A father roused his son from sleep and said, “Today you will learn the joy of catching bluefish.”

They set sail toward the rising sun on the barnacled Northern Star. When the shore was but a haze, sails were drawn and stone anchors released. Men crowded the sides of the ship and dropped their hooks of herring.

The boy pouted about not being able to see and about not getting his own pole. “You’re still too weak,” the father said.

A drunk nudged the boy and crouched to his ear. “Tell your father to mind the fish.” The father turned to find the thick rod bent to a bow ready to distance its arrow. He took the rod from its holster and paused before ripping back to bury the hook deep in flesh.

“Let’s see your strength, boy.” But the son could not turn the reel and the pole dipped low over the edge. The father took control and wore the fish down: releasing line, reeling line, releasing line.

Plucked from the water and set on the floor, the blue slapped its tail and flapped into the boy, knocking him down.

The slaps and flaps few and weak an hour before the end of day, the Northern Star began to ease the shore out of its haze. “Let’s see if we can win some money,” the father said. The boy followed the father and the fish to the center of the boat. There a man held up a hand scale, a blue hooked on either side. The scale man removed the blue of lesser weight and put the father’s in its place.

“My boy got this one,” the father said, as the seesaw tipped in his favor.

The father’s fish proved heaviest until the final round, where the drunk took the prize.

“How could this be, father? Our fish was bigger.”

“The drunk stuffed his blue with more stone.”

“That’s not fair, father. Men shouldn’t use stones to win.”

“But son, this is how we have always done it. We keep our slaves to stay competitive among farmers and stuff our fish to stay competitive among fishermen.”


The next time the boy sailed the Northern Star he was a man. The air of early autumn reminded him of the first trip—he, wrapped around his father’s legs, shielding himself from the cold. At the bow alone, heaving toward the gusts of mist and the source of light, the man said to his heart, “I must honor my father.”

Before the anchor was dropped, his hook was sinking into the school of blues—the other men still filling with drink and laughter. With dedication he eyed the line, reeling it a bit. When the rod bent he gave life to his father and was aware of it. Forearms tan and rippling, he took the pole from the holster with care, planted its butt right of his groin, and tore back.

“This is no war, young man,” the drunk said.

These words did not phase his rhythm. He dipped the rod forward, reeling. He pulled the rod back, not reeling.

People cheered as the great blue was brought to light.

“This is sure to win the prize,” said the drunk, teeth gone and chin closer to his nose.

Before the young man could remove the deep hook, the pole of the drunk pitched forward.

“Ah, I might be giving you a run for it,” he said, reeling in a fortyinch blue by the magic strength of years. No one had ever seen a fish of this kind that big.

But the young man had brought a pocket full of stones. He gorged the blue to the point of ripping and took the prize. The drunk hugged and kissed him.

“You sure came prepared to win. Well played, young man. Well played.”


The next time the young man sailed the Northern Star he was a father. He took his son as his father once took him. He even let his son reel the pole, relieving him when the struggle proved to be too much.

At the competition, the father-and-son team faced a former slave with a fish not much bigger.

“Yeah!” the son said when the seesaw tipped in their favor.

The former slave was angry. He stomped the ground and ripped open the winning fish. He picked up the stones that clinked the floor and punched the father with a fist full.

“Thisy noty right. Thisy noty right!”

“But this is how things have always worked,” the father said, holding his jaw. “This is what we do. Next time you will stuff.”

“Never do,” the former slave said. “Never do!”

The father turned. “Come on, son.” But the man punched him in the back of the head and threw him overboard. Holding on tight to his father’s leg, the son would have went over too were it not for the drunk that reached out and grabbed him.

The choppy sea banged the father against the bottom of the boat. He was left alone with his shame in the black.

“That it was always done like this is no excuse,” he said to his heart. “It is no excuse.”

“You are not responsible for what you have done.”

He was swarmed by bluefish.

“You must release your shame,” they said in unison.

“But I cannot blame my ancestors. I decided to do it. I was responsible.”

“You will die soon, so you must listen. You would be wrong to blame your ancestors. No one is responsible to such a degree as to deserve punishment or reward. It may be right to punish or reward in order to change or preserve behavior—or just to appease others. But no being deserves punishment or reward. No one is responsible for anything they do. No one is responsible even for actions planned out beforehand. We who are deep know this truth.”


“How can this be? Help me before I die in shame.”

Zooming around the man, the school gave its case.

If you are morally responsible for action O, then

you must have contributed to giving rise to O

and you must be morally responsible for at least

some part—call it “Z”—of what you contributed.


If you are morally responsible for this Z, then

you must have contributed to giving rise to Z

and you must be morally responsible for at least

some part—call it “Y”—of what you contributed.


This chain will go on in an indefinite amount of steps

until some point is reached, at best your fertilization,

where you are clearly not morally responsible for that

part of what you contributed in question at that point.


Never does moral responsibility get conferred to O.

You are not morally responsible for O, or any action.

M. A. Istvan JR., PhD
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