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Of Our Methods Of Recognizing One Another

From: Flatland

You, who are blessed with shade as well as light, you, who are gifted
with two eyes, endowed with a knowledge of perspective, and charmed
with the enjoyment of various colours, you, who can actually SEE an
angle, and contemplate the complete circumference of a Circle in the
happy region of the Three Dimensions--how shall I make it clear to you
the extreme difficulty which we in Flatland experience in recognizing
one another's configuration?

Recall what I told you above. All beings in Flatland, animate and
inanimate, no matter what their form, present TO OUR VIEW the same, or
nearly the same, appearance, viz. that of a straight Line. How then
can one be distinguished from another, where all appear the same?

The answer is threefold. The first means of recognition is the sense
of hearing; which with us is far more highly developed than with you,
and which enables us not only to distinguish by the voice of our
personal friends, but even to discriminate between different classes,
at least so far as concerns the three lowest orders, the Equilateral,
the Square, and the Pentagon--for the Isosceles I take no account. But
as we ascend the social scale, the process of discriminating and being
discriminated by hearing increases in difficulty, partly because voices
are assimilated, partly because the faculty of voice-discrimination is
a plebeian virtue not much developed among the Aristocracy. And
wherever there is any danger of imposture we cannot trust to this
method. Amongst our lowest orders, the vocal organs are developed to a
degree more than correspondent with those of hearing, so that an
Isosceles can easily feign the voice of a Polygon, and, with some
training, that of a Circle himself. A second method is therefore more
commonly resorted to.

FEELING is, among our Women and lower classes--about our upper classes
I shall speak presently--the principal test of recognition, at all
events between strangers, and when the question is, not as to the
individual, but as to the class. What therefore "introduction" is
among the higher classes in Spaceland, that the process of "feeling" is
with us. "Permit me to ask you to feel and be felt by my friend Mr.
So-and-so"--is still, among the more old-fashioned of our country
gentlemen in districts remote from towns, the customary formula for a
Flatland introduction. But in the towns, and among men of business,
the words "be felt by" are omitted and the sentence is abbreviated to,
"Let me ask you to feel Mr. So-and-so"; although it is assumed, of
course, that the "feeling" is to be reciprocal. Among our still more
modern and dashing young gentlemen--who are extremely averse to
superfluous effort and supremely indifferent to the purity of their
native language--the formula is still further curtailed by the use of
"to feel" in a technical sense, meaning, "to
recommend-for-the-purposes-of-feeling-and-being-felt"; and at this
moment the "slang" of polite or fast society in the upper classes
sanctions such a barbarism as "Mr. Smith, permit me to feel Mr. Jones."

Let not my Reader however suppose that "feeling" is with us the tedious
process that it would be with you, or that we find it necessary to feel
right round all the sides of every individual before we determine the
class to which he belongs. Long practice and training, begun in the
schools and continued in the experience of daily life, enable us to
discriminate at once by the sense of touch, between the angles of an
equal-sided Triangle, Square, and Pentagon; and I need not say that the
brainless vertex of an acute-angled Isosceles is obvious to the dullest
touch. It is therefore not necessary, as a rule, to do more than feel
a single angle of an individual; and this, once ascertained, tells us
the class of the person whom we are addressing, unless indeed he
belongs to the higher sections of the nobility. There the difficulty
is much greater. Even a Master of Arts in our University of Wentbridge
has been known to confuse a ten-sided with a twelve-sided Polygon; and
there is hardly a Doctor of Science in or out of that famous University
who could pretend to decide promptly and unhesitatingly between a
twenty-sided and a twenty-four sided member of the Aristocracy.

Those of my readers who recall the extracts I gave above from the
Legislative code concerning Women, will readily perceive that the
process of introduction by contact requires some care and discretion.
Otherwise the angles might inflict on the unwary Feeling irreparable
injury. It is essential for the safety of the Feeler that the Felt
should stand perfectly still. A start, a fidgety shifting of the
position, yes, even a violent sneeze, has been known before now to
prove fatal to the incautious, and to nip in the bud many a promising
friendship. Especially is this true among the lower classes of the
Triangles. With them, the eye is situated so far from their vertex
that they can scarcely take cognizance of what goes on at that
extremity of their frame. They are, moreover, of a rough coarse
nature, not sensitive to the delicate touch of the highly organized
Polygon. What wonder then if an involuntary toss of the head has ere
now deprived the State of a valuable life!

