It all started with a letter to Stalin in 1935. And when a Kremlin clerk opened it, there was a piece of shit inside.
Was the turd an insult? A way of saying to Stalin, “You’re a shit. Here’s some shit”?
But I ended Part One of a Gift for Stalin on a different note: that the turd addressed to Stalin was no slight at all. It was, in fact, a gift.
A little brown present for Comrade Stalin.
Every society must deal with shit. Where to put it. What to do with it. It’s a problem unique to humans. One might even say that it defines us as human.
The average person excretes about a half a kilo of crap a day. And left untreated, shit is deadly. About 2.6 billion people live without basic sanitation. And as a result, excrement finds its way onto feet, fingers, food, and into water. Scientists estimate people lacking sanitation ingest about 10 grams of fecal a day. Shit-related illnesses account for about 2.2 million deaths a year. Mostly children from extreme diarrhea.
So shit happens. All the time. And dealing with it is a life-or-death situation.
But human waste has another history. A circular history. Where human excrement is put back into the cycle of production. And many societies have tried just that. They use human waste as fertilizer. Shit— that is, digested food—is returned to the earth to produce more food. Shit may be filth. It may be poison. But it can’t be denied. Waste is part of life.
A Gift for Stalin was written, edited, and produced by Sean Guillory.
Voiceovers by Maya Haber and Greg Weinstein.
Music by Alvaro Antin, Harry Edvino, Future Joust, Lugvig Moulin, Stationary Sign, and Semen Slepakov.
Thanks to Eliot Borenstein and Lina Zeldovich for participating and Maya Haber for her ears.
For a list of sources consulted for A Gift for Stalin, go to The Eurasian Knot at euraknot.org.