Wednesday, January 6, 2021

From a work-in-progress

By Reason Alone 

From The Tragedy of Beyonce Knowles / Interpellation (working titles?)
Arthur is to meet his girlfriend's family for the first time

‘An invite to Mannerly Manor? If it were just Katie and her mum!’ I sighed. ‘But the cousins are sure to be there. And the groundskeeper, who has a gun, and chambermaid and scullery chef, and the grouse, who may all have guns for all I know of the world. And all the butlers in all their siller finery. I am just so nervous. I am not sure who will be there. No one's explained the event.’

‘Lunch,’ said Tam.

‘But is that . . . tea?’

Tam treated me to a gaze of his gravest sympathy. ‘If you do it one way and they do it the other,’ he offered, ‘you are by definition wrong. And there is simply no way to know what they will do nor how they will do it.’

‘Save Reason,’ I said.

Together Tamburlaine and I attempted to formulate the customs of the upper classes by Reason alone.

‘Give me some task, Tam.’

‘Say you are to pick your nose, Arthur.’

‘Which finger does one use?’

‘Where do the other nails point while the principal is busy? Start simple.’

We tried every finger we could find, falsifying the pick itself so as not to run out of matter.

Thus laughing, we lay contentedly in each other arms. ‘Perhaps they leave it in the ground,’ Tam muttered. But soon we were frowning again.

‘Aye,’ I added softly, ‘or it doesn’t even matter which fingers? It’s which nostril. Nor are nostrils the only niches.’

Tam shrugged me off, leapt up and began to pace. ‘No they’re not! Well then! Reason man! Think! Do the upper classes of Britain sit at their feast-laden tables manually disimpacting earwax or is it sometimes poop? Think! Think!’

He looked aghast and I didn’t know how to calm him down. He was right. Did they reach one slimy arm down their gullet, shortly having swallowed their meal, as some pythons are said to do, and pull it intact back onto the siller plate?

Soon it was mid-morning. My train would soon be leaving for Katie’s country estate. We had got nowhere. And then suddenly, as Tam helped me into my scarf and mittens, it all came pouring together. An avalanche of reason alone.

First, a good bully always maximizes cognitive load. For example, pick on your prey by presenting insoluble puzzles and palpably false attributions. The pot shoving the kettle up against the lockers and sneering at its searing, and so on.

Thus for many years the upper classes have been evolving tells and shibboleths that make them out to be simple, dumpy, down-to-earth folk. 

They say we are the posh ones! 

In years gone by, for instance, the upper classes would not have the ostentation to say serviette when they might say napkin. Poor and humble, they would not go horse riding, merely riding. As if they hadn't got one. This principle is broadly applicable, and applicable in particular to ...

‘They won’t ostentatiously thrust the fingers in?’ suggested Tam, grinning avidly. ‘They’ll wait till it pokes out of its own accord!’

‘They love all the creeping beasts of the earth,’ I agreed. ‘They’ll wobble the philtrum to and fro till it plops out, without any fuss. It is not for them to pick which noses.’

But there was more. At the top, power frequently acquires the morphology of an 'overlapping consensus.' Not always, but among the upper classes of Britain, Tam and I reckoned that it did. That is, ceteris paribus, the upper class will prefer manners that they can agree upon for many different reasons, without recognising that they are so doing.

Tamburlaine and I did a few quick calculations. Around three-quarters of toffs believe they are looking down their noses at everyone else. We uppity and grasping plebs are hilarious with our shabby fool’s gold, and so on. Their idea (which when it gets out of hand is genocide) is: Look at those fools! If the situation were reversed, they would do the same as we do

But around a quarter of toffs truly think of themselves a simple, plain people, staring up their noses at us, staring up that cleared-out tunnel, whose rubble they are too simple and plain to clear, being unpretentious, down-to-earth sorts who accept their lot, which just so happens to have a main facade of twelve bays of classical sash.

Understanding now its underpinning logic, I felt confident I would be able to reason out all the etiquette that lay ahead of me this afternoon and evening. Which salad spoon. How to greet the groundsman. Anxiety diminishing, my crush on Katie revealed itself once more, raw and pink with a new lustre of lust.

After all, do not the upper classes of England simply love duels where only one fighter is allowed oxygen? Thrust! Parry! Look at that footwork! Da da da da da! Ta ta ta ta! Look at those chaps dance, two consummate artists, equally matched! The flashing silver! On the side-lines, variegated princesses simper and swoon! And that will be me in a couple of hours. My starlight white frock with the flared silhouette that bells when I spin, my golden locks done up with bright red ribs and bins.

‘Oh, Arthur,’ squawked Tamburlaine, and tied my scarf, and my heart, in a complex knot.

Thus equipped I went to Mannerly Manor, to meet my betters.

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