Filmmakers Notebook




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In his book Dirty Truths (1996), Progressive historian Michael Parenti challenged the obfuscation by The Left on questions of conspiracy – in particular, the assassination of JFK.

 How is it that now he goes along quietly with the official story on 9-11, this granddaddy of all lies, this foundation of the Bush administration’s “war on terror”?   And not only that, Parenti became an aggressive proponent of blowback.[1]


“The term ‘blowback,’ invented by the CIA, refers to the unintended consequences of American policies…In Blowback, [Chalmers Johnson] issues a warning we would do well to consider: it is time for our empire to demobilize before our bills come due.” -- Blowback: The Costs and Consequences of American Empire (back cover).

 Chalmers Johnson’s book was published in 2000, just in time for the metaphor (blowback / backfire) to sink in to the Left, especially, to be able to interpret the events of September 11, 2001.

 This interpretation was equally plausible (perhaps more so) for those who haven’t read Chalmers’ book, but “got the metaphor.”   But in his book, Chalmers actually makes the case that blowback is very rare from the victims of any empire.

 For Post 9-11 Leftists, blowback entails acceptance of the “official story” that the four planes were hijacked and commandeered by “Al Qaida” zealots and that those planes caused the WTC buildings to collapse, etc.  This entails the repudiation of the notion that US government culpability could be anything more than incompetence; usually it involves an attempt to explain the motives of the people who did it, a rationalization for the actions of a group presumed to be guilty.  We’ll offer two instances of blowback and one repudiation of “conspiracy theory” as a “roadblock to truth.”  But first, a note on metaphor.



In his book, the Origin of Consciousness in the Breakdown of the Bicameral Mind, Princeton psychologist and classical scholar Julian Jaynes observed, “…in trying to understand a thing we are trying to find a metaphor for that thing. Not just any metaphor, but one with something more familiar and easy to our attention.  Understanding a thing is to arrive at a metaphor for that thing by substituting something that is more familiar to us.  And the feeling of familiarity is the feeling of understanding.”

 But as Jaynes notes, there can be inadequate metaphors, irrespective of the “feeling of understanding.”  For example, this feeling of understanding was undoubtedly felt by those Greeks and Egyptians who “got” Ptolemy’s theory of the earth-centered universe.

 Errors of attempted metaphor are errors of consciousness, Jaynes explained in The Consequences of Consciousness.[2]

 Failed metaphors (e.g., an earth-centered universe) might fall away faster if it weren’t for the vested interests in the metaphor’s continuity.  The Church, for example, with its thousand-year investment in the Ptolemaic worldview, finally gave in to the evidence only after brutally suppressing people (e.g., the Church’s execution by burning of Giordano Bruno, 1600, Rome) and the increasingly abundant evidence.

 Like the Ptolemaic metaphor, blowback as a metaphor holds credibility as long as the evidence is avoided.  Among the secular, Progressives (The Left) tend to play an important role in keeping the new metaphor at bay. 


How did he re-join the ranks of The Left, the opposition that sees no need to examine the evidence, that goes along with Condoleezza Rice’s NSC pal Philip Zelikow and their blatant cover-up report on 9-11?

 During Snowshoefilms’ haphazard query on the question of 9-11 & blowback (which began after we recovered from the blowback metaphor), we’ve watched Progressives shy away from “conspiracy theory” as an explanation of anything other than occasional scams, such as Iran-Contra and BCCI (as Parenti points out).   Their critique is that the CIA/FBI etc. are sloppy & incompetent and cover-up only their own incompetence and/or criminality. Some go so far as to suggest that elements of the government let it happen, but to focus the Left’s attention on 9-11 is to just give the police agencies more money for more graft, incompetence and waste, and a bigger police state-spy apparatus.  To focus on 9-11 is a waste of time, divisive, counter-productive, crazy.   All this is possible if one doesn’t examine the MOUNTAIN OF EVIDENCE.  The leading advocate of this response is none other than the top progressive, Noam Chomsky.[3]  Cog Dis is at the bottom of most of dis.



