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BUTTOCKS AND ERECTIONS

Tom Wood


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 threatened.

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 Isosceles.

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?