Dead Men Left

Wednesday, March 23, 2005


Found, in the middle of an Alexander Cockburn article, Gramsci's thoughts on elephants:

...I don't know if the elephant can (or could) evolve to the point of becoming a being capable, like man, of dominating the forces of nature and of using them for his own ends--in the abstract. Concretely the elephant has not had the same development as man and certainly will not have it because man uses the elephant, while the elephant cannot use man, not even to eat him.

What you think about the possibility of the elephant adapting his feet for practical work does not correspond to reality: in fact the elephant has the trunk as a 'technical' element and from the 'elephantish' point of view it serves him marvelously for lifting trees, defending himself under certain circumstances, etc.--You wrote that you liked the story and so we came to the elephant's trunk. I think that to study history it is better not to fantasize too much about what would have happened 'if' (if the elephant had stood on his hind legs to develop his brain more, if, if; and if the elephant had been born with wheels? He would have been a natural tram! And if he had had wings? Imagine an invasion of elephants like an invasion of grasshoppers!).

It is already very hard to study history as it actually developed, because the documentation for a large part of it has been lost; how can you waste time establishing hypotheses that have no foundation? And in your hypotheses there is too much anthropomorphism. Why should the elephant evolve like man? Who knows if some wise old elephant or some whimsical young elephant, from his own point of view, is not hypothesizing why man did not develop a trunk...