Marcus L. Rowland (ffutures) wrote,
Marcus L. Rowland

Cannibalism, genetics, and Flatland

I'm writing the genetics and sociology bit of the "serious science" section, and I want to develop the following line of thought:
  1. A Square claims that the normal course of events is that regular triangles give birth to squares, the children of squares are pentagons, their children are hexagons, etc., while right-thinking Isosceles tend to evolve towards becoming regular. If this is literally true why isn't Flatland exclusively populated by higher figures now? Why are even squares rare enough that they are automatically members of the professional classes? Why is there still a huge isosceles underclass?
    [this was pointed out by Ian Stewart but I don't think he's taken it far enough]
  2. The "circles", with hundreds of sides, take the progression of sides much further. Their children often add fifty or more sides more than the father. But we're explicitly told here that there are very few children.
  3. A Square's family looks typically Victorian, but the typical Victorian family had a relatively high level of infant mortality, which was very rarely discussed.
  4. Flatland has institutionalized cannibalism; criminals are sentenced to be consumed, executed and eaten. It isn't made clear who does this, my guess is that officials and their families get the best share. Most high officials have tens or hundreds of sides, but there's an implication that A Square (a lawyer) has officiated as a magistrate.
  5. There appears to be widespread support for cannibalism, certainly nobody is complaining about it.
My idea here is that A Square isn't mentioning the more distasteful side of things; that this cannibalism is necessary if children are to gain more sides, and that without it most children will be Irregular, Isosceles, still born, etc.; some of the survivors are simply abandoned, others get institutionalized - this is considered so shameful that few Flatlanders are consciously aware that it is the norm rather than the exception.

With cannibalism things are different; children are more likely to be regular and add more sides. Officials get first pick of the victims, and the extra sides they add reflect this, but even an occasional taste (as from A Square's work as a magistrate) may tip the scales a little. Taking it too far is risky, with an increased chance of Irregular children and still births.

I'm pretty sure that there's a biological name for this type of "preying on some children to benefit the rest" sort of cannibalism, but I can't remember it. Anyone got any suggestions, or any ideas on the biological processes involved? I'm thinking that there might be something like a hormone that promtess regularity and the growth of extra sides, but maybe this is too simplistic.

Also, can anyone remind me of the title of a Poul Anderson story about a hunter-gatherer civilization where the males have to fight and eat each other to get enough of a particular protein (forget the details) to allow them to reproduce? I know I've read it, but I can't remember what collection it was in and I want to reference it.
Tags: flatland, rpg

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