I have heard that my excellent Grandfather--one of the least irregular
of his unhappy Isosceles class, who indeed obtained, shortly before his
decease, four out of seven votes from the Sanitary and Social Board for
passing him into the class of the Equal-sided--often deplored, with a
tear in his venerable eye, a miscarriage of this kind, which had
occurred to his great-great-great-Grandfather, a respectable Working
Man with an angle or brain of 59 degrees 30 minutes. According to his
account, my unfortunately Ancestor, being afflicted with rheumatism,
and in the act of being felt by a Polygon, by one sudden start
accidentally transfixed the Great Man through the diagonal and thereby,
partly in consequence of his long imprisonment and degradation, and
partly because of the moral shock which pervaded the whole of my
Ancestor's relations, threw back our family a degree and a half in
their ascent towards better things. The result was that in the next
generation the family brain was registered at only 58 degrees, and not
till the lapse of five generations was the lost ground recovered, the
full 60 degrees attained, and the Ascent from the Isosceles finally
achieved. And all this series of calamities from one little accident
in the process of Feeling.

As this point I think I hear some of my better educated readers
exclaim, "How could you in Flatland know anything about angles and
degrees, or minutes? We SEE an angle, because we, in the region of
Space, can see two straight lines inclined to one another; but you, who
can see nothing but on straight line at a time, or at all events only a
number of bits of straight lines all in one straight line,--how can you
ever discern an angle, and much less register angles of different

I answer that though we cannot SEE angles, we can INFER them, and this
with great precision. Our sense of touch, stimulated by necessity, and
developed by long training, enables us to distinguish angles far more
accurately than your sense of sight, when unaided by a rule or measure
of angles. Nor must I omit to explain that we have great natural
helps. It is with us a Law of Nature that the brain of the Isosceles
class shall begin at half a degree, or thirty minutes, and shall
increase (if it increases at all) by half a degree in every generation
until the goal of 60 degrees is reached, when the condition of serfdom
is quitted, and the freeman enters the class of Regulars.

Consequently, Nature herself supplies us with an ascending scale or
Alphabet of angles for half a degree up to 60 degrees, Specimen of
which are placed in every Elementary School throughout the land. Owing
to occasional retrogressions, to still more frequent moral and
intellectual stagnation, and to the extraordinary fecundity of the
Criminal and Vagabond classes, there is always a vast superfluity of
individuals of the half degree and single degree class, and a fair
abundance of Specimens up to 10 degrees. These are absolutely
destitute of civil rights; and a great number of them, not having even
intelligence enough for the purposes of warfare, are devoted by the
States to the service of education. Fettered immovably so as to remove
all possibility of danger, they are placed in the classrooms of our
Infant Schools, and there they are utilized by the Board of Education
for the purpose of imparting to the offspring of the Middle Classes the
tact and intelligence which these wretched creatures themselves are
utterly devoid.

In some States the Specimens are occasionally fed and suffered to exist
for several years; but in the more temperate and better regulated
regions, it is found in the long run more advantageous for the
educational interests of the young, to dispense with food, and to renew
the Specimens every month--which is about the average duration of the
foodless existence of the Criminal class. In the cheaper schools, what
is gained by the longer existence of the Specimen is lost, partly in
the expenditure for food, and partly in the diminished accuracy of the
angles, which are impaired after a few weeks of constant "feeling." Nor
must we forget to add, in enumerating the advantages of the more
expensive system, that it tends, though slightly yet perceptibly, to
the diminution of the redundant Isosceles population--an object which
every statesman in Flatland constantly keeps in view. On the whole
therefore--although I am not ignorant that, in many popularly elected
School Boards, there is a reaction in favour of "the cheap system" as
it is called--I am myself disposed to think that this is one of the
many cases in which expense is the truest economy.

But I must not allow questions of School Board politics to divert me
from my subject. Enough has been said, I trust, to shew that
Recognition by Feeling is not so tedious or indecisive a process as
might have been supposed; and it is obviously more trustworthy than
Recognition by hearing. Still there remains, as has been pointed out
above, the objection that this method is not without danger. For this
reason many in the Middle and Lower classes, and all without exception
in the Polygonal and Circular orders, prefer a third method, the
description of which shall be reserved for the next section.

Next: Of Recognition By Sight

Previous: Concerning The Women

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