The movie American Sniper, which profiles Chris Kyle, has received a mixed response from critics. Kyle is viewed by various observers as anything between a hero who did what he had to do and a mass murderer who was part of a foreign invasion force. But let us consider something else.
While the public perception of Kyle has gotten the bulk of the attention among libertarians, there is a metaphor in the film that bears further examination. During a scene that occurs in Kyle’s childhood, his father tells him that there are three kinds of people in the world: sheep, who “don’t believe evil exists”; wolves, the evil men who prey upon them; and sheepdogs, men with “the gift of aggression,” a “rare breed that lives to confront the wolf.” Kyle understands that his father means for him to be a sheepdog. But a more insightful boy might have asked, “In this analogy, who are the farmers?”
The analogy, as relevant to Kyle’s life and profession, is that the sheep represent good civilians, the wolves represent criminals and terrorists, and the sheepdogs represent military personnel. Taking this analogy further, the farmers represent the ruling classes of politicians, bureaucrats, and regulators. Now let us examine all of the relationships between the four.
- The Sheep and the Wolf – The Quest For Protection
Long ago, sheep were wild animals. They had to find their own food and water, fight their own illnesses, and be subject to killing and eating by wolves and other predators. One view of the origin of farming is that people realized that domesticating and exploiting animals is easier than hunting and killing them. Another view is that the sheep (or natural selection guiding the sheep) made the more clever move. Becoming farmed means that sheep are guaranteed food, water, medicine, and protection.
Long ago, humans had no governments. There were natural leaders who were stronger and/or smarter than other members of one’s tribe, but there was no monopoly on initiatory force. The limited amount of resources available to paleolithic hunters and gatherers simply could not sustain a state apparatus as we know it. One way to look at the evolution of civilization is through the concept of human farming. The idea is that the world has become a series of farms where human farmers own human livestock. Humans perceive a benefit from outsourcing their problems of finding food, water, medicine, and protection, just as sheep do.
- The Sheep and the Farmer – The False Refuge
Becoming farmed means that sheep suffer a loss of free mating and a periodic loss of wool and milk. Those with a potentially dangerous set of horns might be stripped of those as well. But sheep do not tend to miss what is taken from them. This is because animals have little concept of the future. Thus, they do not care that the farm is a false refuge and that they will eventually be slaughtered for meat once their usefulness as dairy sheep or wool sheep is outlived, or their farmers have a demand for mutton and haggis.
As useful as animal farming is to its practitioners, human farming is far more useful. Unlike any other species on this planet, humans are capable of perceiving future loss and our own mortality. This means that humans have innate aspects that make us easier to control, as we interpret threats differently than members of other species. One cannot get more milk or wool by threatening a sheep, but one can get a man to give one milk and wool from a sheep he farms by threatening him. Moreover, there is the possibility to take some of the products of human labor, which can grant far more wealth to a farmer than the products animal labor.
- The Sheep and the Sheepdog – Livestock Management
There are two basic kinds of sheepdogs that manage sheep. Livestock guardian dogs protect the flock from wolves and other predators, while herding dogs direct the flock as an extension of the farmers and enforcer of their will. Notably, these tend to be different breeds of dog, and very few dogs perform well at both tasks. Of course, these dogs are never intended to protect the sheep in an objective sense, as this would entail preventing humans from exploiting them, which is the whole point of the operation. They are only there to make farming less difficult and more profitable for humans.
The sheepdogs of human livestock management are the enforcement classes of the state, consisting mainly of the police and military. The division between the two varies from farm to farm, but one can make the analogy that livestock guardian dogs are to military personnel as herding dogs are to police officers. Just as with sheep dogs, the purpose of the police and military is not the objective protection of the civilian population, as starry-eyed state propagandists would have us believe. The true purpose is threefold: protect the human farmers from the human livestock by making it very difficult for citizens to violently overthrow the government, provide a last line of defense for the institution of human farming in the form of martial law should the citizens succeed in violently overthrowing the government, and present a deterrent to other human farmers elsewhere in the world who might seek to take over the farm and capture the human livestock for themselves.
- The Wolf and the Farmer – Not So Different
A pack of wolves simply seek to hunt and kill a sheep for a satisfying meal. The behavior of a farmer is more complex; a farmer protects sheep from wolves and other predators while providing for their needs. But the endgame is the same; the farmer will eventually slaughter a sheep for meat, just as a wolf will. The farmer is simply less direct and timely about it, a wolf in sheep’s clothing (in more ways than one, as the farmer has likely dressed himself in wool).
