Tuesday, May 12, 2015

deepities and rummies

deepities, daniel dennett, lecture
dan dennett, deepity

The above was taken from one of Daniel Dennett's lectures. (For the coinage of "deepity," Dennett gives credit to the teenage daughter of one of his friends. He also notes that the jokey retort at the end—"You can't find love in the dictionary"—is almost a deepity.) I was reminded of this while watching Errol Morris' film about Donald Rumsfeld, The Unknown Known (2013).

Rumsfeld's famous speech is something other than a deepity:

"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."

Rumsfeld's explanation is "true"—the three categories being highlighted are indeed stages of knowing. But it becomes a rummy when it's used to answer the following question from a reporter:

"Is there any evidence to indicate that Iraq has attempted to or is willing to supply terrorists with weapons of mass destruction?"

After Rumsfeld's dance of the known and unknown, the reporter continues:

"We just want to know, are you aware of any evidence, because that would increase our level of belief from faith to something that would be based on evidence."


rummy (plural rummies)

1. something theoretically true used in the wrong context for the purpose of obfuscation or evasion



1. of, related to, or characteristic of Donald Rumsfeld or his works
2. marked by unhinged nonsense disguised as common sense

Particularly indicative of a rummy, though not a requirement, is that it be delivered in a Henry Fonda-style voice and punctuated with a smile that represents warmth yet suggests befuddlement over the simplemindedness of one's interlocutor. Since people tend to take your remarks for granted when you pepper them with Midwestern phrases like "you bet," "folks," and "for cryin' out loud," it can be of great service to employ them when dropping rummies. But again, not a requirement.

* * *

Rumsfeld is fond of quoting a maxim credited to cosmologist Martin Rees': the evidence of absence is not absence of evidence.

Again, true. And perfectly applicable in its original context regarding the possibility of intelligent life in the universe. Applied to foreign policy as a justification for war, however, is absurd since it could be used to justify anything. Worse than shifting the burden of proof to one's opponents, taking the logic behind this expression seriously in the context of probable cause actually discards the very notion of proof itself! The statement's other, far more obvious implication—that "absence of evidence" is not in itself evidence of anything—is ignored. (Note to future readers: It once went without saying that one needs evidence to go to war.) Another rummy.

At one point in the Unknown Known, Rumsfeld asks, "What else might have the United States have done to reach out to them [Saddam Hussein and Tariq Aziz] to get them to act rationally?"

Never for a moment does he consider the possibility that the United States was the irrational agent in the Iraq War, as if using the reasoning "absence of evidence" to justify one's actions—or even as a kind of evidence in support of them—is perfectly rational and reasonable. (Having previously spoken to Tariq Aziz, Rumsfeld notes how he seemed like such a logical, reasonable, rational person, an impression that simply did not jibe with Aziz's "irrational" behavior. "What goes on in that head of his?" Rumsfeld wonders, looking outward.)

donald rumsfeld, the unknown known, rummy, rummies, errol morris, equivocation,
donald rumsfeld, the unknown known, rummy, rummies, errol morris, cool, measured

Morris also highlights Rumsfeld's obsession with language, particularly definitions.

During his career, Rumsfeld sent numerous memos requesting "good" definitions (an interesting criterion) for words such as "terrorism," "victory," the OED definition of "several," and the dictionary definition of "scapegoat." He also asked the same for the terms "guerrilla warfare", "unconventional warfare," and "insurgent." His reasoning behind this is that certain words and terms will benefit the United States when they're used, and some will benefit its enemies—which is true. But it's also more than that, certainly, and it's disingenuous for Rumsfeld to treat this tactic as some kind of benign act of logic. Taking Rumsfeld's rationale at face value—that the point of invading Iraq was to get rid of Saddam Hussein—Morris asks why we didn't simply assassinate him. Rumsfeld responds, "We don't assassinate leaders of other countries." Morris then points out that we bombed Dora Farms heavily, a place in Iraq where we believed Hussein was visiting his sons. Rumsfeld condones the action by calling it "an act of war." In other words —and this rewording isn't cheap or unfair, either; Rumsfeld himself likes to use "other words"—a targeted airstrike aimed at a specific person doesn't count as assassination as long as you call it an "act of war." Got it. (It's important to note that all of this semantic quibbling and wordplay is also in lockstep with the NSA's misleading use of language.)

donald rumsfeld, rummies, dictionary, definitions, unknown known,

To end with, an example of rummian "logic" at its finest:

RUMSFELD: There are two sides to every coin. 'Belief in the inevitability of a conflict can become one of its main causes.' That is a truth. The other side of the coin, which is also true, is, 'If you wish for peace, prepare for war.'

MORRIS: But if both were true, well, you can use that to justify anything.

RUMSFELD: There's a similar thing in Rumsfeld's Rules where I say, 'All generalizations are false, including this one."

rummies, henry fonda, donald rumsfeld, there it is, errol morris,


Tyler said...

"Today, we lack metrics to know if we are winning or losing the global war on terror. Are we capturing, killing or deterring and dissuading more terrorists every day than the madrassas and the radical clerics are recruiting, training and deploying against us?" (From the war-on-terror memo)

Wrong again, Rummy! The more important, introspective question would be: "Are we capturing, killing or deterring and dissuading more terrorists every day than our capturing and killing are recruiting, invigorating, and radicalizing?"

Tyler said...

Part II

Part III