A Cynical Theory of Management: Beware of the dog

The phrase is most often lettered on a sign for strangers to read on approaching a home. The Romans apparently felt that this warning was good enough advice to be included in their mosaic floors: cave canem.

Redefining the Terminology

The sections that describe how these archetypes deal with one another, in particular, are absolute goldmines of strategic understanding of corporations and you should read Venkatesh Rao’s posts and buy the e-book. But ever since I read it I thought. Wait a minute. He’s talking about Game A, Pink Floyd “Animals” and George Orwell’s “Animal Farm” I dig that.

They contribute as little as possible to preserve stability, getting a bad economic deal and recognizing it.

Dogs believe heartily in the meritocratic company (and organizational superiors) as a benevolent steward of their careers. Dogs make their economic deal even worse fooled by a slightly higher salary and meaningless perks like offices and parking spaces — working 50% more your entire career to eventually get paid 15K more per year.

“Pigs on the Wing Part 1”

“Pigs on the Wing Part I” begins with a solo acoustic guitar, with an intimate, confessional voice

If you didn’t care what happened to me,

And I didn’t care for you,

We would zig zag our way through the boredom and pain,

Occasionally glancing up through the rain,

Wondering which of the buggers to blame

And watching for pigs on the wing.

The narrator breaks down the fourth wall — interacting directly with the listener. It is later revealed, that this narrator is a dissolute “dog.” He is part of Game A, and expected to attempt to climb pyramid by any means necessary.

In philosophy, or religion, or ethics, or politics, two and two might make five, but when one was designing a gun or an aeroplane they had to make four.”

― George Orwell, 1984


The music was written in 1974 by David Gilmour and Roger Waters, with lyrics by Waters, and originally titled “You’ve Got to Be Crazy“. Waters modified the lyrics, transposed the key to suit both Gilmour’s and his vocals, and retitled it “Dogs”. The version on Animals is 17 minutes long. The song might have been called “Dogs, Two Different Ones,” because there are apparently two voices present.

You’ve gotta be crazy, you gotta have a real need./You gotta sleep on your toes, and when you’re on the street,/you gotta be able to pick out the easy meat with your eyes closed./And then moving in silently, down wind and out of sight,/You gotta strike when the moment is right without thinking.”

In White Collar: The American Middle Classes, C. Wright Mills argued that advanced capitalism has engendered a society in which The Gemeinschaft, a society of subjective binding, has been replaced by a Gesellschaft, a society of contractual binding. This leaves us in a new normal of alienation from self and other. This incentivizes individuals to treat one another as instruments. In Buberian terms, they engage in I-It relating. By doing so the individual transforms himself into an instrument, ready to be used by the other.

we are in a collective state of “homelessness on an unprecedented scale, rootlessness to an unprecedented depth.” This social domicide and de-rooting makes us long for a place to call home and a group of people to call our own.

Hanna Arendt

The Hero’s Journey by Proxy

The minds of the Dogs turn to contemplation of their idols. Much of the research on pack behavior — and alpha males — has been done on wolves, who are dogs’ immediate ancestors. It is a fundamentally innocent, child-like devotion. Robin Kovary of the American Dog Trainers Network advises, “Hopefully, your dog sees you as his or her pack leader (‘Alpha’).” While some dogs might like to be in charge, what is even more important to them is that someone be in charge.

The programmed organization exists primarily to protect this innocence, for use in sacrificial betrayals, when failures are blamed on their incompetence.

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Bite the hand that feeds you

Whether dogs actually experience gratitude or ingratitude based on previous or anticipated actions is open for debate. Equally so would be whether they attack for spite, but moments of Pig betrayal, for the Dogs, are also their rare moments of unscripted autonomy.

But mostly, they do not take advantage of such moments. Instead, they react with either a misguided sense of honor and loyalty, accepting punishment for incompetence, or ineffectually attempt to dodge blame.

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And when you loose 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 loose the weight you used to need to throw around.

So have a good drown, as you go down, alone.

Dragged down by the stone.

Although he is speaking in the second person, the older, competitive dog is actually speaking to himself, finally realizing how ultra-competition has alienated himself from real human relationships. Next there is a time of reflection, where the younger “dog” — the one who spoke in “Pigs on the Wing Part I” — thinks about the contradictory advice he has been given.

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 own way out of this maze?

Deaf, dumb and blind you just keep on pretending

That everyone’s expendable and no one has a real friend.

And it seems to you the thing to do would be to isolate the winner.

And everything’s done under the sun,

And you believe at heart, everyone’s a killer.

Chase your own tail

Is it not the cyclic nature of existence very much like chasing our tails? And while we may seek to grow in wisdom, perhaps the knowledge that can be uncovered in this existence is actually very limited. Oftentimes, dogs will chase their tails because they are a bit bored; it’s a way for them to have fun and expend some energy. This is especially true for puppies, who may not even realize that their tail is actually a part of their body, but see it as a toy.

