From sheep to sheepdog
There are all types of bloggers. I'm a practitioner of the long essay form, for example.
And Bill Whittle is a practitioner of the LONG esssay form.
When you write LONG, as Bill does, you have to be very very good to get anyone to stick with you and follow your essay to its conclusion. Bill is very very good. He not only has intelligent and original things to say, but he says them in a uniquely conversational voice that manages to carry the reader along almost effortlessly through his LONG pieces (did I mention that they were long?).
So when Bill puts a new essay up, it's time to take notice. His latest is no exception. It's an infinitesimal bit rougher around the edges than his usual polished product, but that's because he wrote this one quickly, with a sense of pressing urgency. It's well worth reading, as always.
The part that caught my interest most, though, was not written by Whittle himself (sorry, Bill!); it's a passage from something called The Bulletproof Mind, written by a Lt. Colonel Dave Grossman (a digression: from looking at Grossman's biographical webpage, I learned that he's written some things I should take a look at--a psychologist by training as well as a military man, he has been doing some exceptionally interesting work on the psychology of killing). In Whittle's excerpt, Grossman uses a metaphor of sheep, wolves, and sheepdogs, and divides humanity into three groups based on this idea:
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? Then you are a sheepdog, a warrior, someone who is walking the hero's path....
Let me expand on this old soldier's excellent model of the sheep, wolves, and sheepdogs. 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. They can accept the fact that fires can happen, which is why they want fire extinguishers, fire sprinklers, fire alarms and fire exits throughout their kids' schools. But many of them are outraged at the idea of putting an armed police officer in their kid's school. Our children are dozens of times more likely to be killed, and thousands of times more likely to be seriously injured, by school violence than by school fires, but the sheep's only response to the possibility of violence is denial. The idea of someone coming to kill or harm their children is just too hard, so they choose the path of denial.
The sheep generally do not like the sheepdog. He looks a lot like the wolf. He has fangs and the capacity for violence. The difference, though, is that the sheepdog must not, cannot and will not ever harm the sheep. Any sheepdog that intentionally harms the lowliest little lamb will be punished and removed. The world cannot work any other way, at least not in a representative democracy or a republic such as ours.
Still, the sheepdog disturbs the sheep. He is a constant reminder that there are wolves in the land...
This is a vivid way of describing something I've wrestled with quite often on this blog, most recently in this post, and in this one.
Reading Whittle's essay and his description of what he imagines he himself might have done had he been a passenger on one of the 9/11 flights, I was reminded of a thought I had on 9/12. It had already become clear just what had happened on all the flights, and that only the passengers on Flight 93 had known about the others, and that this had emboldened them to take heroic action against the terrorists. The thought that struck me at that time was quite simple: well, that's the last hijacking we'll ever see. Hijackings are finished as of now.
This wasn't because I thought that security would be so wonderfully different after 9/11, or that terrorists would just give up. No. It was just that knowledge of what had transpired on 9/11 meant that no one would consider a hijacking to be a survivable event any more.
Never again could a hijacker say, "Just do what we say, and no one will get hurt," and have anyone believe them. Never again could a hijacker count on anyone, even a wimpish sort like me, to cooperate when the hijacker issued an order, assuming that complying would allow that person to survive. No, that innocence (that sheepish innocence, you might say) was lost for all time. Whether or not a flight also carried official sheepdogs (armed pilots or air marshalls) to protect the passengers, from now on, there are no sheep on an airplane.
When I was a child I loved the movie High Noon (and if there is anyone within the sound of my voice who hasn't seen it yet, please do me a favor and do so immediately). I loved High Noon for a lot of reasons. Gary Cooper's expressively stoic (no, that's not an oxymoron) face was one of them. The compressed time frame was another. The music--oh, how I loved that music! Katy Jurado was fascinating; she looked a lot like me, or like someone who could be my older sister, which was very odd because I was not a Mexican actress and I didn't have a sister. Grace Kelly was impossibly lovely and way too young for Cooper, but she was wonderful, too.
But it was the plot that made me love the picture the most. I didn't really understand it in a way that I could explain at the time--but, intuitively, I sensed that it was telling some sort of essential truth. I was a pacifist, like Grace Kelly's character Amy--or, rather, I wanted to be. I wanted everyone to love one another and hold hands and never use guns and never fight.
But even my rather short life so far had told me otherwise. I'd already encountered violence and meanness and, if not evil, then cruelty. And I already knew, from my own life, that you couldn't appease it or wish it away.
(Warning to those who haven't seen the movie yet: spoiler coming!)
So at the end of the movie when Grace Kelly, the Quaker pacifist, shot the gunman who was stalking and about to kill her husband, I knew something important and dramatic had happened. Until now I didn't have a phrase to describe what it was. But now I do: the sheep had turned into a sheepdog.