Suppose you’re a conservative activist stranded in the middle of the desert, surrounded by thousands of barely dressed bohemians expressing themselves in ways that would make an East Village performance artist blush. Surely, you would conclude, the end is near.
Not if you’re Grover Norquist, and the desert is the site of the Burning Man Festival. Norquist has seen the future, and it is Burning Man – or at least it will be, if he has anything to say about it.
Norquist just returned from Burning Man and wrote up his impressions in yesterday’s (gasp) Guardian. He hasn’t been this excited since the 2001 tax cuts. Norquist writes:
Burning Man is greater than I had ever imagined. I have been to large demonstrations in favor of the environment, and the trash left behind is knee-deep. At Burning Man, you are hard-pressed to find a cigarette butt on the ground. There are no trash bins. Participants carry it in, and they carry it out. I have been to the Louvre. It is a very big place with many nice paintings. I knew that. I was not disappointed. Burning Man is more like Petra, the lost city in Jordan, which I found more impressive than its advance billing or reputation
That’s right – the Left’s most hated activist just said Burning Man is more impressive than the Louvre.
What makes Burning Man so great? Most importantly, it is a vivid demonstration of spontaneous order. Burning Man is a world with few formal rules, yet it exhibits high levels of artistic and material achievement because its inhabitants are governed by the principles of true tolerance and personal responsibility. The last point is key, and it separates Burning Man from Woodstock and similar outbursts of adolescent hedonism:
A community that comes together with a minimum of “rules” demands self-reliance – that everyone clean up after themselves and help thy neighbor…the demand for self-reliance at Burning Man toughens everyone up. There are few fools, and no malingerers. People give of themselves – small gifts like lip balm or tiny flashlights. I brought Cuban cigars. Edgy, but not as exciting as some “gifts” that would have interested the federal authorities. I’m hoping to bring the kids next year.
And lest you think Burning Man is simply an exercise in escapism with no “real world” lessons, Norquist says “some day, I want to live 52 weeks a year in a state or city that acts like this. I want to attend a national political convention that advocates the wisdom of Burning Man.”
Obviously, Burning Man won’t be everyone’s cup of tea, but it does display a 21st century kind of pioneer spirit that is American to its core but far too rare today. Norquist also reminds people that conservatives like to do more than read Russell Kirk for fun, which shouldn’t be so shocking: Newt Gingrich was a Dead Head back in the day, and Ann Coulter still is.