Reality-Distortion by the Dogs

One of the seemingly endearing traits of dogs is the need for attention.

The world is a dangerous place. Infants early environment is an abnormally nurturing one. So the first early, theories of the world children are tempted to form are based on the assumption that the world exists to provide for them.

I am OK if Mommy applauds my performance

I am OK if I earn badges from teachers

I am OK if I can sit with the cool kids

These twin drives — approval seeking from proxy-family superiors, and admiration-seeking from proxy-family inferiors, mixed with some profound sexual confusion creates a massive library of childlike mappings between situations, canned phrases and reactions. He is not completely responsible for his actions and utterances because he genuinely does not understand them.

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If they succeed too much, they get addicted to the typical adult reaction: Wow, aren’t you cute/clever? and, to a lesser extent, to admiration from younger siblings. When he hears somebody talking, all he hears is “blah blah blah good job, blah blah blah, how could you do this ? Their capacity for self-delusion is as big as their lack of originality and they are content with that

Here is why: delusions are closed logical schemes, where reality is mangled into the service of a fixed script through defense mechanisms, with the rest of the meaning thrown away. To manufacture original thought you have to look at/listen to reality in open ways for data.

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Lacking the normal encouragement of early-childhood creative-performance instincts finding relief in the graded, performance-oriented worlds of school and varied medieval-guild-like worlds, such as farming, animal husbandry and karate.

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visible signs of acceptance aren’t formal medals and honors, but things like being given nicknames by peers, being a wingman to alpha males, being appreciated for “cool” extracurricular skills, and the like.

GAME A NEWSPEAK: Posturetalk, Powertalk, Babytalk and Gametalk

The different species in the organization speak different languages.

Powertalk is the in-group language of the Pigs. Posturetalk is the language spoken by the Dogs to everybody (they don’t have an in-group language since they don’t realize they constitute a group). Pigs and Sheeps talk back to the Dogs in a language called Babytalk that seems like Posturetalk to the Dogs.

Gametalk is all about multiple (usually two) levels of communication. What distinguishes Powertalk is that with every word uttered, the power equation between the two speakers shifts just a little. Sometimes both gain slightly, at the expense of some poor schmuck. Sometimes one yields ground to the other.

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Relative positions remain the same all around. Shifts happen only by accident. Even in the rare cases where exploitable information is exchanged, its value is not recognized or reflected in the exchange.

Posturetalk, Babytalk and Gametalk leave power relations basically unchanged. Posturetalk and Babytalk leave things unchanged because they are, to quote Shakespeare, “full of sound and fury, signifying nothing.” Gametalk leaves power relations unchanged because

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  • Pigs program organizations to deliver predictable outcomes and to fail in predictable ways.
  • Dogs truly believe in the organization and give it loyalty that is not returned by the organization.

Then a rifling of suggestive lyrics conclude the piece:

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.

Dogs are victims of Random success. Remember, they are promoted primarily as passive pawns to either allow the Pigs to escape the risks of their actions, or to make way for the Pigs to move up faster. They are presented with an interesting bit of cognitive dissonance: being nominally given greater power, but in reality being safely shunted away from the pathways of power.

The Dogs are the ones who lack the competence to circulate freely through the economy (unlike Pigs and Sheeps), and build up a perverse sense of loyalty to the firm, even when events make it abundantly clear that GAME A is not loyal to them. To sustain themselves, they must be capable of fashioning elaborate delusions based on idealized notions of the firm — the perfectly pathological entities we mentioned. Unless squeezed out by forces they cannot resist, they hang on as long as possible, long after both Pigs and Sheeps have left

They must choose to either construct false narratives or decline apparent opportunities. The Dogs resolve this dissonance by choosing to believe in the reality of the organization. Not everybody is capable of this level of suspension of disbelief.

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Die like a dog

Perhaps it is ironic that one of the tricks that humans teach dogs to play is dead. The reason that it is relatively easy to get dogs to do this is that the gesture is one a dog would use among its superiors to signal submission. Indeed, this is the way a dog would plead for mercy. It may be that the reason dying like a dog is shameful is because, when threatened in such a way, a dog will beg for its life. For a human to do so can be considered cowardly. To die “like a man” is to be stoic, not pleading.

dead dog

Nietzsche no doubt plays off of this idea in Thus Spake Zarathustra, when our hero takes up with a tightrope walker. Having introduced the acrobat as superhuman, Zarathustra creates the opposite image when the performer falls to his death. The crowd describes him as a “dead dog.” It is a crucial moment for the narrator, who sees that however daring the human, society offers no middle ground for failure. Zarathustra promised them a superhuman and a life surpassing anything that humans had lived heretofore, but what people actually get, from their perspective is a terrifying letdown in the form of a less-than-human, a dog and a dead dog at that.