Monday, June 9, 2014

Has Fred Gone Too Far? — You Be The Judge

Just about always I find myself in agreement with Fred Reed, and when I disagree with him on things military, I usually defer to his wider experience. (I spent my enlistment mainly at a desk, rewriting things and punching up the grammar.) In the following piece, again, I find almost everything he says as purely true as such things get. The only thing I raise my eyebrow at is his final evaluation of Bergdahl. Again, he has more experience than I do, but I think he's too quick to judge. What people do is usually easier to determine than their motivations for doing it. I'll reprint a quick part of the beginning:

The Bergdahl Thing


It is so easy to gull: the pack, the herd. It just takes a bit of theater. A brass band on the Fourth of July, flags whipping in the wind, young soldiers marching down Main Street, rhythmic thump-thump-thump of boots. There comes that glorious sense of common purpose, the adrenal thrill of collective power, thump-thump-thump. Martial ceremony is heady stuff, appealing to things deep and limbic. When Johnny comes marching home again, hoorah, hurrah. We are all together now, made whole, no petty divisions. The fanged herd.
Yes, do read it, so what I say below will make sense.

Fred is completely correct about the herd thing. We are a herd animal, or, if you prefer, a pack animal. We act in unison a great deal of the time. We are individuals also, and different human cultures, like our American one, tend to value the individual more than others do, but we all act in concert in many ways. The way Fred talks about it, it sounds like a bad thing. It is neither a good thing nor a bad thing, but just a fact concerning the nature of the human species. And when you deplore a given situation, it's useless to make plans to change human nature. You can't do that. As, I think, Robert Heinlein once said, "Never try to teach a pig to sing. It wastes your time and frustrates the pig."

No, what you do is plan a society in such a was as to make for the best outcome given human nature. Pretending that everybody is, or can become, a completely rational individual is a modern libertarian quirk that the original libertarians, the Founding Fathers, would have laughed at. They knew full well that such a thing was impossible, so they planned a government that would minimize the damage from runaway herd instincts.

They didn't plan a herd without shepherds — They planned a society with limited power for the shepherds, and a way to select shepherds that would tend (they hoped) to pick the best. They realized, or most of them did, that a society totally without shepherds would tend to be overrun by some other herd with a shepherd. And, for the most part, they weren't naifs. They knew that crummy shepherd would show up, so they devised a ways of selecting mini-shepherds in the legislature and the judiciary to curb the Big Shepherd's power, and remove him if necessary.

And, of course, some of our sillier sheep are now bleating that such curbing of the power of the current Big Shepherd is somehow treasonous.

So the herd/pack instinct is there, and Fred describes it perfectly in its manifestation among the military and military veterans.

But wait, we don't have to be sheep after all. We don't have to be a herd. We can be a pack, as I suggested just now. We can be a wolf pack, and wolf packs don't have shepherds. They have an Alpha Wolf instead. And the Alpha Wolf is the best wolf. And he remains Alpha in position only if he remains Alpha in fact. If he doesn't, he's replaced by a better wolf. A new Alpha Wolf who doesn't lead the pack into quagmires, or wears them out hunting game for other packs, or who demands that wolves hunt extra to feed their most dysfunctional pack members. And wolves never, never, select an Alpha wolf from another pack. And they certainly never select a jackal. So we can't change our nature, but maybe we can tweak the herd thing into a pack thing.

Quibcag: Wolves by Starcanis. As for the quote, read the whole poem HERE. It's not a bad system. Maybe better than the Constitution.


  1. Guess I'll just have to dedicate the following to Sgt. Bergdahl and you can figure out what's the point:

  2. None of these attacks on Bergdahl (and on his family !) mention the emails he sent home about his experiences. The Afghan child being run over by an army heavy vehicle comes to mind, where none of his fellow soldiers seemed to give a shit about.