Sunday, August 8, 2010

What Do I Not Know?

You won't often get me saying nice things about Donald Rumsfeld. His policies, ideology, and views of the world contrast dramatically with my own. While I often fail I do try and remember that people who's views are different than mine aren't stupid or inane or even uncaring. And I won't ever call Donald Rumsfeld stupid. Anyone with a career and resume as storied as his has to be understood as very smart and capable person.

One thing I don't usually associate with Donald Rumsfeld is the position of poet. Slate once took some of his press briefings for the Pentagon press corps and formatted some of his choicer words as poetry. I'm not an expert in poetry but I do think he could challenge many a hipster beat poet if given the chance.

What brought me back to thinking about Donald Rumsfeld was an article on what we know. Donald Rumsfeld is (in)famous for a press briefing he gave back in 2002 where he talked about the known knowns, the known unknowns, and the unknown unknowns. See the first bit of poetry in Slate or watch the video. This particular chain of thought was roundly derided. Which is unfortunate. Because it is a very interesting way of looking at the world. It takes some insight to realize there are things out there we don't even know we are ignorant about.  People came to the defense of the secretary of defense.

So what drew me back to some of the more coherent words to come out of the mouth of a senior neocon? An article by Steve Schwartz called No One Knows What the F*** They're Doing (or "The 3 Types of Knowledge"). The article does cover the three types of knowledge mentioned by Donald Rumsfeld. It also adds a few subcategories such as "Shit you don't know you know". If you've ever received praise or high marks and didn't feel you deserved it then this article is for you.

In case you think Steve Schwartz is telling you that ignorance is a good thing since most people don't know what they're doing may I suggest you read his followup entitled Disturbing Misinterpretations: No One Knows What the F*** They're Doing.

What's interesting for me is how this all ties in to something I've said for years. For me one of the most incredible moments is when I learn something, or am shown something, or I figure something out and just after I feel like I know something knew I realize what the next set of questions is. I embrace learning enough to expand my sphere of ignorance. It gives me more to learn and understand. The more I don't know the more I have to know first.

And I like knowing more even if it means I have to become more ignorant.

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