We’ve been reading and learning from Parenti’s books (& Chomsky’s) for a long time now, so it was a pleasure in 1996 to read in Parenti’s critique of Chomsky on this crucial point.  In a chapter entitled “The JFK Assassination II: Conspiracy Phobia on the Left,” Parenti wrote, “Chomsky is able to maintain his criticism that no credible evidence has come to light only by remaining determinedly unacquainted with the mountain of evidence that has been uncovered…”


But after 9-11, Parenti rejoined The Progressives, eschewing conspiracy theory.  His 2002 book The Terrorism Trap (September 11 And Beyond) begins this way:  “On the morning of September 11, 2001, terrorists hijacked four US commercial airliners and managed to plow two of them into the twin towers of New York’s World Trade Center and another into the Pentagon…” And later he distances himself from them further, saying they were “a coterie of fanatical evildoers driven by a deranged theology who killed thousands by plowing planeloads of innocent people into the World Trade Center and the Pentagon…”


Does his description “fanatical evildoers driven by a deranged theology” sound like any of the purported hijackers?  Diminutive Hani Hanjour, whose hope was to become a airline steward? Who couldn’t fly a single-engine plane.  He was purportedly the pilot who did the near-360 degree the maneuver to “plow into the Pentagon..”  ( ). Or does Parenti’s description sound like supposed mastermind Muhamad Atta, cocaine-using fast track player documented by Daniel Hopsicker in Welcome to Terrorland (  It’s easy enough to pick up a copy of Paul Thompson’s The Terror Timeline (Year by Year, Day by Day, Minute by Minute: A Comprehensive Chronicle of the Road to 9/11…), or books by David Ray Griffin’s books etc. etc.


Never mind all the evidence (see for starters), the books, films, conferences etc., Parenti, like Chomsky “is able to maintain his criticism that no credible evidence has come to light only by remaining determinedly unacquainted with the mountain of evidence that has been uncovered…” 


And how did it happen to Parenti? Being an outcast on The Left may not be too pleasant. If you’re labeled a conspiracy theorist, you stop getting invited to the big rallies, the TV and radio talk shows that sell your books. What good can you do if you haven’t got an audience? And then there’s the matter of manipulated cog dis.[6] 



Our awareness of Progressive Blowback was heightened in May 2005 in New York City (we were there to interview Sr. Rosalie Bertell).  At an anti-nuke symposium at SUNY grad school, we encountered dozens of Leading Leftists in the halls and foyers, waiting their turn to speak, talking to friends and fans.   Here was our chance to get their take on 9-11.  Do you accept the official story?   Isn’t it important that we get it right, given that it’s the basis for Bush’s whole ‘war on terror.’ 


Our first interview was with a physics professor from Princeton, a speaker at the previous day’s 60,000-plus Central Park anti-nuke rally that we’d filmed.   After a few other questions, we asked the physics prof. about 9-11: questions about the collapse of the WTC towers, including Building 7.   “I see no reason not to accept the official story… I don’t want to get into conspiracy theories about how September 11 happened or didn’t happen.  I’m sorry.  I don’t think there’s any reason to….  Thousands of people died, including people I know.  And I see….I see no evidence whatsoever that it was anything other than just what happened…”  At that point he took off our lavaliere microphone and head for the door.


We asked again about Building 7.  Even awareness of the most basic details of the 6.5-SECOND collapse of the 47-story skyscraper should lead one to suspect the official story.  What about Building 7?


“I don’t know the details of that particular situation; sorry,” then left.  Then he ran around warning his colleagues about us; and so, after a few attempts (e.g., with Daniel Ellsberg), we left.


