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Local Column

Olson: Get ready for reminders about the unknown

Eric R. Olson
Eric R. Olson

“You don’t know what you don’t know” is the new tautology for our times.

In my amateur analysis, this essentially meaningless statement is poised to spread through the lexicon like a virus. It isn’t a new catchphrase, apparently, but I’ve heard it recently from a number of sources, including in mass media, which suggests to me that it’s about to explode. Sort of like the way that about a decade ago, you couldn’t have a conversation about something unfortunate without someone remarking that “it is what it is.”

You know, you’d tell a friend you were disappointed in the last episode of “The Sopranos,” and they’d shrug and say, “Well, it is what it is.”

I never heard anyone respond, “Alas, if only it were that which it is not!”

“It is what it is” has fallen out of vogue lately, however. It’s the wrong phrase for our social media age, where the preferred tactic is to label as a hoax or fake news those facts that contradict our opinions. “What it is” seems to be a never-ending subject of debate.

So the time is ripe for a new tautology. By this time next year, somebody might remind you at least weekly that you don’t know what you don’t know. As that redundant statement is inherently true, you will have to shake your head and agree.

“Yes, I sure don’t know what I don’t know. Maybe I wouldn’t have done what I did had I only known what I didn’t know. Who knows?”

What people mean when they say “You don’t know what you don’t know” is that future events that no one could have predicted made actions in the past unnecessary or advisable.

Kind of like the way school officials in Sycamore and DeKalb borrowed millions of dollars, planning to pay it down in part with proceeds from future growth.

But the housing market collapsed, and the worst recession in a generation was followed by an anemic recovery, and the state of Illinois now is in a financial crisis, drowning in pension debt. Local property values aren’t what they were projected to be, so now the debt is going to be repaid on a longer timetable. It will be more expensive, but the longer timeframe for debt repayment won’t result in as large of an annual property tax increase.

If the unexpected collapse in the housing market and resulting recession had been foreseen, or even contemplated by virtually anyone before it happened, local school officials probably would have done things differently.

But you don’t know what you don’t know. And it is what it is.

• Eric Olson is editor at the Daily Chronicle. Reach him at 815-756-4841, ext. 2257, email eolson@shawmedia.com, or follow him on Twitter @DC_Editor.

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