn a model for a better world. And that's something worthwhile. It's also something much more realistic in the context of a small local burn serving a small local burn community.

There are no bars in respect of ethnicity, beliefs, gender identification or orientation, appearance or ability. That's the ideal.

There may not be any explicit bars, no sign that says 'XYZ' not welcome. But there might be a culture or a reputation, or something not apparent at all that deters certain people from attending. It may be worth event organisers actually doing some objective surveys to see if that's actually happening. That's a good first step. Then you need to look at what barriers might exist to some people in our wider community - noting that it's often the case that we are blind our own involvement creating an 'exclusive' environment. Ask outside your community, and don't dismiss the responses (as I've seen done) as 'invalid' because the person with the uncomfortable observation has 'never been to a burn'. Of course they haven't! They're the people who feel for whatever reason they are being excluded! It's not rocket science. Is it a bad thing if some people don't come to the event? Not everyone can, not everyone will want to. Our job is to do the hard work of review and self examination to make sure that we aren't excluding people who could come, who want to come, but for some reason which has something to do with us, aren't coming. It's not just the case that these people are missing out on your event, but your event is missing out on these people. And maybe you need them more than you know.

In so far as sites for Burns are 'selected' and that potentially the criteria for selection of sites includes remoteness, minimal facilities and some degree of hardship, then the choice of site might have the effect of creating barriers to participation by people with impaired mobility or impaired health.

Perhaps the answer here is not about avoiding harsh or remote sites, but about making the extra effort to make it possible for people with impaired mobility or health to attend. In many jurisdictions people with impaired mobility have a right to access public events (and don't pretend a burn is a private affair) and people conducting such events have a legal requirement to take all possible steps (not just reasonable steps) to enable that access. Self reliance might suggest that people in that situation should look after themselves if they are going to attend. But if you someone is going to start throwing principles at people they ought to remember their own obligation to exercise Radical Inclusion AND Civic Responsibility AND promote Communal Effort. Most people with mobility or health issues do actually manage themselves extremely well, they've generally had a lot more experience looking after themselves than you have them. Take the lead from them and ASK. And if you think that having someone on the play with a heart condition is a tiresome burden in that you might consider bringing along a defribilator and ensuring that a whole bunch of people have appropriate CPR training - well you might be grateful you went to all that unecessary effort when it's you who have a heart attack as a result of some undiagnosed condition. Having a environment that is friendly to people with mobility and health issues makes for an environment that is friendly to everyone.

A criticism levelled at Burns is that Radical Inclusion appears to be an open invitation to people who espouse hate speech or who have a history of violence or disruptive behaviour.

This is the commonest criticism from people who don't know anything about burns, would never want to attend one, but have an opinion anyway. So they should be ignored and dismissed? No. Because they are a loud voice that people who might want to attend will hear. They're also a loud voice that people in the community which hosts your event might hear. Maybe it's a loud voice warning you about someone who really is a danger that you have overlooked. Step aside from any sort of defensive response and examine the validity of the criticism before dismissing it. And don't just dismiss it. It's your Civic Responsibility to point out that the Civic Responsibility principle operates in conjunction with Radical Inclusion. Make that known publicly and as widely and the critics voice has been heard. But - and this is a very cautious but - if we deny the possibility that a person who in the past had offended against our values and community might not reform, then we are denying the possibility that the burn community will ever influence or change ourselves or the world for the better. Because if we deny the possibility of reform, we are denying the possibility of change. So if we are approached by someone with such a history who wants to join the community just talk with them about this. If there aren't still overwhelming reasons to exclude the person, find someone in the community who can be their sponsor/mentor during a parole period. But ultimately if you have to protect your community, protect your community.

Activating Radical Inclusion[edit]

A Burn Principle is not intended as a description of 'what is', but rather a guide to taking active steps - and not just within the Burn community. Examples of activating radical inclusion include:

  • 'Reduced price tickets programs. To encourage and diversify inclusion
  • 'Stranger welcome' programs. To encourage out of town,state,country visitors to attend Burns and engage with local community
  • 'Locals programs' To encourage locals where the burn occurs to join with the Burn community
  • 'Improve access and health care onsite'.
  • 'Ride share programs' To facilitate attendance
  • 'More Burner Events' To facilitate attendance

And in terms of ensuring Radical Inclusion is a positive for the community...

  • Maintain records of persons or camps which are excluded no the basis of previous on-playa 'violations'.
  • Require references, police checks or 'Working with Children' checks in appropriate circumstances.
  • Check social media history of people applying to join the communities social media spaces.
  • Build and maintain a community which is encouraged and enabled to report concerns in a manner which is fair to all participants.

This principle in wider historic and philosophical contexts[edit]

The Ten Principles of Burning Man are in class known as 'Moral Systems' All attempts at creating a universal 'Moral System' have failed, and they have at times incorporated elements that we would reject, and have been championed and fought over at the expense of lives and nations.

Danny Usery makes the point that although sets of moral principles ideally should not contain inherent contradictions, in practice they often do. He suggests that in resolving those conflicts - which is necessary in order to follow those moral principles in 'real life', a person should apply a set of theory rules (or ethical principles) which will guide you in your application of those moral principles. He acknowledges the existence of multiple examples of ethical principles (such as Utilitarian or Kantian) and further acknowledges that the a person attempting to choose amongst these various ethical principles might seek further guidance, using some criteria to do so, and some ethical principles to understand which criteria to use, and so on ad infinitum.

The Burning Man Principles and Community provide no specific guidance on what 'ethical principles' should guide a Burners (or a Burn Organizer's) view towards and application of the Ten Principles. The 'purist' might hold that Burns should not charge money, and in fact should not be organized by anyone - but in fact organized by everyone. This viewpoint finds its nearest expression in the Rainbow Gathering movement. Others would hold that the Burn is an opportunity to showcase 'ideals', but the showcase has to exist in the 'real world' and comply with the economic and legal constraints of the real world as it stands now while we work to bring the 'real world' into line with our 'showcased world'. Some will hold that 'the pure is the enemy of the good', and others will say that 'If you want to do anything, do it now, without compromise or concession, because you have only one life. Gao Xingjian

Expressions and Artwork[edit]

On and off-playa installations have been created to express this principle. Perth graphic designer James Wickham created a set of pictographs in 2015 to illustrate the 10 Principles, and these have been widely praised and adopted.

See Also[edit]