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The Most Insulting Part of the Sheepdog Analogy

(We have a ton of thoughts on Lt. Col. David Grossman’s “Sheep, Sheepdogs and Wolves” analogy. To read the entire series, please click here.)

Many conservatives were introduced to Colonel Grossman’s essay, “On Sheep, Wolves and Sheepdogs” through a chain email circulated on the conservative email-o-sphere. Allegedly addressed to the President of the University of Washington student body, a retired Lt. General Dula who (Again, allegedly. We can’t confirm the details.) wrote this email:

“Miss Edwards, I read of your ‘student activity’ regarding the proposed memorial to Col Greg Boyington, USMC and a Medal of Honor winner. I suspect you will receive a bellyful of angry e-mails from conservative folks like me. You may be too young to appreciate fully the sacrifices of generations of servicemen and servicewomen on whose shoulders you and your fellow students stand. I forgive you for the untutored ways of youth and your naïveté. It may be that you are, simply, a sheep. There’s no dishonor in being a sheep--as long as you know and accept what you are.”

“Please take a couple of minutes to read the following. And be grateful for the thousands--millions--of American sheepdogs who permit you the freedom to express even bad ideas.”

He then inserts Grossman’s sheep dog essay wholesale.

This email is insulting.

First, Grossman and Dula insult “sheep”, calling them all variety of names. Together they label sheep variously “naive”, “untutored”, ungrateful, unable to survive adversity, and (most insultingly for me) “living in denial”. As Grossman writes:

We know that the sheep live in denial; that is what makes them sheep. They do not want to believe that there is evil in the world.”

This leads into the second insult: Dula and Grossman don’t realize they’re insulting people. Dula and Grossman both write, “There’s no dishonor in being a sheep.” Grossman says, “I mean nothing negative by calling them sheep.” Paraphrasing Grossman and the above email, basically say, “Hey, you’re a sheep and I don’t mean that insultingly. You’re a naive, ungrateful coward who lives in denial if you don’t support gun rights, but no offense. Seriously, no offense.”

So the essay allows people to insult their opponents, but claim they aren’t. Two insults in one.

But the real question behind the insults is: who is really living in denial?

All the evidence in foreign policy says that Americans live not just in the safest times in American history, but the safest times in the history of the world. That’s right. We just fought the safest two wars in American history. You are more likely to win the lottery than die of terrorism in the U.S. And the crime rate has plummeted. If you think evil is expanding its reach in the world, you’re living in denial.

And all the evidence says guns kill people. The myth that good guys with guns kill bad guys with guns is just that, a myth. The presence of firearms increases the odds of their use in their own homes, but that’s what the data says. Oh, and guns are most often used in suicides. Again, that’s what the evidence says.   

So, in summation, people who don’t carry guns are not “untutored” nor “naive”. The so-called sheep aren’t living in denial. To say otherwise is insulting.

six comments

There’s also evidence from Australia that tightened gun control doesn’t endanger rural people who cannot count on the police arriving quickly.

Statistics show that this common horror scenario really is just that; fiction. It’s one more mosaic stone of the pervasive fearmongering.

As I wrote in 2009,
“Especially remarkable is the fear. Extreme fear. Fear of their own fictions. Seriously, I’ve never encountered a single non-U.S. American who came close to the top 50 fear-driven Americans I’ve been in contact with. The closest one was an Israeli. What’s up about this fear of everything?

I didn’t notice this rule of fear before 9/11, but history tells us that it’s not such a new phenomenon. Red scare, yellow scare, communist subversion scare, missile gap, domino theory – apparently even ceding control of the Panama Canal raised the fear factor.

Most scares were completely off, and some were badly exaggerated. A rational being would become skeptic about present and future fear fashions given that track record of past fear fashions.

Seriously, what’s up with this fear of outlandish scenarios? I don’t get it.”

So what you say on the beginning of the post is cogent, and then leaps wholesale into a nearly tangential argument in the second to the last paragraph. To which I have to say, sure. Guns jump off the shelf and discharge by themselves all the time. Agree or disagree, it was a bizarre transition.

I guess we should have clarified our wording a bit more, but I think people know what we mean: owning a gun makes you more likely to be shot by a gun—whether by yourself or by accident—than it will help you protect yourself from infinitesimally small chance your attacked.

Also, if the confusion is why we wrote about gun rights, the point of Grossman’s essay is advocating for increased gun ownership.

One of the things you (Michael and Eric) have been doing for awhile is highlighting the fact that we live in the safest time in human history. I just want to say I think this important and you should keep hammering it.

@ Don – Thank you, Don. It’s good to know it resonates.

It’s a core belief of ours, and it fundamentally changes they way the world and the country talks about terrorism, war and crime.

We plan on writing much more on this topic. We should have a whole week on it soon. And an outside article, fingers crossed.

Lets through another complication in the wringer. A lot of the wars of the recent past involve not only ostensibly “protection of the US Homeland” but also in order to succeed protection of a local occupied populace – think Iraq. This analogy completely falls apart if you try and apply to to that war relying as it does on a complete de-humanization of the other and inherent belief in the superiority of force. The closest I can come up with in history to such a philsophy is Nazi militarism or Japan WW2 era, and I am not throwing this out there to be provocative but I really couldn’t find any other analogies.