The Men Who Stare At Goats

The Men Who Stare At Goats

I recently finished reading The Men Who Stare At Goats by Jon Ronson.  It was quite a bit more interesting and detailed than the movie version, which played everything for laughs in a way that made a lot of it seem fictionalized, or at least highly exaggerated.  As Ronson takes care to detail in his book, none of this is fictionalized or exaggerated.  If anything, Ronson downplayed a lot of the wackiness he encountered, and exercised admirable restraint in handling and describing the subjects of his book.

The Men Who Stare At Goats covers some of the odder corners of America's military's "psy ops" divisions.  Many people are aware that in the 1960s the military and the CIA experimented with mind control, LSD, telepathy, and other fringe concepts.  Few people are aware that many of those wacky projects continue still, or were revived for the continuing Gulf War, and used to influence torture methods of detainees at Guantanamo Bay.

Before I began, I didn't really realize how much of the book deals with current American military policy and tactics.  I thought it would be a quaint, silly look back at the heyday of remote viewing and telepathic death.  As such, a lot of the book turned out to be much heavier than I expected.  For example, the final third of the book never strays far from the horrors of Abu Ghraib. 

Even for someone who's fairly well versed in the Art Bell-ian forms of "fringe science," I learned a lot.  Speaking of which, two things I learned about Art Bell's most famous guests.  First, I learned that many people suspect that Major Ed Dames was in fact instructed by the CIA to start talking about the remote viewing program, because it would discredit the idea, and give people the impression that the program had ended.  But the program in fact continues, but in a far more secretive manner.

Second, I learned that to his credit, Courtney Brown was devastated by the whole Heaven's Gate mass suicide thing.  Brown is the remote viewer who was responsible for spotting the "strange object" following along in the wake of comet Hale-Bopp.  This object, named "planet Nibiru," is what kicked off the Heaven's Gate nutters to start their suicidal proceedings. 

It turned out not to exist, of course, just like everything else that's ever been remote viewed.  (Statistical coincidences aside.  E.g. most corpses are found near a body of water, because you're rarely very far from a body of water at any point in the country.)  I never heard from Brown after that, he was banned from Art Bell's show, but I was glad to learn that he was appropriately mortified about what he had started, however accidentally.

Notes on the audiobook version: Jon Ronson is from Wales, and writes in various British-isms like "he went to hospital" and saying "26 June" instead of "June 26th."  It was a bit jarring to hear British-isms being spoken by a narrator who doesn't have a British accent. 

The narrator also didn't do the greatest job with using different voices for different people.  This occasionally made it hard to follow the narrative, which cut back and forth between Ronson's text and interview quotes.