To be a Demioergoi
a short story by Minsung Wang
Waiting in an unacquainted lobby, in front of someoneâ€™s reception desk has become an unintended pastime of mine. And I must admit Iâ€™ve become quite good at it as well. The trick is to disguise how anxious you are about whoever is behind the other door, and to make sure that person behind the reception does not forget you are there. But the most important thing is to not look like someone who doesnâ€™t have anything better to do than wait in unacquainted lobbies. For now I choose to casually go through one of the brochures in the waiting area. The Promeni Institute, I read on the front page, We make your dreams come true. As I flip through it I see pictures of handsome young men and women smiling, and articles presumably about how their lives where remarkably changed after coming to Promeni. Without looking up from the brochure I glance at the company I am amongst. At least a dozen smartly dressed young adults are waiting, like myself. No one really noticeable by first impression, most of them looking rather
nervous and uneasy. “Just like another job interview.” I think to myself. A picture of a woman in the brochure catches my eye. She isn’t particularly glamourous, rather hearty and extremely tanned. She is flashing a huge smile toward the camera from what seems to be a dense swamp jungle. “I always wanted to live an exciting and wild life in nature,” I read somewhere in the middle of her article, “and now I am a wildlife activist! Before I came to Promeni I had a congenital heart problem that really prevented me from overworking myself all my life. It’s been five years since I first started my Transitional Phase, and now I am truly living my dream.” “Mr. Greenfoot!” I suddenly hear a voice calling out my name quite loudly. Judging from the volume of the voice and all the glances I am receiving from my other potential dream-livers, it must have been calling out my name at least a few times. The expression on the receptionist quickly eases to a smile. “Mr.Hephaestus will see you now, Mr. Greenfoot.”
Furthermore, since identity was no longer an inherited quality based on blood, location, rank or tradition, status became a negotiated quality dependent on maintaining positive economic, social and bodily information for interpersonal support.* * Quote from A Social History of Dying by Allan Kellehear; As long as one is in society, status is bestowed upon that person. While traditionally this was based on heredity, nowadays it depends on economics. But what about in the future? Until now identity was largely fixed in the physical and material. Imagine a society where the physical and material is so fluid that it is possible to literally transform peopleâ€™s physiological and psychological profile into predefined templates. No longer are inherited traits from birth and material capital a decisive definition of social life. If willing, everything can be changed to perfectly fit a specifically predefined way of living.
“Come, have a seat, I’ve been looking forward to meet you, Mr. Greenfoot.” As I walk into the room Mr. Hephaestus greets me warmly. Dressed in a glossy gray suit with a bow tie, sleek short hair, and a huge smile on his face, he really reminds me of an overenthusiastic car dealer who tried to sell me a 2021 Camero a few years back. As I settle down across from him he opens a folder of files. “So, tell me about what brought you here.” Somehow that question catches me off guard. “Well...there really isn’t that much to tell,” I blurt out, “other than the usual story people would bring here, if you know what I mean.” “No, please indulge me.” Mr. Hephaestus says without looking up from the files, “I see here on your preliminary physical that you decided to come to us on your fifth year, meaning Promeni wasn’t your first choice in shaping your life. Technically five years after your epiphyseal plate closes is the deadline to be a possible candidate, but frankly the odds are greatly lower compared to when you come within the first year.”
“Yes, well, I wasn’t planning to come here, I mean at least not right after I graduated high school. I always considered myself to be a bit old school, you know, appreciating who you are, putting in your sweat and blood in order to make things happen, that sort of thing. I know it’s a world that practically anything is possible now, but I just felt I could make it on my own. And I was prepared; I had potential, passion and a clear plan to start off with.” “Wonderful, wonderful! That is exactly the sort of spirit the Promeni Institute values highly. Please go on.” “At first I knew I had to assess my possibilities objectively, and I started off small. Sort of a early 21st century venture style thing. Once I had a clear business plan, I started to knock the doors of companies that support small businesses, like incubators. I knew it wouldn’t happen overnight, and I made sure not to get disappointed every time I got turned down. And I really kept on going like that, you know. I mean, being young means trial and error, doesn’t it? Well, in my case a lot of error, I guess…”
“What happened?” “It just didn’t work out. I mean, after three, four years of constant failure who wouldn’t get annoyed and depressed? So eventually I had to give up doing my own thing and instead just tried to get employed.” “Did you get a job?” “Well, yeah… but none of them really lasted. I mean, mostly it was some sort of odd job, and with a background of running my own small business good companies should be able to recognize that, right? But I just couldn’t get into the better ones, and I ended up going to job interview after job interview, sometimes get something not quite satisfactory and of course those never worked, and...” “OK, I think we heard enough of the past for now,” Mr. Hephaestus abruptly interrupts me with a grin glued to his face like a loony, “And now let’s talk about what we can do about the future. Mr. Greenfoot, what do you what to do now?”
Archaic craftsmen experienced a kindred impersonality; the demioergoi were frequently addressed in public by the names of their profession. All craftsmanship, indeed, has something of this impersonal character. That the quality of work is impersonal can make the proactive of craftsmanship seem unforgiving.**
**Quote from The Craftsman by Richard Sennett; Since transformative social life is provided as a service, there must be guidelines in providing such a thing. In this case the predefined template is profession. All major professions that are determined to be useful in sustaining and enriching human society are analyzed, categorized and provided as a selectable template for transformation. This way the quality of people and the quality of the consequence of their activities can be guaranteed to benefit society in a sustainable way.
