Sunday, November 12, 2006

And, farewell, Donald Rumsfeld

There's a pleasing headline. One that even that prescient paper, LibDem News, failed to predict.

But as we toast the demise of the fixer for Nixon and for Reagan and for Bush (the less stupid and the more stupid), let's pay respects to his most famous quote -- you know, the one everyone remembers (alongside others).

It was a moment worthy of Carbaret, presenting the Iraqi War as a vaudeville turn: you wanna know what I don't know? Everything! It echoes the headline gag of David Niven's Bring on the Empty Horses.

But -- as we continue to celebrate the departure of an architect of mayhem, a fit man to shake Saddam's hand -- let's show a little generosity: Rumsfeld may have taken onanistic obfuscation to new heights but, really, what he meant rings true. When he talked of unknown unknowns, he was simply making a plea to recognise the enormity of our own ignorance. And quite right he was: we tend, as humans, to stake out our territory of knowledge rather than to appreciate the hinterland of what we don't know. Never more so, that may be said, than in the case of the most recent misguided war. How right Mr Rumsfeld was to pay testimony to the scale of our failure to know. Just a pity he didn't let the unknowns help him calibrate his ignorance.

1 comment:

Tristan said...

His 'known unknowns and unknown unknowns' comment was actually quite a profound thing to say, it just sounded clumsy.

There are many things we know we don't know (the origin of the universe, where Osama Bin Laden is etc) and many things we don't know we don't know (from the past, you can imagine the existence of electrons and how to make transistors or similar).

That is part of the scientific method and is fundamental to understanding the world and just living life in general.