My Goldfish died yesterday. I came home from dinner at my parents to see it floating at the top of the fish tank.
Ironically prior to this discovery I was feeling quite smug about my fish keeping abilities. My wife had commented on who diligently I had been looking after my fish. Not diligently enough it seems.
The previous weekend as I stood looking down on my watery dominion I had felt slightly God like, as I surveyed my two happy looking fish merrily scurrying around 20 litres of water, furnished with the gravel I had laid, the (plastic) trees I had placed in the positions I had chosen and the air pump that I had set up, I felt a feeling of satisfaction. I felt that in a world of war, famine, disease and the Daily Mail, here was a tiny corner that I ruled and I would make and idyllic utopia for its grateful inhabitants.
Although it turns out that Goldfish society doesn’t take pride and value the same things as the land lubbers paradise that I seem to have as an ideal. A free society where Gonzo and Ernie can both enjoy the benefits of a free at the point of use education system was surplus to requirements. Neither was a system of government by proportional representation needed, or a fully nationalised public transport system or a special 90% tax on being a tax accountant. What Gonzo and Ernie actually needed was a clean tank and the right amount of food. That was all they really needed/wanted from me, and yet I managed to get it somehow wrong.
I think my problem was that I was so busy trying to furnish their tank with (plastic) plants for them to swim round, castles for them to play in and air stones to give them fun bubbles that I lost sight of what was important. A fish tank is a completely new eco system and, whilst I tried to keep it right for them, I didn’t really know what I was doing.
As I think about this I am reminded of the Bible and the account of the Tower of Babel:
Now the whole world had one language and a common speech. As men moved eastward, they found a plain in Shinar and settled there.
They said to each other, “Come, let’s make bricks and bake them thoroughly.” They used brick instead of stone, and tar for mortar. Then they said, “Come, let us build ourselves a city, with a tower that reaches to the heavens, so that we may make a name for ourselves and not be scattered over the face of the whole earth.”
But the LORD came down to see the city and the tower that the men were building. The LORD said, “If as one people speaking the same language they have begun to do this, then nothing they plan to do will be impossible for them. Come, let us go down and confuse their language so they will not understand each other.”
So the LORD scattered them from there over all the earth, and they stopped building the city. That is why it was called Babel [c] —because there the LORD confused the language of the whole world. From there the LORD scattered them over the face of the whole earth.
Genesis 11 v 1-8
When I read this passage for the first time thought that God seemed to be a bit harsh and a bit petty. I mean so what If man wants to build a nice big tower that reaches to the heavens. I could think of better things they could be doing if they had the advantage of all speaking the same language, but as far as a spot of architecture goes, there is surely worse things they could be getting up to.
On re-reading the passage however I have been able to see what man was doing wrong. Man was trying to be God. By displacing man and making sure we cannot achieve Godlike things God isn’t being petty and insecure, he is showing us that he knows something we haven’t understood yet. Men make rubbish Gods.
I have a guilty pleasure on a Sunday morning when I can’t get to church. I like watching ‘the big questions’ with Nicky Campbell. It’s not something that I am proud of, but sometimes they have some interesting discussions. A few weeks ago they were discussing whether or not it was morally right to screen foetus’ for potential genetic flaws and then abort the ones which are likely to be born disabled.
Now I like to think of myself as a fairly chilled out relaxed kind of a guy, but I find this idea as absolutely abhorrent! As I listened to the debate I actually started to feel quite angry. I wanted to scream at the TV ‘Who are you to decide what life is valid and what life is invalid!’.
There are some things that man is not meant to have the power to do, because we are not as all powerful, all knowing and all loving as we like to think we are. The society we live in strives to be more powerful, works hard to advance the human race and push us forward.
I am not knocking this, is society further forward that it was 200 years ago, to some extent yes. Taking Britain for example (as I live here), 200 years ago there was no NHS, the slave trade was felt to be an Okay kind of a thing, Women didn’t have the vote and there was no such thing as a mircowave. Is the country better than it was then, you bet, but (and here is the crux of the matter) all progress isn’t good. As we have become sexually liberated we have seen the family unit take a hit, we’ve seen new sexually transmitted dieses develop and ravage the population. As we have turned our attention to technology we seem to have created lots of new and exiting ways to blow each other up. As we have seen our economy grow and develop we have provided new and exciting ways for the rich and greedy to screw the poor and the oppressed.
I believe our society needs to learn and develop. How would we have risen above the slave trade, given women the vote and developed such a wonderful institution if we did not? Scientists should not stop working on cures for dieses and technology that will improve the lives of many. What we need to remember though is that we are not God. There is a higher power than us.
So now Ernie is gone, will I give up the fish keeping? Well not for the moment, Gonzo seems to be fine, and so I’m going to try my best to learn from Ernie’s fate and make sure that Gonzo and any other subsequent comrades he may acquire are looked after better, but I am going to remember who I am, I’m a guy trying to keep some fish alive as it give me pleasure seeing them enjoy their surroundings, I am not the fish God