Mimesis Law
1 June 2020

To A Sheepdog, Everyone’s A Wolf

July 28, 2015 (Mimesis Law) — Police officers think differently than most people. In some regards, that’s good, in others, bad. In some other areas, it is very bad.

In the early 2000s (or earlier), a retired Army lieutenant colonel named Dave Grossman pointed this out with an excellent essay, “On Sheep, Wolves, and Sheepdogs,” which pointed out the difference in people in society. His premise, which I tend to agree with, is that most people are sheep. As he notes, there is nothing wrong with that, it is just that most people do not have a capacity for violence. They will not hurt others except by accident or extreme provocation.

The next group he categorizes are the wolves, the predators, the evil people in society who prey on the sheep. They do have a capacity for violence and they do not hesitate to use violence when it suits their purposes. These are the Dylann Roofs, the John Allen Muhammads, the Seung-Hui Chos of the world. These people are out there, and they will hurt you and not care about it later.

Then there is the group that Grossman believes are the protectors of society, the sheepdogs. The sheepdogs are also capable of violence, but only to protect others, or at least that is the idea that Grossman espouses. The sheepdog, the warrior, the one who was “given the gift of aggression.”

All of this is eaten up by police officers, who buy into the warrior mindset. They are the protectors, the ones who are allowed to use violence to protect others. And there are times when violence by police officers is not only justified, but absolutely necessary for society.

The problem arises in another area. Sheepdogs are supposed to shun those sheepdogs that have injured the innocent. “Any sheepdog who intentionally harms the lowliest little lamb will be punished and removed.” The problem is that dogs, like wolves, run in packs that protect the others in the pack. The sheepdogs who do intentionally harm a lamb are not punished and removed.

This is not a coincidence. When a dog maims or kills a sheep, the other dogs protect him. They point out that Eric Garner wasn’t really a sheep, he had been repeatedly arrested. They point out that Ricardo Diaz Zeferino “may” have had a weapon so it was okay to kill him. Freddie Gray had an illegal knife (that probably wasn’t illegal, and was not known until after the confrontation); surely that must make him a wolf.

No, these were not wolves that the sheepdogs were hurting, they were sheep.

The problem with Grossman’s example is that in the real world, sheepdogs don’t train themselves. Shepherds train them, and they train them so that sheep don’t inadvertently get hurt.

In the meantime, the sheepdogs keep telling themselves that they’re the protectors, the warriors, and they are doing this for the noble purpose of protecting their flock of sheep. Their fellow sheepdogs tell them that as well, bolstering not only their belief that they’re the good sheepdogs, but justifying the harm they cause as unavoidable in the performance of their duties as sheepdogs.

The sheep can’t tell the sheepdog that they aren’t tending the flock well. Only the other sheepdogs can do that. Until they do, they will continue to harm the sheep they’re supposed to be protecting and telling themselves they’re wolves. The model relies on the other sheepdogs fulfilling their function of stopping their fellow protectors from doing harm.

That’s not happening in this model, and until it does, plan on having that one unarmed sheep out of five dying at the hands of the sheepdogs.  The “gift of aggression” is just aggression, and it’s no gift.

3 Comments on this post.

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  • DaveL
    30 July 2015 at 6:40 am - Reply

    With all due respect to Grossman’s experience with violence, I might offer some insight as somebody with experience with actual sheep and sheepdogs.

    Grossman explains:

    “Still, the sheepdog disturbs the sheep. He is a constant reminder that there are wolves in the land. They would prefer that he didn’t tell them where to go, or give them traffic tickets, or stand at the ready in our airports in camouflage fatigues holding an M-16. ”

    What Grossman probably doesn’t know is that he’s switching back and forth freely between two very different types of sheepdog, as if they were the same thing. They aren’t. What he started off describing was a “livestock guardian” dog, like the one shown in the picture accompanying this article. These are the dogs that stay with the flock 24/7, and actually defend it from predators.

    But the sheep are not disturbed by these dogs. They were raised in the flock from puppyhood, and the flock is their pack. They do not tell the sheep where to go. That’s the job of a different kind of sheepdog, the herding dog – think Border Collies or Australian Shepherds. They’re the ones that push the sheep around, that make the sheep nervous. They don’t protect the flock, they come and go with the shepherd, and their job is to make his job easier. And the shepherd, we must remember, either himself has a taste for lamb, or else caters to those who do.

    • Greg Prickett
      30 July 2015 at 11:42 am - Reply

      Thank you for your comments.

      There is a current attempt in the police world to distinguish “guardians” from “warriors” and the two very separate mindsets.

      The difference in the guardian dog and the herding dog describes that very well.

      PS, I also have a taste for lamb, but if I’m a shepherd, I don’t want my dogs to develop that taste.

  • Forget Sheepdogs, Policing Is About Guardians and Warriors
    4 August 2015 at 9:31 am - Reply

    […] 4, 2015 (Mimesis Law) — We were talking about sheepdogs and pack mentality, based on the essay, On Sheep, Wolves, and Sheepdogs, by David Grossman. Part of the problem, as I […]