The Aegis

Actually, it was the egg that came first [commentary]

Many years ago, so long ago I can't remember the exact circumstances or the people involved, I was part of a college discussion group that was pondering the finer points of what we students would do to solve some perennial social ill once we graduated.

My contribution was to raise the point that it was necessary to determine if the ill in question – and I have no idea what it was at this late date – was caused by another problem, or of the other problem caused this particular ill. I used the well-worn comment that we needed to figure out which came first, the chicken or the egg.


The moderator, a learned woman of some standing at the college, made note of my point.

She also said something that hadn't occurred to me previously, but was so profoundly simple that it has stuck with me to this day, even as all the associated other trappings have faded from my memory. She said the question of whether the chicken or egg came first absolutely had a right answer, and there was no point in debating it.


After we inevitably failed to come to any sort of conclusion about curing the social ills we had gathered to discuss, I approached the moderator and asked, rather sheepishly, how the chicken and egg question could have an answer. She gave me what seemed like a rather cryptic answer, but one that in retrospect made a lot of sense. She said chickens have been around for only about 10,000 years, probably a little less.

Given that information, she encouraged me to draw my own conclusion. In light of the reality of chickens being relatively new additions to the earth's array of fauna, and that eggs have been around, in some form, since the emergence of complicated life forms on earth many hundreds of millions, if not billions, of years ago, it became clear: The egg came first.

I suspect this personal epiphany re-emerged from the dank recesses of my memory when I was pondering the odd public policy debate going on in Aberdeen over whether people should be allowed to keep backyard chicken coops. The issue at hand has nothing to do with a which came first situation, but, I guess in my mind, any argument about chickens almost by definition needs to have settled the issue of whether eggs or chickens came first.

Personally, I'm of the opinion that a few people keeping chickens (in part to take advantage of the eggs they lay) would hardly be the end of the world. Sure, I imagine chickens can be loud, depending on the breed and whether non-egg-laying roosters are involved, but so can dogs, delivery trucks and kids. I'll also attest that the flocks of Canada geese that winter in these parts can be annoyingly noisy.

Just because there's already noise doesn't mean adding more isn't a problem, but adding chickens to the mix is hardly the same thing as starting to sing and shout in the research room of the Library of Congress.

The thing that does occur to me, though, is that if the question of whether chickens or eggs came first has so easy an answer, albeit one that isn't necessarily obvious, the question of whether backyard chicken coops should be allowed in Aberdeen probably also has a simple and elegant solution.