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The Assless Chapel Newsletter #4: Radical Self-Reliance Edition

Updated: Feb 14, 2023


When I was still attending Burning Man regularly, Radical Self-reliance was one of the 10 Principles with the most buzz around it. Bitching about how we need more of it went hand-in-hand with old-timers’ complaints about how Burning Man was getting less cool and too many people were coming, especially “yahoos” who weren’t Burner-y enough for them. As you can imagine, I heard much less about Radical Inclusion than Radical Self-reliance.

I mean, I actually heard people saying that Burners were getting stupider and it’s because BORG was reducing the need for radical self-reliance. They wanted to cut off not just coffee sales, but ice sales (rotten food everywhere, anyone?) Some folks wanted BORG to stop funding art and stop giving out information that keeps people safe. No survival guide, less helpful website and newsletter and more people not coming back because they hurt themselves. ☹

But I think these folks were missing the point. When I first showed up at Burning Man, I thought of myself as pretty self-reliant. I had hitchhiked around India and Europe, sleeping on benches and cardboard boxes. I used baking soda as soap/toothpaste/laundry detergent/dish soap/antacid/backpack odor reducer/insect bite treatment. Washed my clothes by hand, walked miles per day and ate sparingly. But Burning Man changed this view of myself. I came unprepared (didn’t read the Survival Guide.) I needed other peoples’ shade. Our food sucked, so I mostly lived off distilled corn (aka Knob Creek.) And it detracted from what was still an amazing experience.

What I think often gets missed in contemplations of Radical Self-reliance are (a) we need to meet someone where he is; and (b) that it’s not about counting down to when the Man Burns (93 days, 23 hours and 6 minutes from now). What I mean by meeting someone where she is, is just understanding that Burning Man isn’t about shaming people for what they didn’t understand when they showed up. It’s about that person bettering himself because he did show up.

And that leads to the second point. The Ten Principles are pretty fucking great suggestions for the “default world”. Even though Burning Man is a unique thing, it’s not actually part of a different world. Radical Self-Reliance is the one of the Ten Principles I probably took the most to heart off the Playa. I’m not a wilderness survival specialist, but I grow a lot of my own food, fix my own stuff, build my own stuff, etc.

And I think that I can thank Burning Man for that. After having to rely on others at Burning Man I made sure not to let that happen again. And over time, I let that infect the rest of my life. That, I think, is the point to Burning Man. When the parties are over, when you’ve seen the art, when the magic is dispelled by Exodus, sure, count down the next 364 days until the Man Burns. But count down 1 day until you’re back home, ready to bring some of Burning Man with you.


There used to be a Burning Man newspaper called Piss Clear. The paper claimed the words ‘piss clear’ constitute the most important advice on the Playa. Drink enough water that your urine is clear. I always thought, in the spirit of keeping away the yahoos, someone could make a newsletter that only gave out bad advice and call it Piss Mud. So, with no further ado, here is some bad advice:

How to Be Bad at Self-Reliance, a Guide

· Piss mud. Dark, cloudy urine indicates you’re in good health out on the Playa. Bonus if you can actually feel the alcohol in your system burn as it comes out.

· Sharing is caring. Use your neighbor’s shower and, when you get out, see what they have to drink and eat. Don’t ask, it’s a gifting economy! Best way to make friends on the Playa!

· Drinking lots of alcohol makes your urine clear in the moment. This counts! Whatever you do, don’t subscribe to the one drink followed by one glass of water. Keeps you from drinking enough alcohol. Besides, what could be better than a hangover in 40○ Celsius?

· You should do this:

· That cute girl/boy who gave you fresh strawberries and then asked if you wanted to try some drug called 4-HCO? I’m sure she’s a sober person who knows you well. Go for it. Burning Man isn’t the place to shy away from new experiences and, out on the Playa, you could never get lost miles from medical help or friends.

· Don’t wear too many lights, it’s soooo unfashionable. Besides, how often does anyone actually get hit or run over? It’s like the haiku says:

Only one glow stick And a four inch one at that It will be fine

(Haiku taken from some issue of Piss Clear)

· No need to secure your camp before heading out. It’s not like the winds are strong on the Playa, it’s a desert!

· No need to bring a fancy first aid kit. After all, you’re within miles of some volunteer medics who are basically like a hospital, right?

By the way, one of the greatest things I saw on the Playa was a lady who broke her leg, was flown out on a helicopter and came back, on crutches. Hardcore, but best avoided.


The big news for the group: we’re all going to see each other on a Zoom call on June 7th? Thank you, Kimberly, for making that happen! I can’t wait!

The other news that I mentioned a bit in the last newsletter is that someone from Kostume Kult, named Jax, will be helping with the weddings. He’s an experienced officiant, he’s fun and sweet and I’m excited for everyone to meet him. Oh, and it looks like we may be getting another wedding reservation soon.


No big news this week. But here’s a planned artwork called Paradisium:


I emailed Placement to give them more explanation on why they should allocate tickets to us. I am also working on plans to get a little help from outside our camp and/or scale things back should we not get tickets allocated to us. Really hoping allocation, STEP or Burner Express Plus tickets come through and put us at ease. I don’t want to wait until OMG.


Zoom meeting coming up.


I wanted to leave off with another thought about Self-Reliance. It’s not just being able to build; being prepared; being good at camping; being resilient. It’s also about living your own life and your own burn. Your Burn is your Burn. It’s not about what anyone else will think of your experience. It’s not Utopia-on-a-Stick (good name for a popsicle theme camp). It’s a chance to make of it what you will… and, hopefully, bring something into the “default world” with you.

“We all have beliefs and expectations from our personal experience; it is impossible to live without them. Since we have to make some assumptions, they might as well be ones that allow us freedom, choice and fun in the world, rather than ones that limit us. You often get what you expect to get.” -John Seymour, author of The Complete Guide to Self-Sufficiency

The Man burns in 94 days.

The Man, his first year on the Playa, 1990.

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