Ya know that "Low-grade guerrilla civil war" I've been talking about?
Recent events indicate that war is upon us
In 2020, I began writing about a “low-grade, guerrilla civil war.”
But what is a low-grade, guerrilla civil war?
I don’t know. Or I didnt’ then. I only knew what it lacks:
This new civil war won’t involve one side against another, but hundreds or thousands of “sides” competing for a wide variety of things, material and otherwise.
In fact, this civil war won’t even look like a civil war. No one will call it a civil war for many years after it ends. To most of us who live through it (or don’t), it will look more like mayhem on a massive scale.
The picture is clear in my mind, but it’s very difficult to describe. Luckily, someone already has described it. And we’re getting glimpses in the news every day.
Stephen King, in my view, wrote many great stories but only one really good book: Needful Things.
Needful Things is about a town in Maine, of course, called Castle Rock. It’s a stereotypical New England town with a commercial district that includes the town hall, a park with gazebo where bands play in the summer, and two-story brick buildings with shops on the first floor and apartments above. The introduction ends with this ominous note:
You’ve been here before, but things are about to change.
I know it.
I feel it.
There’s a storm on the way.
I felt what the narrator felt back in 2018: The linear progression of history in which the future is an incremental advancement on the recent past was about to change in a wholly unexpected way. If it were a line chart, this shift would be called a “step change,” like when a stock’s price goes down 90% in five minutes. Like this:
Imagine those time increments as decades. Or centuries. Imagine the “state” line as civilization or wealth or life expectancy or whatever measurable value you’ve always thought increases over time.
Then, imagine that in a shockingly brief period, that measure drops off the table. Instead of each day being a slightly altered copy of the one before, it’s as if the laws of physics randomly morph every time you walk out your door. Imagine that in the course of one decade, life expectancy falls from the mid 70s to the mid 30s. If income falls from $80,000 a year to $8,000. If the literacy rate plummets from 98 percent to 19 percent.
Stephen King’s website describes Needful Things like this
Leland Gaunt opens a new shop in Castle Rock called Needful Things. Anyone who enters his store finds the object of his or her lifelong dreams and desires: a prized baseball card, a healing amulet. In addition to a token payment, Gaunt requests that each person perform a little "deed," usually a seemingly innocent prank played on someone else from town. These practical jokes cascade out of control and soon the entire town is doing battle with itself. Only Sheriff Alan Pangborn suspects that Gaunt is behind the population's increasingly violent behavior.1
That step-change graph crystalized for me in January or February of 2015, but I didn’t work up the courage or the words to write about it until August 2018. The line in the graph was, to me, a vague measure of civilization, but civilization painted on a broad canvas: literature, art, science, architecture, engineering, metaphysics, theology, wealth, medicine, organization, predictability, confidence, happiness, optimism—the whole gamut of things we try to measure so that we might improve upon them.
I saw them all plummeting like a hammer dropped from a twelve-story building, but in slow motion.
Castle Rock and Modernism
The people of Castle Rock thought their tomorrows would be linear progressions of their recent, past weeks. They thought the new shop in town would add to their enjoyment of life, improve the town’s economics, and bring some novelty to a dreary building across from the park. And, it did, for a little while.
Back in the 1960s, we all thought modernism would do the same for a staid and compliant culture that learned to obey during World War II. Modernism promised to improve our enjoyment of life—offering new things and adding color and diversity to the Leave It to Beaver lives we lived in the 50s. For a while.
While the Castle Rockians were going about their slightly improved lives in the early days of the Needful Things shop, they didn’t see the cancer that was spreading through their town. Innocent little pranks seemed like nice diversions from their humdrum small-town lives. They added a little spice and mystery.
“What could it hurt,” they said.
They say disasters happen gradually, then suddenly.
While we were getting richer over the past 50 years, and exposing ourselves to all sorts of novelties, something else was happening.
Take a look at that graph again—this time with another series overlain and focusing on the period from 1955 to 2017.
Unlike the blue line, which is my interpretation of civilization, the orange line is Catholic Mass attendance from 1955 to 2017.2
It’s as if the world opened a store called Needful Things in about 1963—the year Kennedy was assassinated, and Pope Paul VI took the helm, and, according to exorcist Malachi Martin, a black mass took place in the Vatican and simultaneously in South Carolina.
That black mass, “concelebrated” by two Catholic bishops, was assisted by men and women in the United States and Rome who would go on to become some of the richest and most powerful humans who ever lived. You might say they sold their souls to the devil. And, according to some people familiar with Martin’s source material, one of those assistants was a very young man from Germany—Klaus Schwab. He now runs the World Economic Forum.
After that event, the world got richer and fatter and more comfortable, but the churches emptied out. Not just the Catholic Church, but all the mainline Protestant denominations saw precipitous declines in membership and engagement. You could say the world abandoned God.
And by many measures it seemed like a good idea, didn’t it? We got lots of sex without the stigma. And excitement and leisure that would make our grandparents blush.
We have high-definition televisions that show us every single professional sporting event that ever happens. And TikTok videos!
We have amusement parts and shoes so soft we don’t even know we’re walking.
All because we stopped wasting time and treasure in dark little churches practicing superstitious rituals by candlelight. By all measures, God was holding man back.
But we progressed, didn’t we?
Welcome Back to Castle Rock
Anyone who enters his store finds the object of his or her lifelong dreams and desires: a prized baseball card, a healing amulet.
We’re all the people of Castle Rock, aren’t we? We’re too obsessed with these objects of our “lifelong dreams and desires” to recognize the deal we’ve made with the devil.
“If you have sex with lots of people, I will give you a feeling of satisfaction and desirability.”
Sounds like a win-win, right?
Until the step change.
Until the linear progression turns south fast.
Until Leland Gaunt turns on you.
Leland Gaunt is the world. This world, whose prince is Satan. Satan who hates every human equally, just as God loves us equally. Satan who wants our souls under his wicked command so he can torture us forever, just as God wants us in his pantheon of saints to nurture us forever.
Satan want to torture us precisely because God made us and loves us. Satan who, like a brilliant enemy, offers us the objects of our lifelong dreams and desires because he knows that’s the easiest way to trap us.
There’s Always a Tipping Point
When enough of us have walked out of Needful Things with that object of our desires, Leland Gaunt holds sway over the protracted Castle Rock, doesn’t he?
In the book, there’s a tipping point when enough people have played enough “innocent” pranks on enough others that a critical mass of the town demands revenge. The practical jokes escalate into sabotage and terrorism and murder and mayhem.
When the orange line and the blue line crossed in that graph, Leland Gaunt came to town.
Waiting for Godot
I don’t know how close we are to the critical mass when we’re all enemies of each other, seeking revenge with murder and mayhem.
But we’re close.
Today, one of us shot his grandmother and, then, lacking the satisfaction such a crime seemed to promise, he sought fulfillment by killing
18 19 children (and two adults) as they sat in school daydreaming of summer vacation which was right around the corner—a corner they’ll never turn.
How many of Leland Gaunt’s transaction did it take before Salvador Ramos unleashed murder and mayhem on Uvalde, Texas?
Most people, I suspect, don’t believe in demons. Or angels, hell, heaven, or God.
Salvador Ramos learned that demons are real.
And nineteen babies are in the arms of angels right now.
Still wondering what that low-grade, guerrilla civil war might look like?
King, Stephen (2015-12-31T22:58:59.000). Needful Things: A Novel . Scribner. Kindle Edition.
Gallup. Catholics’ Church Attendance Resumes Downward Slide. 2018. Data extracted from https://news.gallup.com/poll/232226/church-attendance-among-catholics-resumes-downward-slide.aspx