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Concerning Irregular Figures

From: Flatland

Throughout the previous pages I have been assuming--what perhaps should
have been laid down at the beginning as a distinct and fundamental
proposition--that every human being in Flatland is a Regular Figure,
that is to say of regular construction. By this I mean that a Woman
must not only be a line, but a straight line; that an Artisan or
Soldier must have two of his sides equal; that Tradesmen must have
three sides equal; Lawyers (of which class I am a humble member), four
sides equal, and, generally, that in every Polygon, all the sides must
be equal.

The sizes of the sides would of course depend upon the age of the
individual. A Female at birth would be about an inch long, while a
tall adult Woman might extend to a foot. As to the Males of every
class, it may be roughly said that the length of an adult's size, when
added together, is two feet or a little more. But the size of our
sides is not under consideration. I am speaking of the EQUALITY of
sides, and it does not need much reflection to see that the whole of
the social life in Flatland rests upon the fundamental fact that Nature
wills all Figures to have their sides equal.

If our sides were unequal our angles might be unequal. Instead of its
being sufficient to feel, or estimate by sight, a single angle in order
to determine the form of an individual, it would be necessary to
ascertain each angle by the experiment of Feeling. But life would be
too short for such a tedious groping. The whole science and art of
Sight Recognition would at once perish; Feeling, so far as it is an
art, would not long survive; intercourse would become perilous or
impossible; there would be an end to all confidence, all forethought;
no one would be safe in making the most simple social arrangements; in
a word, civilization might relapse into barbarism.

Am I going too fast to carry my Readers with me to these obvious
conclusions? Surely a moment's reflection, and a single instance from
common life, must convince every one that our social system is based
upon Regularity, or Equality of Angles. You meet, for example, two or
three Tradesmen in the street, whom your recognize at once to be
Tradesman by a glance at their angles and rapidly bedimmed sides, and
you ask them to step into your house to lunch. This you do at present
with perfect confidence, because everyone knows to an inch or two the
area occupied by an adult Triangle: but imagine that your Tradesman
drags behind his regular and respectable vertex, a parallelogram of
twelve or thirteen inches in diagonal:--what are you to do with such a
monster sticking fast in your house door?

But I am insulting the intelligence of my Readers by accumulating
details which must be patent to everyone who enjoys the advantages of a
Residence in Spaceland. Obviously the measurements of a single angle
would no longer be sufficient under such portentous circumstances;
one's whole life would be taken up in feeling or surveying the
perimeter of one's acquaintances. Already the difficulties of avoiding
a collision in a crowd are enough to tax the sagacity of even a
well-educated Square; but if no one could calculate the Regularity of a
single figure in the company, all would be chaos and confusion, and the
slightest panic would cause serious injuries, or--if there happened to
be any Women or Soldiers present--perhaps considerable loss of life.

Expediency therefore concurs with Nature in stamping the seal of its
approval upon Regularity of conformation: nor has the Law been
backward in seconding their efforts. "Irregularity of Figure" means
with us the same as, or more than, a combination of moral obliquity and
criminality with you, and is treated accordingly. There are not
wanting, it is true, some promulgators of paradoxes who maintain that
there is no necessary connection between geometrical and moral
Irregularity. "The Irregular," they say, "is from his birth scouted by
his own parents, derided by his brothers and sisters, neglected by the
domestics, scorned and suspected by society, and excluded from all
posts of responsibility, trust, and useful activity. His every
movement is jealously watched by the police till he comes of age and
presents himself for inspection; then he is either destroyed, if he is
found to exceed the fixed margin of deviation, at an uninteresting
occupation for a miserable stipend; obliged to live and board at the
office, and to take even his vacation under close supervision; what
wonder that human nature, even in the best and purest, is embittered
and perverted by such surroundings!"

All this very plausible reasoning does not convince me, as it has not
convinced the wisest of our Statesmen, that our ancestors erred in
laying it down as an axiom of policy that the toleration of
Irregularity is incompatible with the safety of the State. Doubtless,
the life of an Irregular is hard; but the interests of the Greater
Number require that it shall be hard. If a man with a triangular front
and a polygonal back were allowed to exist and to propagate a still
more Irregular posterity, what would become of the arts of life? Are
the houses and doors and churches in Flatland to be altered in order to
accommodate such monsters? Are our ticket-collectors to be required to
measure every man's perimeter before they allow him to enter a theatre,
or to take his place in a lecture room? Is an Irregular to be exempted
from the militia? And if not, how is he to be prevented from carrying
desolation into the ranks of his comrades? Again, what irresistible
temptations to fraudulent impostures must needs beset such a creature!
How easy for him to enter a shop with his polygonal front foremost, and
to order goods to any extent from a confiding tradesman! Let the
advocates of a falsely called Philanthropy plead as they may for the
abrogation of the Irregular Penal Laws, I for my part have never known
an Irregular who was not also what Nature evidently intended him to
be--a hypocrite, a misanthropist, and, up to the limits of his power, a
perpetrator of all manner of mischief.

Not that I should be disposed to recommend (at present) the extreme
measures adopted by some States, where an infant whose angle deviates
by half a degree from the correct angularity is summarily destroyed at
birth. Some of our highest and ablest men, men of real genius, have
during their earliest days laboured under deviations as great as, or
even greater than forty-five minutes: and the loss of their precious
lives would have been an irreparable injury to the State. The art of
healing also has achieved some of its most glorious triumphs in the
compressions, extensions, trepannings, colligations, and other surgical
or diaetetic operations by which Irregularity has been partly or wholly
cured. Advocating therefore a VIA MEDIA, I would lay down no fixed or
absolute line of demarcation; but at the period when the frame is just
beginning to set, and when the Medical Board has reported that recovery
is improbably, I would suggest that the Irregular offspring be
painlessly and mercifully consumed.

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