True Ignorance

Donald Rumsfeld, for all of his many faults, had this gem to say before he left his position as Secretary of Defense:

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 latter category that tend to be the difficult ones.

I like to call that latter state “True Ignorance.” I suspect there is a real word or phrase to describe it, but my cursory search for one yielded nothing. Perhaps a reader could supply it for me.

I call it “True Ignorance” because there is no easy method of resolving the issue. When I know there is a gap in my knowledge, then I stand some chance of fixing it- perhaps even a good one. Most importantly, I can actively work to overcome that bit of ignorance. But when I have no inkling that there is some gap in my knowledge, then I cannot take active measures to fix it. It lies there, dormant, until happenstance (should it arise) gives me an opportunity to fix it.

This was the case for me in a lot of matters in my life, but most especially my faith. I had huge gaps in my knowledge of spiritual matters, and hadn’t a clue that the gaps existed. So for years I did nothing to overcome this knowledge deficit, unaware even that the deficit existed.

Some instances of “True Ignorance” can’t be avoided. But my ignorance of matters of the Faith was not one of them. Those who came before me were in a position to inform me of how much more there was to my faith than the miserly catechism I received. But they didn’t. They left me in a state of abject ignorance, which I have only recently been working to correct.

Part of the reason I have been writing my “Tradition Thursday” series of posts was to cover some of that history, tradition and teaching that I never knew of when I was younger. While the name was a bit of a misnomer, the overall goal was to share with my readers some of what I had discovered for myself. Perhaps I can help others in the same way I was helped myself- lifting the veil of ignorance.

All of which is a convoluted way of saying that I am going to keep writing posts like I have. I may change the name or format, but I intend to keep them up in one form or another. I may also move it to another day, but I intend, for the near future at least, to continue doing what I have been. Just don’t be surprised if it looks a little different in the future.

[Side note: I may be out of town this weekend, so weekend posting may not take place.]

1 Comment

Filed under Christianity, The Church, Tradition

One response to “True Ignorance

  1. Michael Kozaki


    I intend to keep them up in one form or another.

    Glad to hear it. I don’t often comment on Tradition posts but I probably spend more time reading them than others.

    Regarding Unknown Unknowns, an excellent book to read is The Black Swan by Taleb.

    So for years I did nothing to overcome this knowledge deficit, unaware even that the deficit existed.

    I believe a greater risk to spiritual knowledge (well, all knowledge) than “unknown unknowns” is ego and pride that corrupts what we “think” we know (it’s especially common among traditional Christians). As finite creatures with tiny lifespans we can’t know very much, and what we do know is, like it says in an old book, looking through a glass, darkly.

    Understanding this doesn’t excuse not doing the best we can, nor am I saying we can’t know more each year, nor that we don’t have a moral obligation to use the brains that God has given us. Just to be realistic that we can never know much in this mortal coil and must rely upon the Church to limp us along.

    And besides, most spiritual knowledge is not a logical step-by-step process, but personal (and more human). Look how the bible is written: verse, analogy, parable. Not even a TOC! It’s historicity even seems to contradict for those who know it well. It’s clearly not meant as a scientific document. More interesting, many (most?) of people I meet who read and are inspired by the bible are both ignorant and stupid both of it and most other knowledge (we all are to a degree, but religious people are clearly more stupid than average). For every brilliant Pope JPII or Benedict there are at least 100 religious idiots (many in the clergy, or on TV). It seems to be the way God wants it, and I’m not trying to tell God how to run things. Or even assume I’ll even get close to plumbing the depths of religious or scientific knowledge myself. I’ll be happy if I just hit the side of the barn! Humility is the start of all knowledge. The Unknown Unknowns? Here to stay.


    The curious task of economics is to demonstrate to men how little they really know about what they imagine they can design.


    I was like a boy playing on the sea-shore, and diverting myself now and then finding a smoother pebble or a prettier shell than ordinary, whilst the great ocean of truth lay all undiscovered before me.

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