You Gotta Be Crazy

“Happiness leads to complacency, and complacency is the success killer.”

Those words came from the president of my former employer at the company’s national sales conference in spring 2022. By then I was five years into my job and was starting to have very serious doubts about the morality of the company. For some reason I was dumbly unaware that capitalism isn’t just all about making as much money as possible and surpassing your competitors, but to mercilessly ruin your competitors as well. Destroy their lives. One vice president said at the same conference that he wakes up every day hoping his competitors will be out of a job. The American CEO of the company said also that we are not out to beat our competitors, but (and this is an exact quote) to “eviscerate and emasculate our competition.” I laughed my head off when I heard that line, and every time my wife and I would see a competitor’s truck in public I’d joke, “Well, looks like I have to go kill someone now.”

I refuse to believe that propaganda. It’s anathema to me. To actually wish that other people’s lives be ruined just so you can make your fat bosses a couple of dollars richer is inhumane, sociopathic. But the thing is, and this is what hit me like a punch to the jaw, these executives believe it. Like gospel. True story: back in 2020 I won an award for suggesting that meditation app subscriptions be included in the company’s health and wellness benefits. That felt really good, until I learned that the president uses meditation and visualization not for mental health and well-being, but to better visualize his competitors being annihilated. These people are certifiably nuts.

Still, in the service department, the allegorical basement in the corporate high-rise, I was able to compartmentalize that kill-or-be-killed mentality, that is until the president made that crack about happiness, complacency, and success. Something broke in my mind as soon as I heard it. It was insulting, an affront to everything I believe in as a guy who’s just trying to be a good person in an increasingly evil and cynical world. In the eyes of the company, the moment you’re happy is the moment you will be stabbed in the back. To be happy is to be weak.

You have to be trusted by the people that you lie to
So that when they turn their backs on you,
You’ll get the chance to put the knife in

While all of this was going down, I was in the middle of an abusive relationship with Pink Floyd’s 1977 album Animals. Considered the band’s most difficult, impersonal, deliberately anti-commercial album, I had purposefully avoided listening to it over the decades. I knew it would be an effort, and I always put it off. I knew the ideas behind Roger Waters’ concept, how it took the themes of George Orwell’s Animal Farm but made it an allegory for capitalism and consumerism rather than the Bolshevik uprising satirized in Orwell’s novella. I always thought I wouldn’t like it. It sounded miserable.

But right after Trump was inaugurated in January 2017 I thought, well, the world is slipping into an Orwellian dystopia, so let’s give Animals a shot at long last. It took dozens of listens, but I’d blast it in my ears while commuting, and over time it got its sadistic claws in me. It all rang so true. The dogs were the businessmen, the pigs were the fascist politicians, and the sheep were the public, worn down into a dangerous cultural malaise that would allow the dogs and pigs to operate with impunity.

As the pandemic wore on, though, the epic song “Dogs” would draw me in deeper and deeper. One day in 2021 during a company conference “town hall” call that was more of an hour-long blast of propaganda and boasting how much money every department was making, the president paid tribute to a middle management employee who had just completed 25 years with the company. They were lauded for “always being available 24/7” and for “never taking a weekend off”. I thought, what an absolute waste. To give a huge percentage of your life to a company whose only goal is to make their executives richer. Suddenly “Dogs” took on a much deeper meaning to me.

You gotta keep one eye looking over your shoulder
You know it’s going to get harder, and harder, and harder as you get older
And in the end you’ll pack up and fly down south
Hide your head in the sand,
Just another sad old man
All alone and dying of cancer

“Dogs” is an operatic tragedy in itself, and the more I listened to it the sadder I became. It was, is the most heartbreaking song I have ever heard, a sad tale of a wasted life. I got sucked right into the song’s vortex, compulsively listening to it throughout 2021, carefully listening to the narrative and envisioning a Death of a Salesman-style short film along with it, and sinking deeper into depression. By 2022, if I listened to “Dogs” on the way to work, I would go on to have a rotten day. But I love the song on every level – musically, thematically, structurally – and I love the misery of it, and I couldn’t not listen to it. It was the strangest compulsion. By February I was having major anxiety and panic attacks on days that I listened to “Dogs”. One such day at 8:30 in the morning I was a quivering mess and the only way I could talk was to spit out and stutter my words in short halting breaths. I was in my manager’s office and was saying, “I…know that…I won’t…let myself…do it…but my mind…keeps…telling me…to go…walk into…traffic…right now.” I was clinging to reality as my brain was urging me to walk out the door towards the extremely busy street out front leaded with semi trucks and speeding pickups. I was that close to a dangerous breakdown, and had to be driven home for my own safety.

The sadness and fear of “Dogs”, coupled with the futility of my dead-end job and the deadly accurate, “Dogs”-like mentality of the company, had started to break my spirit. “Dogs” wasn’t responsible for how I was feeling; rather it opened my eyes to the reality around me, and my fight-or-flight instinct left me spinning my wheels.