 In a previous note, I referenced cognitive dissonance ( in an encounter with Chautauqua County Republican minority leader, a man who identifies with the Right Wing, as opposed to the Left Wing represented by the Princeton physics professor, we saw Festinger’s explanation of cognitive dissonance hold up:


 “In his 1957 book, A Theory of Cognitive Dissonance, master behaviorist Leon Festinger explains involuntary and forced contact with information. He writes, “Up to now [we have] focused mainly on voluntary exposure to, or avoidance of, new information. We must, however, also concern ourselves with situations where a person, through no voluntary action on his part, has new information impinge upon him which, if cognized, would increase dissonance.” So let’s say, for the sake of this brief experiment, that my colleague Mr. Caflisch is the “person” in the above “situation” described by Festinger.  I’m going to impinge new information on him “which, if cognized, would increase dissonance.” In most cases so far, for those on the “left”, dissonance has increased when we’ve impinged new information on them.  According to Festinger’s sliding scale, Mr. Caflisch. is in a low dissonant state. By and large, this is because he has near-total faith in his government and the media (particularly Fox), and therefore does not actively avoid situations (i.e., myself, our topic) that could increase dissonance. Whereas a person like Chautauqua County Executive Mark Thomas (a Democrat and a liberal with the tendency to suspect that Bush is a liar) would avoid situations which, quoting Festinger, “if cognized would increase dissonance.”  (filmmakers notebook 85: cog dis on the left/cog dis on the right)


Substitute Princeton Professor for the County Executive and Festinger’s formula holds..  Further, the pressure was so great that he proselytized as a way to reduce dissonance, as predicted by Festinger.


 The CIA and Festinger were concerned in the early 50s  about “large-scale proselyting activities.”  Festinger explained that such large scale proselytizing was “conceptually no different from isolated instances of one person attempting to influence another to agree with some opinion.”   To put a little meat on this abstraction, let’s say the ‘large-scale proselyting’ was an exposure of the bogeyman farce of the threat of communism, or perhaps Paperclip Project and NASA, or MKULTRA mind control programs continuing the work of the Nazi and neo-Nazi doctors.  Or, to bring it up to date, the 9-11 hoax.  What if mass proselytizing could expose the hoax that clearly the CIA was involved in (just as the Helms-Angleton group in the CIA orchestrated the assassination of JFK)?  Festinger anticipated this concern: “It remains for us [those who financed his research] however, to inquire into the conditions under which the existence of dissonance and the pressures to reduce it will manifest itself in mass proselyting activities.”  A Theory of Cognitive Dissonance, p. 200


One way to assure that the “they attacked us” metaphor withstands scrutiny is to keep up the pressure on those prone to question George W. Bush (the predominant purveyor of the metaphor), the otherwise skeptical Left, or Progressives to respond with “blowback”.   Clearly there’s conscious manipulation (paid and unpaid agents of disinformation) involved but the bulk of the behavior is unconscious susceptibility to cog dis. 



Toward the end of his Oshkosh lecture (see Snowshoefilms), Parenti offers an example of blowback when he says, “…it gets kind of sad when Osama bin Laden sounds better than your own president.  There was a statement he made in November 2004 just before the elections.  (here he quotes or paraphrases Osama bin Laden):


‘Don’t expect Bush or Kerry, either of them, to save you.  We are not waging a war against you. You have been waging a war against us for decades. You have come in to the Middle East and have expropriated our resources, you have undermined our cultures, you have corrupted our youth, you’ve done all these things.  We are fighting back.  That’s what September 11 was about.   And you can save yourself by changing your direction.  Our fight is not a war of aggression, it’s a retaliation against your aggression.’  This is what he was saying.”


Thus Parenti explains 9-11 as blowback: revenge, retaliation, backfire, backstab, Al-Qaida, Osama, Abu Musab Zarqawi….


He continues, “You go back to the terrorists who attacked the World Trade Center 10 years before it was finally demolished September 11, 2003 [sic], go back to 1993.  Those guys planted these huge van planted with explosives in the garage, the sub-basement of the World Trade Center and they blew up and they injured about a hundred people and killed about 18.  It didn’t bring down t he Trade Center as they were hoping.  They’re all in jail now.   They published a letter in the New York Times, ‘Why We Did It”.  It said, ‘We did it because you have been destroying us.’


