Having just emerged from one of the most epic experiences of my life, I'd like to share a few thoughts before returning to my usual news-skewering routine. Don't worry, it's about drug policy, although I'm proud to say I did manage to go an entire week without thinking about the drug war much at all.
I just spent seven days in the desert with 50,000 very enthusiastic adventurers, more than a few of whom engaged in the recreational use of mind-altering substances other than alcohol. Now, Burning Man is about much more than drugs, and even among those choosing to consume, beer seemed to be the most popular choice. But there was also a robust and visible psychedelic culture to be found there, making the event a rather vivid depiction of what happens when you release thousands of rabid psychonauts in harsh desert conditions and let them do whatever the hell they want.
Let's just say the outcome is substantially more graceful and orderly than even my own wide-open mind could have anticipated. I've seen far more sloppiness and idiocy at any football game I've ever attended than I did at Burning Man, even after dark when the serious weirdos really get down to business. Not even an abundance of liquid acid can unravel the inherent civility that takes hold when an intentional community of caring and curious people unites to celebrate free-expression on its own terms.
No major festival is entirely immune to the disruptive influence of individual trouble-makers, but Burning Man has established an impressive track record of general safety and cohesion going back many years now. It's a brilliant exhibit in the viability of expanding the boundaries of acceptable human behavior, particularly insofar as anyone who doesn't want to see naked people driving around in fire-breathing dragon-cars can simply choose not to attend.
The whole experience for me became yet another reminder of the profound stupidity of attempting to purge the psychedelic experience from our culture. If the paranoid fulminations of the anti-drug demagogues even approached the truth, an event such as this could never exist, for the playa would be soaked in blood and tears before the first sunrise. Once it's understood that the post-legalization drug apocalypse we've been taught to fear for so long is nothing more than a mindless fantasy, the justification for war evaporates faster than sweat under the desert sun.