It’s been a hot minute, hasn’t it.
Whenever I come back here, I feel like I have to say something introspective about my time away. I used to write here all the time, like almost every day. But sometimes you just need to experience something, or go through something — processing it — before you can write about it.
In this case, it’s The Men Who Stare at Goats.
I know, right? Out of everything to return to talk about on Mythic Bios, why this film? So I have been writing a lot of indepth reviews on my Horror Doctor Blog started around the height of the Pandemic, and this writing is not going to be one of them. That’s not generally what we do at Mythic Bios. No, at Mythic Bios we online creative processes and ideas even more than we do at The Horror Doctor, or Sequart, or anywhere else I write about geekery.
The Men Who Stare at Goats is a 2009 tongue-in-cheek satirical comedy about war: specifically how the American government used, or uses, New Age and esoteric concepts to aid them in combat. It was adapted into film from Jon Ronson’s book of the same name by Peter Straughan, and directed by Grant Heslov. I’ve not read the book. I’ve only watched the film.
To give you a rundown, as the summary goes, the United States government saw the Soviets were fascinated with psychic experiments and, to counter them in a war of propaganda — of a seeming of power as opposed to anything practical or concrete, simply doing it because the other side was feeding rumour, and they had to save face there — they made their own research team in the military to deal with them. It’s basically one Emperor having new clothes, and another Emperor wanting the same to one him up. Of course, in the story there are people who genuinely believe in the power of the paranormal such as Vietnam War veteran Bill Django who had a life changing near death experience that made him realize that the American method of waging war needed to be changed through the element of peace: with the motto of “their gentleness” being “their strength.”
I actually found Django, and his student and subordinate Lyn Cassady’s methods of utilizing paranormal phenomena, or psychic power, fascinating. Django creates a force within the military called the New Earth Army: which essentially trains its chosen soldiers to use this power. It’s tied with the idea of the American government, and the CIA experimenting with remote viewing, clairvoyance, telepathy, invisibility, telekinesis, and even teleportation. Certainly, we know they did things with the development of LSD and attempts at mind control and brainwashing that have been covered before.
Essentially, the New Earth Army as portrayed in the film are “psychic spies” that are called “Jedi Warriors.” You see, Django created the concept for them from studying New Age concepts in the seventies of free love, appropriated branches of yoga, and quite possibly studying at other mystic lodges: his views and research being taken by the brass of the military to show up the Soviets, and even to support the beliefs of individuals like General Dean Hopgood: a man who consistently smashes into a wall in order to eventually phase his molecules through it, and phase on the other side with the power of belief itself.
It’s all goofy, and insane. It feels like someone initiated into the Discordian Society created this whole paradigm as something of a joke that — like all shared jokes — has elements of truth inside it. And certainly the protagonist of the film, Bob Wilton, believes it’s all bullshit at the beginning of his journey … until a series of hijinks through Kuwait during the Iraq War make him seriously reevaluate what he thinks perceived reality actually is.
I think there’s something great about a film during with the creation of “Jedi Warriors” — drawing from the zeitgeist of the 1970s with George Lucas, from his own studies into older films and Joseph Campbell’s examinations of the “mono-myth,” or the Hero’s Journey — that has Ewan McGregor as the central protagonist. Remember, this was four years after his role playing Obi-Wan Kenobi in Star Wars Episode III: Revenge of the Sith, and no one expected him to return to Jedi Knighthood on the screen … until now, in 2022, when he will be starring in his own miniseries Kenobi.
