Burning Man: An Experiment in Contributionism

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As more and more humans move toward consciousness and unity, many still must submit to the daily grind—the countless hours spent taxed and isolated by demanding, unsatisfying jobs kept to pay bills and buy stuff.

It is clear that money is a distraction, a false god even, and there is already too much stuff on earth. Still, we climb corporate ladders and shatter glass ceilings only to feel the same sense of loneliness at the top.

Michael Tellinger’s prescription for change in Hidden Origins: Transitioning to Abundance makes perfect sense. He says, “Competition is not good. Cooperation and collaboration create abundance and unity.”

More and more, people want to contribute to the good of the community while living a life they love, but they struggle to feed that spark inside.

The Origin of Burning Man

“Welcome Home” rotates in several different languages at the top of the Burning Man website. Simply put, Burning Man is, “A city in the desert. A culture of possibility. A network of dreamers and doers.”

The story of Burning Man begins in the Eighties when co-founder, Larry Harvey woke and thought, “I’m tired of this.”

He called a friend and said, “Let’s burn a man.”

Larry and Jerry James—two of several co-founders—built an 8-foot man out of scrap wood then carried him to Baker Beach in San Francisco to burn it down. Describing the first burn, Harvey says, “When it flamed up, it was like a second sun brought down to this earth, it was just… it transfixed us, but… that’s where the story begins.”

A Burning Man Story

For three decades, the Burning Man festival has evolved from a small gathering of friends to a collaborative endeavor, bringing tens of thousands of people from all over the world to Nevada’s Black Rock Desert where a temporary metropolis rises from open hearts and gracious hands for one week. “Burners” are united in their pursuit of a more creative existence—one where they transcend the trappings of the daily grind.

In the documentary, “Spark: A Burning Man Story”, we are given behind-the-scenes and up-front exposure to this legendary event. Artists erect stunning, compelling masterpieces from start to finish. Co-founders confront logistical nightmares when attendance swells to nearly 60,000 people. The “playa” blazes with daring imagination and wild celebration until a towering effigy is burned to the ground.

All burners practice the principles of Burning Man.

10 Principles of Burning Man

Radical Inclusion – Everyone is invited.

Gifting – Give freely without expectation.

Decommodification – Create an environment unmediated by commercial influence.

Radical Self-Reliance – Rely on inner resources.

Radical Self-Expression – Harness unique talents to share with the world.

Communal Effort – Support collaboration and cooperation.

Civic Responsibility – Assume responsibility for public welfare.

Leaving No Trace – Care for the earth and tread lightly.

Participation – Achieve being through doing.

Immediacy – Wake to the inner self and the reality of every being—now.

An Experiment in Contributionism

Burning Man is a participatory experience generated by its attendees and similar to Contributionism.

Michael Tellinger, founder of the Ubuntu Party of South Africa, describes Contributionism as “a social structure where communities live in unity, providing for each other, looking after each other – where everyone contributes their god given talents towards the greater benefit of all the people in their community.”

As the Burning Man principles spread and regional events take root across the globe, burner-ideals converge with principles of Contributionism. Both movements are united in a desire to create abundance by working together and living life in-love.

The Origin of Contributionism

Ubuntu is an ancient African philosophy that means humanness. Many native cultures and grassroots movements throughout history and across the globe embrace a basic, humanist concept that none are free until all are free.

Inspired by this timeless wisdom, Tellinger founded the Ubuntu Party with a guiding principle of Contributionism. In Hidden Origins: Implementing Ubuntu, Tellinger explains the path to a world where unity redefines the daily grind and burns the empty pursuit of money.

Instead of depending on world leaders to wake to the new age, Tellinger suggests we begin banding together at a local level. Tap into ancient knowledge that all beings are connected and have inherent value to share with the community. Apply a burner’s enthusiasm to each day.

Sacred Economics

When we unite with our neighbors to generate power and resources, we create a united labor force for the people, not the corporations and corrupt government. Together, we produce an abundance that spills over, allowing everyone more time to pursue beauty.

In Hidden Origins: Liberation from Money, Tellinger contemplates the illusive worth of money. Money doesn’t keep a community going, people keep a community going.

Burning Man and Contributionism share the sacred notion that we can exist without money. Better yet, we can thrive.

A Labor of Love

Katy Boynton had an awakening at 2010 Burning Man festival when she committed to assisting with “Bliss Dance,” an iconic art installation, and learned to weld. She had a vision to create Heartfullness, a 12 by 15-foot steel sculpture of a heart.

