(The WSJ printed an abridged version of my letter on September 18th, 2008. Here is the full text – CS)
Dear WSJ Editors…
Myself and my camp were mentioned by name in this below linked article on the Burning Man Festival, and I'd like to submit this response letter.
Thank you for your time and consideration,
To Whom it may Concern…
This letter is in response to Travis Kavulla's "Desert Wanderers Find Their Promised Land," an ostensible review of the Burning Man festival published September 5th, 2008.
Being a newcomer to the Festival, as well as the culture of Burning Man, it is not at all surprising that Mr. Kavulla, a conservative evangelical fellow from the Phillips Foundation, would see Burning Man in terms of affluence, conspicuous consumption, decadence, and hedonism, for Burning Man does indeed, unapologetically, contain all of those things. But had Mr. Kavulla probed just a little bit deeper than the surface of things — had he, for example, taken just a few more steps around Entheon Village and asked just a few questions — he would have seen and understood that there is so much more going on at Burning Man than "just a party."
Mr. Kavulla makes the powerful statement, "This was not a festival about deeper understanding or spiritual hokum" and characterized our camp, Entheon Village, as a "klatch of latter-day hippies and New Agers." We at Entheon Village challenge that characterization. Our Village this year contained over 500 people and provided food, water, and power services to over 700. The logistics of accomplishing this rival anything done by the Army Corps of Engineers, yet our efforts are led by committed volunteers working who believe in the mission of Entheon Village. The centerpieces of our Village this year were the Container Project and the Pantheogenesis Temple. Both of these projects were explicitly designed as vehicles for creating sustainable communities and taking the Burner ethos off the Playa and applying it to real-life situations. We also, for the fourth straight year, offered the M.A.P.S. Lecture Series, showcasing some of the most cutting-edge government-sanctioned research into healing treatments using psychoactive substances.
With our Container Project, we took a series of 20' and 48' shipping containers and built them out into a permanent camp infrastructure with a kitchen, showers, toilets, and residences. During the other 49 weeks of the year that the Festival is not taking place, these containers were specifically designed for use in disaster relief efforts anywhere in the world, so that first responders and relief workers have a ready-made base camp from which to operate.
This project is a collaborative extension of the work that was begun by Burners Without Borders, a social-change movement that was born in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina when a group of committed Burners left the 2005 Festival mid-stream and spent the next 6 months in Pearlington, Mississippi clearing debris and helping the townspeople rebuild their homes and their lives. These efforts parlayed in a nationwide network of Burners Without Borders groups offering social services in situations where government completely fails its citizens, as in the case of Katrina. In the fall of 2007, Burners Without Borders sent a team to Peru after a devastating earthquake to help with relief efforts. And just this week, we at Entheon received a call from the Louisiana Governor's office asking for our kitchen to be sent down to Baton Rouge to help feed some 100,000 people displaced by the recent flooding.
With our Pantheogenesis Temple, we continued to build on the overall mission of Entheon Village, which by definition means "to find the spirit within." Building a sustainable community also means providing a space for spiritual growth, so that we become stronger both within ourselves and with each other. The Temple was built to honor the non-sectarian spiritual and Divine in all its manifestations, both masculine and feminine, corporeal and energetic. We feel it's also important to mention that there was no "inflatable Buddhist temple" anywhere in our camp, and there were no "erotic massages" being offered in the God/Goddess Temple. These are categorical misrepresentations of our Village.
Lastly, Mr. Kavulla characterized my M.A.P.S. lecture series presentation on "The Secret History of the War on Drugs" as a "series of witless one-liners" and "a preposterous conspiracy theory that blamed every evil on, and attributed every power to, the American government." This is another categorical misrepresentation of the truth. My presentation was based upon the impeccable research of Professors Alfred P. McCoy (The Politics of Heroin) and Peter Dale Scott (Cocaine Politics; Oil, Drugs, and War), Gary Webb's, Dark Alliance: The CIA, the Contras, and the Crack Cocaine Explosion, Alexander Cockburn and Jeffrey St. Clair's, Whiteout: The CIA, Drugs, and the Press, Former DEA Agents Celereino Castillo (Powderburns) and Michael Levine (The Big White Lie: The CIA and the Cocaine/Crack Epidemic), the extensive investigative work of Michael Ruppert and From The Wilderness, independent journalist Daniel Hopsicker, PBS' FRONTLINE, Dateline NBC, and A Tangled Web: A History of CIA Complicity in International Drug Trafficking, from the DC-Based Institute for Policy Studies, among many many others. These sources were provided at my presentation for anyone interested in learning more.
Yes, Burning Man tends to skew affluent because of the sheer cost of getting and staying there. But this is not to say that Burning Man is categorically an elite or affluent festival. There are many levels to Burning Man, and it takes many years to successfully grasp and navigate them in their entirety. Within and amongst the miasma of hedonism Mr. Kavulla chronicled are a committed core of individuals and tribes building the foundations for the communities of tomorrow, evolving our purpose to meet the demands of a changing, resource-challenged world. When the Burning Man festival is long laid to rest in the annals of history, that ethos borne out of it will still thrive in the lives and hearts of those who were forever touched by this most extraordinary of human inventions.
We hope you send Mr. Kavulla back next year for a follow-up piece. He is welcome to camp with Entheon Village, and maybe this way, he'll see that it is so much more than "just a party."