Thousands of Burning Man festival goers found themselves trapped in the Nevada desert after torrential rains created impassable mud. While some may have reveled in the idea of a "Lord of the Flies" scenario for the tech lords and moguls that attend the event, the reality proved quite different. This incident challenges the common belief that civilization is merely a thin veneer that crumbles in the absence of authority - a belief that is not only false but also harmful.
Rutger Bregman, author of "Humankind: A Hopeful History," delved into the subject after being intrigued by the implications of "Lord of the Flies." He discovered a real-life case in 1965 where six boys aged 13 to 16 were stranded on an island after impulsively stealing a boat. Contrary to the narrative in the novel, these boys managed to survive through cooperation. When one of them broke his leg, the others took care of him, demonstrating the power of collaboration in dire circumstances.
Similar stories of cooperation in the face of disaster have been documented throughout history. In the aftermath of the 1999 earthquake in Turkey, the author of this news piece personally witnessed people coming together and sharing resources instead of succumbing to chaos or looting. Rebecca Solnit's book, "A Paradise Built in Hell: The Extraordinary Communities That Arise in Disaster," explores numerous instances where people altruistically cooperated after earthquakes, hurricanes, and other catastrophes. Interestingly, authorities often assume the worst and intervene to restore law and order, inadvertently causing harm.
The aftermath of Hurricane Katrina in New Orleans serves as a stark example of this misconception. Despite rumors spread by officials about rampant violence and chaos in the Superdome, where thousands sought refuge, the reality was that people supported each other and cared for the most vulnerable. However, the demonization of the predominantly Black population of New Orleans fueled discrimination and hindered aid efforts. The false narrative perpetuated by authorities led to delayed assistance and even violent encounters between city residents and those attempting to escape the disaster.
Nicholas Christakis, a sociologist and physician, challenges the notion that humans are naturally driven by competition and violence. In his book "Blueprint: The Evolutionary Origins of a Good Society," Christakis argues that humans are cooperative and social animals who have survived not due to physical strength but because of their intelligence and ability to collaborate. Examining shipwrecks from the 16th to 19th centuries, he discovered that survivors often relied on cooperation rather than resorting to violence.
This perspective does not disregard the darker aspects of human behavior, such as war and genocide. However, these atrocities are not inherent to human nature but are organized through the institutions of civilization, including politics, culture, and militarism. Conversely, these institutions can also be utilized to resist dehumanization and promote cooperation. The European Union serves as an example of how collective efforts can suppress conflicts that plagued the continent for centuries.
In light of the current situation at the Burning Man festival, it is likely that those trapped in the mud are banding together, sharing shelter, food, and water. Rather than reveling in their misfortune, it is important to recognize the significance of solidarity and unity. Implementing laws that eliminate tax havens, create a fairer tax structure, and establish international frameworks to combat corruption will further strengthen societal bonds. Additionally, holding technology and other companies accountable for the consequences of their inventions will ensure that profits are not privatized while society bears the burdens.
Human nature is not an obstacle to a good society; it simply requires support from laws and institutions. The mud may present a physical challenge, but it is through legal and institutional structures that the better aspects of humanity can thrive.
themes: War Louisiana Nevada