Writing about the dangers of rebellion against the opinions of the elites in Anti-Intellectualism In American Life in 1974, Richard Hofstadter made the case that at the core of this strain of thought was a reliance on a uniquely evangelical form of religious faith. “Anti-intellectualism … first got its strong grip on our ways of thinking because it was fostered by an evangelical religion that also purveyed many humane and democratic sentiments. It made its way into our politics because it became associated with our passion for equality. It has become formidable in our education partly because our educational beliefs are evangelically egalitarian.”  Therefore, in Hofstadter’s view, a separation needed to occur: a removal of the religious aspects from the cultural tendency toward egalitarianism. “Hence, as far as possible, our anti-intellectualism must be excised from the benevolent impulses upon which it lives by constant and delicate acts of intellectual surgery which spare these impulses themselves.”

It is a nice sounding sentiment. We ought to love our neighbor because they are our neighbor, and not because they contain within them a spark of the divine. But in practice, is this even possible? When the pressures that require such moral activity are laws and regulations and social stigma, and not the Golden Rule, there is a greater willingness to engage in behavior that is destructive. And when there seems to be a vague moral imperative to engage in such destruction – out of a sense of covetousness or victimhood or a perceived slight – it becomes all the more likely to happen.

The disciples of Burning Man, the celebratory desert festival which marked its 30th anniversary this year, like to present themselves as a creative hippie utopia, marked for its familial relationships and a sense of abounding humanitarian love. You may get it, or you may not.  But that utopia was marred this year by an act of “revolution” against the “rich parasites”, as hooligans attacked a luxury camp.  “It is supposed to be a utopian vision of peace and love but this year’s Burning Man Festival has been marred by “hooligans” carrying out a “revolution against rich parasites”. The festival plays out each year in Nevada’s Black Rock Desert where 70,000 people build a city in a week, burn a giant wooden effigy of a man, and then restore the arid playa to its original state.

“In recent years it has become popular with Silicon Valley millionaires, and billionaires. Luxurious so-called “plug-n-play” camps have sprung up which use hired staff like cooks, builders and security, and allow international jetsetters to drop in for quick visits. Many traditional “Burners” claim that is a betrayal of the spirit of “radical self-reliance” that is a cornerstone of the festival, which began in 1986.

“As anger boiled over one camp called White Ocean, which hosts high profile DJs on a state-of-the-art stage, became the focus of anger. The camp first made an appearance at Burning Man three years ago and its founders included the British DJ Paul Oakenfold and the son of a Russian billionaire.

“While the camp was holding a party at which revelers listened to techno music it was attacked by vandals who flooded it with water and cut power lines.

In a dismayed post on Facebook camp leaders said:  “A very unfortunate and saddening event happened last night at White Ocean, something we thought would never be possible in our Burning Man utopia. A band of hooligans raided our camp, stole from us, pulled and sliced all of our electrical lines leaving us with no refrigeration and wasting our food, and glued our trailer doors shut.

“They vandalised most of our camping infrastructure and dumped 200 gallons of potable water flooding our camp. The camp leaders said they felt like there had been an effort to “sabotage us from every angle” because “some feel we are not deserving of Burning Man”.

“They said: “We actually had someone from the Burning Man organisation tell us ‘It makes sense that you have been sabotaged as you are a closed camp and not welcoming’.” …

“[O]thers supported the attack, saying it was time to “take back” the festival. Tony Wichowski, a Burner, said:  “And so the revolution has begun. Taking Burning Man back from the parasite class, back from the electronic dance music tourists. Taking Burning Man back for the people. This wasn’t much but it’s a great start.”

“A great start.” In the absence of an abiding faith that views people as individuals and fellow humans, responsible for their own sins, it becomes far more possible to view people as members of a “parasite class”, a group that exists only as a barrier to your own success or as a leech on your class’s vitality. Burning Man is the closest thing to a mini-utopia designed by the rich and famous, abiding in love for all people – but as it happens, the conditions for such love to exist include aspects modern Americans tend to find very inconvenient.

About abyssum

I am a retired Roman Catholic Bishop, Bishop Emeritus of Corpus Christi, Texas
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