Pet Sematary review (stupidity is the final betrayal)

This is one of the best novels I’ve ever read, which is funny and surprising because I picked it up in the library based on this cover:

I mean, you don’t see Dostoevsky novels with covers like that.

Minor spoilers ahead.

Pet Sematary is an ingenious exposition of the problem of pain and the problem of evil, and the relationship between them. Technically and stylistically, Stephen King is a great writer, and in my opinion this is his best work. He and I agree it is also the most horrifying.

The linchpin moment is the tragic death of the protagonist’s son, which plays out according to every parent’s worst nightmare. They’re playing in the yard, and the toddler has gone from walking to constantly running around. He suddenly takes off for the road, right into the path of a big rig truck. The mom screams for the child to stop and the dad sprints and dives to catch him, just barely missing the kid’s jacket (fingers gently brushing against it) before the toddler gets creamed. So here we have the problem of pain, which is played out in microcosm throughout the book. Channeling the psychology of horror- the anxiety, the pain, and the brokenness- is where King’s writing really shines.

The titular cemetery is misspelled because it is a cemetery in the woods created and maintained by children who’ve lost their pets to the same high-traffic road. But even further into the woods is a forbidden place which can be described very roughly as an Indian burial ground, where buried pet corpses come back to life as muted, retarded, sadistic copies of their former selves. Despite experiencing the sad truth that a zombie can’t replace their loved pet (“Sometimes dead is better”), the people who have resurrected their pets continue to initiate other grieving souls into their secret ritual. This is completely senseless behavior, and we see over and over that despite the characters’ rationalizations they are aware of this. Thus, we have the problem of evil just as it may be observed in real life: senseless, persistent, and destructive.

The pet cemetery itself represents the thin boundary between humanity’s natural religious instincts and the latent supernatural horrors that can be awakened and expressed through human vessels. Evil is an insanely expensive endeavor; Think about how much money is wasted on the cause of evil just by George Soros. And yet evil continues, despite all our appeals to common sense, rationalism, economic theory, what have you. I believe the most poignant feature of evil is how stupid it is. Hannah Arendt described this as the banality of evil, but really what it boils down to is stupidity. People simply don’t grasp the concept of consequences– and even when they do they don’t care, and blithely go on doing the same things.

I’ve heard progressives described as “people who simply don’t understand the connection between their actions and the consequences of their actions”, but I think this is unfair. “For I do not do the good I want to do, but the evil I do not want to do–this I keep on doing.” In rare moments of honesty, we can- all of us- observe this in ourselves. Again, it is senseless, persistent, and destructive. We can be trained to do good, to think well, to have wisdom and understand good doctrines, and yet despite all this the human heart is deceitful and desperately intent on wickedness. The human condition is horrifyingly stupid. And this book explores that even better than Solzhenitsyn.

Now, as Koanic has mentioned elsewhere we often describe stuff we don’t understand as “supernatural”, but this is often just a placeholder term. To King’s credit, he has diagnosed the horrifying stupidity of the human condition as a properly supernatural problem. There is a great deal of stupidity that can be traced back to simple cause and effect, and this is shown in the characterizations of the protagonist and his wife- he takes out his daddy issues on his family, and she has a nervous breakdown anytime the concept of death comes up due to some over-the-top childhood trauma. Despite all this, the family limps along and functions, albeit poorly. Life goes on. That is, until the protagonist destroys even this small consolation by using the burial ground to resurrect his dead son.

Reading this book is like walking down the sidewalk and watching the cars go by, and seeing more than half of the drivers buzzing past you with their heads down, looking at their phones. I see this every day as I walk home on the left-hand sidewalk, and there’s a point when you realize it’s not just a few bad apples, or just some significant minority. It’s almost everybody. If I see two heads looking down at phones for every three cars going by, and assume that people are glancing up at the road sometimes, then at least some of the one-third of people who I see looking at the road are just glancing up momentarily from their phones. I am literally watching car crashes in super-slow motion that just haven’t happened quite yet. Sometimes I see kids and carseats in the back and it breaks what little is left of my heart. And if you took a survey, all of these people would tell you this is a stupid, stupid way to drive.

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About Aeoli Pera

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20 Responses to Pet Sematary review (stupidity is the final betrayal)

  1. Koanic says:

    Re stupidity – don’t knock it till you’ve tried it.

