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Slavoj Zizek: How Donald Rumsfeld’s catastrophic ‘unknown unknowns’ approach on Iraq can help us deal with Covid crisis

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On June 29, Donald Rumsfeld, the secretary of defense for Presidents Gerald Ford and George W. Bush, and one of the main architects of the US invasion of Iraq, died at the age of 88. He will be remembered mostly for the catastrophic consequences of that invasion.

The goal of the American military intervention was not just to eliminate “the threat of the Iraqi weapons of mass destruction” – none of which were found after the occupation of Iraq – but to change Iraq into a modern secular state that would contain the influence of Iran. As a result, however, Iran only gained more influence in Iraq, Islamic fundamentalism saw a rise, many Christians left the country, women were pushed out of public life, and ISIS emerged out of the mess in Iraq.

What were the roots of such a colossal misjudgment? Here, enter philosophy.

In February 2002, Rumsfeld engaged in a little bit of amateur philosophizing about the relationship between the known and the unknown. “There are known knowns. These are things we know that we know. We also know there are known unknowns. That is to say, there are things that we know we don’t know. But there are also unknown unknowns. There are things we don’t know we don’t know,” he said when asked about the evidence that Iraq could have been supplying WMDs to terrorist groups.

What he forgot to add was the crucial fourth term: the “unknown knowns,” things we don’t know that we know – which is precisely the Freudian unconscious, the “knowledge which doesn’t know itself,” as Lacan used to say. If Rumsfeld thought that the main dangers in the confrontation with Iraq were the “unknown unknowns,” the threats from Saddam we were not even aware of, our reply should be that the main dangers were, on the contrary, the “unknown knowns,” the disavowed beliefs and suppositions we were not even aware of adhering to ourselves.

This distinction between unknown unknowns and unknown knowns is today more pertinent than ever.

In the case of ecology, disavowed beliefs and suppositions are the ones which prevent us from taking seriously the prospect of a catastrophe. And we cannot even understand the common reaction to the ongoing pandemic without the help of Rumsfeld’s epistemology.

Back in April 2020, reacting to the Covid-19 outbreak, prominent German........

© RT.com

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