What is Common Knowledge?

Ex-Manchester journalist Jon Ronson wrote The Men Who Stare At Goats… That should ring a bell, because the film of the book stars George Clooney, and even if you’ve not seen it, the title is peculiar enough to stick in the memory. I’ve tried to read The Men Who Stare At Goats and frankly I found it boring and got stuck a third of the way through… lots of war-weary American generals and men called Jim discussing bizarre warfare strategies. I wasn’t sure why I should care about any of them or their strange ideas… God knows how it was singled out to be filmed. (I dare say I should finish the book before I make such sweeping statements.)

But Jon Ronson has written a much better book (in my opinion) – Them: Adventures With Extremists. Everybody should read it. I recommend it constantly to people, but always with the sinking suspicion that they’re never going to remember the title. And Ronson has clearly learned his lesson. He should have called it ‘The Men Who Worship A Giant Owl’… obviously.

Only yesterday, I found myself urging a very well-informed friend to read Them. My friend knows far more than I do about geo-politics but he had never heard of either Bohemian Grove or Bilderberg. Not for the first time, I struggled to explain it all in a few sentences… and was hampered, as usual, by my persistent difficulty in recalling the key words … Muller-berg… Burger-build… Build-a-Bear… oh, yes, Bilderberg! Why do I start with yoghurt? And Bohemian always hides behind Belvedere in my brain for some reason. It’s as if the words contrive to bury themselves, hoping to stay hidden, just like the organisations they describe.

My mental flakiness, combined with the point I’m trying to make… that presidents, bankers and other men of power regularly enjoy secret camping trips, dress in drag, piss outside and worship a giant owl… can produce some cautious responses. “But it’s all true,” I say. “Read Them. Make me feel less lonely!”

Jon Ronson’s Them was published in 2001 (significantly pre 9-11 given the subject matter) and in April of that year, he appeared in a five part documentary series on Channel 4, covering the same material – The Secret Rulers of the World. All this went under my radar. At the time I was working at Software Creations, an independent games company, about 100 strong, stuffed into the old Kumar Brothers warehouse on Cheetham Hill Road. (Bars on the windows, rats in the car-park, prostitutes walking the beat outside.) Conspiracy theories were our meat and drink at that place… how did I miss Them?

It’s even more weird, because Jon Ronson is an ex-Manchester-‘head’… he wrote for City Life and was the manager of obscure Manchester band Man From Delmonte… so it’s double surprising that his TV appearance didn’t cause a stir amongst my workmates, because some of them will have known him through the local music-nerd grapevine.

Jon Ronson’s writing style is self-deprecating yet his investigative approach is dogged – a combination of Louis Theroux and TV detective Lieutenant Columbo. He presents himself as a humorous journalist, but don’t let this fool you into thinking that his discoveries are trivial. He has achieved scoops which many serious investigative journalists must envy… And in doing so, surely he has shown up their profession to be incredibly complacent? Or complicit?

Them is described on-line as a best-seller… which makes it even more embarrassing that it took me over a decade to discover it… but I’m finding it harder than expected to verify that. There doesn’t seem to be a book equivalent of the wonderful music site Discogs which gives release dates and chart positions for almost any song which has ever charted. And reliable sales data about specific book titles is elusive.

Meanwhile, reviews of the book give surprisingly little weight to its central discoveries which are really shocking… the audacity of the conspiracies and the breadth and depth of collusion needed to keep them secret for decades illustrates human nature at its most disturbing… when people behave like sheep… or insects. Everyone is successfully flattered, or terrified, into submission and NOBODY breaks rank.

Amazon.com Review
British humorist Jon Ronson relates his misadventures as he engages an assortment of theorists and activists residing on the fringes of the political, religious, and sociological spectrum.

From Publishers Weekly
U.K. journalist Ronson offers a look into the world of political, cultural and religious “extremists” who dwell at the edges of popular culture and the conspiracy theorists who love them.

No… that’s where the book starts… but it finishes somewhere else entirely. We are no longer at society’s fringes but at the very heart of the elite establishment. This book uncovers a status quo which seems to make fools of us all… especially those of us who are female. In a nutshell, Jon Ronson could not have infiltrated Bohemian Grove if he had been a woman because no women are permitted entry… it’s a power club which is exclusively male… and on those grounds all the various apologies which are made for it (including those made by Ronson himself in the final chapter) don’t cut any ice with me.

So the world is divided into the people who know about Bohemian Grove and the people who don’t. And there are clearly some people who have enjoyed reading Them without being rocked by its revelations… a position which I find incomprehensible. It’s also possible, I think, to know about this stuff and then forget that there was a time when you didn’t know it. Bilderberg is now reported by the media, but when Them was published in 2001 there was still a media blackout.

Here is Ronson interviewing Denis Healey, a Bilderberg founding member:

(Healey says) ‘…Bilderberg is a way of bringing together politicians, industrialists, financiers and journalists. Politics should involve people who are not politicians. We make a point of getting along younger politicians who are obviously rising, to bring them together with financiers and industrialists, who offer them wise words. It increases the chance of having a sensible global policy.’
‘Does going help your career?’ I asked Denis Healey.
‘Oh yes,’ he said. Then he added, ‘Your new understanding of the world will certainly help your career.’
‘Which sounds like a conspiracy,’ I said.
‘Crap!’ said Denis Healey. ‘Idiocy! Crap! I’ve never heard such crap! That isn’t a conspiracy! That is the world. It is the way things are done. And quite rightly so.’

Perhaps these secret societies are becoming common knowledge just as the new global order renders them obsolete.

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Ronson’s more recent book The Psychopath Test is also a fascinating investigation into the arbitrary nature of the power which some humans wield over others, this time through the processes of mental health evaluation.

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While flicking through old copies of City Life, searching for a Man From Delmonte picture to accompany this post, I found a couple of peculiar items featuring Jon Ronson which I’ll scan in…

From City Life 172 March 1991:
It’s Jon Ronson interviewing himself. (Did I just say “Ronson’s writing is self-deprecating…”?)

There must be a back-story to explain why this was ever published, but I can’t imagine what it might be. Sadly I don’t have a copy of Issue 173 to see if there were any complaints about this woeful self-indulgence. Perhaps it was a test to see if anyone bothered to read the features?

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1 Comment

  1. Excellent Ronson article. I could not see a twitter site for you?

    Keep it up.

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