    • Aeoli Pera says:

      Lol, you know what I think about that. Well, I’ll add to it.

      I’ve said before that if I could take a pill to become a 100 IQ average neurotypical, I’d do it in a heartbeat. Heaviside was horrified by this, and I think if I actually did that I’d be betraying him to the extent that he’d lose what little comprehension I can offer him. The same goes for everyone I’ve understood and connected with at some level around here and the greater Neandersphere.

    • Any benefits that can rightfully be gained by stupid people, should also be emulable by smart people. Otherwise, we are being clever sillies.

      Any benefits that are not rightfully gained, should not be sought to be gained in the first place. Because they will carry with them karmic penalties. Ignorance is only bliss when it lubricates away over-abstraction.

      Anyway, that’s my starting point. The goal is to reach some kind of Zen state where a simple man’s happiness is attainable by a smart person, unperturbed by mid-wit turbulence.

      • Aeoli Pera says:

        >Any benefits that can rightfully be gained by stupid people, should also be emulable by smart people. Otherwise, we are being clever sillies.

        That’s a great rule of thumb.

        >Any benefits that are not rightfully gained, should not be sought to be gained in the first place. Because they will carry with them karmic penalties.

        I’m a divine command moralist.

        >Ignorance is only bliss when it lubricates away over-abstraction.

        Didn’t parse.

        >Anyway, that’s my starting point. The goal is to reach some kind of Zen state where a simple man’s happiness is attainable by a smart person, unperturbed by mid-wit turbulence.

        There’s a burgeoning science re: the pursuit of happiness. You might try reading some of that stuff.

        • Edenist whackjob says:

          If one over complicates things then a bit of ignorance is good. Or rather the ability to ignore the trivial.

  2. Seikis says:

    It seems that understanding & following up in “actions/consequences”, is what happens when being governed by the rational mind. People that impose their feelings when taking action, knowing it is not logical, are being driven by the emotional mind. Emotions over Logic. I’ve told others before(usually females), that very important(life changing) decisions should not be done based on emotions. On that novel, correct me if I’m wrong, the father ignores warnings(logic) because of how he FEELS.

    • When getting out of something, let emotions rule.

      When getting into something, let logic rule.

      An OK heuristic maybe. Of course, people will quibble over what means to get in or out :p

  3. Pingback: Excerpt from Pet Sematary | Aeoli Pera

  4. minwu says:

    Some questions:
    What do you think about the Dark Tower series?
    How is sociopathy different from machiavellism?
    Can a TT develop dark triad traits?
    How would you type Raistlin Majere?
    Do you know any free, anonymous mail server?

    • Heaviside says:

      You could try ProtonMail or Yandex.

    • Aeoli Pera says:

      >What do you think about the Dark Tower series?

      I had fun, but it’s been more than a decade and it didn’t leave much of an impression.

      >How is sociopathy different from machiavellism?

      They are both personality traits: Machiavellianism is a predisposition to play people against each other like pieces on a chessboard, sociopathy is a predisposition to view people as NPCs in a video game who exist only to enhance one’s own pleasure in the experience.

      >Can a TT develop dark triad traits?

      We seem to be predisposed to sadism and narcissism, the latter especially. Trauma seems to cause psychopathy/sociopathy or something very much like it. Probably not Machiavellianism, although we can obviously pick up the tactics such people use naturally.

      >How would you type Raistlin Majere?

      I haven’t read Dragonlance.

      >Do you know any free, anonymous mail server?

      Only Hushmail, and I seem to recall they got backdoored by the US government.

  5. Ollie says:

    Re: intelligence:

    Men like us have our dead Zeldas, and we dissect their corpses rather than bury them. To do otherwise is simply not in our nature. Not every man is of metal, like us. We are destined to be forged on an anvil of woe.

    “Good as gold, we pay the price. Strong as steel, we pay the price…”

    • j says:

      nice groove.

    • Aeoli Pera says:

      >Men like us have our dead Zeldas, and we dissect their corpses rather than bury them. To do otherwise is simply not in our nature. Not every man is of metal, like us. We are destined to be forged on an anvil of woe.

      It took me a minute to figure out what you were talking about, but I think you’re right.

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