Given Ralph Schoenman’s isolation from the mainstream Left, it’s not too hard to understand how Parenti would not be familiar with Ralph Schoenman’s 1993 expose of the FBI-Mossad false flag 1993 WTC bombing, but if not, he could look at Snowshoefilms interview with Schoenman, or Ted Gunderson, former FBI special agent in charge’s account, also on Snowshoefilms.  Or  


But then, if I understand cognitive dissonance correctly, Parenti wouldn’t be looking for any sort of Schoenman-type debunking of the blowback, but rather, avoiding it.[7]


Leaving aside Parenti’s easy acceptance of globally disseminated oracles from Osama and jailhouse confessions by framed patsies in the 1993 false flag bombing, Parenti buys into the Bush paradigm: e.g., that THEY ATTACKED US.


Many things are derived from accepting this collective cognitive imperative, and foremost, it appears, a continuing vulnerability to subsequent scams. 





Julian Jaynes tries mightily to explain consciousness, just what it is, and how it quickly evolved as bicamerality broke down.   He gets close to it, I think, when he explains that the recognition of treachery induces consciousness


To back track just a tad, Jaynes suggests that the highpoints of our social civilizations (e.g. 18th Century BC societies of Crete and Hammurabi) were bicameral, pre-conscious, god-listening.  Treachery was not part of that paradigm; treachery came into being as a survival tactic during the extended period of post-bicameral breakdown.  The Odyssey was a heuristic device and source of pleasure in learning the new skills of outmaneuvering the treacherous, Jaynes suggests. 


Treachery is an eye-opener; and once you realize treachery, fall victim to it, you tend to be CONSCIOUS of it the next time.  If your fall has not been ruinous.  


It appears that The Left, the Progressives, play gatekeepers to consciousness, eschewing thoughts of comprehensive treachery by the government.   This can be explained largely by a carefully controlled mass-media manipulation of cognitive dissonance.


Take the question of the 9-11 conspiracy (either way it’s a conspiracy, whether orchestrated from within or without).  Who were the vocal 9-11 researchers, writers, activists and organizers just out of the starting gate?  Mostly, they’re a disparate group, not part of anything:  engineers, scientists, technical people, very few journalists.    By and large they’re not alarmed that The Left is silent on the great conspiracy of 9-11 because not being a part of the left, they expect little or nothing from the Left.




Just as the Commissars of the Culture (academics, journalists, artists et al., as described by Chomsky) have enormous influence (via institutions controlled by others), so also do Progressives have some power to address the depoliticized population of basically honest people who are otherwise vulnerable to manipulation through fear and sustained ignorance.


It doesn’t require reading Julian Jaynes to sense that George W. Bush plays the role of oracle, repeating the mantra, they attacked us.  If THAT is believed, then the debate switches to what the appropriate response should be.   Ergo blowbackers with their metaphor merge and support the dominant metaphor for the “war on terror”. 


Now, for a last example of the rejection of “conspiracy theory” as guided by Professor Chomsky.  Questioned about 9-11, a young American Indian college student from northern Minnesota told us:


“I have to say I don’t have enough information to make an educated decision about that, but I would like to say something about labeling things as ‘conspiracy theories.’  Noam Chomsky has said before in the past that when you label things as conspiracy theories, it really puts a roadblock into finding out what the truth is, or uncovering what may lay behind the search for the truth.   And I think that when people label something a conspiracy, it’s really a tragedy that it discounts almost all information that would go in to the search for the truth.”


While those are the precise words of the young American Indian, it might be unfair to hold Chomsky accountable for the student’s interpretation.   Even so, it’s his interpretation and one he was so taken with he felt compelled to tell us on camera, and reflective of many others.  The young man has not and will not examine evidence [re 9-11] because to do so would be conspiratorial and therefore “would put a roadblock into finding out what the truth is…’ 


 [1] ‘Blowback’ as an interpretation or metaphor has only a tenuous hold on people.  It is, therefore, risky business calling Parenti a blowbacker. But he was at his October 2005 lecture.


[2] Unpublished, as far as we know.


[3]    Imagine, for a moment, your lawyer most eloquently explains your motives for killing your abusive husband: he was a tyrant, he beat you, robbed you, killed your whole family.   His defense may be eloquent but beside the point if the evidence to prove your innocence is right there in plain sight; only he won’t look at it.


