Known Unknowns

“There are known knowns. There are things we know that we know. There are known unknowns. That is to say, there are things that we now know we don’t know.”

When in 2002, US Secretary of State Donald Rumsfeld, uttered his now infamous known unknowns speech, he received much derision and comical parodying. But, in his defence, he was trying to defend the indefensible and his obtuse comment had enough vagueness to confuse the hell out of the press corps.

Me, I prefer the “I don’t know what a tracker mortgage is?” fella. He was able to pinpoint his known unknown and he was able to get it off his chest without using it as an excuse to invade another country…

Which brings me to Ireland; the best little country to know unknowns in the world. Last night, I attended a fundraiser for a woman (an English teacher) who is going out to Calais, to teach refugee children in the camp they so politely call the Jungle. This remarkable lady is going into the unknown, knowing only that she wants to help, and I for one am blown away by such kindness.

So what about the rest of us? Well, when I expressed my admiration for such altruism, I was told by another person in attendance “I think Ireland is waking up to this situation, I think we are starting to really care about it”.

I loved hearing those words in the same way I loved the reassurance from my Dad that nothing will ever happen to me as a kid. Sadly, it wasn’t true then and it isn’t true now. The sentiment was real, the substance was not.

Irish people are well aware of the horrors of the refugee crisis. We’ve seen the reports, listened to the traumatic stories and heard the barstool wisdom of “yer man” who knows someone high up in the “refugee thing” who says “most of them are welfare tourists”.

George Hook, in his now daily diatribe, told how his grandchildren will pay a “terrible price” for the softening of “national borders”. George is, ironically, a self-declared monarchist. I mean, we are only weeks removed from the one hundred year anniversary of one of the most significant “national borders” screw ups in history. No, I don’t mean the Easter Rising; I’m talking about the Sykes – Picot Agreement.

Ever notice how the map of the Middle East has such wonderfully long, straight borderlines? Well, you can thank the British and French negotiators who sat down to carve up the Ottoman Empire into countries such as Iraq, Syria and Lebanon. We in the West redrew the maps to suit ourselves, stripping people of their national identities with the stroke of a pen and now we are outraged when they don’t respect our “national borders”. Should we be shocked when those we dispossessed decide to walk over our lines in the sand? No, but George might consider this an inconvenient truth.  That’s just George…

The truth is that it is not just George. Our unknown knowns are today not unknown because of a lack of information. We don’t “not know” of the hundreds of unaccompanied children in the Calais Jungle, falling prey to child smugglers. We don’t “not know” of the violence inflicted on Syrian refugees in Greece by the Fascist Golden Dawn ultras. We don’t “not know” about the drownings that have turned the Mediterranean Sea into a watery graveyard. We don’t “not know” about the latest bombings of hospitals in Aleppo and the relentless barbarity of war.  We don’t “not know” how the greatest humanitarian crisis since World War II, has found us in the West wanting in terms of aid, action and solidarity.

Most worryingly of all, we don’t “not know” that we have decided the 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights, isn’t actually Universal after all. You see, apparently for Human Rights to be applied, you must be a resident within our “national borders”. We’ve no room for those stateless people who may want to seek shelter within these “borders”. Although we know that these unprotected stateless people, who should be afforded the same protections which apply to the whole of humanity…..they are not.

Our modern known unknowns are but wilful ignorance; a reluctance to admit to our comfort with others discomfort. Is this who we are, hiding behind “national borders” in divisive “Us versus Them” enclaves, defending the indefensible? I don’t think so.

At the fundraiser, I met a fella who works for Luas, he didn’t look like a greedy parasite. But I kept my guard up, just in case. Afraid I’d blurt out how he should be ashamed of himself for seeking better pay and conditions, I instead mumbled something about him having “any plans for holidays?”

“I’m just back” he said.

The greedy pig was probably in Lanzarote, I thought.

“Go anywhere nice?” I asked.

“Calais” he said “Just five days, helping out where I could”.

Goes to show you what I know.


Tony Groves May 2016teach2

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5 thoughts on “Known Unknowns

  1. Excellent piece Tony – thank you. The reality is I suspect not that most people don’t care, but that they are focused on other priorities, the known knows right in front of them! Which doesn’t make it right, of course – and in the case of the Human Rights convention piece, dead wrong.

    1. Thanks Mark. Of course you’re right about people having other priorities. That just makes what Amanda (the teacher) is doing all the more admirable.

  2. Wow, Tony, great piece! A good reminder to people of how things really are. Thank you so much for the mention, kind words and fundraising site reference. And though I don’t feel in any way deserving of admiration, as it’s what I want to do, it is still really appreciated and helps remind me that my work will make a difference and makes me want to succeed even more, and actually earn the admiration that people have expressed.

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