Our Relationship to Risk is Broken

Risks—taken—have shaped all of human progress. In spite of this, most of us run from it, hiding behind social norms, laws and institutions created expressly to minimize it. We would do far better to embrace our own societal evolution, and the risks it requires of us.

Anthony Fieldman


Paradisium, by Dave Keane & Folly Builders © Anthony Fieldman 2022

At Burning Man—a temporary community of 80,000 people in the Nevada desert—there is a tongue-in-cheek idiom: “Safety Third.”

Those who know it chuckle every time it’s uttered, for two reasons. First, it runs counter to prevailing cultural wisdom, laws and their enforcement. And second, at Black Rock City—as the temporary metropolis built and occupied over two-week period every year is called—that sentiment is a fair reflection of how people actually act there.

It’s magical.

Burning Man, which ended just a few weeks ago, is, in many ways, an object lesson in how to get Project Human right. Among these are the near-ubiquitous creativity, generosity, inclusivity, positivity and industriousness that one finds there, and which visibly defies the conventional attitudes one finds in the “default world”, as everything outside of the city is called.

Things like competition, transactional culture, inequality, NIMBYism, prejudice and individualism, among other prevailing business-as-usual practices.

So, while like everywhere else, there are outliers at Black Rock City [sadly, not everyone who attends it acts in alignment with its foundational Ten Principles], the city is overwhelmingly free of the strictures and shortcomings of human societies everywhere.

Not the least of these is the fact that BRC is (almost entirely) law-and-enforcement-free, safety-net-free, participation-centric, quid-pro-quo-averse, self-restriction-shedding, and risk-embracing.

At Burning Man, risks of all kinds are taken in stride, if considered at all.

The first question that the lack of rigid oversight begs, then, is: “If it’s such a free-for-all, how dangerous is it?” Well, since 1986, twenty-seven people have lost their lives there, of both natural and other…



Anthony Fieldman

Architect | Photographer | Writer | Philosopher | Polyglot | Windmill Jouster | Nomade Civilisée