BUTTOCKS AND ERECTIONS
Isosceles was king of the Land Of Triangles and he ruled his subjects with
geometric precision. Every corner was a right-angle. Every market square was
exactly that. Curves were forbidden. And the principle rule of the Land Of
Triangles, a truth which was never to be put in question, was that the three
angles of a triangle always add up to one hundred and seventy. It was to the
discovery of this rule that Isosceles owed his power. Not that he had discovered
it himself, but his forbears had, and power had henceforth stayed in their line.
The citizens of the Land Of Triangles, for centuries, had accepted a life
without curves because they believed in the truth of their rulers' theorem. It
was so much a part of their lives that no-one thought to question it. And life
went on well enough, square, oblong, triangular, rhomboid, cuboid, as it was,
most people accepting that it couldn't be otherwise.
"That's the way life is," they'd say. "You can't change human nature nor argue
with the laws of arithmetic."
Nevertheless, as it is human to dream, throughout the centuries there had been
many uprisings in pursuit of curves. In the eleventh century, during the reign
of Queen Hypotenuse, had come the Civil War when the Buttocks (so called because
of the curious garment they wore which left this part of their anatomy exposed,
an expression of their devotion to the cause of curves) fought the Erections,
men who proudly showed off their exact forty-five degree angles after every
victory in battle as proof that the angular was the ruling principle of life.
For thirteen years the country was at war. Five million lost their lives.
Children were slaughtered, women raped, all the finest geometric cities of the
land laid to waste. And the result of all this carnage was a return to the
status quo ante, with one difference: adherents of curves were now given the
freedom to believe in their creed, though it remained punishable heresy to give
it public expression.
And so it had continued into the reign of Isosceles. It was well known that many
talked in secret of the possibility of a life of curves, but Isoscejes had no
fear of them for his forces of order were well-manned and well-rewarded. The
Erections, as a reward for their heroic defence of the law of one hundred and
seventy and their historic defeat of the Buttocks, had been formed into an elite
corps of anti-Insurgency troops.
"The Buttocks haven't got a chance," people would whisper, "if they dare show
themselves, the Erections will be straight in."
So those who loved and longed for curves kept in their homes little figures
crafted from wood or stone which they took out of hiding among friends and
passed from hand to hand with a smile, a nod, and an approving comment.
Isosceles felt himself, therefore, the most secure of rulers. His ascendancy was
founded upon mathematical law, and what could be more certain? He had for his
support some of the best minds in the country. In the schools and universities
the young Triangles were taught the rule of one hundred and seventy, its
discovery, its history, how it had made them prosperous and powerful. The most
brilliant students rose to the best-paid and most influential positions in the
kingdom, and as they owed their pre-eminence to the rule of one hundred and
seventy, its supremacy was assured. It was not possible, in the Land Of
Triangles, to attain status, to become prosperous, even to find a modest job
unless you accepted the beliefs of Isosceles and his ruling elite. This was
enough, of course, to ensure that ninety-nine percent of the population never
put them in question and that competition to appear the most devout in their
espousal was rife, for though the majority lived modestly, though they had to
work hard for their livelihood, though they had little or no influence, they
harboured the fantasy that someday, somehow, riches, fame, power might be
theirs; the rich, the famous, the powerful, therefore, had no reason to feel
Yet it happened, as it always will, that some were malcontent. In the
thirty-fifth year of the reign of Isosceles there emerged the One Hundred And
Eighty Degree Movement, led by a mathematician who renounced power and privilege
in order to promulgate what he took to be the new truth. Radius Globe had been
educated in the best school, won honours from the best university, he could have
become one of Isosceles' closest advisers, been assured of comfort, wealth,
fame. Instead, he put himself beyond all promotion by making it his life's work
to convince his fellow citizens that the angles of a triangle will invariably
add up to one hundred and eighty. When news of Globe's movement reached
Isosceles, he ordered his officials to buy off the dissident. He was to be
offered whatvever he desired, if only he would renounce his heresy. When Globe
laughed at his tempters, Isosceles turned sour.
"Arrest him and bring him to trial for treason I" he declared.
At his trial, Globe refused to recant, even in fear of his life.
'The truth does not depend upon my survival," he told the court. "Others will
take up my work. You will never make the angles of a triangle add up to one
hundred and seventy, no matter how many martyrs you create."
He was imprisoned, tortured, beaten, starved, but he would not recant.
