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Recent comments on my Facebook page brought up some striking differences between two counter-cultures here in the U.S., the "Rainbow Family" and the "Burners".

The Rainbow Family is a loosely organized group of hippies who have been exercising their Constitutional rights to peaceful assembly on public lands ever since their first "Gathering" in 1969. The Rainbows generally believe that we should reject our monetary system and return to a way of living in harmony with nature. Rainbows have been criticized for not cleaning up after themselves after their gatherings and causing destruction to public lands.

By contrast, the first Burning Man Festival was in 1986. It is a for-profit event which is organized by Black Rock City, LLC. "Burners" describe the event as an experiment in community, art, radical self-expression, and radical self-reliance. But some outsiders might say it has more to do with taking designer drugs; partying all night to the sound of techno-rave music and getting laid.

I have been to two National Rainbow Gatherings. I had a great experience both times. I did notice after the 4th of July, the climax of the event, that a lot of campers left a mess behind. I was pretty pissed off about it and spent some time wandering around and screaming my lungs out, yelling "Pick up your shit people!" 

After awhile I realized that screaming wasn't going to help, so I went and found someone who had a bunch of trash-bags; after I convinced him I was on a clean-up mission he gave me some of them and I went back to the vacated camps to fill them up. I carried them out, four at a time, all the way to the to the main circle area and stopped to rest. It was nearly a hundred percent humidity and hot as hell...my back was killing me. I had cut myself on a sharp branch while clearing the trash and I was bleeding slightly. After catching my breath, I was about to continue forward when some guy came up to me and asked, "hey brother, where did you get that trash?" I told him where the mess was and he said, "I'll take it from here." So I went back, got four more bags and proceeded to carry them out.

This time no one relieved me of my burden at the half-way point, so I continued all the way out to the parking area (about 5 miles from the pile of crap). When I got there I was exhausted, overheated and still rather angry. My back was hurting more than ever. I added my bags to a growing pile near the parking lot and started walking back towards the main circle for another load.

There was this really sexy girl (sister) in the shade by the side of the trail with a massage table. She invited me to lay on her table, gave me a massage and thanked me for hauling the trash out. Suddenly it all made sense. If there are enough good people to clean up after the mess-makers then things work out in the long run. The sister was too small to carry out the trash but she had a massage table and she knew the people doing the hauling would have sore backs. She was just waiting for people to show up with bags of trash so she could reward them.

This is an example of a functioning anarchy. My mind was totally blown and my self-righteous feelings of anger melted away.

I think the Rainbows have got it more or less right. There are bad apples in every barrel but I try to look at the general intent of the group.

I've never been to Burning Man because I can't afford it but, from the pictures and stories I have heard, I do believe the party uses a good deal of resources (generators, etc.). Art on such a massive scale is going to have some environmental impact. I see most Burners and some other artists as having a "let them eat cake" attitude, and I see them as being rather hedonist. 

I respect the Rainbows because their mission is to feed everyone for free, more in keeping with Ram Dass' philosophy. I see it as very significant that Rainbow Gatherings are free, while Burning Man would exclude those who can't afford the rather exorbitant admission fee which starts at $380 and goes up to $650. Early burners used to tell me frankly that the heavy admission fee served to "keep out the riff-raff".