Ignorance is cheap. And then it costs you everything.– Rachael Watts 2017
Just five months after America’s 9/11 Twin Towers outrage, Donald Rumsfeld, the then US Secretary of Defense, gave a master-class in dissimulation at a defence department briefing. His theme was the lack of evidence linking the government of Iraq with the supply of weapons of mass destruction to terrorist groups.
He said Reports that say that something hasn’t happened are always interesting to me because as we know, 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. And if one looks throughout the history of our country and other free countries, it is the last category that tends to be the difficult one.
He was wrong. Our dear Donald missed one—possibly the most significant of them all. Any mathematician, computer scientist or just the average switched-on high-school student will tell you that in any pair of binary objects there are four possible states, not just three. Whilst accurate, that definition is rather dense and may well confuse, so here’s a simple example. Consider two lights side by side. Each can switch, independent of the other, to either red or green. They can display four possible states: green + green, green + red, red + red and finally red + green. If you swap the words known for green and unknown for red, you’ll soon spot which combination was not mentioned.
Donald missed unknown-knowns. He left out the combination which is the most pernicious of them all. It may take a little mental effort to grapple with but, simply put, unknown-knowns are things a few people know but most do not. Added to this reality clearly shows those who don’t know may well be able to find out but, as a rule, don’t bother. Why would that be?
Well, there are many things it’s not vital for us to know but that would be quite simple to discover if needed. Mount Everest is growing by 4 mm every year. However, the fastest growing mountain in the Himalayas is Nanga Parbat. Its height is increasing at a rate of 7 mm each year – almost double that of Everest. Given enough time it may overtake Mount Everest and a whole bunch of climbers, who have claimed to have scaled the highest mountain in the world, may well have to get out their kit and start all over again.
This height increase is surely not common knowledge, but it’s a true and well-established fact, especially amongst those who have a passion to measure such things. It’s a good example of an unknown-known. Such knowledge is not important to many. It’ll not get you a pay rise and it will certainly not improve your health. To most of us, it’s trivial. Yet at the other end of the unknown-knowns scale, there are many items that do have a severe influence on things. And they are often critical. Converting them to known-knowns frequently does benefit our health, wealth and happiness.
As you will discover, some unknown-knowns have some far-reaching implications indeed. They flourish and prosper in corporate business and multinationals, politics and government, religion and justice, and, certainly not least, in Donald’s favourite department—the military industrial complex. They blight more of our daily life than plastic waste.
Unknown-knowns occur on many levels. It may be useful to briefly touch on a few childish examples such as Father Christmas, the Easter Bunny or the Tooth Fairy. Adults know these are not real. Yet children believe in them and enjoy their magic at the appropriate time. The very young don’t yet know they are a fiction; adults do. For children, they are unknown-knowns which, often rather wistfully, change into known-knowns as they grow up.
This book is about adult unknown-knowns. Daily we accept them without question, concern or complaint. Many are amazed to discover the grown-up variety have as little reality as Father Christmas. Don’t be surprised if you catch yourself saying, “No, surely not—this just can’t be!” Everything you read here is easy to check and you are encouraged to do so. Use the provided links and references to do some research on the ones that most interest you.
So why do unknown-knowns exist at all? Why are they so commonly accepted as genuine, especially by grown-ups, by worldly-wise adults? Who might be trying to fool whom and why? All good questions. Reasons are many and varied, as you will see. One key motive for promoting such charades is they give an advantage over those who don’t know. For youngsters, this usually just good honest fun. The tooth fairy smooths the trauma of getting second teeth. They enjoy the fantasy of Santa Clause at Christmas with exciting visits to his grotto. Parents are morally comfortable in the knowledge such innocent deceits are socially acceptable.
It’s a lot easier to rationalise somebody forcing a pillow down the front of his trousers and donning a ridiculous red suit and false white whiskers if you know it’s John from the local pub who does it for the kids’ parties every year. You can feel comfortable there’s nothing ‘funny’ going on as you’re in on the playacting. If you didn’t know about the Father Christmas tradition, you might well wonder just what that man thought he was up to, bouncing other people’s kids on his knee while singing out, ‘Ho, ho, ho!’
But when we become adults, things change. Grown-up unknown-knowns are decidedly different. Unlike the childish examples, the adult variety is certainly not playful, innocent or designed for innocuous delight. All too often they deliberately deceive, defraud and disadvantage the unaware. This book is about disabusing ourselves from delusions, awakening from the dream, and re-connecting to reality.
In the following pages, as we drop down the rabbit hole of pseudo-reality, pass through the looking glass of life, chapter by chapter, be sure to take nothing on trust. You’re encouraged to check what you find out here. Do your own research, especially when your credibility gets overstretched—as it will. Test facts and decide for yourself. By the last page, it’s almost certain you will not agree with everything. That’s expected. That’s fine.
Agreement is incidental. You will have found out more than you knew, and you will have thought about it. That’s what is important. This book aims to get you thinking. To shake up accepted ideas, which were perhaps originally ingested by half-awake senses, local customs or common conventions. As you will discover, there’s a real need to take a good look at some definitely dodgy accepted wisdom. It’s time to find out what’s been going on without most of us even noticing. Are you ready?
Welcome to the wonderful world of Deception for Power and Profit.