Alright, I have to publish this article over here at Conversations, because The Jeffersonian stands for decorum. You can’t use the word shit over at The Jeffersonian. So here we are.
You have two kinds of shit other than the kind you flush: bullshit and chickenshit. I will leave out horseshit here, because it is a close cousin of bullshit. We don’t want to multiply categories needlessly. Similarly, we could add a category on the avian side, such as duckshit or gooseshit, but what would be the point? We want to focus on the categories that give us strong descriptive purchase on familiar phenomena, purchase reductive and rich.
You want a definition of these two words now, don’t you? Alright, bullshit is brown chickenshit; chickenshit is white bullshit. You knew you would not get a real definition out of me. Plus, color-coded definitions do not get at the real distinctions. These are two totally different kinds of shit.
Let me give a few examples from politics, government, and work. When Barack Obama says, “If you like your plan, you can keep it,” that’s bullshit. When the IRS says, “We will fine you if you do not buy health insurance,” that’s chickenshit. Do you see the difference? One is a lie: moreover, a lie due to be exposed as such soon after the liar utters it. The other is a nannyish requirement that no person with dignity or free will should ever have to fulfill. You have to tolerate bullshit’s smell of falsehood all around you. Generally the smell is strong enough you won’t fall for other people’s lies. You actually have to swim in chickenshit, because if you sink no one will ever find you.
In this season of hurricanes, bullshit is when the climate change people chuckle that governors of hard-hit states like Florida and Texas are deniers. Serves them right, doesn’t it? If they accepted the ‘settled science’, perhaps they would have done something to head those storms off. The deniers are a threat to all of us – that’s the message.
Chickenshit is when local authorities go around Miami-Dade county in Florida, six hours after Irma mows down every wooden structure in its path, to cite hard-working property owners trying to clean up, because their destroyed structures don’t meet code! That’s right. Here comes your local government official, who is supposed to help you recover. Instead he posts a citation on your downed swimming pool fence, and says, “It’s okay. This is just a warning. If the fence isn’t up when I come back, though, you have to pay.” Then he leaves without telling you when he’s coming back.
Let’s consider the distinction in the context of state crimes against democracy. We’ll take JFK’s murder and 9/11 as examples. Bullshit is an official report about the crime that is obviously not true. Both the Warren Commission and the 9/11 Commission published reports so obviously wrong – and amateurish – that years later people would still wonder how their own government could lie so shamelessly. Liars are supposed to be artful.
The chickenshit in these two cases is so voluminous it may be hard to see. For JFK, the white stuff followed with the Vietnam war and the draft. Hundreds of thousands of young soldiers had to go off to Indochina to engage in a war that meant nothing to them. The chickenshit got so bad, they smoked pot to forget, and eventually fragged their own officers. Their leaders even tried to encourage them with data that said, “You are killing more Viet Cong than Viet Cong are killing you.” That should make you happy.
You had wars after 9/11 that fit a similar model, except we didn’t force people to fight in them. The true chickenshit after 9/11 arrived at home: NSA surveillance, terror alerts, Patriot Acts, police who look and act like goons, police who shoot on sight, immigrants hounded everywhere, FBI stings, see-something-say-something announcements, restrictions on free speech, fear someone will finger you for something you did or didn’t do. When you live in a police state, you have a chicken in every pot, and the chicken is probably bugged.
The next time you hear someone say, “What’s it to you? It’s a free country, isn’t it?” you can answer, “Well, actually, it’s not.” If he retorts, “That’s bullshit,” you don’t need to say anything else. Just tell him about this article.