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Section 12. Of the Doctrine of our Priests

Edwin A. Abbott (1838-1926)

Section 12.  Of the Doctrine of our Priests

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, where 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 the 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" or "wrong" as vehemently

and passionately as if they believed that these names represented

real existences, 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 meant "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 devise 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 that 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 had 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 you,

is thought "an excellent thing in 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 proved

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 be not 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 suggests 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 bi-mental, 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 almost say, idiom.  "Love" then 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 except 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

their 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.

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This World Wide Web document is a personal research project motivated by the following claim: "Truth is the object of Knowledge of whatever kind; and when we inquire what is meant by Truth, I suppose it is right to answer that Truth means facts and their relations, which stand towards each other pretty much as subjects and predicates in logic. All that exists, as contemplated by the human mind, forms one large system or complex fact, and this of course resolves itself into an indefinite number of particular facts, which, as being portions of a whole, have countless relations of every kind, one towards another." (The Idea of a University, John Henry Newman, 1801-1890)

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