Thursday, November 02, 2017


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?


yachtsecurity said...

Great article - a point I have made for a while. Sheep are a commodity......
And thanks for the other great articles on training over the years. Has helped me clarify some of my thinking and personal training.

Fredrik said...

To be able to understand this situation I have to know what those 48 cents are used for. Money changing hands (without getting something in return) is just wealth redistribution, and to understand it you have to know who loses money and who gains money. Once you know that, you can like or dislike the redistribution.

Bryan Leed, Dayton, OH said...

This blog post seems more grim than in the past, on this topic. I like better what you wrote in Chiron Training Volume 1, 21 September 2005: “The sheepdogs have done a good job. Despite the media, this is the safest world for sheep that has ever been. It isn't perfect in any way, but it is safer, better fed, healthier and more comfortable than any time or place in history. When I hear someone spout some brain-dead 'insight' into violence or criminal behavior it makes me happy, in a way, that they are safe to hold those beliefs and very unlikely ever to face the truth. That could only happen in a world where the dogs have done well.”

Here’s a pop culture reference that deals with this same topic: We see the Sheepdog personified by the influence of a good father in the film “BATMAN BEGINS,” doing what is right for the sake of doing what is right, it’s the only way. The sequel, “THE DARK KNIGHT,” shows a wicked father’s influence producing a Wolf (Heath Ledger’s Joker), obsessed with making the Sheepdog become a Wolf. The Sheepdog (Batman) resists but no happy ending yet. In the third film, “THE DARK KNIGHT RISES,” we see that the wickedness never stops, even seems to overwhelm, but the aging Sheepdog must keep on being the Sheepdog -- or die trying. Younger Sheepdogs will try to help, but need guidance. There is no other choice, no other chance. Becoming a Wolf is not an option. This last film has a happy ending, you may recall. It is worth it to remain a Sheepdog, don’t give in to overwhelming darkness.

A Bible verse can also twist knickers, but this one seems safe today. Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good. -- Romans 12:21

Economically speaking, the situation has always been grim. It is a struggle to survive, since Adam & Eve. For the past 150 years we have been wrestling between capitalism and communism. I think Capitalism can survive without communism, but communism cannot survive without capitalism. That’s why communist China is willing to try economic capitalism trade nowadays. In the USA we need to vote for lower taxes, but that means fewer “benefits” from the government. But this is all macro-economics. Personally we feel the micro-economics.

I got a lot of personal economic hope and rejuvenation from common sense talk from Dave Ramsey, a motivational speaker on the radio daily. Stay out of debt. For retirement, choose mutual funds that average around 10% over the past 10 years, (look in the 10 year column to find them), this doubles your money in less than 10 years. Use the Roth IRA to pay no taxes later when it has grown double, etc. Easy to understand, hard for me to discipline myself, but I am making progress and I feel hope for the future.

I think Rory might expand his work via podcasting, like a blog but you talk instead of write about what you think. The “JOCKO PODCAST” seems like a good example of a possible commonly used format. Retired Navy Seal Jocko reviews war books, reading highlighted passages that he chooses, then commenting why this or that is important and interesting in the book, in warfare, in real life. He reads about Musashi in Episode 80. He also loves BJJ, talks about it every episode, rolls every day. Sometimes he has guests on to shoot the breeze for a couple of hours. Jocko is also a motivational speaker and author for the common man and working man. Jocko’s current podcast setup is advanced and somewhat professional by now, but he’s already been at it for a few years with lots of influential friends, (Tim Ferriss, Joe Rogan, et al). The entry level podcast might be done for under $500 of audio equipment, maybe under $150, (implies Tim Ferriss). Might be worth considering, might be something that could grow into more opportunities. Plenty of Sheepdogs still need guidance.

Charles James said...

Rory: Thanks for this, I tried to take a different tack on this one but went in a direction that added to the misunderstanding rather than clarity but this time I do believe I finally understand so "Thanks for this clarity!" It was like, slap the back of my head and yell. "Doah!" (A Homer head slap, not NCIS ;-) )

Toldain said...

Production, purification, and delivery do not come out of "profits", they are costs. They don't come from that three cents. The three cents is what's left over after all that other stuff is paid for. And that means that production, purification and delivery costs are something like three bucks a gallon where I live. So that's the thing that should be compared to the 48 cents, which pays for stuff like having surfaces on roads, and signs and other stuff we need.

Otherwise, it's a good post.

barbara said...

I read the sheepdog metaphor at Grossman's but I never felt at ease with it. Now I understand better, why this is.

but still: we are humans, not a flock of sheep; and our governments are not aliens from another species who have a purely commercial attitude to the people they govern, be that dogs or sheep.

I might be a hopeless idealist, but I still believe that "democracy" and "freedom" are more than empty marketing words, but they have, and should have, real practical sense.

About half of what I earn goes to governmental or near-governmental institutions (Taxes, health insurance, unemployment insurance, pension building etc) - the other half goes to private enterprises. the price-performance-ratio varies, but it is quite evenly distributed in public and private institutions, there are good ones and bad ones everywhere. and even in the private sector it's not always easy to avoid the bad ones - plannede obsolescence, poor quality etc is everywhere

Anonymous said...

