Roughly, “Let the flock beware!”
My wife often tunes in to one or another right-wing radio show; she does it not because she believes them, but because she wants to know what the other end of the political spectrum is thinking. I can’t listen to it, myself; it tends to make me angry–not at the government, or any of the other bugaboos that the talk-jocks would have me upset about. No, I get angry at the talkers themselves. For what it’s worth, I’m not even talking about Limbaugh or Beck; these are more your “garden-variety” right-wingers.
Recently, my wife made an observation, one that falls in line with why I can’t listen to them: their entire message is fear. “Be afraid of the Government!” “Be afraid of the U.N.!” They’re coming to take your guns! They’re going to destroy the world economy! They’re going to form Death Panels ™ and kill Grandma! That kind of blatant attempt to influence me makes me angry, as much as any of the patent falsehoods they’ve bought into.
One metaphor shared by the talk-radio folks and the right-wing survivalists seems particularly apt to me, but probably not for the reasons most people would think. They are fond of referring to the population at large as “sheep” (“sheeple” is often heard), and the “enlightened” (i.e., them, and for a touch of irony, their followers) are the “shepherds” or “sheepdogs”. As to why I like the metaphor, a little explanation is in order.
There are, broadly speaking, three types of shepherd dogs, the most predominant of which I’ll classify here as German Shepherd (“GSD”) and Australian Shepherd (“ASD”).
These are “move-the-flock” type dogs. The Australian Shepherd tirelessly runs around the flock, barking and nipping at the heels to get it to move in whatever direction is necessary. The German Shepherd, on the other hand, “sneaks up” on the flock, poking its head over the hill and looking for all the world like a wolf, frightening the flock into moving the other direction. Whatever the method, it ultimately amounts to scaring the flock, threatening them with harm either directly (ASD) or indirectly (GSD). (In the event of an actual wolf, either dog would do its bit to defend the pack, but for them, it’s ultimately a job for the shepherd, not the sheepdog.)
Most right-wing radio types (and many left-wing ones, for that matter) seem to me to be ASD’s; their goal is to scare the flock into doing what they want, and they do it by incessantly barking at them. Most right-wing survivalists like the popular image of the GSD as a well-trained guardian dog; they also operate somewhat more “stealthily,” by going “full OPSEC;” when they recruit someone new into their belief system, they’ve essentially frightened someone into moving.
The third type? Those are the Livestock Guardian dogs (LGD), such as the Great Pyrenees, Anatolian Shepherd, Maremma, and others. They won’t do too much to move the flock. Indeed, they’re generally all-white dogs, the better to blend in with the flock. No, the LGD’s are more like Sam the Sheepdog from the old Warner Brothers cartoons: lazily watching their charges do as they will, but woe betide any wolf (or Coyote) that should threaten them. Their analog is the person who is encouraging action of whatever sort–but don’t cross the line and threaten them, or the flock (their family/society/civilization).
An interesting bit of critical thinking, when listening to someone trying to influence you, is to determine what type of sheepdog they are. Are they making lots of scary noise? Have they snuck up and disturbed your comfort zone? Or are they willing to let you do as you please, so long as nobody gets hurt?
I’m not going to say that any one style is inherently better than the others; they’ve all got their place. No, all I’m going to say is that we should all spend a little more time determining what type of sheepdog we want watching us–and what type of sheepdog we’d all like to be ourselves.