Still from: The Men Who Stare at Goats (2009). Image Source: Overture/Momentum via Daily Mail.
Odd, isn't it, how paranoia and paranormal sound similar? They share a common Greek and Latin prefix. Wiki: "The word paranoia comes from the Greek 'παράνοια' (paranoia), 'madness' and that from 'παρά' (para), 'beside, by' + 'νόος' (noos), 'mind.'" Wiki's definition of 'paranormal':
I've done a few blog posts in this countdown that deal with social or professional positions which oblige people to deal directly or indirectly with whatever is considered to be paranormal. These people are not conventional paranormal skeptics. But parents, doctors, religious leaders, hoteliers - and further, police, lawyers and real estate agents - are all people who have to square paranormal happenings or the belief in paranormal events with rationalized, institutionalized realities. It's always interesting to see how strange happenings and ideas are dealt with by the laws regarding the sale of property, for example, or framed in terms of regulations and conventions established as the bases of law enforcement, scientific investigation, educational organization, commercial transactions and so on. These are after all, the systems and structures that form the foundations of working societies. If those can be overwhelmed or appropriated by the credulous and rejigged to prove the unprovable (as is done in the pseudo-science of ghost hunting) the very integrity of the original rationalized system is called into question.“Paranormal” has been in the English language since at least 1920. It consists of two parts: para and normal. In most definitions of the word paranormal, it is described as anything that is beyond or contrary to what is deemed scientifically possible. The definition implies that the scientific explanation of the world around us is the 'normal' part of the word and 'para' makes up the above, beyond, beside, contrary, or against part of the meaning. Para has a Greek and Latin origin. Its most common meaning (the Greek usage) is 'similar to' or 'near to', as in paragraph. In Latin, para means 'above,' 'against,' 'counter,' 'outside,' or 'beyond'. For example, parapluie in French means 'counter-rain' – an umbrella. It can be construed, then, that the term paranormal is derived from the Latin use of the prefix 'para', meaning 'against, counter, outside or beyond the norm.'
Does that erosion of what we certainly know and what we can solidly accomplish ultimately lend credibility to the paranormal? The paranormal is generally used to describe the grey areas where conventional wisdom bleeds away. It's the frayed edge. But some of it only gains legitimacy in retrospect: there are hundreds of examples where incidents once thought of as 'magical' or 'supernatural' in the past were later proved scientifically as natural phenomena, starting with eclipses, and moving on down through terrifying diseases like the Black Death. When it comes to the paranormal, the conventions of sanity only run backwards in time.
One area of human activity where the rational push is fowards through the murk and mystery, in spite of all caveats, is in military actions. This is the case even more than in the pure sciences (which progress by testing successive theories). Military action, depends on action, including gross mistakes, endured at terrible costs. In his essay on Kipling (which you can read here), George Orwell attacked opposition armchair quarterbacks who criticized imperialism. He said: it's all very well to point figures, pass judgment and have theories and notions about what is right and wrong. But imperialists were people who had to make decisions out in the field, in real circumstances, and had to act in the face of impossible situations. They had to answer the question: what would you do? Even if you question why imperialists were in those impossible situations in the first place (which Orwell certainly did), his fundamental premise remained and remains.
Of all the systems set up on earth to cope with chaos, violence and disorder in a rationalized and orderly way, military cultures are probably number one. Since military personnel have to function with high efficiency in extremely difficult, sometimes irrational circumstances, they are in a way on the fringe as well. Military staff are on the cutting edge of what works, and what doesn't - what makes sense, and what doesn't. But under extreme circumstances, the distinction between the real and unreal is not that easy. Consider something as surreal as going over the top in the First World War. Sometimes you have to wear both hats at once. At times, this very paradox puts conspiracy theorists, Fortean researchers and military operatives on the edge together, on the same patch.
As a result, military activities attract Fortean researchers and conspiracy theorists whose ideas border on the paranormal. In the United States especially, the military is a hot spot for their speculation. Conspiracy theorists specialize in appearing to answer complex questions with the tools of more sober trades. They gloss over what doesn't fit, and produce neatly packaged explanations that are sometimes quite clever, which soothe those seeking answers in an increasingly crazy world. When those theories overlap with the difficult existential position that the military forces occupy, the results are electrifying. Whether they are rational or true is another matter.