So in your mind, Rory, the "fleecing" that occurs when it comes to oil companies is the level at which they are taxed, not the $4 billion in taxpayer subsidies they receive a year?

Which means that, not only are you saying that massively profitable corporations getting handouts is good, but in effect you believe they should be higher by reducing the amount of money they pay back into the system they benefit from, both directly in handouts and indirectly in their use of our national infrastructure?

Or maybe I'm wrong, that's not what you believe, and you weren't aware of the huge subsidies they receive? Or you were aware but chose to leave that out of the picture because you had your political tribe's narrative to prop up?

Anonymous said...

The European Historical Combat Guild said...

Theres a god dcunntary called guardians of the ice about ice hockey enforcers. It touch on their role as protector. The one who defends the tribes steps up and does what needs to be done... worth checking out and related to ideas expressed here

Martin said...

A great post Rory, thank you. It made me feel a bit better about being among the sheep.

I'd like to second something Bryan Leed said, above. A podcast, or at least more appearances on other people's podcasts, would really help get your ideas out there. Not sure if that's what you want, but I find a lot of what you talk about to be very important. It's life skills, say. But I can't see you doing an appearance on Oprah :-)

Martin said...

thanks for your blog, it has enriched my life in many forms not only regarding self defense. you made me see the world with complete other eyes.
the sheepdog metaphor has another meaning as well in my opinion: yes they work for the shepherd but they differ in some very important aspect from the wolves; they don't eat the sheeps. they keep those safe that cannot fight for themselves, they can organize themselves to fend of larger pack of wolves. for this safety the sheeps pay a price:in money and in freedom. but the alternative for those that can not fight like the old or sick is to be wolf-snacks

Josh Kruschke said...

A lot of bad things have been done in the Name of “This is for your own good!”

Mutts – Is a term I like for those that are not sheep, wolves or shepherds.

Kai Jones said...

Where is the room in this metaphor for people who consent together to form community? To be mutually supportive and choose what services to provide each other through taxation, and which ones to retain as personal choices and personal responsibility?

Anonymous said...

Long time reader, first time posting. I found your blog when I was doing police training and it was incredibly helpful. I've been reading for years!
The sheepdog metaphor worked for a long time because it was useful for training the sheepdogs. It barely mentioned the wolves or sheep, except to define what not to be.
Perhaps now, if you're out of day-to-day LE or military training, you need new metaphors. Given recent political events, it's no wonder that most folks don't want to be sheeple and need to think of themselves as something else.
I read a blog recently that basically said, "I'm a water buffalo. Leave me alone and we won't have problems. But if you mess with me, there will be severe consequences."
Whether or not you are a zoologist, we can probably do better than animal metaphors. Keep fighting the good fight, Rory.

Anonymous said...

@Kai Jones:

"people who consent to form a community and help each other" might apply to the wolves and their social structure.

it's fascinating how many ramifications are in this sheepdog picture...

Drew Rinella said...

Anonymous: Maybe you read a different article than I did, but I don't recall seeing any apologetics for government subsidies of any type above. Can you show us where he wrote that?

Maybe I'm wrong, that's not what you believe, and you were only assuming that's what he wrote in order to prop your political tribe's victim class talking points.

Drew Rinella said...

So, clearly Cooper's metaphor has its limits, but it would be a shame not to acknowledge that Cooper and your father were observing some phenomena of human behavior worth studying. Even Samuel Adams alluded to people I suspect Cooper would describe as sheep when he wrote:

“If ye love wealth better than liberty, the tranquillity of servitude than the animating contest of freedom, — go from us in peace. We ask not your counsels or arms. Crouch down and lick the hands which feed you. May your chains sit lightly upon you, and may posterity forget that ye were our countrymen!”

So even if there's not a great metaphor for the type of person who would rather just go along with the flow and not make waves as an alternative to doing what is right and necessary, I wouldn't give them credit for the relatively few individuals in history who have risen to the occasion, killed the bear, stormed the beach, walked on the Moon, shot Devin Kelley... I also don't think it's necessarily wrong to study sheeplike people as a reminder of what none of us should want to become.

I do appreciate the rebuke in your article that considering oneself a sheepdog (AKA hero) is not a virtue. The most heroic people I've met or studied would never call themselves sheepdogs or heroes. And you're right the metaphor doesn't exactly fit in with the idea of defending liberty and a long fulfilling life for others. Thank you for writing this.

Josh Kruschke said...

“I was just a kid…A million years ago, it seems sometimes. Maybe twelve. I was reading Mark Twain.

And he wrote something that struck me right down to my core…something so powerful, so true, that it changed my life. I memorized it so I could repeat it to myself, over and over across the years. He wrote –‘In a republic, who is the country?

Is it the government which is for the moment in the saddle? Why, the government is merely a temporary servant: it cannot be its prerogative to determine what is right and what is wrong, and decide who is a patriot and who isn’t. It’s function is to obey orders, not originate them.

