In Defense of BS

Maybe I'm throwing in the towel, giving up the ghost, acknowledging defeat—but by God I'm hoping to help cultivate some good BSers here.

Author Dean Scoville Headshot

Responding to my salesman piece, a motor cop pointed out that 1) he was as high as he was going to get on the food chain, and 2) he was never a BSer and never would be (thereby destroying his credibility on both counts…just kidding.)

Actually, his words could have been mine at one time. Indeed, I was tired of the BS, in just about every form and connotation imaginable. From aggravating BS, to political BS, to chicken shit BS.

But as I'm from the "if you can't beat 'em, join 'em (then destroy from within)" school, I'm actually going to act as its advocate herein; that is, at least as BS relates to communication.

My father regarded good BS every bit as much an art form as he did the illustrative work for which he was commissioned—perhaps more so.

In Southern Utah where he grew up, it was never enough to say, "He caught a fish." No, you had to dress it up a little: "The way that poor bastard was wrestling with that goddammed line you'd have thought ol' Ahab had Moby Dick on the other end instead of a guppy…"

BSing wasn't to be taken seriously, just a means of flavoring up a story: The H. Morton to the conversationalist's palate. It also became part of dad's business repertoire. Work days were a series of matinee performances with dad ingratiating himself to customers.

Affecting good humor, he'd slapped them on the back, inquire about their family (always circumspect about the pregnant teen trying to kick her habit), compliment their good taste (invariably, a nod to their choosing to do business with him), and ask who they liked in the upcoming Monday Night Football game (a sport he was so categorically dismissive of that upon receiving an autographed photo from an appreciative Jack Youngblood in the mail, his first words were, "Who's this?").

As the man was as proficient a bullshit artist as he was a commercial artist, it took years for us to get him psychologically evaluated for fear that he would make us look like we were the ones in need of intervention.

Having been raised in such company, I came to recognize good BS—and bad.

So one can imagine my disappointment when I saw the kind of BS being bantered about on the Sheriff's Department. No, I'm not talking about the good BS embroidering our favorite war stories. I'm talking about that practiced at the lowest rung on the BS ladder—the transparencies of the North American semi-domesticated ass-kissing boot-licker.

More shocking was the fact that these SOBs were garnering results with their anemic BS and actually climbing the damn ladder! (Not that the old man was any less of a phony, but, dammit, at least he was good at it).

I came to realize that this co-signing of one another's BS ("I'm bitchin', you're bitchin'") was elementary power brokering, a means of like identifying like so as to avail themselves a means of pulling one another up through their meteoric ascents on the department.

Meanwhile, deputies that prided themselves on doing a good job and not kissing ass would toil for years before promoting or transferring to choicer venues. Hell, they were lucky if they weren't getting days off for using a little necessary force. The Machiavellian playbook dictated that glad handing, a great golf swing, and an ability to get a drop of ink on someone else's distinguished resume were the skill sets most coveted by those in the know. The number or quality of arrests one made really didn't have a lot to do with it. It was how good you made the guy above you look or feel.

In real life, the race between the self-aggrandizing hare and the diligent tortoise tended to have a very different ending than Aesop's. The tortoise might get his due, but at a similarly glacial pace. Exceptions were the conspicuous examples that proved the rule.

Far too late in the game for it to do any good, I had an epiphany. Two particular anecdotes help to illustrate it.

Former President Eisenhower once characterized his appointment of Earl Warren to the U.S. Supreme Court as "the biggest damn-fool mistake" he'd ever made.


Because while he passed Eisenhower's judicial litmus test, Warren went on to be one of the most liberal Supreme Court Justices in U.S. history.

Had Warren been cagey in rendering judicial decisions that would ensure his appointment, perhaps going against his own grain to consciously maneuver himself into a position wherein he might have greater chance of affecting the changes he really wanted?

If such was the case: Genius.

Closer to home, upon hearing that an applicant was scheduled to speak with a background investigator he knew, Dep. Dave Kress gave the susceptible applicant some good advice.

"Make sure you do your best Alan Alda, kid—she's a flaming liberal, big time."

The kid got hired.

Whether by design or outcome, these incidents illustrate the value of appeasing people to ultimately get your way. Do I think the kid that got hired went on to become the embodiment of a badged Hawkeye Pierce? Nope. But do I think that he did what he had to do to get where he wanted to be. You bet your ass.

It's nice picturing yourself a maverick. I certainly did. But for all my fulminating and dissent, I didn't accomplish a helluva lot when it came to institutionalizing change on the things that I thought were ****ed up. A good number of like-minded souls were similarly ineffective. Simply put, we weren't part of the power base. And as one lieutenant—now a captain—put it, "You're either on the bus, or you're not."

These days, I tend to view bullshit in much the same way I do a sidearm. Used effectively for the right purposes, I'm in favor of it.

In fact, I like to think that maybe someone reading this will see where I'm coming from and think about trying something different: That he or she will do whatever they have to to get themselves into positions of power whereby they will empower their department and its personnel, as opposed to empowering themselves.

Having cops actually going out and aggressively chasing bad guys? Leaving no ambiguity about her support for her troops and their actions? Telling the Al Sharpton's of the world to stick their race card up their ass?

It might make for a one term stint (as I type, I can hear the staccato rap of feds knocking on Sheriff Joe Arpaio's door), but my God what a legacy he or she would bequeath to the whole of the law enforcement community.

If it sounds like I'm saying there's an occasional need to be two-faced, I suppose I am. But I'm convinced that to win the game, one has to play at the same level as the competition. And when I think about the principled people that have languished on many a police agency, my heart sinks, as much for the community as for them.

For their absences from positions of power have hurt the whole of law enforcement community and the citizens we ostensibly serve.

True, power may corrupt, and maybe you won't be as pure as the driven snow when you emerge on the other side like Tim Robbins in "The Shawshank Redemption".

But I like to think that among the successful will be those who will have a little bit more of their souls intact than the SOBs who were out for nothing but themselves from day one.

Now, about those motor cops…

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