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The Power In Burning Man's 'Utopian Lie'

Courtesy of Benjamin Kantner
Benjamin Kantner's Burning Man camp in 2016.

There are lots occasions when bending the truth is something we want to happen. This is what more than 60,000 people do every summer in the Nevada desert for Burning Man, the iconic week-long festival with art, music and lots of partying. It’s an event that attracts the likes of hippies, Hollywood celebrities and tech billionaires. However, Burning Man is also sometimes described as one, giant, utopian lie.

Before going to Burning Man, where he is known as Konifer, 31-year-old Benjamin Kantner’s life in Seattle looked good on paper. But it felt like he was lying to himself.   

“I got a degree in accountancy and a CPA license," said Kantner. "That’s what I had been told was the secure and smart way to go to create a professional life."

When Kanter lost the corporate job with the great view during the Great Recession, he reevaluated what he was doing with his life and started to make some changes. It wasn’t until he went to his first Burning Man, when he had to create a different character for himself that he started to figure things out.  

"[At Burning Man,] we make up names for ourselves. I was able to put on a different persona there and it felt good.”

For those seven days in the Nevada desert, Kantner says everyone is equal. It’s a socialist utopia, even though it’s not really true. However, Kantner says that it's a lie that needs to be told. 

“Because I really believe in the power of hope … there has to be a spark that keeps us going because the world is not a utopia. But to get a little taste of what that energy is or what it could be is powerful.”

Kantner has been able to hold on to some of the truth he discovered about himself in the Nevada desert. He’s gone from that suit and tie accounting job to being a DJ and going to graduate school for international studies. He plans to go back to Burning Man next summer.  

This story originally aired on Nov. 12, 2016

Jennifer Wing is a former KNKX reporter and producer who worked on the show Sound Effect and Transmission podcast.
Sound Effect producer Allie Ferguson has been making radio for nearly 5 years. She got her start at KUOW and has since traveled the country working for national news shows including WNYC's The Takeaway and NPR's Weekend All Things Considered. Allie won a 2016 Gracie Award, which celebrates women in media, for her work at KUOW. She enjoys telling surprising stories about passionate people.