Conservative Burners?

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The first question which I expect to hear is "are you serious". Oh yes, I'm perfectly serious. This really is a mailing list for Politically Conservative, Libertarian and Moderate (or Centrist) people interested in Burning Man and other burns, and why not? A fair number of Conservatives, Moderates and other Republican-friendly people can be found at Burning Man. The chance to get to a place where one get get the (expletitive deleted) government off of one's back, if only for a week, has a decided appeal to those for us who tend to lean right of center. Some of us might not think very highly of the uses that others choose to put their freedom to, but what of it? That's the whole significance of the concept of freedom - that one can put it to uses that other people don't think too highly of. Take the possibility of disapproval out of the equation, and the "freedom" that results is functionally indistinguishable from Totalitarianism.

Photo courtesy of Painet
What can you expect from the membership? Darned if I know, I'm just getting to know them myself, at the time of this writing (12:36 am on March 26, 2004). I've very recently changed the concept of this list. Until recently, it was "the Burning Man Freelist", intended to be a place where you could come and write whatever you wanted, as long as it related to Burning Man. I got a sizable turnout - 57 people - but I don't know if I'd call it a good turnout. THE perennial Burning Man problem had presented itself - a crowd of spectators had gathered, apparently waiting for a conversation to get going before diving in. In some places moderators have dealt with this problem by creating a few different online personae and arguing with themselves until the unmotivated masses could be drawn in, but even had I been so inclined, I wouldn't have had that kind of time. I posted on a variety of subjects, tried to get a discussion going on at least one of them, and got nothing but dead silence.

As I was on the verge of deleting this list, what at first was a seemingly illogical but strangely compelling thought popped into my mind - maybe the answer was to hone down the concept of BurnFree. Instead of this being a place for alternative views of all sorts, how about a place for forbidden views of one particular kind - those of the political right wing. While Burning Man itself is apolitical, the same can not be said of the online forums, many of which have been co-opted by a rather shrill kind of liberal, the campus activist at his most fanatical. This disconnect between the online and offline realities of Burning Man suggested the existence of a pool of burners whose needs weren't being met, a pool to which I belonged. In fact, there was nothing illogical about that thought at all. Many conservatives online have found that the promise of "free expression" in many online forums is like the promise of "good food" in the advertisements of roadside diners : a nice thought, but a promise seldom delivered on. By excluding all but the Conservatives (and the Moderates, the two being difficult to cleanly separate), I would send the message to those other people on the right wing of Burnerdom that this time, the promise would be delivered on, because if it wasn't and I started blocking conservative commentary, I'd be left with no membership at all.

"And what about the right to free expression of the liberal burner?" What about it? There are plenty of places in the online Burning Man community in which liberal views can be expressed, and I moderate one of them. There are relatively few in which conservative views can be expressed equally freely, without interference from the moderators. The establishment of BurnFree as a conservative forum does nothing more than restore a little of the missing balance to a severely tilted playing field. By opening the dialogue of a subculture to a wider range of possibilities, we open the practical range of free expression in the process. While the means may be mildly counter-intuitive in the eyes of some who've willfully forgotten their own hidden agendas, the reality is that by creating a place where those who dissent can be among their own, we do serve the cause of radical self-expression. If some on the left in Black Rock City would claim to disagree, then let us ask - when should we expect to hear these people calling for an end to the denial of the corporate world's freedom of expression in BRC? When should we expect to hear a call for the introduction of unlimited vending, in the name of freedom of expression?

Think for a second on why that demand would be absurd. A dissenting minority must have the freedom to have a place to be itself, and that is no less true when the minority is a minority within a minority, as are the right wing burners online. Sauce for the goose, friends - you can't establish a right to be on your own for yourselves, and then try to deny that same right to another group when it tries to do the same, and do so in the name of freedom with any kind of justice. The issue is not whether we, as Conservatives and Moderates will establish our own forums. We will. The question is whether or not the left wing establishment in Black Rock City can find the good grace to not try to put roadblocks in our way as we do so. Let's go to the list.

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