The theoretical figure of the functionary was created by Vilém Flusser to refer to a kind of life in which the human being, already alienated from reality and itself, becomes a part of superhuman industrial, cultural, and administrative apparatuses. The most radical result of the reification process in progress is the fact that the perfect functionary is an object that functions in conformity with the purposes of the apparatus.
According to Flusser, through the deliberate transformation and reconfiguration of matter and nature by humankind, the human species overcomes the context to which it is tied through its work: he/she “ek-sists” (overcomes). But when humankind creates the apparatus to automate this process, it is they themselves who begin to function so that the apparatus achieves its goals. Incapable of overcoming the apparatus, humankind no longer exists: they only function.
The perfect functionary is not capable of making moral or ethical judgments about his/her actions, precisely because he/she does not question what the apparatus produces (ontological question) or what it should produce (deontological question). The functionary only asks him- or herself how the program of the apparatus can be realized in a more effective manner (technical question). It is an automated, subhuman existence, whose most monstrous version was seen in Auschwitz.
Flusser provokes us by saying that today it is not possible to exist outside apparatuses and, therefore, we are all functionaries. But he also admits there is a gap between the human being and the perfect functionary that has not been entirely bridged. Some are more easily integrated and find self-fulfillment in this condition. Others insist on trying to embed values and human awareness into apparatuses, invading their internal structure in an ironical attempt to corrupt them from the inside and reprogram them, in a kind of utopian game for freedom.