“Do you Renounce All Violence?”
That’s what she asked me. Was she serious? Did she really want to know? Or was it simply moral posturing? I don’t know. But its a commonly held view at Burning Man, which after all is a hippie, artsy festival at its core. Such proclamations are to be expected.
I replied, “I renounce the initiation of violence.”
She looked at me like I was from Mars. Sure it would have been easier, perhaps more socially advantageous to leave the extra word out, but the distinction is important.
I explained, “If someone attacks you, does violence to you – you should fight back. I don’t renounce your fighting back, your using violence to counteract the ‘initiation’ of violence. It is the initiation that is the problem, not violence itself.”
I think I blew her mind. She seemed to agree, but was frightened at the prospect of modifying her view. People who are impressed by profound sounding absolutes are frequently baffled by the subtleties of reality. And often act in ways quite opposite to their proclaimed values.
Among the hundreds of attractions at Burning Man, this steel framed dome consistently draws large crowds, and what is featured beneath the Thunderdome? Violence. Other attractions of great beauty, creativity, thoughtfulness, even sexuality, languish in isolation, but not Thunderdome.
What people say, like, “Renouncing all violence,” is frequently betrayed by what they do. And there appears to be a large blind spot when it comes to violence. Burning Man is made up of people who would not hurt a fly, and yet displays of violence draw them in, as if they were flies themselves.
Even the festival namesake, the Burning Man. What is burning but destruction? What is destruction but violence enacted on the inanimate?
There is something deep in the human psyche, something we have learned to oppress and deny, and not without good reason. But yet, it, is, there.
The crowd does not lie.