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Unknown Unknowns - Campbell Works 05.09.
Donald Rumsfeld's (US
defence secretary) “theory of knowledge - as expounded in March 2003”,
……..”What Rumsfeld forgot to add was the crucial fourth term: the
"unknown knowns" - things we don't know that we know, all the
unconscious beliefs and prejudices that determine how we perceive
reality and intervene in it”.The absurdity of what
is being said by the US defence secretary quoted here; a nonsense of
political and business jargon, is quite clearly an elaborate and
in-eloquent cover up that actually amounts to saying nothing of any
pertinence to the question posed. The inability of the American secret
and official forces to find the evidence required to publicly provide
proof for the imminent invasion of Iraq was evident in the say nothing
approach of this statement. What it does invite though, and
particularly resonant as a result of the specific conditions of its
utterance, is a number of other interpretations, both revealing and
quite possibly, at the same time, mystifying.
Slavoj Zizek - The Guardian, Saturday June 28 2008
unwittingly, Donald Rumsfeld, the then secretary of defence, brings to
the proceedings a short enquiry into what might constitute knowledge,
within a framework that guides us to arrive at what Zizek refers to as
the fourth term; the unknown knowns. In the Guardian article on the
global plunge in beehive populations in 2008, he describes these terms:
the case of the disappearing bees, there are things (their
vulnerability to pesticides) and things we know that we don't know
(say, how the bees react to human-caused radiations). But there are,
above all, the unknown unknowns and the unknown knowns. There are
dimensions of how bees interact with their environs which are not only
unknown to us, but which we are not even aware of. And there are many
"unknown knowns" in our perception of bees: all the anthropocentric
prejudices that spontaneously colour and bias our study of them.”
first two terms; ‘known knowns’ and ‘known unknowns’, are self-evident
as described. The third is unknowable by nature of being itself, an
unknown unknown. It is the fourth term highlighted in Zizeks
description that specifically draws attention to what he refers to as
the ‘unknown knowns’.
words acquire a sense of being more than intended almost immediately
upon being uttered. Journalists in the room baiting him with questions
“is that an unknown unknown sir?” acquiring both levity and gravity in
the absurd quality of its apparently contradictory nature. Almost
immediately.becoming a solid, hanging in the air, holding its shape;
lingering in space briefly, as the full semantic impact compounds
before disseminating into the mediated air around it…… quickly
acquiring the presence of an adage, often quoted without context.