[4]    In  Indispensable Enemies, historian Walter Karp wrote “When it can be established that a number of political acts work in concert to produce a certain result, the presumption is strong that the actors were aiming at the result in question.  When it can be shown, in addition, that the actors have an interest in producing those results, the presumption becomes a fair certainty.  No conspiracy theory is required…On the other hand, those who make blanket condemnations of ‘conspiracy theories’ base their own view on a farfetched theory indeed, namely that whatever those in high office actually do, they are essentially men of goodwill.  According to this school of special pleading – the ‘King can do no wrong’ doctrine suitably updated – it is entirely proper to praise an American President for skillfully engineering some desirable result, but to not the same skillful engineering of an indefensible one is to fall victim to ‘political paranoia and ‘conspiratorial fetishism’.   While it’s hard to claim that Chomsky would impute good will to Bush and crew, Karp’s observation holds true for many progressives.  Such stupendous treachery  (e.g., 9-11) from essentially men of goodwill is unfathomable.


[5]    THAT SON OF A BITCH IS A CROOK!  Karp, who explicated the collusion between the two political parties and showed the process to be as rigged as commercial wrestling, in a 1988 roundtable discussion on the Iran-Contra Report that could just as well have been a roundtable discussion of the 9-11 Commission Report (  Karp said,  “Much was left out and I don’t think it’s an accident. You must attribute intentions to men’s actions, otherwise we live in a completely lunatic world.  If you go into a hardware store and the guy behind the counter cheats you, you don’t say, ‘Mistakes were made’ or ‘He didn’t have the right leadership’ or ‘It’s a failure of proper management.’  No, you say, ‘That son of a bitch is a crook.’ That’s what you say. Men intend the consequences of their actions.”


[6] This is not a flippant matter.  Insightful and courageous analysts such as John Kaminski (

have attributed the “peaceniks’” unwillingness to question 9-11 to their “stupidity.”   But that doesn’t help either the peaceniks or ourselves to understand the depth of this psychological “quirk.”   I contend that there s a systemic exploitation of cognitive dissonance, and that the way to understand this phenomenon is not through behaviorist Festinger, but through Julian Jaynes and his positing the vestigial bicameral mind in our species.  Jaynes, however, is terribly inadequate to understanding this exploitation as he failed to keep his eyes on the behaviorists.


[7] Thanks to Ray McGovern (27-year CIA analyst) for pointing out Barbara Tuchman’s take on cog dis.     In an interview (NYC, May 1, 2005) in Central Park (after he’d finished speaking), we hit McGovern with 9-11 questions.  Unlike our encounters with many who have become part of the Progressive movement, or The Left, McGovern listened; when he asked how it would be possible to pull the wool over the eyes of so many well-meaning, honest people, I tried to explain cognitive dissonance and how it works.   McGovern listened and pointed out that Barbara Tuchman had written on the subject in her book, March of Folly (From Troy to Vietnam), 1984.  In attempting to explain Kennedy’s continued commitment of military ‘advisers’ in Vietnam throughout 1962, Tuchman writes:  “Psychologists call the process of screening out discordant information ‘cognitive dissonance,’ an academic disguise for ‘Don’t confuse me with the facts.’  Cognitive dissonance is the tendency ‘to suppress, gloss over, water down or ‘waffle’ issues which would produce conflict of psychological pain within an organization.’  It causes alternatives to be ‘deselected since even thinking about them entails conflicts.’  In the relations of subordinate to superior within the government, its object is the development of policies that upset no one.  It assists the ruler in wishful thinking, defined as ‘an unconscious alteration in the estimate of probabilities.’  p. 303   And again, she uses cog dis to explain LBJ’s commitment to staying in Vietnam as long as he did, Tuchman writes,  “When objective evidence disproves strongly held beliefs, what occurs, according to a theorists of ‘cognitive dissonance,’ is not rejection of the beliefs but rigidifying, accompanied by attempts to rationalize the disproof.  The result is ‘cognitive rigidity’; in lay language, the knots of folly draw tighter.’  p. 347


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updated Mar 2005