Book review: ‘Fish Discover Water Last: Richard L. Grossman on corporations, democracy and us’

For the Recorder
Published: 10/13/2021 2:27:48 PM

Fish, it is said, discover water last. That is, they don’t always realize that the transparent environment in which they swim and live and die exists.

Richard Grossman (1943-2011) was an environmental and economic activist who likened the experience of fish in water to that of Americans going about their daily lives without awareness of the corporate power and culture that permeate our society and government.

According to author and editor Anna Gyorgy of Wendell, Grossman was planning a book that would outline his theories at the time of his death a decade ago. That book was never written so Gyorgy gathered a number of Grossman’s talks into a short volume that outlines much of his philosophy.

“Fish Discover Water Last: Richard L. Grossman on corporations, democracy, and us” (Human Error Publishing) discusses the history of corporations. It argues that the United States has never been a true democracy because much of its governing structure has prioritized the needs of powerful corporations over average people.

Writing about one of the Supreme Court’s wide-ranging rulings that enshrined the rights of corporations, Grossman says, “When did we ever have that kind of language for the rabble, for the denied? ...

“We need to look at what’s going here not as a corporation here, a corporation there, that does something bad or isn’t so good. We’re talking about a corporate system.”

He carefully distinguishes between movements in the past that have sought to improve Americans’ lot through change within the system — such as the Progressive Era, the New Deal and the Great Society — and those that have argued that the system itself is incapable of true change.

His best example of the latter is the abolitionists. They “basically concluded that they could not envision the goal of emancipation and equality, of a country without slavery, under the existing constitution, set of laws, and culture. So they set out to change that,” he explains.

Like many social critics, Grossman is better at describing the problems he sees in our corporate culture than he is at prescribing a solution. He knows that. He is not entirely pessimistic, however.

The answer to our ills, he argues, lies in getting citizens together to envision and work for change on a grand scale, using our individual minds and our collective hearts.

“The goal is engaging more and more people in these conversations,” he posits. “The goal is helping each other to un-colonize our minds. Our goal is to help each other to think, so that we can see what it is we are immersed in.”

“Fish Discover Water Last” will be launched on Sunday, Oct. 24, at 3 p.m. on the grounds of the Wendell Free Library. Editor Gyorgy and publisher Paul Richmond will be on hand for a reading and discussion of the book. Book sales that day will benefit the Friends of the Wendell Free Library.

This event will take place behind the library at the stone circle. Refreshments will be served. Attendees are asked to bring masks and lawn chairs. In case of rain, visit

Tinky Weisblat is the award-winning author of “The Pudding Hollow Cookbook,” “Pulling Taffy,” and “Love, Laughter, and Rhubarb.” Visit her website,


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