Burning the White House

On Starting from Scratch

i. Twilight of the Gods

Germany, April 1945. The Berlin Philharmonic is performing Richard Wagner’s ‘Gotterdämmerung’ as Allied forces close in.

The last piece heard by Berliners before the fall of the Third Reich is the immolation scene:

An anguished Brunnhilde decides to throw the all-powerful Nibelungen ring (and herself) into the fire.

The act destroys everything: the ring, the woman, the hall of the gods. Even the gods themselves.

Utter dissolution. Purifying destruction.

Only in this way could the world be made new again. The old order was corrupt; so the only remaining option is to start again, from scratch.


ii. Revolution is Sexy

Revolution is at once appalling and appealing. Most often, appealing in theory, appalling in practice.

See Stalinist Russia, Maoist China, et al.

Yet there is something sexy about the idea of revolution.

Maybe it’s the notion that, no matter how messed up things can get, there remains the possibility of a new beginning.

Revolution is the eraser on the pencil of society-building.

Revolution is the ‘Delete All’ button of social order.

‘Are you sure?’ it prompts us after one click. Why wouldn’t we be sure?

Because it means everything that existed and had been constructed will disappear?

Because not only will we lose the unpalatable stuff, but also some content of which we were proud?

Are you sure you wish to throw out the proverbial baby with the bathwater?

Yes. Click. ‘Are you really, really, sure?’

Why the fear? Why the safeguards and the hesitation? Just give me my revolution already.


iii. The Vacuum

The problem is that after the old words are erased, after the old tweets are deleted, what remains is — void. Blank space. A vacuum.

And by the laws of physics, vacuums are quickly filled.

It’s like that scene in ‘Raiders of the Lost Ark’:

If you’re going to remove the golden idol, you’ll want to make sure you have something convincing to replace it.

This need to fill the vacuum tends to underline most criticism against demonstrations from the political left.

“Okay, you have a problem with things-as-they-are; but what will you do instead?”

“Fracking may be bad; but do you have a better solution?”

There is merit to the argument.

Not all piles of ash yield a phoenix. But the only way to usher in a phoenix is to burn the thing to the ground.


iv. Apocalypse

In a recent a interview, white supremacist Steve Bannon describes how he sees revolution:

“Not only inevitable [but] “even morally necessary.”

Bannon’s vision “is an apocalyptic vision of glory born out of chaos, of purifying destruction in which the old order will fall, and a new one rise.”

They are the words of the chief strategist for the White House. Currently one of the most powerful people on the planet.


v. The Phoenix

In the final minutes of Wagner’s epic opera, a four-part behemoth which runs 19.5 hours, the surviving characters are left to hope.

Brunnhilde and Siegfried are dead. The gods, too, have perished. Valhalla, the white house of the gods, destroyed.

What is there to look forward to?

Is hope still hope if it has no object?

Is it sufficient to hope not for something, but simply for something-else?

It is audacious to hope for change.

When the match is held by the antagonist, however, a desire for change can be the first step toward a strange, new order.


originally posted to Twitter 15 February 2017