A lot of people have been called sheep lately for the alleged characteristic of unthinking compliance. It’s a simple, direct way to explain away others’ behavior while countering virtue signaling. This would make sense except for one thing — that’s not how sheep work.
Sheep do whatever they want. That’s why they need to be herded. They respond to discomfort or consequence of the sheepdog’s nip, but are often defiant until pressed. They will find any way to escape the slightest inconvenience, even if it means panicking and trapping themselves in the bushes. In other words, they DON’T heed real dangers, but only react in aversion to being guided — and so they are guided just as easily as if they were obeying the shepherd’s shouts. So who are really the sheep here?
In humans, survival translates into ego. Fear of how others will perceive you can overcome even a healthy fear of survival. Compliance is seen as weak to where it doesn’t even matter if it’s sensible or necessary. The moment someone makes you think you’re being told what to do, it’s like the nip of the sheepdog or the shout of a shepherd, even one that doesn’t have your interest at heart. You comply by going in the other direction. These sheep proudly do what they are told and say it’s exercising free will for no reason other than petulance.
Wolves are smarter. Not a very distant relative of the sheepdog, they know just how to herd the sheep. They can make a big heap of them run into their trap by one or two acting obvious in their aggression. In politics, this means instilling and nurturing a fear of some things or people so that the masses will go in the other direction, into their ideological camp. Except we forget the most important part — wolves are not shepherds. They are predators. Their motivation isn’t to care for the sheep but eat them, and they would think nothing of killing a shepherd or a sheepdog if they could.
A certain Carpenter used the allegory of sheep extensively. People are sheep, but not in a bad way. They are a communal creature that is cared for by a Good Shepherd. They go about their business but could use some protection and guidance from time to time. Anyone who’s had any leadership responsibility knows this is true of any group of people. Except in humans, sheep can elect one or another amongst themselves to become a shepherd, and conscript others to be sheepdogs to keep the wolves at bay.
People intuitively understand that wolves and sheep will not get along. They are seen as the opposite of the masses — the rugged individualist versus the collective. That’s why some of the egos out there will share Wolf memes and call other people sheep at the drop of a hat. Of course, they play wolf in the sense that they are unknowingly or uncaringly choosing to be a threat to the flock (society), but in the end, they are the sheep that are convincing the other sheep they should be wolves and there is only danger in shepherds and other sheep. And we wonder why society is so messed up right now.
If sheep were more intelligent, they wouldn’t comply (or not comply) out of fear, but comply (or not comply) out of sense. But I guess we can’t ask humans to be more intelligent. We don’t even realize that the ones calling out sheep are the most “sheepish” of all, while the smarter ones wish all the wanna-be wolves would just go away.