It would be very difficult to convince a goldfish that he should be thankful for his bowl of water. He knows nothing else. You could try very hard to penetrate the fish’s ambivalence, but you would fail, because his life has evolved past the recognition that he owes his very life to the fluid in which he resides. He was born in water, and therefore lacks the context for understanding that it is even more critical to his existence than the food that you sprinkle daily atop it.
Context. If, however, some terrible force were to knock the bowl over and cause it to shed its precious fluid, all of the efforts to educate the fish will pale by comparison to its vivid, complete and immediate understanding of that which you tirelessly professed as it gasps and struggles for the breath that it took for granted moments earlier. Now, you will have the fish’s undivided attention as it desperately calls upon every cell of its being to simultaneously comprehend its newly discovered mortality, and cling to its fleeting life.
Americans are not unlike the fish. We are steeped in liberty. It was all around us when we were born. It has been here ever since. Most people’s frame of reference is limited to their own life experiences. Just like the fish, we do not suffer in desperation until it leaves us no choice. At that moment all of the things we took for granted become vividly clear though they were virtually unobservable moments before.
Perhaps the last thing on anyone’s mind during the maiden voyage of the Titanic was the idea that it would sink remarkably fast, and that it would be ill-equipped to handle hundreds of fear-crazed passengers as they scrambled for lifeboats.
Perhaps that greatest statement on this reality of human nature was by Thomas Jefferson. He wrote in the Declaration Of Independence: “[A]ll Experience hath shewn, that Mankind are more disposed to suffer, while Evils are sufferable, than to right themselves by abolishing the Forms to which they are accustomed.” But this statement implies knowledge on the part of the individual that he is indeed suffering. That recogniton is not present in America. We are the oblivious fish. Our Republic is the precariously perched bowl, and the liberty guaranteed by our Constitution is the water, the appreciation for which, we are blinded to because we are steeped too comfortably within it.
When we engage in debate about “improving” our society, we should be mindful that we may not survive many more governmentally controlled improvements. Our Founders designed our system of government — a representative democracy — specifically to guarantee the maximum amount of liberty to the individual. This guarantee is like a commission-driven sales job. It is what you make of it. The sky is the limit in a free society, but be careful not to focus so long on crafting the safety net that you remove the incentive to fly. Our Founders recognized that life has purpose beyond government, so government should be crafted in such a way as to not frustrate that natural tendency toward the pursuit of happiness. They would have said that the bowl exists for the fish, not the other way around.
Unfortunately, we have been in the bowl for so many generations, that we sometimes look to it to define the pursuit of happiness when in fact it is an impediment to it. Our pursuit of happiness is possible because of the liberty we employ to obtain it. No system of government can come close. Man left to his own devices will always produce a greater life for himself and his family than any system of government could. All that is required of us is that we do not screw up the freedom over which we enjoy a temporary stewardship; always mindful that each governmental “solution” for some perceived ill, is a new impediment on the backs of our children. Too many such “solutions” are suicide to this great nation, but we must recognize what we have in order to know the down-side of ever-expanding government. Let’s not wait until we are left with no choice.
We could use people who understand that which the fish did not; that liberty is obvious to those without it, but invisible to those within it.