In “Spark”, she shares her idea to build “a heart that had exploded and was pieced back together.” She explains, “There are so many things that break our hearts…We pick up the pieces. We put them back together. We keep going.”

Boynton listened to her inner voice and fueled that spark inside, enlisting helping-hands and support from friends and fellow burners in order to give her vision life. “Heartfullness” debuted at Burning Man in 2012 and returned in 2013.

She opened her eyes to her inner nature and discovered an unknown desire inside that connected her to new people and new ways of being.

The Future is a Gift

A lot of change needs to occur before every being benefits from a gift economy or Contributionism. It’s almost impossible to imagine a world where we are all free from the daily grind.

By following the principles of Burning Man and contributing to the community, small acts become waves of change. Michael Tellinger muses, “We’re going to the stars. We’re going to the sky where everything is possible.”

Where one world falls apart or an effigy burns down, a new world is born under the same gracious sun that shines for everyone.



Next Article

We Can Easily Solve The Problem of Food Waste

Imagine yourself at the grocery store, in the produce aisle, sorting through the fruits and vegetables you wrote down on your shopping list for the week. You sift through bunches of broccoli or piles of apples and pears, ignoring those with blemishes and scratches, searching for only the ripest and most appealing specimens. But this behavior is part of a massive problem that is contributing to global hunger, climate change and agricultural instability. The good news is we can solve this problem by teaching current and future generations simple methods on how to reduce food waste; the question is will we?

Why Food Waste is a Problem

Throughout the world, there are nearly a billion people who are considered starving or food insecure, meaning they do not always have access to a sufficient quantity of nutritious food. But there is more than enough food produced in the world to ameliorate this issue, so much that if we were to redistribute a quarter of the food that is wasted in the world, the problem would be solved.

This waste issue is pandemic and can’t really be pinpointed on one nation or another, though developed countries are undoubtedly the largest contributors. In Europe and North America, each year we average between 95-115 kg of wasted food per person. Developing countries like many in sub-Saharan Africa typically waste a tenth or less than that, but still contribute to avoidable food waste when it comes to production and distribution from poor infrastructure and equipment.

In Europe, 29 million tons of dairy products are wasted each year and in the UK alone food waste totals 7.3 million tons annually. In South America, Argentina wastes 1 kg of food per person, daily. Clearly this problem transcends borders, politics, and culture, but it is also one that will likely require some international cooperation to solve at an aggregate level.

So, how does the U.S. stack up? Despite our relative affluence, 14% of families in the U.S. are considered food insecure. Meanwhile, we spend between $1,500 – $2,275 per family, on easily avoidable food waste cost every year. This stems partly from the fact that we throw away nearly half of all produce that we buy, adding up to roughly $160 billion a year. This problem is not solely an American issue, but there are definitely some systemic factors that contribute to these food waste statistics.

 

Crowded garbage after the Altona fish market

 

Avoidable Food Waste

Much like our society’s unattainable standards for a person’s physical beauty, we tend to overvalue the physical beauty of fruit and vegetables. In reality, we’re missing out on what really counts; that which can only be found on the inside. In the U.S. and other first-world countries we have ridiculously high and often completely irrational standards for what our food looks like.

This fickle and picky attitude is a lead cause of food waste, yet it is one of the easiest issues to solve. Because of these demands, farmers’ harvests are subjected to untenable standards and levels of scrutiny for what their product must look like, despite the fact that slightly less appealing produce, often with only minor blemishes or discoloration, will have the same exact nutritional value. Farmers must carefully weigh the cost and potential revenue that can be made from harvesting a crop, based on whether or not the produce will fit these absurdly high standards. They must take into consideration the labor for harvesting, energy for storing and refrigeration, and the cost of transportation once their product has finally been purchased.

If a crop is not going to cover those costs and turn a profit, farmers reject them as “walk-by” crops. Depending on market demands and weather conditions that year, walk-by’s can occur between 1-30% of the time. These factors in the past have led the price of certain crops to fluctuate so drastically that farmers have to essentially gamble on what will be their cash crop each year. According to one farmer, prices of broccoli have ranged from $6 per case one year, to $32 per case another year.

