Is Man Wolf or Sheep?

Posted on October 27, 2015 by Robert Ringer


The question of whether man is wolf or sheep has been around for a long time and, not surprisingly, there are strong opinions on both sides.

It’s certainly not hard to understand the sheep side of the argument. The majority of people are easily influenced by institutional leaders, whether they represent the state, the church, corporate America, or other. They’re like gullible, half-asleep children, willing to submit to anyone who speaks with a tone threatening enough to scare them or pleasant enough to persuade them of the moral necessity of a cause.

Thus, they follow the directions of their leaders and obediently do what they’re told. Here we are in the 21st century, and young men and women still dutifully volunteer to go off to war, notwithstanding the blood and destruction that seems never — at least not in the past seventy years — to lead to peace.

In past centuries, it was even easier than today to see the sheep side of man. Tyrannical dictators like Josef Stalin and Adolf Hitler, while becoming increasingly bloodthirsty as time went on, were able to charm their subjects into obeying. In fact, most tyrants, no matter how ruthless, actually harbor a sincere conviction that they have a moral duty to make decisions for their flocks. (Or perhaps even kill them in order to save them from their misguided thinking.)

It would be nice to assume that the wolves are a small minority and the sheep are in the majority, but history doesn’t really support such an assumption. True, the wolves are intent on calling the shots. But it’s also true that the sheep are willing, if not anxious, to follow.

The wolves, of course, are masters at inventing stories about the nobility of their causes, an imminent threat to freedom, or their nations’ violated honor in order to get the sheep not only to go along, but to act like wolves themselves.

Men like Stalin, Mao, and Hitler were not able to carry out mass genocides on their own. They had willing accomplices who tortured and killed for them, in many cases with great pleasure. How can sheep be so easily persuaded to act like wolves unless it’s embedded in their nature to do so?

A psychiatrist at the Nuremberg trials, G.M. Gilbert, analyzed the willingness of sheep to obey wolves by saying, “Self-deception is not merely a defense mechanism of the weak, the immature, the inadequate, and ultra-suggestible. To a large extent, it is part of the normal adjustive process of the human quest for security in a world of conflicting values.”

We see this phenomenon in the United States every bit as much as in countries ruled by a dictator or oligarchy, though genocide has not yet become an integral part of our way of life (except, of course, for the unborn). With the rapid advancement of the welfare state, American sheep leave little doubt that they want their leaders to remove the burdens of responsibility from their shoulders, even if it means losing more and more of their freedom. And to keep such an unsustainable system in place, it seems self-evident that the wolves will ultimately have to resort to extreme violence.

Thus, we are at a dangerous crossroads in America. Evil forces have perverted the country’s once cherished values and fundamentally changed the nation into an anything-goes cesspool of immorality. The two-party system is a sham that has not only made it possible for this to happen, but to eliminate any serious dissent.

Oh, sure, there’s a lot of tough talk and name-calling in Washington, but when all is said and done, no one in government is prepared to take drastic measures to put an end to the evil policies thrust upon us by the political class.

Perhaps the most obvious example of this is infanticide. What politician has the moral courage to advocate that the death penalty be invoked for anyone taking part in the murder of defenseless, unborn (and sometimes born) babies? Growing up, I was taught that the death penalty was the punishment for murder.

So make no mistake about it, cruelty and sadism are not unique to war. They thrive in everyday life as well, beginning with bullying at all levels in school — not just by children, but by many teachers as well.

Once the sheep leave school and enter the workforce, they discover, to their dismay, that the same cruelty and sadism thrive in the workplace, where prestige, power, and money are at stake. And the more prestige, power, and money that are at stake, the more vicious the workplace bullying becomes. Wolves thrive in such an environment, while sheep live lives of quiet despair and stress.

So, which is it? Is man wolf or sheep? Paradoxically, it seems he is both. He’s a wolf to his fellow man, but a sheep when it comes to obeying other wolves. Perhaps this explains why so many notorious school bullies are themselves victims of bullying.

Unfortunately, the very nature of sheep is that they lack principle and courage. They want to avoid thinking about the fact that the wolf is a killer who can be restrained from devouring sheep only through the use of force. As a result, history has been written in blood and violence.

Against this backdrop, it takes a strong individual not only to hold convictions that are in opposition to the majority, but to stick with those convictions and ignore the lemming parade as it passes his door. The sad truth is that such an individual can’t do much to put an end to the brute force that is used time and again to bend man’s will.

