In the Sixteenth Week of the Leacock Anniversaries in 2019, on Monday, July 8th, our scouts Astranasus the Star-Nosed Mole and Mnemochirianne the Centaur welcome Vulphystrix the Both-Andian to the quest to mutate both the Yottapede and the Charged Ooze and thus to tame and put to work the wild Unsolved Riddle of Social Justice.
It all started with Archilochus, a Greek poet from the island of Paros, who observed that, “The fox knows many things; the hedgehog knows one big thing,” or words in Greek to that effect. This idea was taken up by Isaiah Berlin in a famous long essay called, appropriately, “The Hedgehog and the Fox”, which is actually about Tolstoy. “Is he a fox or a hedgehog?” Berlin believes he was trying to be both. Maybe we need Tolstoy more than Stephen Leacock, for the work that lies ahead. Stephen Leacock was all fox, or so I will believe until convinced otherwise, despite his end-of-life pronouncements.
All the foxes and hedgehogs on the island of Paros were entirely disconcerted by Archilochus’s dictum, due simply to their natural distaste for being stereotyped. To cut a very long story short, they held a series of meetings involving only themselves, then a series of bilateral meetings, and eventually resolved that those who wanted to prove Archilochus was wrong should make of themselves a new combined species, and leave the others alone who were entirely comfortable with being one or the other. They would do this by a process of unnatural selection (defying Darwin, although they didn’t know that). If you know anything about foxes and hedgehogs, you will realize that this was a tall order indeed. In fact, it failed miserably all over Europe, and many were the casualties on both sides. Even when the foxes pitched the idea to porcupines on both sides of the Atlantic.
In despair, the survivors finally decided that the best they could do would be to conjoin themselves for practical purposes retaining, indeed embracing, their separate identities for purposes of survival but walking intimately side-by-side as if they were one whenever the need arose. This yielded some highly comical appearances which evoked the contempt of some foxes and hedgehogs (or porcupines) alike. But under pluralistic conditions, where being exclusively one or the other was necessarily uncomfortable, it worked wonderfully. The resulting eight-legged creatures came to be called by various hyphenated names, depending on the exact partnership. They resisted fiercely the idea, floated by some who did not understand, that they, especially if both females, should be called Heterodoxies. Taxonomically they came to be recognized as Both-Andians.
Thus it was that Astranasus and Mnemochirianne, realizing that their own considerable talents, however useful for understanding the Yottapede in its native Charged Ooze and even anticipating its behaviour, were insufficient to achieve alteration in its cast of mind, that being the first step in the process of mutation. They put out the call for a fox-hog, hedg-fox, fox-upine or porc-enard, who duly arrived, incorporated under the name Vulphystrix.
They made a curious sight, this bizarre quartrio, as they circled the Yottapede through the Charged Ooze, reversing and unreversing the charge as they want, confusing the great beast with that and their antics. How was it to deal with Astranasus the Star-Nosed Mole snuffled his way around the perimeter, as much at home in the Charged Ooze as the Yottapede itself, although unable to see, hear, or smell anything about it, yet understanding it fully by touch alone? How was it to deal with Mnemochirianne, the Centaur, half horse and half woman, and a very attractive one at that? The Yottapede of course uses attractive women all the time, but this one didn’t fit any of the stereotypes. Beware, beware! But of what? The mesmerizing face? The penetrating, inscrutable eyes? The strong white teeth? The perfect breasts? The sinuous arms with their two elegant hands? The potent hoofs, shifting and dancing like a picador’s horse but with that feral, female intelligence behind them? And now this new threat, if it was that, this incorporated partnership, Vulphystrix, both fox and porcupine, confronting the conflicting monistic pluralism of the Yottapede with an integrating pluralism of its own: what menace did it hold?
The Yottapede watched the newcomers warily with its myriad million eyes. Both parts of Vulphystrix, observing this scrutiny, danced elusively but temptingly within reach, varying the space between themselves without breaking the connection, causing the myriad million tracking eyeballs to swivel and cross, back and forth, up and down, giving the whole massive creature a massive headache. How will it respond?
All this is happening, of course, within sight of the Mariposa walkers who are about to experience the last three rings of their labyrinth, the longest, the second longest, and the third longest, in that order. They will soon go out the way they came in. They have but three more weeks to come up with something useful. Are the Yottapede and its Charged Ooze becoming sufficiently malleable? Maybe. Maybe not. We’ll see.