Bill Whittle’s latest essay, Tribes, has been getting a lot of attention lately. Blog-father Joe Katzman of Winds of Change posted an excerpt from it and a brief commentary on the essay this morning. Some of the commentary on the piece has focussed on the “sheep, wolves, and sheepdogs” metaphor. The humorous illustration that accompanies Joe’s post highlights that metaphor.
To the best of my knowledge the metaphor is derived from an essay by Lt. Col. Dave Grossman. Here’s a copy of the essay.
One Vietnam veteran, an old retired colonel, once said this to me: “Most of the people in our society are sheep. They are kind, gentle, productive creatures who can only hurt one another by accident.” This is true. Remember, the murder rate is six per 100,000 per year, and the aggravated assault rate is four per 1,000 per year. What this means is that the vast majority of Americans are not inclined to hurt one another.
Some estimates say that two million Americans are victims of violent crimes every year, a tragic, staggering number, perhaps an all-time record rate of violent crime. But there are almost 300 million Americans, which means that the odds of being a victim of violent crime is considerably less than one in a hundred on any given year. Furthermore, since many violent crimes are committed by repeat offenders, the actual number of violent citizens is considerably less than two million.
Thus there is a paradox, and we must grasp both ends of the situation: We may well be in the most violent times in history, but violence is still remarkably rare. This is because most citizens are kind, decent people who are not capable of hurting each other, except by accident or under extreme provocation. They are sheep.
I mean nothing negative by calling them sheep. To me it is like the pretty, blue robin’s egg. Inside it is soft and gooey but someday it will grow into something wonderful. But the egg cannot survive without its hard blue shell. Police officers, soldiers, and other warriors are like that shell, and someday the civilization they protect will grow into something wonderful. For now, though, they need warriors to protect them from the predators.
“Then there are the wolves,” the old war veteran said, “and the wolves feed on the sheep without mercy.” Do you believe there are wolves out there that will feed on the flock without mercy? You better believe it. There are evil men in this world and they are capable of evil deeds. The moment you forget that or pretend it is not so, you become a sheep. There is no safety in denial.
“Then there are sheepdogs,” he went on, “and I’m a sheepdog. I live to protect the flock and confront the wolf.”
I have a very small amount of first-hand knowledge of herding sheep. My dog, Qila, has a couple of herding titles. Many of the people who are heavily involved in herding believe that sheepdogs are born not made and there’s probably considerable truth in this. Dogs are born with a number of innate drives. By drive is meant the tendency to exhibit a behavior. Over the years people have controlled the breeding of dogs to favor one drive or group of drives over others and, in addition to obvious physical qualities like size, coat, and build, these drives go a long way towards making the dogs suitable for their intended work.
For example, the prey drive is the desire to pursue and vanquish an item seen as an object of prey. A coursing dog like a greyhound must have a strong prey drive to do their work—the pursuit of game. The pack drive is the desire for social contact. Dogs which must work together like sleddogs need a strong pack drive. And the necessary drives must be present in the appropriate balance for dogs to be really suitable for their work. Too much prey drive and the prospective sheepdog will attack the sheep. Not enough and the prospective sheepdog isn’t interested in moving the sheep.
Anyone who’s ever worked a dog knows the remarkable joy that a dog has when it’s finally found the work for which it has been bred.
It’s not absolutely necessary for a dog to have strong drives of the proper type for the work. If a dog has even a little of the necessary drives, the behaviors you want can be encouraged. But it’s a lot harder than if the drives you want are innate.
Of course, people aren’t dogs. Here in the modern West we’re random-bred for one thing. And people aren’t actually sheep or wolves or sheepdogs. Each member of our species except for genuinely pathological examples has the same drives perhaps in differing degrees. We’re each born with some innate tendencies to express behaviors i.e. drives and these drives can be encouraged to produce the sheep behaviors, wolf behaviors, and sheepdog behaviors that Lt. Col. Grossman describes. A question we might consider is what behaviors does our society encourage? Are these the behaviors we want and need?
That we aren’t purebred dogs is in many ways our loss. The joy in a dog who’s found his work is a sight to behold. It makes you believe that there is a heaven.
BTW, there are actually several different kinds of sheepdogs: herding dogs, droving dogs, and livestock-guarding dogs. Herding dogs direct the movement of sheep or other livestock. Border collies are herding dogs. Droving dogs move livestock mostly from behind. Samoyeds are droving dogs. And livestock-guarding dogs, well, guard. Great Pyrenees or kuvacsok are livestock-guarding dogs.