Saturday, August 28, 2010

The Men Who Stare at Goats by Jon Ronson

I haven’t seen the movie adaptation of Jon Ronson’s The Men Who Stare at Goats (even though George Clooney is a tempting reason), but it’d be interesting to see how a non-fiction book about America’s enigmatic psychic program. Ronson’s funny sarcastic book centers on an incident in which a man stared a goat to death.

In his quest to find the fatal gazer, Ronson finds a lot of other weird stuff going on. The book starts with a general hypothesizing but failing to prove it’s possible to walk through walls. It doesn’t get any less bizarre. He tells of America’s Psychological Operations (PsyOps) program, a group of psychic spies, who were charged with keeping a clairvoyant eye on our enemies. But like walking through walls, the remote viewing had limited success.

The ideals that the military entertained, according to Ronson are so esoteric and bohemian, they are hysterical. Despite the improbability of emulating Kitty Pride, the military top brass bought into the idea.

Another possibility was Jim Channon’s First Earth Battalion, developing the ‘Warrior Monk’, someone who could become invisible and walk through walls. As Channon wrote in 1979 “The U.S. army doesn’t really have any serious alternative than to be wonderful”. Trainees to the First Earth Battalion would “fall in love with everyone” and carry “symbolic animals” such as lambs into hostile countries. These Warrior Monks would also be ‘supersoldiers’, that could “pass through objects such as walls, bend metal with their minds…see into the future…and be able to hear and see other people’s thoughts”.

Sounds cool, doesn’t it? Not so fast.

The pictures taken at the Abu Ghraib prison that sparked such a firestorm of controversy were part of a carefully orchestrated plan by the PsyOps to incense our enemies. Other aspects of this type of mind-blowing warfare included blasting Iraqi prisoners 24/7 with Metallica’s “Enter the Sandman”, Celine Dion’s “My Heart Will Go On”, and Barney the Dinosaur’s “I Love You”. If that won’t make them talk, nothing will.

PsyOps, according to Ronson, is also responsible for LSD being introduced to America’s subculture, a cheap way of observing its effect on humans.

I didn’t know how to take The Men Who Stare at Goats because I’ve been caught off-guard by tongue-in-cheek non-fiction before, but Ronson seems to have a good handle on the “covert” machinations of America’s psychic spy program. Even if the psychic spies don’t have much of a handle on anything.

Ronson’s writing style flows easily, almost conversational, making it an easy read. But it makes it easy to be scared, too. I’m an advocate of learning psychic skills but it doesn’t seem that anyone is taking this seriously.

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