October 27, 2008

Known unknowns and unknown unknowns

I'm not sure what this picture has to do with the topic at hand.

El Cabrero is not a big fan of the policies of former Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, but I must say I dig his poetry. And sometimes he really nailed it, as long as you don't apply what he said to the particular topic he was talking about at the time.

Here is my all time favorite Rumsfeldism:

there are known knowns; there are things we know we know. We also know there are known unknowns; that is to say we know there are some things we do not know. But there are also unknown unknowns -- the ones we don't know we don't know.

Without the slightest trace of irony or sarcasm, let it be said that I'm totally with him on this one. That's pretty much exactly the way history works although we usually aren't honest or aware enough to admit it unless we are shocked out of our complacency.

Many of the events that have had a great impact on history were not the kinds of things most people would have expected to happen.

I doubt that any educated Romans living in the early first century would have expected a world religion to arise in Judea. If you fast forward a few centuries, the same could be said of the rise of Islam and the Arab conquest of much of the known world.

The Civil War battle of Antietam (aka Sharpsburg), which provided President Lincoln with the opportunity to issue the Emancipation Proclamation, was shaped by a truly random incident. Someone found Robert E. Lee's orders for a Confederate invasion of the North wrapped around some cigars and passed them on to the high command.

I could go on and on. As Blaise Pascal noted in his Pensees, much of the history of the ancient world might have been different had Cleopatra's nose been an inch longer.

Real life and history are full of surprises and we should never forget that.

POETRY IN MOTION. It is a truth universally acknowledged that when an economist analyses the current situation by referring to Yeats' poem "The Second Coming" things are bad.

BEYOND THE CRISIS, here's what the American economy could look like.

SOLID GONE. Here's an obituary for Ayn Rand's fictional hero. Long may he stay dead.

OH GOOD. The Wall Street bailout may actually increase compensation and bonuses for CEOs and such.


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