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Of The Doctrine Of Our Priests






Part of: OTHER WORLDS
From: Flatland

As to the doctrine of the Circles it may briefly be summed up in a
single maxim, "Attend to your Configuration." Whether political,
ecclesiastical, or moral, all their teaching has for its object the
improvement of individual and collective Configuration--with special
reference of course to the Configuration of the Circles, to which all
other objects are subordinated.

It is the merit of the Circles that they have effectually suppressed
those ancient heresies which led men to waste energy and sympathy in
the vain belief that conduct depends upon will, effort, training,
encouragement, praise, or anything else but Configuration. It was
Pantocyclus--the illustrious Circle mentioned above, as the queller of
the Colour Revolt--who first convinced mankind that Configuration makes
the man; that if, for example, you are born an Isosceles with two
uneven sides, you will assuredly go wrong unless you have them made
even--for which purpose you must go to the Isosceles Hospital;
similarly, if you are a Triangle, or Square, or even a Polygon, born
with any Irregularity, you must be taken to one of the Regular
Hospitals to have your disease cured; otherwise you will end your days
in the State Prison or by the angle of the State Executioner.

All faults or defects, from the slightest misconduct to the most
flagitious crime, Pantocyclus attributed to some deviation from perfect
Regularity in the bodily figure, caused perhaps (if not congenital) by
some collision in a crowd; by neglect to take exercise, or by taking
too much of it; or even by a sudden change of temperature, resulting in
a shrinkage or expansion in some too susceptible part of the frame.
Therefore, concluded that illustrious Philosopher, neither good conduct
nor bad conduct is a fit subject, in any sober estimation, for either
praise or blame. For why should you praise, for example, the integrity
of a Square who faithfully defends the interests of his client, when
you ought in reality rather to admire the exact precision of his right
angles? Or again, why blame a lying, thievish Isosceles, when you
ought rather to deplore the incurable inequality of his sides?

Theoretically, this doctrine is unquestionable; but it has practical
drawbacks. In dealing with an Isosceles, if a rascal pleads that he
cannot help stealing because of his unevenness, you reply that for that
very reason, because he cannot help being a nuisance to his neighbours,
you, the Magistrate, cannot help sentencing him to be consumed--and
there's an end of the matter. But in little domestic difficulties,
when the penalty of consumption, or death, is out of the question, this
theory of Configuration sometimes comes in awkwardly; and I must
confess that occasionally when one of my own Hexagonal Grandsons pleads
as an excuse for his disobedience that a sudden change of temperature
has been too much for his Perimeter, and that I ought to lay the blame
not on him but on his Configuration, which can only be strengthened by
abundance of the choicest sweetmeats, I neither see my way logically to
reject, nor practically to accept, his conclusions.

For my own part, I find it best to assume that a good sound scolding or
castigation has some latent and strengthening influence on my
Grandson's Configuration; though I own that I have no grounds for
thinking so. At all events I am not alone in my way of extricating
myself from this dilemma; for I find that many of the highest Circles,
sitting as Judges in law courts, use praise and blame towards Regular
and Irregular Figures; and in their homes I know by experience that,
when scolding their children, they speak about "right" and "wrong" as
vehemently and passionately as if they believe that these names
represented real existence, and that a human Figure is really capable
of choosing between them.

Constantly carrying out their policy of making Configuration the
leading idea in every mind, the Circles reverse the nature of that
Commandment which in Spaceland regulates the relations between parents
and children. With you, children are taught to honour their parents;
with us--next to the Circles, who are the chief object of universal
homage--a man is taught to honour his Grandson, if he has one; or, if
not, his Son. By "honour," however, is by no means mean "indulgence,"
but a reverent regard for their highest interests: and the Circles
teach that the duty of fathers is to subordinate their own interests to
those of posterity, thereby advancing the welfare of the whole State as
well as that of their own immediate descendants.

The weak point in the system of the Circles--if a humble Square may
venture to speak of anything Circular as containing any element of
weakness--appears to me to be found in their relations with Women.

As it is of the utmost importance for Society that Irregular births
should be discouraged, it follows that no Woman who has any
Irregularities in her ancestry is a fit partner for one who desires
that his posterity should rise by regular degrees in the social scale.