 

Feeding the world one seedling at a time

 

But there are other, more systemic difficulties in each step of the farmer’s process that are not immediately obvious to those unfamiliar with the industry. While there are plenty of farmers, with plenty of produce, there are a small group of buyers who continue to perpetuate the high standards of what produce must look like. These large corporations, which buy the majority of produce in the US, dictate the standard which farmers must attain, leading them to plant more than they normally would, subsequently leading to more wasted food. But those who cannot keep up with the increasingly high demands end up being muscled out by bigger farms or using GMOs and excessive pesticides to maintain that perfect appearance.

 

Reducing Food Waste and Expired Food

Another issue we struggle with is our labelling of products with “best-by,” “sell-by,” and “use-by.” These labels all have different meanings, and despite the common misconception that they have to do with the safe consumption of a food product, they actually have to do with a producer’s suggestion of when they will taste best. Sell-by is aimed at when retailers should ideally get the product off their shelves, but beyond that date the product is still good for about a third of its shelf life. Use-by and best-by are both guesses at when the product will remain at peak quality, but don’t necessarily mean the product is bad after that date. In fact, there are only a few products like deli meats and unpasteurized dairy products that are highly perishable and dangerous to consume immediately after the use-by date.

As it turns out, the majority of consumers can’t tell the difference between these labels, let alone the fact that they are, to a varying degree, guesses at when the food is likely to taste the best. One study found that less than half of all consumers can properly identify what the term sell-by means, while less than a quarter could identify what use-by means. At this point, 90 percent of us will throw away food once it has reached this date, adding up to $1,500 or more in the trash each year.

 

Fresh bio-waste and compost

 

Not only does that food, which ends up in the trash, waste money, it also makes up 20 percent of our landfills. When this is compounded with the amount of energy and water spent on production, food waste accounts for nine percent of global greenhouse gas emissions. In the U.S. it accounts for a quarter of all freshwater use, tens of millions of acres of cropland, and 300 million barrels of oil each year; a large contributor to climate change, with one of the easiest fixes.

While there are some efforts being made by certain groups like the Consumer Goods Forum, there should be a broader mandate to label food in a clear and concise way, making it clear to consumers when their food is perfectly safe to eat. It wouldn’t be a stretch to say that it’s within corporate interests for consumers to waste food and this is probably the reason that labels are so ambiguous in the first place. When companies can convince you that the perfectly good food in your fridge is unfit for consumption, this leads the consumer back to the store to buy more.

This has also led for some to call out corporations for practices like multi-buy offers, that can be deceitful and convince consumers to buy more than they need. Multi-buy offers, like those that offer a discounted price when you buy 2 or more, often sound like a bargain, but lead to wasted food and are sometimes more expensive than buying the product at its unit price. A study found that companies would often use “zig-zag” pricing to make a product seem like it was being sold at discount, when it was previously sold at an inflated price for only a couple days.

 

Ways to Reduce Food Waste

In Denmark, one woman has been credited with drastically reducing food waste throughout the entire country. Selina Juul was originally born in the Soviet Union making her accustomed to food shortages. After moving to Denmark, she became appalled by the country’s rampant waste of food and decided to make it her goal to implement a solution. She convinced a local grocery to practice policies like eliminating multi-buy offers and selling individual bananas rather than bunches, to sell the hundreds of pieces of fruit that were otherwise being thrown out.

Ironically, Juul targeted a grocery store called REMA 1000, a Norwegian chain that is known for its “no-frills” aesthetic, displaying produce on wooden pallets and crates and limiting its stock to 1000 items. The chain is particularly popular for its low prices and hundreds of locations. Garnering over 17 percent of all revenue from supermarkets in Scandinavia, it was inspired by the successful business model of the German supermarket chain, ALDI.

Over five years, Juul’s methods worked and she cut food waste by 25 percent throughout Denmark. She first inspired REMA 1000, creating a trend in the private sector, which subsequently led to policy changes at the public level. With enough support and demand her model could become a worldwide trend.

Another idea that Juul put into action was a food waste supermarket. In its first week, the store was donated 40 tons of food that would have otherwise been thrown away, selling it for half the price it could be found at a normal grocery store. The food waste market became so popular they had to open another, soon inspiring similar models in the UK and other countries.

But could something like this happen in the US? Unless there is a large movement to enact changes in legislation, it would be difficult to follow this model. Unlike in France, where laws have been passed that prohibit restaurants and markets from throwing out unsold food, the U.S. has stricter laws and picky consumers. But if we collectively demand a different model and use our purchasing power to change these business dynamics we could implement some similar practices and lower food waste. Doing so would save us all money, reduce the damage being done to the planet, and prevent people from going hungry. So, what are we waiting for?

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