Isosceles's advisers pointed out that were they to execute him it might give
impetus to his movement. It would be wiser to let him live out his natural life
in prison. Even so,there grew up slowly a large body of people who believed that
Globe was right, that he should be released, that Isosceles should be removed
from power as its basis was utterly intellectually false and morally beyond
justification. From his prison cell, Globe insisted that his movement should use
only peaceful methods. They should persuade, they should protest, they should
publish, but under no circumstances should they resort to violence. In response
to the growth of dissent, Isosceles promulgated the Prevention Of One Hundred
And Eighty Degrees Act. This gave the authorities the right to seize and hold
without trial anyone thought to be associated with Globe's movement. People came
to fear the knock on the door in the middle of the night. Whole families found
themselves in jail. The newspapers, owned for the most part by rich men who
relied on Isosceles' regime for their wealth, submitted the public daily to
misleading information about Globe and his followers. Above all, they sneered at
the idea that the three angles of a triangle could possibly add up to one
hundred and eighty, and public opinion, that monster of ignorance and prejudice,
of half-absorbed ideas and half-learned lessons, stayed firmly on the side of
Globe grew old in prison and little by little, younger members of his movement
came to assume greater influence, They were impatient with his peaceful methods.
They pointed to the heavy-handedness of the authorities. They argued that
decades had passed and the movement had squeezed no concessions, Surely it was
time to try new tactics ? If Isosceles would not be moved by argument, then he
would have to be moved by force. While he lived, Globe managed to keep these
people in check, but when he died at the age of eighty-three after forty-seven
years incarceration, leadership of his campaign passed to those who believed
violence was the only way to bring about change. Two weeks after his funeral the
first bomb exploded.
It destroyed the geometry of .a shopping-centre, killed two children, one
mother, injured thirty-seven ,blew the legs off a grandmother of seventy and
advanced the cause of the anti-angularists not one inch. Yet, in their secret
meetings where, by definition, no dissenting voice was permitted, these
dissenters of the inner circle who had given themselves the name of Calm Hachar
( pronounced Saleen Haggar and meaning "Balls To Everyone Else") convinced
themselves that with every explosion, with every torn limb, every shattered
skull, every brain splashed across the pavement, every orphaned child, every
heartbroken mother, every grief-riven family they had taken a step towards
freedom and truth. And to all who dared criticize them they would say:
"But look how we have suffered for our cause. We are victims."
And as everyone knows, victims have absolute moral authority for redress,
however vile their actions.
Isosceles died and his son, Cosine came to power. Generation succeeded
generation. Three hundred and fifty years passed and the war between the
terrorists of One Hundred And Eighty and the constituted power of One Hundred
And Seventy did not abate. Hundreds of thousands had perished. King
Perpendicular decided he would go down in history as a peacemaker. His ministers
drew up a plan. The speeches were made. The fine words spoken and written. The
Buttocks and the Erections were to come together but only once the Buttocks had
renounced violence. But why should they when violence still remained possible
for the Erections ? Ah,but the legitimate violence of the State cannot be
compared to the illegitimate violence of terrorists. And who determines
legitimacy exactly ? The Buttocks demanded talks first and a renunciation of
violence after. The Erections refused to co-operate until the Buttocks
submitted. So it went on while the bombs exploded and people who understood
nothing of the conflict were maimed and killed.
As decades turned into centuries people almost forgot the cause of the conflict.
It hardly seemed to matter any more, except to the Buttocks and the Erections,
but when Queen Horizontal assumed the throne she cast aside all talk of
reconciliation and used all powers at her disposal to crush the One Hundred And
Eighty Movement. Imprisonment, torture, execution, curfew. There were tanks in
the streets and soldiers on every corner. The Triangles could not pass freely
about their cities and towns. They could be stopped, questioned, arrested, but
the movement was broken and the overwhelming majority of the people supported
the clampdown. The Buttocks went underground. In small cells they tried to keep
alive the faith of One Hundred And Eighty. Queen Horizontal reigned for
seventy-five years and was adulated by her subjects.
"One hundred and eighty is all right in theory," people would say, "but it would
never have worked in practice."
Books were written consigning the movement to the past. Everyone was embarrassed
to be associated with something now seen as utterly out-of-date, belonging to
conditions that had long since disappeared. There soon developed a One Hundred
And Seventy-Five movement which distanced itself from the foolish extremism of
Globism. But it wasn't strict about the five degree difference and agreed with
Horizontal in everything but name.
So people forgot about Globe. The young were not taught about him and soon
little trace of the One Hundred And Eighty agitation and of the terrible
violence that ensued remained in the collective mind. The triangles continued
with their angular life and power passed from king to queen, from queen to king.
It remained a truth, accepted almost without question among the people of the
Land Of Triangles, that the angles of a triangle will always add up to one
hundred and seventy. Of course, in their daily business people often had to
ignore this truth and behave as if the sum were one hundred and eighty, yet this
mattered little so long as order was preserved and people had something they
could believe in and look up to. Nevertheless, it would often pass through some
of the more reflective minds that the whole of their culture was held in place
by a convention founded on falsehood, but as poeple will, they quickly dismissed
the thought and got on with doing what the system demanded of them. It might be
an angular life, a dishonest life, a life haunted by the absence of curves but
it was, after all, safe.
And who would dare say that truth is more important than safety?