The Montauk Project
Over at Cinema Suicide, Bryan White just commented on John Keel, a famous Fortean researcher who investigated the Mothman encounters. White compares Keel's engagement with these dark harbingers of disaster with those who believe in a big paranormal conspiracy about the military, the Montauk Project. White explains how frightening it is to face phenomena that are on the fringe of human experience and knowledge, which are nonetheless mysteriously essential to it:
Keel, incidentally, took up a spot somewhere between demonology, UFOlogy and folklore. From his Telegraph obit:What if you write a book under the pretense that it’s nonfiction and you believe every word of it? What if your source material is so fucking far out there, fa[r]ther out than [an] evil pig spirit haunt[ing a] Long Island home [as in the Amityville hoax]? It takes a special kind of passion and a particularly potent brand of crazy to tread those waters, my friends. I’m a huge conspiracy enthusiast and my all-time favorite theory is one called The Montauk Project, which is a sort of kitchen sink conspiracy theory that ties in absolutely everything you could and has some many brilliant and strange ways of explaining away the inconsistencies that no matter how crazy it actually is – and believe you me, that shit is fucking nuts! – the people who subscribe to it as the truth have an escape hatch to keep their delusion going. Montauk is an awful lot like [the] Mothman [encounters]. John Keel’s [Mothman Prophecies] book lays out some seriously nuts philosophy and there’s just no way you can dispute it with pure logic. Sure, absolutely everything about it is a question mark and not one lick of it makes any sense, but this seamless lunacy is what keeps it in the paranormal/conspiracy cultural consciousness.
See, this is the kind of thing I'm talking about. Most people, after tracking their misdirected phone calls to an undead doppelgänger, would throw in the towel. Others press on."Ufology is just another name for demonology," Keel explained, and claimed that he did not consider himself a "ufologist" but a "demonologist"; as an early admirer of Charles Fort (1874-1932) he actually preferred to be called a Fortean, which covers a wide range of paranormal subjects. ... [I]n 1966, Keel became a full-time investigator of assorted paranormal phenomena, and for the next four years interviewed thousands of people in more than 20 American states. At first he sought to explain UFOs as extraterrestrial visitations. But a year into his investigations, Keel realised that this hypothesis was untenable.
"I abandoned the extraterrestrial hypothesis in 1967, when my own field investigations disclosed an astonishing overlap between psychic phenomena and UFOs," Keel wrote. "The objects and apparitions do not necessarily originate on another planet and may not even exist as permanent constructions of matter. It is more likely that we see what we want to see and interpret such visions according to our contemporary beliefs."
After investigating incidents of paranormal telephony – spirits supposedly communicating electronically – Keel found his phone calls being mysteriously re-routed to another number, one digit different to his own. Oddly, the person answering claimed also to be called John Keel; odder still, the voice of the doppelgänger sounded remarkably similar to Keel's own.
Another Fortean researcher and venture capitalist, Jacques Vallée, similarly moved in the late 1960s from assessing the possible reality of UFOs to considering them as part of oral tradition, spiritualism, and folklore: "Vallée began exploring the commonalities between UFOs, cults, religious movements, demons, angels, ghosts, cryptid sightings, and psychic phenomena." Vallée went further, considering UFOs and spirits as products of interdimensional realities, or even something more bizarre: "a form of non-human consciousness that manipulates space and time. The phenomenon has been active throughout human history, and seems to masquerade in various forms to different cultures. In his opinion, the intelligence behind the phenomenon attempts social manipulation by using deception on the humans with whom they interact."
This sounds almost Lovecraftian, and it will pop up again in my comment on fears of military involvement in psionic warfare and terrorism, below. It's the kind of idea that indicates that Vallée adheres to the methods of scientific investigation, but the theories he tests are so odd that they are hard to accept, even for those who love speculation. It's a slippery slope. An investigator or theorist can be seduced by the data, the research, the excitement of intellectual discovery, and the semblance of rational methodologies. But it's easy to lose the plot. This is why there are enjoinders within academia against Faustian scholars pushing too far. This is the root of the common Lovecraft quotation: "We live on a placid island of ignorance in the midst of black seas of infinity, and it was not meant that we should voyage far."
Perhaps Vallée's interest in consciousness brought him to the Montauk Project. The Project is a conspiracy theory that the military experimented in psychic and telepathic warfare. WiseGeek:
Nichols claimed that the Montauk Project originated in the Philadelphia Experiment of 1943. The latter, generally considered a hoax, is an alleged naval experiment that attempted to render an entire naval destroyer invisible. The experiments then moved to Long Island's Brookhaven National Lab under the name of the Phoenix Project, and finally to Camp Hero. All this research is rumoured to have involved probing radar frequencies that can alter human perception on a mass scale, create hallucinations, and change memories. Others claim that the scientists working on the Montauk Project generated a time portal, altered time and space, and communicated with aliens. In 2008, a gryphon-like creature washed up on a Long Island beach and was immediately assumed by locals to be a product of Montauk experiments, even though they were said to have ended decades ago. The strange animal was nicknamed the Montauk Monster.The "Montauk Project" refers to an alleged group of secret projects carried out by the United States Government and conducted at Montauk, Long Island’s Air Force Station, also known as "Camp Hero." The research conducted at Camp Hero, which was alleged to involve time travel and other paranormal experiments, was said to be for the purpose of developing psychological warfare tactics.
