On Idealism

Or swimming against the current while having coral lobbed at you.

Ideals are great. Until you have them. Without ideals, you are swimming with the current along with the rest of them — being swept along by the caprices of the ocean to nowhere in particular. You will have friends, comrades, fellow fish in the sea. You won’t have a sense of purpose, to be sure, but fortunately — for you — your lack of introspection will render that entirely unnecessary. Your ignorance is your bliss, and you don’t even know it. You simply go with the flow.

The idealist, on the other hand, almost invariably finds themselves swimming against the current. Unless their ideals happen to perfectly conform to the direction of the current, they will find themselves, at some point, swimming at odds with the rest of the school.

Curiously, you will have been taught — all throughout your schooling as a fish (you are now an actual fish, by the way) — that ideals are essential in this sea, indispensable. Ideals are the stuff of fish character, you’re told. What renders a fish worthy of the sea. Where those around you appear to have never paid attention in class, you took this lesson on board. You studied the sea. You observed the coral, the plankton, marine life of every stripe. In doing so, you developed something of a philosophy — a sense of what’s good, what’s right, what’s true. You developed conviction. You developed, sure enough, ideals.

As you developed and began to pursue these ideals, however, you realised that they diverged from the ways of the other fish — that they ran counter, in some fashion, to their ways of Being, the direction they’re swimming. You might even have developed a theory as to why — why, for instance, the current runs the way it does, and why the rest of the fish are disinclined to challenge it.

You will challenge it, though, you decide. A fish’s life is short, after all. Far too short to be swimming in any direction other than one’s own. So swim in the direction of your ideals you do.

Fuck this is kinda hard you realise. Not only are you contending with the current, as you knew you would have to, but the other fish have begun to throw coral at you. You knew you’d get get some odd locks, some turns of the pectoral fin. You even expected the odd flip of the tail (the fish’s middle finger). But coral? Really? You had no idea.

In swimming your own path, you open yourself up to criticism, to alienation, to ridicule. For your deviation from the current can’t help but be seen as a rebuke of the current itself — and all those fish who swim with it. Who are you to question the current? they’ll demand. Who are you to know better, to challenge the wisdom of the ocean?

At some point, you’ll appreciate that this is why all the other fish swim with the current. Keep your head down, swim unquestioningly, and you’ll live a safe — albeit relatively shallow — existence. Stick your head out, however, and its liable to be cut clean off (by coral, in this case).

Idealism, above all, requires courage — a most scarce commodity among marine and terrestrial creatures alike. For all the lip service paid to its virtues, it is the path of most resistance; it’s swimming upstream while having coral lobbed at you. It’s tough.

Idealism is a virtue not because it’s all that noble to think positive thoughts alone, to harbour positive aspirations. Rather it’s a virtue for what it requires one to endure, should one happen to action their ideals. To be an idealist, for real, is to be an outsider. An outcast. For to have ideals, and actually pursue them, is to be relegated to a most insignificant minority. Though you never signed up for it, you assume the role of cultural critic — and noone likes a critic. Especially fish. But if you are an idealist, for real, you really have no say in the matter. It’s your duty, your destiny. It’s in your gills.

@fair