Grossman popularized the sheepdog metaphor. The idea is that there are sheep-- generally nice and productive but not what one would call hard core. And there are wolves, and wolves are the bad guys and prey on the helpless little sheep. And there are sheepdogs, who have many of a wolf's traits but use those abilities to oppose the wolves and protect the sheep.
Grossman popularized it, but he was quoting a Korea war vet. My dad was a vet from that era and he used it too, so it must have been in the air back then. But it has jack shit to do with the way most people use it.
The part of it that was true, and what my dad meant by it is that as a soldier, I had more in common with an enemy soldier that I do with the civilians we are protecting. Yes, we. Saddam's Republican Guard or the Wehrmacht or the 82nd Airborne... people were defending their homes, their people, their values. Sometimes expeditionary forces, sometimes home guard... but especially in the age of conscripts, a drafted US soldier in a third-world country he's never heard of and a conscripted kid from that third-world country actually have a lot in common. And more in common with each other than they ever will with citizens or, especially, their own generals and their own politicians.
More broadly, coal miners in Virginia and coal miners in China will have more in common with each other than they will with their own bosses or their own governments.
That, to my mind, was what the sheepdog metaphor was trying to convey.
But it's become something else. A badge people put on to feel superior. So let's walk out the modern interpretation.
Number one, there ain't no sheep. Humans are amazing predators. Tough, adaptable, capable of learning at a whole new level. It takes a metric shit-ton of brainwashing to convince children that they are supposed to be weak and that passivity is a virtue. That social conditioning has happened, and it has been successful, but it is not natural. If you want to look down your nose at anyone and think they are weak, that's your arrogance, not truth. If they find the right incentive and throw off their imaginary leashes, not only will the meekest person you know give you a fight, your will prevent you from seeing it coming.
And here's the big one (hat tip to Terry Trahan.) Sheepdogs aren't good guys. They don't work for the sheep. They work for the shepherd. They don't keep the sheep safe from the wolves because it is the right thing to do. They keep the sheep safe from the wolves so the shepherd can butcher them or shear them on a precise schedule for maximum profit.
Still feel like a hero, Mr. Sheepdog?
Two things in my mind, going opposite directions. You are not sheep. You are mighty. Your ancestors pretty much conquered the world at half your size and half your brain size and nowhere close to your access to information. With sticks and chipped rocks and opposable thumbs and communication and teamwork, humans spread. Humans became the apex predators on this planet. Almost all of the species we used to dread are now protected as endangered, a testament to both human power and human compassion. We, as humans, are anything but sheep.
Yet we are being treated like sheep. And we tolerate it and in many cases beg for more. Look at your paycheck. How much are you being fleeced for? How much of your productivity does the shepherd take? Did you consent? Did you negotiate?
Evil corporations? Oil company profit on a gallon of gas is roughly three cents. Taxes (state and federal, in my area) are 48 cents. Production, purification, delivery for three cents... regulation and control for 48. Which is the fleecing?
I know this is going to get some knickers in a twist. Do the math. Who provides the things you appreciate? Who pays for your labor? And who controls your behavior and siphons off from your labor? Who are the shepherds that are sheering you? Who has (and to what extent do you give them) the power to butcher you?