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February 19, 2007 Leave a comment Go to comments


The Men who Stare at Goats

by Jon Ronson

This is a bizarre book. Well, maybe the book isn’t so bizarre, but the subject matter certainly is. Ronson chronicles his search for those who can, allegedly, kill goats just by staring at them. In the military. Seriously. The goat story always lingers, but his search takes him into somewhat darker territory as he probes the stranger side of our military.

The story goes that after Vietnam, a few military types are so traumatized that they decide to find a new way of dealing with conflict in the world. They find that new way in the burgeoning New Age movement. You get the strange combination of the military and spiritualist ideas like remote viewing and you end up with a psychic spies unit, which was unmasked in the mid-90s. It’s weirder than that, however, as there are also stories that some people are able to kill animals with only their minds. Ultimately, Ronson fails to find much in the way of evidence for such events; a couple people know of it and believe it and he meets a man who claims to have done it himself, but there appear to be no eyewitnesses nor any sort of evidence. A curious moment has Ronson watching a videotape made by the man reputed to accomplished the feat attempting to influence a hamster by staring at it. It doesn’t die, but it acts “strange” at one point, during a two-day staring marathon. The same guy also has a picture of a goat being attacked by some random military guy, if you didn’t think the hamster thing was weird enough. Ronson goes from there into less paranormal military tactics: blasting Barney and Metallica at prisoners in Iraq, MK-ULTRA, subliminal messages, etc. Much of this appears to be only vaguely connected to the New Age origins of the psychic spy unit, though Ronson and his interviewees seem to believe in a stronger link.

Ronson makes the story both entertaining and frightening. I was slack-jawed through nearly the first half of the book, until Ronson delved into saner, but darker, aspects of his search. It’s hard to know what to think about it all. Ronson doesn’t really attempt to verify if some of the weirder claims are true, which would probably have made for a less interesting book. You’re left looking at the claims of some of his subjects warily, but at the very least there are lot of people in (or formerly in) important positions who believe some really weird shit. That’s perhaps more frightening than the possibility that we can “influence livestock from afar.”

Categories: 26 in 52
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