On Wolves, Sheep, and Sheepdogs

Fool, prate not to me about covenants! There can be no covenants between men and lions, wolves and lambs can never be of one mind, but hate each other through and through. Therefore there can be no understanding between you and me, nor may there be any covenants between us, till one or the other shall fall.

—Achilles, “The Illiad”

I recently got into a little facebook conversation over a shirt that read “Operation Werewolf” on the front, and “We WANT the Total War” on the back. Much to my own regret, I had expressed reservations about its’ similarity to a Nazi program by the same name (and symbolized by the same rune), the denial of which wasn’t particularly helped by the phrase on the back.

Differences in spelling aside, the rune, the phrase, the symbolism, and the concept all predate Hitler, and the similarities were incidental (the group selling the shirt, known as “The Wolves,” are certainly not nationalists or socialists). As a point of comparison, a recent conversation I had over the “DadBod” phenomena led my conversation partner to point out that Hitler used Michelangelo’s David as propaganda. If looking up Greek art as an ideal for body image makes me a Nazi, call me Heinreich.

Even yours truly isn’t completely immune to Godwin’s law. Ultimately, I did buy their T-shirt.

But the concept got me thinking about the ideology behind what the Wolves were doing with Operation Werewolf, what the founders call an all-out war on weakness (the war to which the back of the shirt refers; which is why pictures from “the front line” are all of members working out). There is more symbolism too; the Wolves are a self-reliant, interdependent heathen group, like their animal namesake (minus the heathen bit), which makes the wolf-trap symbol fitting in spirit as well as in etymology. Further, the werewolf concept brings to mind Robert Eisler’s “man into wolf” thesis from 1951, in which the justification for sadism and masochism is hypothesized to lie in an ancestral transition from peaceful, herbivorous apes into carnivorous, violent ones, and that finding pleasure in pain lies enmeshed within this latter identity. It is this juxtaposition of power, freedom, and fear that is most worth exploring, and what better way to do it than by comparison to a more recent, uniquely American wolf story.

Lt. Dave Grossman wrote “On Killing” in 1996, where he argued that there are fundamentally three kinds of people in the world: there are sheep, good people who couldn’t hurt others even if they wanted to, but mostly aren’t so inclined. There are wolves, who will kill the sheep if given the opportunity. And then there are sheepdogs; those who look a bit like wolves, but protect the herd from the outside. From the wolves. (Please leave the furry jokes for sheep, you Scotsman.)

If this paradigm sounds familiar, you may have seen it from American Sniper,

Or perhaps from other darker, more humorous places in pop-culture,

But in either case, the interesting differentiation is not between sheep and sheepdogs (or pussies and dicks), the two that are presumably on the same side. The more important dichotomy—if it is that—is between the sheepdog and the wolf.

To extend the metaphor a bit, the sheepdog and the wolf are related, while the sheepdog and the sheep are not. Even as Grossman describes how “the sheepdog has a little wolf in him,” just a cursory glance reveals the comparative distances in ancestry between the dog and the wolf compared to the dog and the sheep. The dog also eats meat, can kill, and, if demanded by his master or the needs of the flock (which we MUST not call a “tribe,” let alone a “pack”… yet), will kill, and will do it without hesitation.

What is the difference to a sheep between a wolf and a sheepdog from another flock?

To us humans, the soldiers of other armies look an awful lot like sociopaths and monsters. Propaganda programs spend a lot of money portraying “the enemy” not as simply belonging to a different herd, but as being evil. They are wolves, but our soldiers are sheepdogs. As the saying goes, one man’s terrorist is another’s freedom fighter. Do the fighters of the Taliban really view themselves as heartless savages, and American soldiers as sheepdogs, cruelly keeping them away from the tasty sheep-thighs of innocent Americans?

I don’t mean to depict the Taliban as morally comparable to American soldiers; the point is that comparing them morally misses the point. We like our soldiers because they are ours. We share values, ancestry, culture, and nation. We think that our values and culture will be better for Afghans, and this might even be true. But they don’t want it. They don’t share our values, our culture, our religion, and ancestry. Our drones, our animatronic sheepdogs raining death from the sky, look an awful lot more like wolves to them than benevolent sheepdogs, protecting those innocent sheep from wolves that they would probably more readily view as benevolent protectors than our soldiers.

Does this make us evil? No. It just makes us “evil” to them.

But here at home we are not one big happy herd either. Complaints and outrage over police brutality—very justified concerns—indicate that most Americans feel that if the police are serving and protecting somebody, that somebody isn’t them. What’s clear is that a difference in loyalty, not in disposition, is the line between wolf and sheepdog.

And then there are sheep.

Sheep complicate things. A lot. Sheep have a habit of viewing their own protectors as wolves. In large enough numbers, and when the loyal dogs of Plato’s Republic do a good job for a long time, the sheep take their security for granted, forgetting that they can only lie peacefully in their beds at night because rough man stand ready to do violence on their behalf. Criticism of some particular war becomes a criticism of war itself (“what is it good for? absolutely nothing!”), and ultimately, of the warriors who wage it. Their forgetfulness makes them unable to handle the truth, and the truth is that violence is golden. It is the currency of self-preservation, and by extension, everything that comes with life.

If the only difference between a wolf and a sheepdog is loyalty to sheep, why would you ever be a sheepdog?

There is a multi-layered perversity in the attitude of the sheep. First, there is something disconnected, almost creepy, about the way people who would never dream of using violence themselves have no issue using the power of the government—crowd-sourced violence—to impose their will on anything and everything imaginable, be it yoga pants or sodas that are too big. This is compounded by their contempt for the very people enforcing it; the police, the military, and the politicians they themselves voted in to pass these very laws. But the contempt is explained by the fact that the enforcing powers that be—the sheepdogs—in fact do not represent their interests… and how could they? The demands of the sheep are innumerable, contradicting, and mutually exclusive.

Perhaps it is time to do away with the false separation between dogs and wolves; it is the difference between canines and sheep that is important. The solution to the impossible demands laid upon the sheepdog is to transform into a wolf, a canine freed from the obligations laid upon him like a pack-animal by others who do not care in the slightest about him.

The description of wolves as hungry, vicious killers is wrong anyways, just as all other war-propaganda of the past deliberately mischaracterizes them to ensure you stay on the team of us. When lies become a necessary part of that process, then perhaps you shouldn’t be on the team.

When it comes down to it, there are only two kinds of people; those who can protect themselves and others, and those who need others to protect them. The wolf-man is the man who has rejected his muzzle. He is not loyal to the herd, but only to his pack—others who are strong who rely upon him, and upon whom he can rely, or who are not strong and need protection, but will respect him for providing it. More like Rorschach and Batman, the wolf does not kill because he can, but simply doesn’t feel the obligation to save people who sneer at those who guard them while they sleep.

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