Who, then is the country? Is it the newspaper? Is it the pulpit? Why, these are mere parts of the country, not the whole of it, they have not command, they have only their little share in the command.

In a monarchy, the king and his family are the country: In a republic it is the common voice of the people each of you, for himself, by himself and on his own responsibility, must speak.

It is a solemn and weighty responsibility, and not lightly to be flung aside at the bullying of pulpit, press, government, or the empty catchphrases of politicians.

Each must for himself alone decide what is right and what is wrong, and which course is patriotic and which isn’t. You cannot shirk this and be a man.

To decide it against your convictions is to be an unqualified and inexcusable traitor, both to yourself and to your country, let men label you as they may.

If you alone of all the nation shall decide one way, and that way be the right way according to your convictions of the right, you have your duty by yourself and by your country. Hold up your head. You have nothing to be ashamed of’.

Doesn’t matter what the press says. Doesn’t matter what the politicians or the mobs say. Doesn’t matter if the whole country decides that something wrong is something right.

This nation was founded on one principle above all else: The requirement that we stand up for what we believe, no matter the odds or the consequences.

When the mob and the press and the whole world tell you to move, your job is to plant yourself like a tree beside the river of truth, and tell the whole world–

–No you move.” ~ Captain America

From: Amazing Spider-Man vol. 1 #537

Jim said...

Grossman is a very dynamic and motivating speaker, and plays quite well to his audience. I've been uncomfortable with the separation and enhancement of the us-vs-them implied in the sheepdog metaphor. It's been co-opted and used to other people, setting themselves up as some sort of superior class of citizen, and it's been seized on by a lot of people with questionable intent.

Kai Jones said...

@Drew Rinella: sheeplike people as a reminder of what none of us should want to become.

Any justification one comes up with for why one (or one's chosen tribe) is better than others is suspect. So is artificially dividing people into groups based on one decision, or how they live their lives most of the time, and then considering that division a monolith, with similar characteristics and predictable behavior. Isn't the ultimate goal to, as much as possible, give everyone the opportunity to live without thinking about the issues of personal self defense and war?

There would be no sheepdogs without sheep; sheepdogs are valuable *only* because they protect the sheep, who would not require protecting if they did not have intrinsic value.

This comic (two links to a page and it's sequel):

There's a disconnect here between battery people and lightbulb people. Lightbulb people come up with ideas, and do things--but not in the void, not without the support of a lot of ordinary people who provide the battery power that makes the ideas come to life. The logistics of raising children, building infrastructure, doing payroll, keeping the lights turned on--all of these things are the necessary precursors to anybody choosing to be a sheepdog. The tip of the spear is just a shitty dagger unless you've got the rest of the spear.

Anonymous said...

Yes, people are CAPABLE of learning to protect themselves, but the reality is, the vast majority won't. When the SHTF, they cower in the corner and wait for their turn to be slaughtered. Then, the survivors say stupid shit like, "He reloaded several times, while we watched." REALLY??!! Exceptions? Sure. But, for the most part PEOPLE ARE SHEEP! Also, if the sheepdog works only to please the shepherd (as opposed to sense of duty to/love for the flock), he may be in the wrong business, IMHO

Ymar Sakar said...

Profits=Revenue - Costs

So obviously the oil product and product, is part of the entire process that led to the profits to begin with. If there was no profit, there would be no product and thus no cost for the product. If there was no product, there would be no revenue and thus no profit.

The sheep thing is popular for many reasons, some of which outlined in this comment section. Part of it was because Jesus of Nazareth kept talking about lost sheep and shepherds.

The other part is that the Deep State, along with police unions and what not, want to create a Large Blue Line that separates superior class individuals such as LEOs, from the sheep that they guard, husband, and farm.

Humans have become livestock. Comfortable livestock, but there is a problem with being a livestock. That is the Harvest, or in religious lexicon, Final Judgment, Eternal War, Last Battle, Ragnarok.

Anonymous said...

Its all virtue signaling. It could be argued, the whole government, law enforcement/ public servant business, social sciences, ethics, etc is virtue signaling. Its all based on polarization. Here's a wolf, here's a sheepdog, here's a sheep. They could all be one or the other on any given day. Life is fluid and has no colors. We are tribal beings, and the tribe has become to large. All you can do is take care of your immediate tribe. Anything else we profess is fake and its garbage and always has a hidden agenda.

Anmol Rathi said...

Nice work

Geoff Nelson said...

My son points out the absurdity of (usually) trucks sporting the Gadsden flag and Back the Blue. Who does the treading?

Anonymous said...

The author has obviously never kept livestock, and never owned real sheepdogs. My Great Pyrenees are mind bogglingly loyal, protective, and on the job 24/7. Even when they sleep, they have one eye on the flock, and if a predator approaches, they warn him off with barking and posturing. If the predator persists, he usually doesn’t succeed in harming any innocents.

My interests coincide with the dogs, but they don’t work for me. I work for them.