I’ve recently begun rereading Elaine Pagels’ wonderful book “The Origin of Satan”, where she postulates that the social origin story to Satan was an attempt to moralize an inherent human tendency towards us vs. them. To take that sense of comfort we feel at belonging to a group, and creating that group identity through defining what we are not (them), and magnifying it to a cosmic level. I see this tension at play in the burn community I participate in and identify with. I see it within myself, as I self-identify as a burner.
There’s a term for this interplay of “us-vs.them” within the burn community: burnier-than-thou. It’s a recognized and accepted concept within the group that this tension exists. There is a sense of moralization, I do more, bring more, work harder, been here longer than you, therefore I am more of a burner than you are. In some sense this is true. Some people have been around longer and thus have done more. The inherent nature of us-vs.-them is humanity speaking the less pleasant truths of our nature.
The benefit of having a “them” is that is solidifies what “us” constitutes. On a basic level it’s “me” vs. “you”; we tend to self identify with what we’re not, giving ourselves a clearer picture of what we are. We can also accomplish this process for ourselves on a micro level of our own self-identity and apply it to the macro group ethos. I tend to view burners as people who contribute something to the community and to burn events. Whether that be art, their time and energy via volunteering, a theme camp, gifting, or contributions that I haven’t thought of yet; for me, being a burner means action. Doing the do that makes up our community and events.
However, not everyone agrees with me on this (as it should be). For some, being a burner is attending an event and experiencing it. For others, being a burner is attending the myriad of activities that happen through out the year, including online interactions. I can get into an us-vs.-them attitude, where I dismiss these other versions justifying one’s inclusion in a group that I cherish but that this mindset, though natural, overlooks is that we are all on our own personal journeys. Some of us will stay and contribute more, others will fade away. However your journey plays out, the experience of a Burn has the capacity to change you, if you let it.
Perhaps that’s the real lesson to be learned about judging how other’s view themselves. We can feel justified by our self-identity (personal or group) and intolerant of those who are not part of our group. We can become exclusive, instead of inclusive. When we allow a group, an event, life to mold us into new, more open people, we have experienced and contributed to that group, that event, life. I think this appeal to out better, one could say angelic, nature.
I think that my criteria for what constitutes a burner has shifted to “Were you open enough, even just a crack, to let the experiences of the group, up to and including whatever event you attended, change you?”