you got to be able to pick out the easy meat with your eyes closed

Brother Eric has some worthy ruminations about American Sniper‘s “sheep, wolves, and sheepdogs” speech, apparently cribbed from some dude named David Grossman (who has written a book called On Combat and runs a website called “Killology,” so one supposes he is angling for some sort of von Clausewitzian position of authority on organized violence). Here is the gist:

If you have no capacity for violence then you are a healthy productive citizen: a sheep. If you have a capacity for violence and no empathy for your fellow citizens, then you have defined an aggressive sociopath—a wolf. But what if you have a capacity for violence, and a deep love for your fellow citizens? Then you are a sheepdog, a warrior, someone who is walking the hero’s path.

Apart from Eric’s excellent thoughts on the subject, I would raise the following considerations as, at the very least, complicating Grossman’s (simplistic and self-praising) model:

1) How do we distinguish between sheepdogs and wolves posing as sheepdogs?

2) What criteria do the sheepdogs use to distinguish between sheep and wolves-in-sheep’s-clothing? What if the sheep disagree with the sheepdogs about who is a wolf? Who gets to make the decision? And what if the sheepdogs — who believe (per Grossman again) that “the sheepdog must not, cannot and will not ever harm the sheep” — what if they make a mistake? Can they ever admit it? Or do they bury the mistake away forever, and bark at any sheep who complain?

3) If you can’t clearly distinguish between sheep and wolves, what is the level of collateral damage to sheep you are willing to allow in order to clear the area of wolves? Does it make a difference if the sheep and wolves being killed are in another flock, in another pen, where you can’t see what’s happening?

4) Is it a good idea to have a standing cadre of sheepdogs? How do you maintain effective sheep-civilian control of the sheepdogs?

5) But on the other hand, if the sheep leaders have control of a powerful set of sheepdogs, how do we know they won’t use them to collect backdoor taxes in the name of keeping wolves at bay?

6) Should the sheepdogs have an effectively unlimited budget, just because they can convince the sheep to see wolves everywhere?

7) What if some of the people we think of as wolves think of themselves as sheepdogs, protecting their own sheep from our sheepdogs, whom they think of as nasty wolves? Should we take that into account?

8) Does the easy availability of sheepdogs and the violence they bring make sheep less likely to see the sheepish nature in others, and more likely to immediately assign them the role of wolf?

9) Assume that everybody’s got, in them, a little sheep, a little wolf, and a little sheepdog. Is there some way of organizing society to encourage the sheepish part of people and reduce the wolfish part? And, on the one hand, does valorizing sheepdogs interfere with that process (because by glorifying sheepdogs you glorify violence and so inevitably wolfishness), and on the other hand, does encouraging sheepishness make it so that no one acts like a sheepdog when you need them to? This can’t be an easy balance to get right.

10) What do we owe the sheepdogs, exactly? What about when they’re old and half-lame and wolf-bitten? When they’re too weak to do anything but act like sheep themselves? (For, it must be said, sheepdogging is a young dog’s game.) Should the sheep provide for them, give them a little bit of paddock where they can rest and heal? And how do we keep the building and staffing of paddocks from becoming a giant boondoggle that only hurts the old sheepdogs and benefits the wolves? (Not all wolves deal in overt violence, you know — as Woody Guthrie famously observed, some of them carry a fountain pen. Indeed, those are the ones the sheepdogs never save you from, nor even seem to understand that they should save you from.)

11) If, hypothetically, sheep had guns and fences (and maybe, per Eric citing Roger Waters, if the sheep learned a little karate), would we still need sheepdogs, or could everybody just kind of take care of themselves? To put it another way, what if we breed a slightly tougher sort of sheep that can use violence when absolutely necessary, but that doesn’t need to dedicate its life to violence — or to be jerked off about how it’s a “warrior” and “walking the hero’s path”?


In truth, of course, there are already plenty of sheep like that in ranks of what we now call sheepdogs, and there are plenty who are content to live as “sheep,” too, and don’t really mind (or pay much attention to) Grossman’s oh-I-don’t-mean-it-pejoratively-except-of-course-I-totally-do categorization of them as something less, something vaguely pitiable. In truth, we never needed the separate, unimpeachable class of “sheepdogs.” In truth, we sheep used to do just fine taking collective action when it was warranted, and arguably the social division between sheep and sheepdogs has made both classes less safe.


In truth, we were always all in it together: all of us sheep, and all sheepdogs– and all wolves, too, doing the best we can to keep the wolfishness at bay.

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