But what he can do is use his free will to stick to a personal moral code of nonaggression and refuse to go along with the evil actions of others — including, and especially, those of institutional leaders. Through his exercise of free will, he can choose to be vigilant about not allowing himself to become a wolf in sheep’s clothing.

If you are among the minority who are able to accomplish this on a consistent basis, I congratulate you for your heroic efforts. We each have to save our own souls before we can begin to figure out a way to save the masses from the wolves.

Robert Ringer

Robert Ringer is an American icon whose unique insights into life have helped millions of readers worldwide. He is also the author of two New York Times #1 bestselling books, both of which have been listed by The New York Times among the 15 best-selling motivational books of all time.

25 responses to “Is Man Wolf or Sheep?”

  1. Robert rdiamondesq says:

    Wow- what a thoughtful and thought provoking article. I read an interesting book called "The Crowd – A Study of the Popular Mind" by Gustave Le Bon. Published in 1895 it was a study of how people think and act when part of "a crowd." Mr. LeBon studied the French Revolution which was a crowd of French commoners who rose up one night and rebelled against the ruling and elite class. They were ordinary shopkeepers, broomstick makers and other common folk who rose up seemingly from no one cause. They blithely killed prisoners and others who were often known to be innocent of any wrongdoing. I found the book fascinating. The book teased out a "formula" for how crowds are formed, made up and manipulated. That formula has been followed by many political leaders from Stalin and Hitler to modern day leaders. Based upon what I learned in the LeBon book I have no doubt our country is at a dangerous crossroads. We could have crowds rising up against "the 1%" and corporations because they have been vilified so much by our elected leaders. On top of that we are essentially lawless with many laws not applying to our leaders (Obamacare, social security, OSHA, sexual harassment laws all do not apply to Congress) and our constitution is ignored by our political leaders who are blind to its importance and who trade respecting that social contract for their agenda items. Not a promising future. Thanks for the article. You are a very interesting thinker and I enjoy reading all you write.

  2. John says:

    This is one of the best essays I have read in many moons, so to speak. The trick is to neither cause harm to others nor be harmed by others, and as Mr. Ringer notes, must by definition take lots of courage. Libertarians and others who don't fit the wolf or sheep mold must find a different animal to represent us. Lions would work proud, independent, willing to protect their prides of lionesses and kits. Eagles are also independent loners flying above it all. How about the mongoose? Crafty and unassuming, they have the agility and ferocity to routinely defeat even the most dangerous of snakes.

    At any rate, Mr. Ringer portrayal of the history of humanity being caked with blood, gore and sorrow, is occasionally interrupted by truly superior (but still admittedly flawed) people, such as those who founded the USA. They would be sickened by what is going on these days.

    • ◄Dave► says:

      Agreed. It can't be an either/or dichotomy. What about the sheepdog? He looks a lot like a wolf, yet appears to be the protector of the flock. Unfortunately, this too can be rather deceptive. True, he will ward off the occasional wolf pack and won't kill a sheep himself; but that is because he is well-fed mutton stew leftovers by his boss. His primary duty isn't to protect them; it is to herd them. For it is the damned shepherd with a taste for mutton and lamb, routinely fleecing the flock for his own living, that is the real villain. The complaisant sheeple haven't a clue…

  3. Joseph says:

    Are all wolves bad? Which are you? You sound greater than a sheep. Have you read Anything That Is Peaceful by Leonard Read?

  4. Dick says:

    You left out the SHEEPDOG.

  5. Jim Hallett says:

    The next to the last paragraph sums up the core "pearl of wisdom" of this article. The State which is committed to aggression and immorality of all kinds must be ignored, and as an individual, I must adhere to a code of non-aggression and constantly repudiate the reprehensible actions, words, and thoughts of those who would act as an "authority" and try and coerce me into evil deeds. This is why democracy is a completely failed system, as it is nothing more than two wolves and a sheep deciding what is for dinner (hint: the sheep always loses!). Being bold is good, but never is it OK to trample on the liberties of any other individual. I wish more sheep would rise up and overthrow the evil rascals in D.C. and elsewhere in the world.

  6. Gary Waltrip says:

    You could have mentioned Abraham Lincoln as the greatest American wolf. I remember reading your book on the American Dream, wherein you refuted the Northern Myth, and thereby sealed my loyalty to you for all time. However, many, perhaps most, Americans believe Lincoln was a great humanitarian and hero. In truth, he was a military dictator, and his years in office merely a reign of terror. He was also a mass murderer, guilty of crimes against humanity. Yet we have a marble temple to him in D.C. Go figure.