UFO researcher and astrophysicist Jacques Vallee, theorizes that stories of the Montauk Project originated with author and engineer, Preston Nichols, who claimed to have been involved in the project and was eventually able to recall his involvement in it after uncovering previously repressed memories.
The Men Who Stare at Goats
In 2004, a book by this name came out by Jon Ronson, quickly followed by a 2009 George Clooney movie. The book connects paranormal military programs to psychological interrogation techniques used from the Cold War to the War on Terror. The title refers to US military psychic operatives who theoretically exist and allegedly try to kill goats by staring at them. I know. I would say you can't make this shit up. But it turns out you can.
The US Military, Vietnam and New Age Philosophies
The Men Who Stare at Goats referred to New Age 1960s' Eastern philosophical, paranormal and occult ideas that filtered into the US Military. The movie describes a fictional 'Project Jedi' which was based on a real initiative called the First Earth Battalion.
The First Earth Battalion was an attempt by Lieutenant Colonel Jim Channon, a Vietnam vet, to transform the Vietnam defeat into a self-awakening of US soldiers as 'warrior monks.' Channon came up with a rainbow-powered ethos: "Making the planet whole requires the ethical use of force based on the collective conscience." He applied Eastern martial arts and yogic principles to military training and devised an earth prayer for soldiers to recite:
Mother Earth… my life support system… as a soldier… I must drink your blue water… live inside your red clay and eat your green skin.
I pray… my boots will always kiss your face and my footsteps match your heartbeat.
Carry my body through space and time… you are my connection to the Universe… and all that comes after.
I am yours and you are mine.
I salute you.
You can see Channon describing his hippie visions for the millitary in the videos below from a 2004 UK Channel 4 documentary. Notice that he emphasizes the need to operate effectively in, and find new ways to rationalize, totally chaotic situations.
Video Source: Youtube.
First Earth Battalion: The Real Story, By Jim Channon, Part 1. Video Source: Youtube.
A Youtube comment on the above video: "One day in Iraq I suddenly understood what abstract warfare meant and what made it different from conventional warfare. It was a battle [o]n a whole other plane. The actual fighting still had its place. The line soldiers thought it was the most important element. But I could finally see it was a side show to a side show and that the real fight was spiritual. Four years later the people who wanted us dead were beg[g]ing us to stay."
First Earth Battalion: The Real Story, By Jim Channon, Part 2. Video Source: Youtube.
Youtube comment on the above video: "The idea of taping into the metaphysical as a combat multiplier is nothing new. All forms of martial arts incorporate different degrees of controlling energy. Ancient warriors from China, Japan and other countries have been practicing this for centuries. So the United States Army entering into this realm may suprise some but not people who have served."
Jim Channon discusses the abilities of the paranormal supersoldier. Video Source: Youtube.
Part of the paranormal mythology put forth in The Men Who Stare at Goats is that there is a paranormal technique called 'remote viewing,' an ESP-type capability transformed into a weapon to discern enemy plans across space and time. Internet chatter connects research on remote viewing to the Stargate Project. The Stargate Project was a real $20 million research project funded by the US government: "to investigate claims of psychic phenomena with potential military and domestic applications, particularly 'remote viewing': the purported ability to psychically 'see' events, sites, or information from a great distance." It ran from the 1970s to the 1990s with the participation of the Stanford Research Institute. In 1995, the Project folded with the conclusion that remote viewing was difficult to prove (although lab results stated there might be something to it) and it wasn't a viable tool for espionage purposes.
The outcome of the Stargate Project hasn't stopped people from believing in Psychic Espionage. In 1996, David Morehouse published a popular book entitled Psychic Warrior: The True Story of the CIA's Psychic Warrior Programme. One current activist in this field is Tony Mark Topping, a self-described UFOlogist and psychic espionage researcher, sometimes mistaken for an adult film star, who claims to have been hounded by a covert agency and unmarked helicopters.
Despite such colourful characters, the military is sometimes the locus of real projects that provide the kernel for popular speculation. Some authentic papers point to this, such as: New Correlation Between a Human Subject and a Quantum Mechanical Random Number Generator (1967), a study that found there was a weak correlation between the conductor of an experiment and statistical processes in experiments; Psychokinesis and Its Possible Implication to Warfare Strategy (1985); and Teleportation Physics Study (2004), a study sponsored by the US Air Force Research Lab.
Questions about psychic espionage have led to Internet rumours of so-called 'Psionic Terrorism.' Conspiracy theorists see psionic terrorists as the ultimate bogeymen who can change world leaders' mind for them, or target individuals if they choose. It's tin foil hat time. Some claim that unknown world powers are using psi-projections on hapless Middle Eastern leaders, forcing them to turn guns on their own peoples. This is the kind of new Internet myth that may become an occult field all of its own.
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