Is it progress if a cannibal is using a knife and fork?
That’s a rip-snorter, isn’t it?
I found this while doing some spring cleaning among my Quotations folders. Amazing things are turning up, and the project has only advanced as far as the Is.
The aphorist is Stanisław Jerzy Lec (1909-1966.) (Lec is pronounced lets.) Apparently he was born in Lwów (Lemberg), a city then in the Austro-Hungarian Empire. All through his youth and a good deal of his literary career he was enamored of Soviet society and a defender of Stalin.
During the Second World War Poles formed two different sorts of Armies of the Resistance. One, the Armia Krayowa (AK), affiliate of the Polish Government in Exile, existed to kill German soldiers, kill Russian soldiers, and re-establish the Republic. Their motto was Polska Walcząca (“Poland fights!”); their symbol the Kotwica (“Anchor”) :
The other sort were the fronts for the Red Army. They existed to kill German soldiers, either kill, capture, or suborn Polish soldiers, and ultimately establish a Soviet satellite state. Various partisan groups and multiple iterations of formal armed forces eventually became dominated by Ludowe Wojsko Polskie, which translates – you guessed it! – as “People’s Army of Poland,” hence “Polish People’s Army.”
Lec served in Ludowe Wojsko Polskie and did well. After the war the government rewarded him with a diplomatic career, and he even made it out with his family to Israel. At a time when suffering Poles were trying in vain to get out, he abandoned his family and returned to Communist Poland. That is when he began to crank out one-liners like today’s feature, and became famous for them.
That’s all I know about Lec and I certainly don’t understand it. He seems to have taken a deliberate stance, late in his literary career, of covert disillusion with Communism, covert admiration for and use of Judeo-Christian ideas, and professional projection of a sardonic persona.
Whether or not these first impressions pan out on further study, today’s zinger is unavoidably a keeper. It will replay in the old brain every time some horrible story comes up in the news or in the history books. Knives and forks are tools; the people who use them vary in their ethics.
Additionally, Is it progress if a cannibal is using a knife and fork? is a reminder of how easy and often people fall into the trap of totemism. Lenin rounded up his serfs and slaves and “Citizens” and had them build a big hydroelectric dam, pretty early on. (Remember the scene at the end of Doctor Zhivago with Lara trudging to work on some construction project in her coveralls and babushka?) Lenin figured that if he did that and had a big dam and power plant, then he would have a modern country.
Totemism is a sign of an idiot mind, one that reverses cause and effect. So see, a person can be an idiot and at the same time a killer with long-term cunning.
Sorry to wreck everybody’s day! But then I find these thoughts useful as coping mechanisms; may they do so for friends as well.
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