My point is, this is the closest film anyone was going to be seeing McGregor be a Jedi Knight again in any way, even this strange, yet charming lampoonish manner of a younger man trying to find his way, and prove himself to … himself in doing something meaningful. It’s a film that gets ridiculous, but oddly poignant at times. Lyn Cassady reminds me of a friend of mine who believes in powers beyond our understanding, and has this almost Don Quixote sense of wonder that is constantly tested by disillusionment and pain: elements portrayed well by the actor George Clooney. He serves as an ad hoc mentor figure to Bob Wilton, through example, while also serving as something of a fallen or a wounded warrior himself. And Bob Django, portrayed by Jeff Bridges, has a major charm, a bit of showmanship, and earnestness of a man who just wanted to negate the violence that he’d seen decimate his fellow soldiers: recognizing that humanity’s natural inclination was not to violence, leading to their incompetence and destruction in an armed conflict with the Viet Cong. He reminds me so much of an older Luke Skywalker: perhaps the way he could have been portrayed in the Sequels, and in some ways when you see what Django is like at the end of the film, he kind of is.
But I think what got me was that each “Jedi Warrior” has their own abilities, and focuses in utilizing their power. For example, Gun Lacey stares at hamsters to will them to die: which is a smaller application of goats. And goats are used because humans generally feel bad about using dogs, which were the original test subjects for causing telekinetic deaths. Lyn can goad someone into attacking him, but immediately undermine them believing they will win, and using that fact against them when he decides to act. It’s hard to explain but some of the soldiers sleep and try to understand their dreams in locating a subject. Some study the Bible. All of these elements are found throughout our own culture. Hell, even LSD experiments and mental breaking are performed by the overly ambitious Larry Cooper: as played by the now infamous Kevin Spacey, who also seems to have mastery of a technique called the dim mak: the Japanese death touch.
And I was thinking about these strange, eclectic soldiers — these “Jedi Warriors” — and I asked myself once the film was done, if they were possible. Would it be possible, in our world, with our reality’s rules, to create Jedi?
The reason I started thinking about, specifically in this patchwork paradigm of all of these concepts brought together in the film and perhaps by the novel as well, is how one soldier was criticized for stating that a popular author knew the location of a kidnapped dignity. It hadn’t been the case, and it became a source of embarrassment that, coupled with Cooper’s LSD experiments influencing a fellow Jedi Warrior to go berserk and commit suicide, changed the mandate and free flow nature of the New Earth Army: essentially rendering it defunct.
But what if that soldier wasn’t wrong? What if by the tangential nature of the New Earth Army and its parallel thought processes, what they really needed to do was find one of these author’s books, read through them and the passages — or become familiar with them — and use some gematria, some numerical code associated with letters and words — to find the target. And it made me think about neurodiversity, the plasticity and elasticity of the human brain, and mind concepts. And again, the question I asked myself.
Can Jedi Warriors, as portrayed by The Men Who Stare At Goats, exist in real life? And, if so, how?
This is how I think ladies, gentlemen, and other psychic beings, it could be done.
You find a series of individuals with a fairly high IQ, and allow for neurodivergent additions that generalized testing might not pick up. Unlike The Men Who Stare at Goats, you pick men, and women, and other genders. You select them from a diverse background of cultures, subcultures, and ethnicities. You interview their commanding officers, their friends, their families and communities, and you test them to see how great their intuition and instincts are. These are actual traits you can find in hunters, trackers, profilers, and anyone with street smarts. How else did humanity survive earlier times of development without some kind of secondary or sixth sense.
The key is to refine that. You need to find and develop practices that can hone intuition and instincts. There are plenty of esoterica and even religious and spiritual practices to draw from. However, you need more than just breathing exercises, meditation, pain-management, and martial arts: though they would make for an excellent foundation. Personally, I can see aikido being extremely useful in knowing the force of one’s opponent, and using it against them in a flow not unlike a philosophy espoused by what many call Daoism. Tai chi would also allow for flow and constant movement, and you include elements of dance.
You see, what we want are well-trained people who are young — or who can still be conditioned and taught — that can move easily, develop greater reflexes, and be able to read an environment, field, lifeform, or person almost immediately. That’s how it starts. But it’s also a group effort. This New Earth Army would need a team of scholars, martial artists, philosophers, even art historians, doctors, artists, negotiators, and therapists to educate these Jedi Warriors. They need to be taught how to look at something critically, but also in a totality. Deductive and inductive reasoning — the first making a hypothesis and being able to examine the possibilities and come to a conclusion, and the last being able to draw a general and perhaps in this case more specific series of conclusions based on observation — are key, and feedback into that honed intuition, and instinct. Also, as Lyn demonstrated, certain vocal intonations and sounds can be key to affecting your own, or another person’s, psychological state. I also really like the plastic implement Lyn used to disable Bob. I wonder if it can be made in real life and, if so, if another non-lethal, non-permanent damage long range one such as net can also be implemented but that would be a whole change of the psychology of war and, indeed, human psychology.