Long ago, cannibalism was rather common among humans. This is analogous to wolves eating sheep in the case of animal farming. But while this was effective in the short-term, it was vastly inferior to various forms of slavery practiced by human farmers over their human livestock. After all, humans take a long time to develop, and their uniquely exploitable nature makes it far more profitable to control their muscles and minds than to consume them. Over time, those who preferred to merely exploit their fellow human beings won out over those who preferred to eat them.
Today, wolves are more analogous to non-government criminals while farmers are analogous to politicians. And still, they are not so different. One could even argue that they need each other; the politicians need there to be non-government criminals to convince the population of the necessity of state power, and non-government criminals need politicians to create a monopoly on criminal justice which they can then pervert for their benefit.
- The Wolf and the Sheepdog – Evolution of Evil
The sheepdog, like all domesticated dogs, is a descendant of the wolf. Over the course of millennia, humans have modified the behavior of sheepdogs to be beneficial to farmers rather than fatal to sheep. Rather than use lethal aggression against the flock, the sheepdogs will use toned-down aggressive behaviors to make the sheep move where the farmer wants them to go. Livestock guardian dogs are even able to blend into the flock and be perceived by the sheep as one of them.
The police officer or soldier, like all government agents, is a criminal in a costume. If anyone who is not a government agent committed the same actions as government agents, such a person would face a lengthy prison term and hefty fine. But rather than modify the behavior of policemen or soldiers in a significant way, the human farmers have forcibly indoctrinated their human livestock over the course of millennia to accept that it is not only moral, but necessary for certain people in the employ of the state to do what no one else is allowed to do. While police officers and soldiers will kill civilians who resist them, they typically use toned-down aggressive behaviors to make citizens obey their political masters. In most settings, few people think anything is amiss about a police officer or soldier being present.
- The Farmer and the Sheepdog – Partners in Crime
From a young age, trainers prepare sheepdogs to work with farmers in their efforts to control flocks of sheep. A farmer takes good care of his sheepdogs, as they are the means by which he can control large numbers of sheep. A number of sheepdogs would also be capable of inflicting great harm upon a farmer if they were to attack him as a pack, so abuse of sheepdogs by farmers is disincentivized. The sheepdogs likewise perform their duties for the farmer, as the farmer maintains them even more so than the sheep, who find most of their own food. A sheepdog that is unreliable or mean to the farmer will be expelled from the farm or even killed, so abuse of farmers by sheepdogs is disincentivized. Thus a symbiotic relationship emerges.
From a young age, many children are raised in a violent manner that makes them more likely to initiate the use of force as adults. While some of these people do not join the state and end up in prison, others are found to have the sort of upbringing that human farmers find useful in a human sheepdog. Just like farmers and sheepdogs, politicians and their enforcers have a symbiotic relationship. Politicians are always quick to defend police and military spending, as the enforcement classes are the means by which they can control large numbers of civilians. The enforcement classes would also be capable of carrying out a coup d’état if the politicians presented them with sufficient cause for doing so. The members of the enforcement classes likewise perform their duties for the ruling classes, as the ruling classes maintain them even more so than the civilians, who mostly make their own livelihoods. Police and soldiers who are unreliable or defiant will lose their jobs, face jail time, or even die suspiciously in the field, so compliance with the system is encouraged.
So, what is a sheep to do? Not much. Sheep lack the intelligence and physical implements necessary to free themselves from the condition of being farmed. But what is a human to do? Unlike sheep, we have options. We are facing other members of our own species, not alien-looking predators or even more alien-looking super-intelligent masters. We can outsmart them through technological innovation that frees us from the ability of human farmers to exploit us and our resources. We can outrun them by finding ways over, under, around, and through the fences they build for us. We can out-breed them by raising children peacefully and teaching them to reason objectively, thereby draining the pool of aggressors that human farmers can hire to be their sheepdogs. We can out-debate them by convincing people of the immorality of treating fellow human beings like livestock. And someday, we will be able to outgun them as well by using force to defend ourselves from them and their minions. The future is bright for us human livestock; unlike the sheep, many of us will soon leave the farm alive.