The Motto of “Safety Third”

By Aubrey Marcus October 18, 2022

The desire for safety stands against every great and noble enterprise.

Burning Man used to have a motto: “Safety third.” 

What they meant by this, is that safety is still important (a top three consideration) but it is not the primary objective. While they don’t explicitly rank what comes before safety, one can extrapolate based on the Burning Man ethos. Radical self expression, inclusion, freedom, self-sovereignty, and audacity in the creation of breathtaking art might claim the first and second rankings. For example, if you parachute into Burning Man they won’t ask you to buy a ticket. 

But when faced with the decision as to whether to hold the transformational festival this August... Burning Man put safety first. Meanwhile a sea of people can be found dancing in frothy mosh pits at Lollapalooza, and beer swilling crowds are cheering on their favorite combatants at sold out UFC fights.

Did Burning Man make the right choice? Well, that depends on your fundamental perspective regarding safety. Some of you undoubtedly believe that safety should indeed be the top priority for society, and that attendance to concerts, festivals, and sporting events should be canceled until Covid no longer is relevant (assuming that does indeed occur). Others of you surely believe that there are certain things more valuable than absolute safety.

But I would argue that all of us actually believe that there are things more valuable than safety. Statistics show that the number one cause of early mortality is loneliness. But how many people are willing to vulnerably share their truth to create the intimacy that eradicates loneliness? Closely following loneliness as a top killer; poor metabolic health. But how many people prioritize the health of their body over the pleasure of their mouth? You can say the same about cigarettes, alcohol… even driving a car. We still drive cars for recreational purposes despite everyone having a story of someone they know dying in a traffic accident. So safety isn’t actually first for any of us. We all just draw the line in a different place. And this depends on our fear of the risk, versus our desire for something beneficial or perhaps inalienable from the human experience. 

As for an analysis of the severity of risk, in my own observational experience Covid is more contagious than anything I have ever seen. I attended a small poolside birthday party recently for a dear friend and 9 out of the 15 people who attended got Covid. I’ve never seen a flu do that. Covid also seems to give little fucks about vaccination--3 of those nine had been vaccinated. Everyone seems susceptible. Some new statistics in a pre-print study back this up: the Pfizer vaccine’s efficacy in preventing infection dropped to 42% recently, and in Florida the vaccines were 60% effective in preventing infection overall. To be fair, this is still a significant improvement over the norm, and vaccines appear to be highly effective in preventing hospitalization... assuming of course that you aren’t one of the close to 80,000 people reported in the underutilized national Vaccine Adverse Event Reporting System that have been hospitalized or killed FROM the vaccine. 

Another factor to consider in your risk analysis, is how you think about your own death. For some, death is the end of everything. That’s pretty terrifying. For other’s, like Ram Dass said “death is like taking off an old shoe.” It signifies the transformation of form, and the transition from one density to another. 

As for the potential benefit of some life-affirming and inherently risky thing, I would rank Burning Man high on that list. It is a place where people can learn how to play, be free, make art, face challenges, become self-reliant, trust that ‘the playa provides’, mourn their losses at the Temple, and come together as a community in celebration of life. It has been consistently one of the most transformational experiences available on the planet. Maybe it was the right call to cancel it this year. But to cancel Burning Man indefinitely is to cancel a portal to a more beautiful world.

So where is the intersection point where the living of life is a higher virtue than the prevention of death or discomfort? It’s different for all of us. And that’s the beauty of a free society - we get to choose where that point is for ourselves and for our society. It is a rare psychopath who genuinely doesn’t care about the welfare of self and others. 

But unfortunately we are sliding further and further away from being a free society. We are ceding our rights to a centralized authority that decides what we can and cannot do, what we can and cannot say, and this is a dangerous path. History has shown that once power is surrendered to a government, it is seldom relinquished unless by force. The regulations that impinged upon privacy passed amidst the fear of terrorism that incited the Patriot Act are a great example. Our constitution was designed to protect us from our government, and it is no accident that the first amendment… is the FIRST amendment. 

Those seeking power will always capitalize on fear in order to provide a self-serving solution at the cost of our freedom. Another narrative pushed by authoritarians seeking to accumulate power, is that we need more control because “people can’t be trusted”. It is the same logic that supports draconian drug policies. “People can’t be trusted to take psychedelics. So we’ll throw you in a cage for your own good.” This is true in the micro of course, some people indeed can’t be trusted. However in places that have decriminalized drugs like Portugal, the negative implications of drug use in the aggregate are far less severe than most other nations. I would argue that this is because when you trust people, people become more trustworthy. 

The bottom line is that I don’t know what public events should happen and what events shouldn’t happen right now. But a couple of bureaucrats under the influence of campaign contributions don’t know that for certain either. Yes, contagion is a risk. Yes, we should absolutely do whatever we can to support those who are immune compromised. And yes we should also take into account the metrics that aren’t calculated in the myopic lens of the latest Covid stats--The cost of the decimation of our mental health, our children’s outlook on the world, and the economy to name a few. We must also factor in the danger of giving away our power to the power hungry. History has myriad examples of this totalitarian nightmare, and those who are unfamiliar with history are doomed to repeat it. 

The world right now is not black and white, as convenient as it might be to believe that it is. It is grey and nuanced. I don’t know exactly what we should do, other than to remain open to listen to all opinions in these times, as compassionately and reverently as possible. The solution will come from collective wisdom, not tribalistic assertion that ‘we are right, and they are wrong’. 

If you find yourself slipping into a nihilistic sense of hopelessness because of the bellicosity of our culture, I have some good news. MDMA assisted psychotherapy is on the brink of legalization. This may seem trivial or unrelated, but I assure you that it is not. Not only does this represent a cure for the majority of our veterans and first responders with PTSD, but as a side effect it is going to help people connect to the heart within all of humanity. On this week’s podcast, I interview the man responsible for bringing us to this pivotal threshold - Rick Doblin of He offers a full update on the status of MDMA legalization and we rap about a lot of other meaningful threads. 

Thank you for reading the newsletter fam. I put a lot of effort into writing it every week as openly as I can. If it is meaningful to you, please share it with those you love. 

I love you all,

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