Decommodification & Gifting
“Burning Man is devoted to acts of gift giving. The value of a gift is unconditional. Gifting does not contemplate a return or an exchange for something of equal value.”
“In order to preserve the spirit of gifting, our community seeks to create social environments that are unmediated by commercial sponsorships, transactions, or advertising. We stand ready to protect our culture from such exploitation. We resist the substitution of consumption for participatory experience.”
The Oxford defines Commodity (noun) as a “raw material or primary agricultural product that can be bought and sold.”
We live in a transactional world. This affects how we communicate, relate, create, express, celebrate etc. When we are living out the values of gifting and decommodification we are able to connect to our authentic desires, focus on being over having and express our authentic self.
Former Congressman Dennis Kucinich, hit the nail on the head in a talk with Burning Man founder, Larry Harvey, saying, “a society dedicated to consumerism ultimately consumes itself”. I’m reminded of the series, The Century of Self, explaining the rise of consumerism and Sigmund Freud’s role in helping corporations connect products to our unconscious desires (highly recommend if you haven’t seen it). Being sold simulated states is the norm now. It’s a sick cycle of searching for happiness and fulfillment in the wrong places at the cost of our environment. Burning Man is a safe space from commercial messaging. A place where we can feel into our true desire and happiness without well, buying it.
Larry further explains that “Burning Man does not disapprove of commerce, they want to instead encourage relationships that aren’t transactional and are instead based on things with unconditional value… with a focus on being over having”. For example, love is something of unconditional value. Gifting in turn is an expression of love. Gifting is not bartering. It can be challenging for people to grasp that last point since we are so conditioned to be transactional. Which is why this principle can be a huge point of growth for people. I encourage you to feel into any discomfort you may feel if you receive a gift. How strong is the urge to reciprocate? Can you smile and say thank you with ease?
But decommodification doesn’t only entail limiting commerce on playa. It is also possible for a person to be commodified which ultimately limits that person to those rankings or standards. This video of a personal story about decommodification helps to explain what I mean by that and the summary of the video is as follows...
“Commodification helps us to simplify the world, to help us keep score, and assign rankings, to put on an identity and take it off when it’s inconvenient. To commodify oneself (or to be commodified) is to be easily measurable, rankable, and knowable. Burners, who come out of a capitalist counter-cultural context, tend to think of that in economic terms – and that’s certainly true. The process of commodification – of turning something into a product suitable for purchase – also has everything to do with social class, with big data, with the quantified self, and with the kind of psychology that seeks to make us all simpler and shallower rather than deeper and more complex.
When we commodify we seek to make others, and ourselves, more like things, and less like human beings. “Decommodification,” then, is to reverse this process. To make the world and the people in it more unique, more priceless, more human.”
He says in the video that “stripping people down into component parts is infuriating” and I agree. We aren’t a brand, or just a personality type or astrological sign- we are a full human. An example of this is when companies hire or fire people based on their Myers Briggs results as if that accounts for the full human. There is value in breaking things down to better measure, rank and understand, don’t get me wrong, I love frameworks, but the lens at which you look at the results through is key. In fact, our brains are wired to constantly find meaning and create shortcuts that often manifest in stereotypes- it’s natural. But the funny thing about labeling someone is that they are less empowered to radically express themselves and instead are conditioned to conform. The Indian philosopher Krishnamurti remarked that "the highest form of intelligence is the ability to observe without evaluating." Let Burning Man be a place where we stop trying to make sense of everything and just be.
So how can you help to live out this value?
Don’t use BM grounds for marketing
Accept gifts with a smile, not an exchange. *Gentle reminder that your gift can be your presence rather than an item or a good. MOOP free prefered!
Leave your branded clothes at home
Observe without evaluating
A note from Burning Man…
“We need your help! If you see a playa photo/video on social media with a brand tagged, post a comment about Decommodification and ask them to take it down. Is your friend promoting their stuff with images from BRC? Seize that teachable moment and educate them about the 10 Principles! If you’ve tried reaching out to someone directly about their commercial use of Burning Man photos or the Burning Man name, and they ignore, block, or argue you with you, go ahead and email our team at email@example.com.”
What Does it Mean to Have Decommodification as a Principle?
(Non) Newsflash: Burning Man Is Not a Backdrop for Your Product