And not all of these Jedi Warriors will be the same. Some will focus more on chemistry and substances that can hone or put the body into alternative states. Others will focus on altering their responses to pain and pleasure more than their fellows. A few will just specialize in sifting through information from disparate sources, and put them all together, or take them apart. And more will be looking at propaganda and doing more than just sending pamphlets stating to an Enemy that their “dicks are small.” I can see a branch focusing on memes and memetics on the Internet. I can see people getting into the cultural and personal profiles and psychologies of a subject. And there would be peacekeepers that would be able to know the cultural mores and study human behaviour to be able to put people off guard, or to talk them down, and relax them. I can see flash mobs being used as a tactic to distract, or eliminate someone’s need for conflict. You can do a lot of radical stuff when you, I suppose, “hack” your normal human or group behaviour.
A lot of this stuff actually does exist. I know if I were a Jedi Warrior, which I am not, I would look at geek culture and what it says about a certain event that could occur, or has happened. And especially examining Jungian archetypes in folk and fairy tales allows you to know a lot about human beliefs.
Telekinesis isn’t possible as far as I can see, or teleportation. But honing intuition, reflexes, inductive reasoning, and maintaining a state of mindfulness could go a far way. I guess I just see this New Earth Army as something like the Druids from Shannara in which everyone has different abilities, the Foundation with its facets of psychohistory, the Bene Gesserit with their martial arts and Voice, or the origins of how the Jedi Order was founded in the Legends canon of Star Wars.
And this is all fiction, but this is how I could see it going down. I also wish we could have seen more Jedi Warriors jn action, though there being few does make sense in the story, and in general. Because one thing I got from The Men Who Stare At Goats is the real lesson: that psychic power isn’t so much concrete paranormal ability, but the power of belief — of human belief — and being able to understand and use that. Like when Lyn tries to become invisible. He doesn’t actually become invisible, but he changes his body language, his breathing, his mindset, to mess with someone else’s perception of what they might see: or so he believes.
For Bob, he understands that the true power of the New Earth Army is to believe in something greater than themselves: in a lie perhaps, or stories, that can jive with the human need to do something different. Whether or not he phases through the wall at the end of the film is almost irrelevant. The fact that he changed his mindset to know that he can do something outside of a pre-arranged behaviour, to go beyond the grind, to not let people in power obfuscate the truth from him, is more important. That flexible thinking is what a Jedi Warrior should have.
It’s weird. I’ve been away from Mythic Bios for a while, but damn: I would love to make a Men Who Stare at Goats RPG, or a New Earth Army game, and I would be a scholar with nerd and Jungian ties, with some erotic elements that can predict some things, interact with people, and bolster my energy. Using LeGuin’s Farfetching exercises, automatic writing, and making creations and links like those of Hermann Hesse’s The Glass-Bead Game would be key to my psychic spy methods. Hell, if I wanted to incorporate a view of the Force into it, I could just get it to relate to the old Theory of Ether that used to define reality in one Western perspective. I would go for a bit of a variant of Chaos Magick in that eclectic approach. There is something noble in harnessing the power of the Wind Mill, of air, of breath, of belief during a time of darkness and uncertainty. And I think Inspiration or bonus points should be awarded to the silliness implementation of those concepts in those game ideas if they ever happen, because what is more sublime than laughing at one’s self while accepting the validity of the actions that lead to that laughter? What is funnier than belief? What more is worth feeling something about? What more is worth fighting for?
It’s great to be here again, if only for a little while. Take care everyone.