Hey all -
I did a quick search to see if this had ever been talked about and didn't find anything, so I thought I'd start a discussion, especially since I suspect I may be a bit out of sync with y'all on this topic.
A very popular metaphor among several circles of friends I run in is that there are sheep, wolves, and sheepdogs. To the best of my knowledge, this was started by Lt. Col. Grossman, in his book "On Combat," where he relayed something said to him by a vet, which I'll summarize for those who haven't read the book or who aren't familiar with the sheepdog concept:
Most people - I believe he specified in our (American) society - are sheep. They are good people, kind and gentle, prefer to be productive citizens, and who won't hurt another person except by accident. Sheep - most people - are incapable of violence. Then there are wolves, who are evil and eat the sheep; these - few - people are the ones able to commit crimes, violence, and "evil." And finally, there are sheepdogs - they alone are aware of the wolves (or willing to admit such people exist), and they live to protect the sheep. They are capable of committing violence, but only in defense of the sheep.
I have profound differences in philosophy with Lt. Col. Grossman, as he seems to think very positively of most people and their reticence to commit violence or to kill. He repeatedly states that violence is "remarkably" rare, and that most people are incapable of committing violence. In my experience, violence is incredibly common, and the exception are those people that truly are kind and gentle and unwilling to hurt someone else at some point for something, justifiably or not. I think most people are completely OK with violence, as their entire world and social order depends on it - many, if not most, people obey laws and follows rules because they are afraid of the violence that will fall on them, most noticeably from the government.
In addition to my philosophical differences with Grossman, I dislike this metaphor for two major reasons.
1. "Us" and "Them." The metaphor creates this idea of two separate groups in society. There are the myopic sheep, who are unable to defend themselves and blind to the problem; and then there are the sheepdogs, the "enlightened" who are capable of violence and are aware of the threat. Very often, the people I've encountered that cling to this metaphor use it to to encourage their sense of superiority, to say that they are better than those "sheep" who are unaware and incapable. They develop an elitist attitude towards "normal" people. In our society, especially today, the last thing we need is any more divisive ideology. Espousing an idea that promotes the idea that police and military are better than the average member of society is very dangerous. I am very proud of having been in the Army, and proud that I enlisted and served during a time of war, but this in no way makes me "better" than my friends who did not (although sometimes it is easy and feels good to think so).
Tribalism is an increasingly popular topic and goal among certain groups of people, and sometimes understandably so. But encouraging a tribal attitude or identity among law enforcement or military doesn't seem smart, and someone capable of violence and pursuing a tribal identity would be more identified with the wolf than the sheepdog in this metaphor.
2. The metaphor itself. I think words and ideas are incredibly important, and taking things out of context really... Bugs me. Sheep are for the most part quite kind and gentle, especially compared to wolves. But anyone who has spent much time around sheep will soon realize that they can be mean and spiteful creatures. Now, I vastly prefer goats to sheep, so maybe I'm being unfair, but they are still social animals. Sheep and cattle might be domesticated and can be docile, but only someone truly naive would think that they are harmless (cattle can be incredibly mean, and they have personalities, and some are entirely too mean). Sheep have an incredible social structure and very rigid dominance hierarchy, which is established by ... Violence. They fight, they argue, they compete, etc etc. Rams can be incredibly violent. (What's hilarious is watching a ram and a buck [goat] battle for supremacy.) Normally sheep don't kill each other, so I guess there's that. Anyways, the point is - sheep aren't these kind, gentle, docile creatures who would never hurt another sheep. So maybe people actually are like sheep... They're hierarchical, competitive, argumentative, they fight, and ... they're stupid.
However, the major part of the metaphor I dislike is the sheepdog. In Grossman's metaphor, the sheepdog is the protector of the flock. In reality, sheepdogs don't protect flocks, or at least very few do. There is a very specific type of sheep dog (well, this applies to more than just sheep), the livestock guardian dog; these live with and protect the flock (and often think of themselves as a member of the flock), but this is not the majority of sheepdogs. The majority of sheepdogs are sheep herding dogs - they take orders from The Man (the shepherd) to control the flock and make it do whatever he (or she) wants. (I can see how police see themselves as a sheepdog, herding people and making them do whatever The Man (the government) says, but I think that this too is a dangerous part of this ideology, where police become above and apart from the law and society.) Anyways - all this runs completely counter to what many so-called sheepdogs that I've met actually think (the ones I know aren't exactly pro Big Government). Granted, the ones I know and have encountered are mostly veterans or good old boys, and very few are police.
I'm not really going to argue about there being predatory people in our society. I like wolves though... I would suggest that it doesn't take much to make someone into a criminal, so separating them into sheep and wolves might be a little ... extreme. While I don't think there is that much difference between sheep and wolves (people, not the actual animals), that ties into how Grossman and I view the world differently.
Am I being pedantic and focusing too much on semantics? Possibly. I like to be exact, and a metaphor that only makes sense when you completely misunderstand the way something works is a really crappy metaphor. I have much more experience with goats, cows, and chickens then I do sheep, so perhaps my experience with sheep and sheep behavior is not normal.
So to summarize:
1. Grossman and I hold very different views about what most people are capable of. I suspect my violent tendencies color my perspective of humanity, but my experience with people does not suggest that Grossman's characterization of people is accurate.
2. It is a crappy metaphor created by someone who's experience of sheep must have been limited to those 90s movies Babe and Gordy.
I look forward to any thoughts, comments, or criticisms you might have. Hopefully it generates an interesting discussion!