Sheep, wolves, and sheepdogs

Cane has a post up in which he attacks the concept that:

There are three kinds of people in the world: Sheep (who cannot defend themselves), Wolves (who use violence to prey on the sheep) and Sheepdogs (who use violence against the wolves to protect the sheep).

Of course, the astute reader will recognize this characterization as a bastardization of Col. Grossman’s original sheep/sheepdog/wolf illustration. (Note, I am not saying that Cane is responsible for this bastardization. Indeed, from the conversation in the comments, I gathered the impression that the bastardized version was the only one he had come across) It is worth noting the differences between the original illustration and the one quoted above.

First off, in the version above, the statement is made that the sheep cannot defend themselves. This directly contradicts Grossman’s claim that the rising psychological casualties of war are directly caused by training that makes the “sheep” effective at not only defensive, but also offensive violence. In other words, sheep are perfectly capable of preying on others, or defending themselves. Contrary to popular belief, strapping on a gun, a badge, or both does not a sheepdog make. Rather (in Grossman’s illustration) it makes an armed sheep. Many armed sheep fancy themselves sheepdogs, and (if I understand him correctly) it is these that Cane speaks of when he writes:

 To those people, the sheepdog is special because–like wolves–it has claws, fangs, strength, speed, and that it delights in the hunt, and in the kill; yet the sheepdog is on the side of the sheep, and that this is called righteousness.


Because the more closely a person believes that what makes sheepdogs special is the sheepdog’s likeness to wolves(possession and desire to use claws, fangs, etc.)the more likely that person is to prefer the sheepdog metaphor.

Yet neither of these describe accurately the sheepdog in Grossman’s illustration. What sets the sheepdog apart in Grossman’s analogy is not the instruments of violence (claws, fangs, concealed handguns, etc.) but rather a mental aberration that causes him, at a fundamental level, to consider other’s lives more valuable than his own. This is far more rare than strapping on a handgun. It is not the sheepdog’s resemblance to the wolf, but rather his discongruity with the wolf that makes him special.

See, fundamentally, the wolf is much more similar to the sheep than to the sheepdog. Both the wolf and the sheep are motivated by basic self-preservation, an instinct that is foreign to the sheepdog. The main difference is that the sheep seeks to preserve itself through conformity, while the wolf preserves itself and profits off of the conformity of others. When sheep strap on a Glock, they move towards the wolf, and not the sheepdog. Why? Because fundamentally they are still worried about their own interest, their own safety, their own family, their own life. Such a mentality is antithetical to the sheepdog.

Cane referred to these people as “sheepwolves.” I would agree with that assessment (although we may have divergent reasons for using the term). However, despite using the term “sheepwolf,” Cane does not seem to grasp the thin line between sheep and wolf, instead harping on a supposedly thin line between the sheepdog and the wolf. While the difference between the sheep and the wolf is simply a matter of power, the difference between the sheepdog and the wolf is a matter of priorities–is self-preservation the top priority or the last thing on the mind? I would argue that such a fundamental difference in priorities is far harder to bridge than the simple power gap between the sheep and wolves.

However, Cane’s perspective may be explained by something he wrote in the comments in reply to me.

Col Grossman is making the same mistake that the right-minded people do: He looked at the occurrence of keeping sheep, and thought there was something remarkable about some canines doing this, and some canines doing that instead of what the canines were pointing to.

Cane seems to think that Col. Grossman came up with a theory of how humans respond psychologically to violence by observing sheep, sheepdogs, and wolves. This is not the case. Rather, Grossman observed a pattern in humans, and used an imperfect animal metaphor to make it easier to understand.  In the same way, Jesus did not come up with a theory of heaven based on observing prodigal sons, but rather used a human metaphor to explain something he was already familiar with but his audience was not.

Now, despite all that I have written above, and how far out of context I think the original illustration was taken, I agree with what I see as the main points of Cane’s post: that the role of Christ’s followers is to be both leaders and followers, and that violence is not the root of righteousness (although it can be righteous). But I think there is something valuable in Grossman’s original illustration that Cane missed: the idea of priorities. I felt that bringing up such points in the discussion on Cane’s post after having determined (at least in my mind) his main points, might distract from the conversation he wants to have there. Therefore, I have placed my thoughts here, for Cane (and the rest of you) to engage or ignore at his (and your) leisure.


One thought on “Sheep, wolves, and sheepdogs

  1. Pingback: The perfect wedding… | Moose Norseman

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