And when you lose control, you’ll reap the harvest you have sown
And as the fear grows, the bad blood slows and turns to stone
And it’s too late to lose the weight you used to need to throw around
So have a good drown, as you go down, all alone
Dragged down by the stone

By the time the sales conference came and went, my mind was broken. I stopped caring. I needed a way out. Then and there my amazing wife helped me step up efforts to create some kind of exit strategy. The public service is a much better place for me than the private sector, and we became more aggressive in applying for federal government jobs. It was a tough road, because all I saw around myself was sadness, futility. My manager was compassionate, fully aware that I was having a really tough time mentally, but a couple of my coworkers started to gripe about the fact that my productivity was slowing down, that I was selfishly preoccupied with my well-being rather than the productivity of the branch. Not pulling my own weight. They were obsessed with numbers, because they believed that when corporate saw good numbers, then they would get a nice little pat on the head, or better yet, a gaudy crystal plaque in recognition for being an obedient little drone. I knew these two guys were talking behind my back, but I couldn’t care less. I clocked in, tried to do my work without having a panic attack, and clocked out, all the while hoping my next job interview would go well so I could get the heck out of there.

I gotta admit that I’m a little bit confused
Sometimes it seems to me as if I’m just being used
Gotta stay awake, gotta try and shake off this creeping malaise
If I don’t stand my own ground, how can I find my way out of this maze?

We live in a capitalist world. There’s no escaping it. We are bred to consume, and as we have seen, especially during the cost of living crisis in 2022, the gap between the upper and lower-middle class is now a chasm. In the private sector it is especially cutthroat these days, and there are two ways a person can survive the environment: either fully buy into the idea that you’re an apex predator, or put the blinders on, do your work, and willfully ignore just what exactly your work is accomplishing in the long run. “Just be thankful you have a job.”

No. There’s more to life than that. That’s where the brutal power of “Dogs” is felt the fullest, during Waters’ devastating final verses beautifully echo the rhytmic power of Allen Ginsberg’s “Howl”, a series of refrains that describe the aching tragedy of that wasted life, each utterance of “who” hitting hard as if a religious incantation, but instead of spiritual transcendence all that is left is loneliness, emptiness, sadness, and death.

Who was born in a house full of pain
Who was trained not to spit in the fan
Who was told what to do by the man
Who was broken by trained personnel
Who was fitted with collar and chain
Who was given a pat on the back
Who was breaking away from the pack
Who was only a stranger at home
Who was ground down in the end
Who was found dead on the phone
Who was dragged down by the stone

Right after Waters sings, “Who was dragged down by the stone,” David Gilmour plays two colossal, distorted chords that jar you out of your comfort as you imagine a sad little salesman trying to make one last sale after giving his life to his employer and alienating his family, and dying in some cruddy motel room. That moment is so emotional for me that I choke up a little every time I hear it. That’s the real consequence of capitalism, of life as a businessman, sales rep, what have you. Some will be promoted, but most will fall by the wayside. And as a guy doing data work in service, I have seen so many salesmen either get fired or just quit out of frustration, broken by a system specifically designed to treat them like kleenex. In a way my job was worse because I could observe as an outsider while still within the company, and the more I contemplated things, the more repulsed I became with the entire structure and process of it all.

In late November I was offered a job as a clerk with the federal government, and the timing could not have been more perfect as the gossip by the two coworkers quickly morphed into confrontation. They seemed determined to grind me down in order to compel me to quit, but by December I knew I was leaving, and they became angrier with how relaxed I suddenly became. Their barbs no longer had an effect on me. One day in late December our branch had completed our target of 14,000 service orders. One of the techs who was targeting me was elated. He was tied for the most productive technician in the country and was gloating, hoping that he’d finally get his coveted quarterly award. I told him, “You do realize that the 2023 target is 16,000, right? And you’re going into the new year shorthanded, right?” He was dumbstruck. Shocked. “What? How? Why?” he said incredulously. I replied, “Capitalism 101, buddy,” and walked away, leaving him stunned on his shop stool.

As of December 30th, I was gone for good.

I can now listen to Pink Floyd’s Animals and not come out of the experience hurt. My mind is in such a better place now. The weight is off my shoulders. I can listen to “Dogs” and “Pigs” and “Sheep” with a clearer perspective, instead of allowing certain lyrics to trigger me into a dark, self-destructive place.

I had been waiting ages for Pink Floyd to release the 2018 remix of the album. Delayed for years thanks to the interminable and insufferable feud between Roger Waters and David Gilmour, the 2018 remix of Pink Floyd’s most polarizing album finally saw the light of day in September, and its timing could not have been more perfect. The original Animals sounded as oppressive as its lyrical themes: muddy, claustrophobic, imposing, uncomfortable. Brilliantly so; it was so impersonal and oppressive. What this new remix does so well, however, is open up the mix of the album just enough to let a little air in without sacrificing the visceral power of the music. “Dogs” is a revelation, as Mason’s percussion sounds so much cleaner than the original. Gilmour’s guitar work, already his most aggressive tone ever laid to tape, has even more bite than ever. Animals has given just enough of a clean-up to draw in new listeners more easily, and at a time when democracy, bipartisanship, and the greater good are being swallowed by greed, disinformation, and cynicism, the lessons of Pink Floyd’s most rewarding album desperately need to be heard, not to mention heeded.

It is the first of January 2023, New Year’s Day, and I am no longer employed by ██████████ ██████████. I feel, relaxed, upbeat, confident. I haven’t had an anxiety attack in weeks. My mind is clearer. I’m sleeping well. I come home to my wife and puppy smiling. And in joyful defiance to █████ ██████, the company president. I am lleased to say I am happy, and dare I say complacent.

This meek little sheep has won. The dogs are dead to me.