    • Jim Hallett says:

      Very good points to bring up regarding the "myth of Lincoln." You no doubt have read Thomas di Lorenzo's, "The Real Lincoln" and other articles, as they are the most thorough in exposing who he REALLY was and what he was REALLY all about. The South (I was born in the North and have lived in 10 states, but not much of that time in the "old confederacy") was most certainly in the right and was entitled to its states' rights and to trade with Britain, regardless of what Northern interests wanted. The lives of all those dead in the Civil War are on the conscience of the so-called "great" Abraham Lincoln!

      • Phil says:

        Agreed, though as a conservative southerner, born and bred, I would have to add that the Old South was hardly consistent in its concern for individual (as opposed to state's rights) rights. Not that you suggested otherwise.

    • Pat says:

      I can't go along with that. Perhaps Lincoln was deeply flawed. But he was right about slavery, and most of you may not know it, but he defended a fellow by the name of Charles Chiniquy, who was being victimized by the Canadian Catholic church (as a lawyer, he did this), and won the case. If nothing else, I can recognize the justice of defending Chiniquy, and even though he apparently went about it in a heavy-handed way, he did ultimately free the slaves. We don't have the right to enslave anybody, no matter how many other valid issues we might have. It distresses me that there are still so many from the South who are willing to overlook slavery and act superior to the rest of us who try to live by moral principles similar to theirs.

  7. William Cummins says:

    My forthcoming book answers your question of wolves or sheep by taking you beyond Pentecost into the Sonship of God every soul seeks. Thank God there is a meaning for mankind that will soon be made available to everyone. I and others have followed the inspirations of this book since 1959 and endorse them whole heartedly. The book contains the MANNA NOTES that were taught and written by John Shephard. A must have book for all.

  8. Phil says:

    I really enjoy reading some of the spiritual ideas in Robert's columns. They are not particularly evident in many of his books, at least not on the surface. Always so much fun to get his perspectives on things. I am sorry I never had the chance to meet him in person.

  9. Paul Herring says:

    Robert, thanks for your carefully-considered remarks here. I've added a few comments on your other topics as well as these here. Again, thanks for the chance to do so.
    My remarks are based on what I've learned from the Bible. They're relevant here too. Interestingly, on the subject of sheep, the Bible compares those who are prepared to be led by God via biblical laws and principles to sheep.
    These are in sharp contrast to those referred to in the Revelation as wild beasts. Specifically in chapter 13 of that Bible book, does it refer to a 'two-horned wild beast which looks like a lamb, but speaks like a dragon'. The Bible likens empires and governments to wild beasts beginning with Egypt and ending with this two-horned beast which we understand from prophecy to be the England-America allegiance. It appears benign, but really isn't. Indeed, it causes to be killed all those who won't 'worship the 'image of the wild beast'.
    Finally, in chapter 14 of Revelation we read of the 'Lamb standing upon the Mt Zion'. We understand this to be Jesus Christ and he is the King of God's Kingdom, which most of us were taught to pray that it should come in the Lord's Prayer as children.
    As firm Bible students, we believe God's Kingdom is the only hope for mankind. Really, is there a viable alternative?

  10. George Rizk says:

    The sheeple of America have long been programmed to obey their masters in the press, which is called presstitude for clarity. For 15 years we have been fighting the bad Al Qaeda, but, now, MCCain is telling us we must arm and support Al Qaeda in Syria, Yemen, and Libya, even if we see with our own eyes that these barbarians are burning people in cages, and rapping nuns, demolishing churches and historical antiquities, and beheading Christians and even eating their livers on camera. Nevertheless, there is no ground swells of anger at the evil policies of our government? Is it because the presstitude did not give the sheeple the green light to get upset? Or is that the sheeple is scared of their tyranical government?

  11. John says:

    Brilliant essay as usual. You should " mass – mail" your your articles to as many as you can. Maybe we can awake the many " brain dead , mouth breathing, knuckle dragging , manure for brains ,sports addictive morons"
    While our country goes down "the crapper" Obummer put us in the toilet, the " HildaBEAST" , pulls the handle!!!
    Our Lord & Savior is coming back, LOOK BUSY " !

  12. Robby Bonter says:

    I focus upon the sentence: "How can sheep be so easily persuaded to act like wolves unless it is embedded in their nature to do so?" For me the answer is always: "Follow the money." People who become professionals in the business of controlling, and often brutalizing the masses are paid handsomely for their services, Nazi soldiers and Gestapo freedom-killing agents being foremost of those who come to mind. And on a lesser global social scale, why else would have those who carted thousands of people to the guillotine during the French Revolution have been a party to the execution of citizens just like themselves, were it not for the remittance (and the personal security that came with it) they received?