”Oh! Uh…” I don’t quite get his question. “Just speak your mind! Tell me, what is your dream come true?” His unwavering smile starts to make me feel uneasy. “I guess, the whole reason I wanted to start my own business was because I saw myself as the administrative type, you know, a person who can see the big picture and…” “No, no, Mr. Greenfoot,” shaking his head slowly, “That isn’t the point. What is your dream come true?” “Um, uh… to… to have my own successful company?” I practically stutter it out. Without a word Mr. Hephaestus gazes at me, along with his ‘warm smile.’ After a moment he calmly states, “I see we have a lot of work to do together, Mr. Greenfoot. But now I am positive you are the type of person we are looking for. So, we know you have the right type of personality, now let’s get to the technicalities…” While I sit there dumbfounded, he starts to skim through my files once more.
“Greenfoot, Greenfoot, Sem Greenfoot… Physical shows no unique conditions, both hands in good condition… It’s a pity you didn’t come to us earlier,” I can’t tell if he is talking to me or just to himself. “Psychological profile also promises a smooth Transitional Phase, estimated 25 month…” He looks up and is practically glowing. “Everything looks promising for now, so it’s time to get down to business, shall we?” From a drawer he pulls out a thick, fancy velvet tome and pushes it towards me. I pick it up and look at the cover. The Promeni Project, embossed in large silver letters. Under it in golden subtitles read To Live Your Dream Come True. On the bottom, along with the widely recognized logo of Fortuna, is written in smaller letters The Promeni Institute. “That, my friend, is your contract.”
However, in the philosophical mode I engage here, knowledge is not understood as a matter of reference, but as one of manipulation.***
*** Quote from The Body Multiple: Ontology in Medical Practice by Annemarie Mol; Knowledge is an extremely undemocratic thing. Those who have knowledge reap the benefits exclusively. Sharing knowledge is an inefficient, slow process. In the universe of Promeni the manipulative nature of knowledge is demonstrated to its fullest; the aggregation privileged with knowledge defines the virtues expected from people within society, and they are also capable of directly imposing it onto others. Compared to how crudely ideal was imposed in the past, here the conveyance is done in such a refined way the boundary of (self) deception is largely ambiguous. A question that arises here is whether if such a imposed transformation can be seen as a desirable human condition.
“Let me go through the main points for you,” starts Mr. Hephaestus. “We, here at Promeni Institute provide a service called ‘The Promeni Project,’ to young adults roughly between the ages of 18 to 24, as you already well know. We started to provide this service to the open public since 2034, and have built quite a reputation ever since. In short, the Promeni Project is a transformative procedure that changes an individual’s physiological and psychological profile so that it fits perfectly to a chosen path of life. Our goal is to help people exceed their potential and realize a fulfilled, productive, and happy life. The age limit is due to technical and medical reasons, and you my friend just hopped on the last train, if I might say. Once you are determined as a possible candidate, the lifelong commitment of the Promeni Project truly starts, and here is where this contract comes in. You can understand why it ended up so thick, eh? Some people ask why it’s made into a book, but there is a good reason for that as well. We consider the starting point of the Promeni Project as a monumental moment, so this traditional form of documentation helps give a stronger weight to the occasion.
During the project, the most difficult phase you will go through is the third one, namely the Transitional Phase. Here is when the physical transformation is largely finished and when the psychological transformation truly starts. Many people assume the physical part to be the most painful and difficult, but that is a myth. Actually the physical transformation is done with ease, for it relies completely on Promeni’s advanced genetic technology. The LifeChamber procedure is well known for its effectiveness. The psychological transition is the real challenge. Just because you are physically changed doesn’t mean you are a new person. Let’s just say for now that old habits really do not die easily, especially the ones you never knew you even had. But fear not, since it is here where we the people of the Promeni Institute are at our best…” Mr. Hephaestus continues to explain the basic procedure and legal points that are important during the initiation. It is mostly about the specialized medical and psychological evaluation which will determine if I am fit for the whole transformation procedure. There is a lot of mentioning about my hands, but I honestly don’t get that part much. Also there
is something about another series of tests that will help me realize what my true dream is and choose the perfect profession to live that dream. He continues to briefly mention the more prominent legal obligations, things such as marital status, procreation, and property rights to my body on expiration. “As you can see, there are many obligations that comes with this privilage, Mr. Greenfoot,” he tells me, “But once again, do not worry. Part of our program is to counsel you throughout your process so that by the time you are ready to leave there will be no doubt in your mind about what to do.” He gazes at me with a pause, still fixed with that unsettling grin of his. “To sum it up for now; once you are through our program, the transition is final, and you will be living your dream that has been specifically catered for you, Mr. Greenfoot. All you need to do is keep true to this lifelong commitment. Legally we are obligated to inform you of the consequences in the case of a breach of contract, and this as well will be brought to your attention in due course.” He waves his hand as if to quickly brush something away and quickly adds, “But
I assure you, this will be the least of your concerns. We are here to change you to fit perfectly, so honestly, what can go wrong?” Listening to all this I suddenly realize that things are going to happen much more rapidly than I expected. Looking down at my new lush bible, my mind drifts away half listening to Mr. Hephaestus, and soon I get lost and find it hard to keep up with whatever he is telling me. The whole prep talk takes about half an hour, and finally we are ready to sign the contract. “Well”, said Mr. Hephaestus after I put down the pen. “Looks like we’re all set! Welcome to Promeni, Sem. Let’s see how far we can get you from here on.” His smile never wavered once.