People are Not Goldfish
JUNE 01, 1965 by D.M. WESTERHOLM
Mrs. Westerholm is a Registered Nurse, housewife, and student of liberty of Gardena, California.
During a recent hospitalization, some imaginative friends brought me a small bowl of goldfish. Some of the nurses appeared dubious at first, but the fish behaved quietly and were allowed to remain—proving conclusively that nurses are human, after all.
I was amused by their golden dartings and flirting tails (the fish, that is—not the nurses) and the condescending acceptance of food and the way they would exchange stares with me while opening and closing their mouths—obviously speaking noble thoughts which I was much too stupid to comprehend. One morning, however, after their water had been changed and we had fed them their scientifically balanced diet (feeling so paternalistic and protective about the whole thing), it occurred to me that here was a way of life deemed ideal by many humans.
You think not? Well, consider: these little denizens of the not-so-deep pay no rent or mortgages, do not have to work for their food, have all medical care provided, have no worries about old-age security, don’t have to concern themselves about competition or self-protection or, indeed, accept any responsibility at all. All is provided by a benevolent master. Is this not the utopian existence so desired by millions? Plainly, for my small finny friends, the war against poverty has been won—fins down. I’ll admit that the life of a captive goldfish is not completely analogous with human paternalistic socialism, but it’s close enough for some discomforting comparisons. Some folks might ask: "What’s so discomforting about it? I should have it as good as those goldfish, and my worries would be over!" With my own worry and concern about the financial future, I can understand the question. The answer lies in another question, however: "What happens to my goldfish if I run out of fish food? Or forget them? Or drop dead?"
Those fish haven’t learned survival techniques, because their environment has not demanded such learning. True, they still have the survival instinct, but their artificial rather than natural environment will not long support them if unattended—not even if their individual initiative and knowledge of self-responsibility and self-protection had not been atrophied by life-long disuse.
So, too, with a nationally socialized environment for humans. Sound economics, in effect, is the "fish food" of human society—essential to its life. Socialism is not economically workable. (Just ask the communists, who are somewhat clandestinely re-adopting various capitalistic methods, purely because socialism doesn’t work.)
A government can operate at a deficit, inflating the currency, draining the internal resources of the nation and the people, for just so long. Eventually, inevitably, it will run out of fish food. When that happens, the only hope for the citizens will depend upon their own survival efforts—individually. They will have to find, or grow, or manufacture their own "fish food."
Individual initiative, resourcefulness, full and efficient acceptance of personal responsibility—these are the tools needed for human survival outside the goldfish bowl. And these tools are not easily forged, or preserved, in the stultifying environment of paternalistic socialism or other varieties of collectivism.
I, for one, have no desire for the deceptive, dangerous, goldfish-bowl way of life. After all, people are not goldfish. People have the intelligence, the size, the physical and mental capacity to form their own environment. Why, then, should we be satisfied with an environment so precarious and dangerous as that forced upon my pretty, utterly dependent, little goldfish?