    I set it aside somewhere, but I compiled a list of the truly dirty and despicable things people have done, throughout history, and continue to do for money. it is a long list, with upwards of 60 entries, so far.

    To me, money is not good nor evil, it simply represents the opportunity for the exchange of value for like value. Unfortunately, wealth of resources also confers unfettered power upon many who are corrupt in spirit. Same as many who are poor are corrupt in spirit, but not empowered to wreak havoc upon society as a whole as are the powerful and corrupt souls who have that self-serving option.

    Lack of money directly connects with squalor, hunger and starvation, and social and physical degradation of every kind.Thus we see the "sell out," as people make the expedient choice to violate their own dictates and the basic rights of others primarily out of the profit motive, and the fear of severe consequences if they do not.

    This is a dilemma that will forever curse the human race, this inequity of a few possessing almost all of the wealth and power in the world, so that the rest of human life is expendable or at least can be enslaved for the purpose of further enhancing the power of those who manipulate the masses without giving a thought to any consequences spiritual or physical, which will ultimately be visited upon them in a karmic sense, if not directly.

    • Paul Herring says:

      Interesting remarks, Robbie. Yes, humans have done some pretty awful things and you've touched on those. However, if a person has made a study of the Bible he'll find that it won't always be so. Just as well, because if your last paragraph here is correct, who would want to live on the earth in the future?

      As a student of the Bible I'm privileged to say that better days are ahead, but likely we'll face even worse ones than now in the short term. The term Armageddon hasn't been thought up by the moviemakers.

      • Robby Bonter says:

        Interesting how Christians of all denominations have been anticipating "the last days" for a long time, but now, given the perilous instability of our world, to go with its nuclear holocaust potential, these, indeed, have the look of an Armageddon and the end of civilization, as we know it.

        In fact, before the end arrives, I think a case can be made that the world we live in today is not worthy of being called "civilization, what with this "back to the cave" human contagion that is sweeping over the world.

    • Jean says:

      It seems to me that money is less an incentive than are ego and self-aggrandizement and for the sheeple, the comfort and security of being on the "winning" side. Advertising gurus know and use the idea that the idealized "crowd" knows best – and in order to be hip, you'd better be part of it. Ideologues use the same techniques.

  13. Robby Bonter says:

    Abraham Lincoln was one of the biggest lying, political S.O.B.'s who ever walked the face of this earth. The most damning verbatim quote of his from the book "Selections of Lincoln," from the Windsor English Classics collection, goes as follows:

    "Resolved, that the maintenance inviolate of the rights of the States, and especially the right of each State to order and control its own domestic institutions according to its own judgment exclusively, is essential to that balance of power on which the perfection and endurance of our political fabric depend, and we denounce the lawless invasion by armed force of the soil of any State or Territory , no matter under what pretext , as among the gravest of crimes."

    "I now reiterate these sentiments; and in doing so, I only press upon the public attention the most conclusive evidence of which the case is susceptible, that the property, peace, and security of no section are to be in any wise endangered by the now incoming Administration. I add, too, that the protection which, consistently with the Constitution and the laws, can be given, will be cheerfully given to all States when lawfully demanded, for whatever cause – as cheerfully to one section as another."

  14. lopaze says:

    what more can I say!

  15. Mike Saxon says:

    Great article, especially the reference to abortion!

  16. Pat says:

    I want to commend you for your defense of the least and most helpless among us, the unborn. When we truly understand that human beings have always had a class that is fair game for slavery and murder, we have come a long way. The Christian faith says these tendencies are due to the fact we have a sin nature. I find that explanation to be quickly descriptive and fully adequate. Fortunately, we can be redeemed and become humanitarians. After we identify the problem, we must talk about the solution. Most people cannot, completely on their own, overcome the tendency to be wolves. When we are victims, we victimize others. Only when society preserves the idea that harming others is wrong, are we so empowered, and for some of us, it actually requires being a Christian. Our society has gone much further toward identifying atrocities for what they are. We owe our very opportunity to conceive of liberty to the Judeo-Christian consensus. Individual human life just has no value under any other system. Either the strong prey on the weak and consider it righteous, or you're just one of many, and as Spock would put it, the needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few or the one. There is a reason why he enunciated this. The Star Trek series is heavily biased toward the idea that the individual must be willing or else compelled to put everyone else's well being ahead of his own.

  17. Kyung Hobby says:

    Those are the true elements which has brought around some of the more evident thoughts and principles for them to regard about if they really wanted to change their present trends. outsource content writing