Now the Irregularity of a Male is a matter of measurement; but as all
Women are straight, and therefore visibly Regular so to speak, one has
to device some other means of ascertaining what I may call their
invisible Irregularity, that is to say their potential Irregularities
as regards possible offspring. This is effected by carefully-kept
pedigrees, which are preserved and supervised by the State; and without
a certified pedigree no Woman is allowed to marry.

Now it might have been supposed the a Circle--proud of his ancestry and
regardful for a posterity which might possibly issue hereafter in a
Chief Circle--would be more careful than any other to choose a wife who
had no blot on her escutcheon. But it is not so. The care in choosing
a Regular wife appears to diminish as one rises in the social scale.
Nothing would induce an aspiring Isosceles, who has hopes of generating
an Equilateral Son, to take a wife who reckoned a single Irregularity
among her Ancestors; a Square or Pentagon, who is confident that his
family is steadily on the rise, does not inquire above the
five-hundredth generation; a Hexagon or Dodecagon is even more careless
of the wife's pedigree; but a Circle has been known deliberately to
take a wife who has had an Irregular Great-Grandfather, and all because
of some slight superiority of lustre, or because of the charms of a low
voice--which, with us, even more than with you, is thought "an
excellent thing in a Woman."

Such ill-judged marriages are, as might be expected, barren, if they do
not result in positive Irregularity or in diminution of sides; but none
of these evils have hitherto provided sufficiently deterrent. The loss
of a few sides in a highly-developed Polygon is not easily noticed, and
is sometimes compensated by a successful operation in the
Neo-Therapeutic Gymnasium, as I have described above; and the Circles
are too much disposed to acquiesce in infecundity as a law of the
superior development. Yet, if this evil be not arrested, the gradual
diminution of the Circular class may soon become more rapid, and the
time may not be far distant when, the race being no longer able to
produce a Chief Circle, the Constitution of Flatland must fall.

One other word of warning suggest itself to me, though I cannot so
easily mention a remedy; and this also refers to our relations with
Women. About three hundred years ago, it was decreed by the Chief
Circle that, since women are deficient in Reason but abundant in
Emotion, they ought no longer to be treated as rational, nor receive
any mental education. The consequence was that they were no longer
taught to read, nor even to master Arithmetic enough to enable them to
count the angles of their husband or children; and hence they sensibly
declined during each generation in intellectual power. And this system
of female non-education or quietism still prevails.

My fear is that, with the best intentions, this policy has been carried
so far as to react injuriously on the Male Sex.

For the consequence is that, as things now are, we Males have to lead a
kind of bi-lingual, and I may almost say bimental, existence. With
Women, we speak of "love," "duty," "right," "wrong," "pity," "hope,"
and other irrational and emotional conceptions, which have no
existence, and the fiction of which has no object except to control
feminine exuberances; but among ourselves, and in our books, we have an
entirely different vocabulary and I may also say, idiom. "Love" them
becomes "the anticipation of benefits"; "duty" becomes "necessity" or
"fitness"; and other words are correspondingly transmuted. Moreover,
among Women, we use language implying the utmost deference for their
Sex; and they fully believe that the Chief Circle Himself is not more
devoutly adored by us than they are: but behind their backs they are
both regarded and spoken of--by all but the very young--as being little
better than "mindless organisms."

Our Theology also in the Women's chambers is entirely different from
our Theology elsewhere.

Now my humble fear is that this double training, in language as well as
in thought, imposes somewhat too heavy a burden upon the young,
especially when, at the age of three years old, they are taken from the
maternal care and taught to unlearn the old language--except for the
purpose of repeating it in the presence of the Mothers and Nurses--and
to learn the vocabulary and idiom of science. Already methinks I
discern a weakness in the grasp of mathematical truth at the present
time as compared with the more robust intellect of our ancestors three
hundred years ago. I say nothing of the possible danger if a Woman
should ever surreptitiously learn to read and convey to her Sex the
result of her perusal of a single popular volume; nor of the
possibility that the indiscretion or disobedience of some infant Male
might reveal to a Mother the secrets of the logical dialect. On the
simple ground of the enfeebling of the male intellect, I rest this
humble appeal to the highest Authorities to reconsider the regulations
of Female education.





Next: How I Had A Vision Of Lineland

Previous: Concerning Our Priests



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