Concerning Irregular Figures

: 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 e
ual; 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.