American Sniper, starring Bradley Cooper and directed by Clint Eastwood, is one very intense movie. It tells the story of Chris Kyle, the Navy SEAL sniper with 160 officially confirmed kills, although in his memoir of the same title Kyle says he probably killed twice that number.
Regardless of what Lovefraud readers may think about war, guns, the military, Iraq, etc., I want to talk about one scene from the beginning of the movie.
In the scene, Chris Kyle is a boy of perhaps 11 or 12, sitting at the dinner table with his family. Earlier in the day, he got into a fight to protect his younger brother. Kyle’s father uses the incident to gravely address his boys. He says:
“There are three types of people in this world: sheep, wolves, and sheepdogs. Some people prefer to believe that evil doesn’t exist in the world, and if it ever darkened their doorstep, they wouldn’t know how to protect themselves. Those are the sheep.
“Then you’ve got predators, who use violence to prey on the weak. They’re the wolves. And then there are those blessed with the gift of aggression, an overpowering need to protect the flock. These men are the rare breed who live to confront the wolf. They are the sheepdog.”
Wow, I thought when I heard the words. What a statement.
This movie pointed out the fact that predators live among us. It’s an idea that we usually only see in movies starring comic book superheroes.
Lt. Col. Dave Grossman
The description, it turns out, was not original to American Sniper. It was from an essay in the book On Killing, by Lt. Col. Dave Grossman (ret). And Grossman credits the analogy to a retired colonel who was a Vietnam veteran.
Here’s the most famous passage from Grossman’s essay:
If you have no capacity for violence then you are a healthy productive citizen, a sheep. If you have a capacity for violence and no empathy for your fellow citizens, then you have defined an aggressive sociopath, a wolf. But what if you have a capacity for violence, and a deep love for your fellow citizens? What do you have then? A sheepdog, a warrior, someone who is walking the hero’s path. Someone who can walk into the heart of darkness, into the universal human phobia, and walk out unscathed.
Read the entire essay here:
On Sheep, Wolves, and Sheepdogs — Dave Grossman, on mwkworks.com
Grossman’s essay says that most average people live in denial of evil, which makes them sheep. It characterizes soldiers and police, who know that evil exists, as sheepdogs. He exhorts the sheepdogs to always be prepared, which to him means, if they are authorized to carry weapons, they should carry them at all times.
Grossman’s essay has become somewhat of a rallying cry for police, military, and people who believe in the right to bear arms.
And that means the idea of “sheep, wolves and sheepdogs” has been attacked by people who think the analogy is too simplistic, and an excuse for racial profiling.
For example, Elias Isquith wrote on Salon.com:
At heart, the sheepdog analogy, at least in the context of “American Sniper” and the Iraq War, is a kind of Aesopian repackaging of the hoary idea of American exceptionalism. Rather than view every human being as an individual, capable of making any number of decisions based off of their history and circumstance, the sheepdog worldview essentializes its targets, divorcing action from identity. It’s not that wolves are wolves because they kill; sheepdogs do that, too. Wolves are wolves because, well, they just are. They’re the “bad guys.” It’s as simple as that.
And Michael Cummings and Eric Cummings wrote on Slate.com:
While Grossman does have a Ph.D. in psychology, his analogy has zero basis in science. Good and evil aren’t scientific phenomena. While some humans have inclinations toward aggression and violence, it is not a gene that some people have and others do not. Yet Grossman still teaches more than 300 seminars a year on the sheepdog analogy and “conditioning the mind.” Conditioning it for what? We live in the safest times in human history. True “random acts of violence” are incredibly rare in our society; terror events rarer still. But the sheepdog analogy wouldn’t exist if people weren’t afraid.
It seems to me that the authors of both of these critiques are sheep.
Isquith sarcastically writes that, “Wolves are wolves because, well, they just are. They’re the ‘bad guys.’ It’s as simple as that.”
Well, yes. That’s exactly right. Sociopaths just are. In fact, that’s one of the lessons all of us who have been victimized struggle to learn. Sociopaths are exploiters. This is what they do. And they’re not going to change.
Then Cummings and Cummings write, “While some humans have inclinations toward aggression and violence, it is not a gene that some people have and others do not.”
Well, they’re wrong. Sociopaths, the wolves, do have different genes, and these genes, combined with harsh or indifferent parenting or other childhood deprivations, can turn them into predators.
These authors, by perpetuating the myth that evil doesn’t exist, are harming anyone who believes what they write. By dismissing the idea of inherent evil, they lull their readers into denial, making it easier for the sociopaths among us to snag unknowing victims.
We are the sheepdogs
Here’s the problem with the sheep, wolves and sheepdogs analogy: Most people interpret it to mean that all soldiers and police are sheepdogs. This is incorrect.
Some soldiers and police are, in fact, predators. Plenty of Lovefraud readers were involved with sociopaths who were police officers and members of the military. These predators used their roles to further their exploitative plots and scams. They are the worst of the worst pretending to be our protectors, when, in fact, they are our exploiters.
I think we should interpret the analogy like this: Sociopaths are wolves. People who don’t know about sociopaths are sheep. And people who do understand that evil exists, that sociopaths live among us, are sheepdogs.
Once we were sheep. We were attacked by wolves. Now, as survivors, we become sheepdogs.
Maybe we won’t join the military or carry concealed weapons. But simply by knowing the traits and warning signs of a sociopath, and educating our friends and relatives when we can, we can protect ourselves and others from the predators living among us.