Image Credit: Doug Buckley of

Image Credit: Doug Buckley of

On February 26, Caveat posted an article on the Burning Blog noticing that academics (that is, professors and the like) are starting to self-organize within Burner culture, and “I’ve reluctantly concluded that academia per see is very, very, bad for Burning Man – and that we’d be better off if Burners engage in a campaign of civil disobedience against it.” Since the Burning Mind web site was mentioned by name, we felt that it was important to share our feelings about Caveat’s comments, criticisms, and compliments. Here are a couple of mine.

Caveat says:

…while any given piece of individual research is likely harmless, the project of academia itself is kryptonite to the spirit of Burning Man.  Indeed, a case can be made that academia as an institution stands firmly opposed to the 10 Principles.  Outside of “prison,” if there was ever a practice that contradicted “immediacy,” “radical acceptance,” and “radical self-expression” it is academia.  This is true in theory, and especially in practice.

When I was in college as an undergraduate, academia was totally a prison to me. I can’t say I enjoyed the learning experience, nor can I say I spent much time conscious of learning about myself. Every class was a hoop to jump through, and I was tuned in to the whole process of jumping through those hoops, one by one. I was a very efficient and productive hoop-jumper, focused on getting through my classes and my program so I could get a job and start making money. Because I was so focused on graduating and getting out, I missed a lot of opportunities to embrace immediacy and be conscious of what I could contribute to others and to the world on any given day. I was concerned with fitting in, not looking stupid, and I knew that if I didn’t give a lot of the right answers and get good grades, I wouldn’t be accepted.

Twenty years later, I realize that if I’d embraced something like the 10 Principles as my core values when I was in college, things would have turned out differently. I would have known that each day provides an opportunity to explore my relationship with the world, to identify and share what I am uniquely capable of, and that I am responsible for deciding to share what I can now. Furthermore, if I’d gotten the hang of radical self-expression then, I’d probably have chosen an entirely different path that was more aligned with who I am (instead of meandering around for two decades slowly inching closer and closer).

We launched the Burning Mind Project to stimulate discussion, and to engage each other in a productive and progressive dialogue about how to use what we know about Burner culture to make the learning experience richer and more effective. We, as professors, have a lot of unspoken and unspecified power over our students, even if we actively try to break down those barriers.

How can we use that power responsibly, to help our students capture the magic of empowering themselves to be an active participant in the lived experience of the education that they create?

As Caveat explains, the right question about Burning Man is… “How can I use this to do something amazing?” — and indeed, I think this IS the RIGHT question, and the ONLY question. But as professors, we have to help our students get comfortable enough to ask themselves the same question.

And that’s my personal platform for academic civil disobedience:  let’s struggle with the 10 Principles together, to figure out how we can use our gifts, our unfolding self-awareness and self-knowledge, and our self-expression to do something amazing together. (This process includes me as a professor!)

The typical academic institution doesn’t naturally support this approach, but fortunately I’m a faculty member in an awesome department at a university that wants its students to become educated and enlightened citizens who lead meaningful lives. Because I’ve been able to lead a more meaningful life by reflecting on the 10 Principles, I’ll offer my students this tool to see if it has personal meaning to them. And if it does, I’ve just used Burning Man to do something amazing, and that makes me kinda happy.


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3 Responses to My Academic Civil Disobedience

  1. Ormond Otvos says:

    @Caveat makes a error common amongst the hyperindividualistic: “I want – and explicitly said I want – everyone to struggle with the 10 Principles for themselves.
    For individuals to engage with the 10 Principle directly in their lives someone can’t have already done the thinking for them.”

    Humans are social animals, and we often do our best work together.

  2. Dawn says:

    I published an article in Southern Theatre, Spring 2012 about taking students from a very conservative area in the deep South to Burning Man via a university grant. I have done this for 5 years now.

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