WASHINGTON, D.C. - There is a place where naked Buddhist bikers, tech-jock skydivers, wild capoeira practitioners and spontaneous group-hugging performance artists meet. A makeshift city built every summer for one week at the end of August in the dusty Nevada desert.
By day the participants practice “radical inclusion,” riding their bikes through massive art projects and nasty sand storms, ski goggles protecting their eyes. By night, flashing neon rainbow-lit installations pulse with mind-bending dub-step. And no matter the hour, there are always hugs; LOTS of hugs.
Ever since I saw this tweet announcing his plans, the news has been rolling around my head: Grover Norquist is going to Burning Man. Grover Norquist is going to Burning Man.
As one of the (must be!) few journalists who has both been to Burning Man a couple of times and interviewed Grover Norquist several times, I can tell you this: It just seems so... unlikely.
Grover Norquist is the president of Americans for Tax Reform, the group that asks Congressional candidates to sign a “Taxpayer Protection Pledge,” vowing never to vote for a tax increase. He is a central character in the epic drama playing out in the Capitol building.
Congressional politics is in an almost total logjam, and Grover Norquist is among the biggest logs.
To get an idea of just how incongruous it seems, try this fun game: do a Google image search for Grover Norquist. Scan through the hundreds of thousands of pictures of the man and try to find one in which he is NOT wearing a tie. (I found two. In both he was wearing a suit-jacket.)
Now do a Google image search for Burning Man. Scan through the hundreds of thousands of pictures of the event and try to find one in which someone is NOT naked. (Or in some wacked-out postmodern costume made of sparkle-fur and glow sticks.)
Now, in your mind's eye, blend the images you just scanned. Doesn’t work, right?
If I push myself past the incongruous, paradoxical, and downright weird image of that particular man at that particular event, I can find reasons why it makes sense for Grover to go to Burning Man.
He is, after all, a small government, libertarian-leaning Republican, and it is, after all, the world's biggest experiment in relative lawlessness. Grover is, more than anything, an ideas man, a philosopher, and an incredibly skilled debate-master.
Burning Man is a place where thinking people play with unconventional ideas, radical philosophies, and stay up debating until the sun rises. Also on the agenda: a sea of art-cars swirls around the desert, a Spanish Galleon built on top of a school bus, an undulating shark the length of a parking lot and a school of motorized cupcakes.
So it is that I have decided that this is a good thing, for both parties involved, Grover and Burning Man. A good thing, that is, if each can control their impulse to reject what might seem antithetical to their own culture.
And so I humbly submit some recommendations for my new favorite odd couple.
What Grover Should Do at Burning Man:
- Ditch your entourage, if only for a little while. Let yourself be surrounded by people who don’t think like you do.
- Ignore people who are doing things you don’t care to see. Like riding a bike sans pants.
- Hop on an art car and go wherever it goes. Get off where something that looks interesting. Repeat.
- Dress (or don’t) exactly how you like. That’s what everyone else is doing. (Besides, if you continue to wear your tie, they’ll just think you’re being ironic.)
- Pray at The Temple. Read the messages left for people who’ve died in the past year. Then watch it burn.
- Hug someone. I know, it’s totally dorky. But try it anyway. A few times.
- Talk to a stranger, even if she/he/it looks like something from another planet.
- Shut up and listen.
What Burning Man Should Do with Grover:
- Practice your stated principle of “radical inclusion.” Let your culture be influenced by a man who doesn’t think like most of you.
- Protect Grover from people who might heckle him, or play gotcha games. Don’t let his presence become a political sideshow.
- Invite Grover to hop onto your art cars, wander into your massive art installations, and wander around the desert.
- Tell him his costume is cool. Because it is. In the land of the fuzzy-neon-sparkle-pony, the necktie-man is king. (And it’s probably NOT ironic.)
- If you see Grover at The Temple, ask him who he’s lost and what they meant to him.
- Talk to Grover. About his philosophy of American governance, his massive political power, and his feelings about being among the most polarizing political figures in US politics.
- Shut up and listen.