What is Big Think?  

We are Big Idea Hunters…

We live in a time of information abundance, which far too many of us see as information overload. With the sum total of human knowledge, past and present, at our fingertips, we’re faced with a crisis of attention: which ideas should we engage with, and why? Big Think is an evolving roadmap to the best thinking on the planet — the ideas that can help you think flexibly and act decisively in a multivariate world.

A word about Big Ideas and Themes — The architecture of Big Think

Big ideas are lenses for envisioning the future. Every article and video on bigthink.com and on our learning platforms is based on an emerging “big idea” that is significant, widely relevant, and actionable. We’re sifting the noise for the questions and insights that have the power to change all of our lives, for decades to come. For example, reverse-engineering is a big idea in that the concept is increasingly useful across multiple disciplines, from education to nanotechnology.

Themes are the seven broad umbrellas under which we organize the hundreds of big ideas that populate Big Think. They include New World Order, Earth and Beyond, 21st Century Living, Going Mental, Extreme Biology, Power and Influence, and Inventing the Future.

Big Think Features:

12,000+ Expert Videos

1

Browse videos featuring experts across a wide range of disciplines, from personal health to business leadership to neuroscience.

Watch videos

World Renowned Bloggers

2

Big Think’s contributors offer expert analysis of the big ideas behind the news.

Go to blogs

Big Think Edge

3

Big Think’s Edge learning platform for career mentorship and professional development provides engaging and actionable courses delivered by the people who are shaping our future.

Find out more
Close

Remembering Rumsfeld’s Poetry

February 4, 2011, 9:28 AM
Rumsfeld

Now we are hearing about the memoir. Now, just as we stand shocked and awed before another chaotic call for revolutionary change in leadership, a moment some have claimed confirm George W. Bush’s vision. What do we remember about the language used by that Administration in the moments leading up to war? It was often mocked; many remember a lack of art more than any skill with rhetoric. But former Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld used language well, well enough to be satirized. Slate’s Hart Seely was the Lish to Rummy’s Carver.

Seely wrote Pieces of Intelligence: The Existential Poetry of Donald Rumsfeld. Here are a few of the best from the collection:

The Unknown

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.

—Feb. 12, 2002, Department of Defense news briefing

 

Glass Box

You know, it's the old glass box at the—
At the gas station,

Where you're using those little things

Trying to pick up the prize,

And you can't find it.

It's—

And it's all these arms are going down in there,

And so you keep dropping it

And picking it up again and moving it,

But—

Some of you are probably too young to remember those—
Those glass boxes,

But—

But they used to have them

At all the gas stations

When I was a kid.

—Dec. 6, 2001, Department of Defense news briefing

 

A Confession

Once in a while,

I'm standing here, doing something.

And I think,
"What in the world am I doing here?"
It's a big surprise.

—May 16, 2001, interview with the New York Times

Seely later did the same for Sarah Palin but, predictably, it was less funny. What makes magic of matching Rumsfeld’s words with tacky poetic devices is the former Defense Secretary’s self-consciously philosophical, yet wry view of life. It was this that marked him as unusual in a genre we could call Men of Action. Rumsfeld may have been the most nimble thinker of that administration, the so-called “smartest guy in the room.” Robert McNamara saw poetry in numbers, while Rumsfeld saw poetry in poetry: in story and language, and in how time works to unravel an idea. He understood, and repeatedly reinforced, the notion that there are things we cannot know, and that there are also things that we should not know. The “known unknown” is a powerful idea.

If ever locked in battle with another wacky, runic deep thinker, our bet is on Rumsfeld to nab that glass box. He would take Assange's prophecies, grind them to sand, and make castles for display at the Pentagon.

 

 

 

 

Remembering Rumsfeld’s Poetry

Newsletter: Share: