Men Who Stare at Goats

Jon Ronson is one of my favourite authors, and I've just finished his book The Men Who Stare at Goats.
Ronson specialises in writing discomfiting essays and investigative pieces on groups and people who might be funny, but are actually quite disturbing. And the same is true in this book.
It starts out as a funny look at a bunch of old soldiers and others connected to the military in the Unites States who spent their careers investigating the possibilities of psychic soldiery. These are men who have spent a lifetime attempting to walk through walls or staring at farm animals in an effort to kill them using only their thought-waves. He also goes into Remote Viewing, a CIA sponsored program to spy on the enemies of the United States using psychic methods. I used to work in a New Age bookshop, and books about Remote Viewing were always popular. It seems that several of the key remote viewers went public and have created something of a market for their special blend of conspiracy theory, macho heroics and the occult.
And while this is all very funny (Ronson has an accomplished comic talent), somehere half-way through the book things start to get a little uncomfortably creepy and morally complex. Ronson realises that many of these amusing techniques from the 70s had morphed into the psychological torture that has marred US military operations in Abu Ghraib and Guantanamo, among other places.
This makes for troubling reading - especially the chapter dealing with the man who has spent his whole life trying to avenge the murder of his father at the hands of the CIA. As he points out, we all want to have a bit of a giggle about the paranoid days of the Cold War and the wicked things the CIA might have done, but we don't want to explore the moral implications of a government willing to kill its own people in the name of a greater, more amorphous, sense of 'security'. And what makes us think it's not still going on today?


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