“Free at last!”, he thought and was taken to a waiting room where he sat, waiting, for half an hour. To be precise: 36 minutes and 52 seconds. He did not know whether that timing was irony or fate or both. Nobody told him. He did not ask. It was all new to him. It was a once in a lifetime thing. On the hour a shadow grew on the semi-transparent door whose milky appearance was being watched by five pairs of eager eyes. They had dropped in at irregular intervals and they had not said a word. Nor had he. Eyes had crossed from time to awkward time. Eyes had then been averted swiftly to stare at the milky door hoping to be free again from this torture of captivity.
The consultant’s door swung open and she said merrily: “I’m Hyacinth and I will be your coach. Thank the Ministry of Innovation.”, the way she said it included the capitalization. The Ministry was to be thanked so we murmured “tandeministrovation” – and she looked at us the way one looks at naughty children who still have a lot to learn. And we had, and only a limited time to learn it in, so “Come, come,” she said, “we have a lot of work to get through today.” We went meekly and took the places assigned to our names in the typical ministerial cleanroom, a spacious co-working place designed to stimulate creativity. I felt a little drab. “Chins up!”, she said, pointing to a whiteboard wall, “Here’s our plan for the rest of the day.”
The slide projected was organized to the minute. It started with a welcome of 7 minutes – ‘7’, he thought, ‘what an ugly number’ – after which each of them got exactly 3 minutes – ‘what the hell is this obsession with odd numbers?’, he thought – to introduce themselves. He was somewhat sooted adding it all up to 22 which appeared a halfway decent number to him, albeit somewhat drab. She did not give them time to contemplate the rest of it. No way of telling how long this would last even though it was clear it would last precisely as long as somebody scheduled it to last. The next slide was animated. Two brightly colored blocks glided into place: the red one contained the word “AUTONOMY” and the green one the word “EMPATHY”. With a small bounce they rested snuggly puzzle-piece style in each other’s grip. “AUTONOMY”, she said, taking care to speak in all caps. She paused and then continued: “EMPATHY”. After another semi-dramatic pause (of probably about 7 seconds) she reported these were the 2 pillars of their ability to have chosen their time of death.
It clearly was something they not only were supposed to be grateful for (they were) but it was something they should be grateful, by virtue of the fact that it was allowed based on these two capital-laden brightly colored blocks. An enlightened society this was for it was one in which nothing happened without justification. Hyacinth smiled when she told for the undoubtedly umptieth time how a guy called JoB developed the vision which became the center piece of the very ethical paradise they lived in. “suicide” (in small letters) was eradicated (a heavy red cross fell on top of it, squashing it out of existence), the animated slide went on to report with the voice of Hyacinth shrilly underlining the success of this. JoB be praised. As the animation went on, and on, the five finally made eye contact out of lack of being animated. The ten eyes so contacted said, pairwise, the same: ‘We knew we had to go through all of this but going through it is something else than knowing to have to go through it.” Nobody flinched however because that would be back to square one. In order to be allowed the privilege of choosing your time of death you had to go (well, sit) through the motions of being told whom was condoning your attitude, and why they had rationalized themselves into condoning it to you.
The welcome ended so Hyacinth could finally welcome them. “Hi Guido. Hi Kika. Hi Jos. Hi Agnes. Hi Earnest.” It was up to them now to introduce themselves according to the 9 bullets (‘for JoB’s sake!’, Jos thought) which flashed onto the screen. 20 seconds per bullet, a calculation quickly made but a constraint not so easily met, despite the policing efforts of Hyacinth that easily cut the effective introduction time in half (the problem for Jos, as it transpired, was that you cannot cut an odd number in half without doing damage to at least one; a thing he explained later to the rest of the crew and to which everybody could wholeheartedly agree). Still, they learned something of each other: names, time of death (in reverse order of previous appearance) and married (yes/no) with or without children (with, mostly). Rest easy, reader, with patience you will learn all this and much more. I’m going to skip the rest of this session. Truth be told it was, well, designed to be boring and I can’t test you the way our not-so-fab 5 were tested for the simple reason that they could not run away. You can and probably are already doubting whether you better wouldn’t.
So, let’s cut to the chase. An ethical paradise this was indeed; where people understood – in a loving, caring way – that some people just couldn’t keep calm enough to carry on and where people held autonomy to be holy – in a hyper-efficient way – as long as you earned it by showing you could accumulate enough money to pay for your own shit until your so chosen time of death. Suicide was illegal but it also was unaffordable for those you leave behind (and there always was somebody left behind, somebody to write letters to, to try to explain you did your best, but). So the waste of suicide was no more. It was a matter of empathy, The Ministry of Innovation had seen to that: no suicide could ever benefit those you loved so you’d better be sure to take them with you. And people did, it was one of the small things for which more innovation was required.
So if you felt some sympathy growing for our 5 or even thought for a moment to actually praise JoB, think again. This story will have you up and down on both counts to leave you finally wherever the hell you think you need to be.