I wasn't quite done flogging James Ogilvy for his various rhetorical sins in Living Without A Goal: Finding the Freedom to Live a Creative and Innovative Life. As you may recall, Ogilvy's central theme was that living with a grand overarching Goal was ultimately dehumanizing because it reduced the person to being a functionary, a cog in a galacticÂ mechanism, which would ultimately be dreary, constraining, and repetitive. The alternative, he thought, would be a life lived artistically, for its own sake, which would be full of freedom and beauty.
You can see the bias very clearly: engineering = mechanical = lifeless. Art = Beauty = Freedom. This is, as far as I can tell,Â the attitude of someone who has never actually built a thing in his entire life. Engineering -- the organizing of elements into a system that can do something -- is hardly a lifeless endeavor. It takes enormous creativity to start with an end in mind, and then concoct an unlikely array of components to all work smoothly together to that end. Effectiveness is hardly a binary affair, either, but rather becomes more and more subtle. The mathematicians and engineers will speak of elegant solutions versus clumsy ones, inspired solutions versus cliched ones. To the non-engineer, that watch or computer program or mathematical proof may appear to be "lifeless." But that's just because they lack the imagination to see the life within it.
So, what is Ogilvy really saying, when he dismisses "engineering" a life instead of artistically "creating" one? He is saying nothing at all, other than revealing a rather clumsy and unsubtle bias against things he doesn't understand. Striving toward a goal is not without its own art, its own creativity, subtlety, adventure, and joy. That I put all my capacities towards a single end does not in any way limit the number of lives I can lead . . . if anything it allows one to live deeper, as the goal pushes us beyond the bounds of our imagination, into lives we never even dreamed possible. Or, as St. Paul put it: "In slavery to Him is perfect freedom."
I imagine Ogilvy would not disagree with me, but just claim my argument to be his own. "Yes, engineering becomes alive, becomes free, the moment it becomes art!" Ahh, but he would only be sealing the fate of his original argument. His distinction between mechanism and freedom has dissolved, unmasked as an incomplete metaphor. Both the engineer and the artist are revelling in the moment-by-moment beauty of their respective crafts, both alive to the process of discovery. The man who engineers his life to serve a Goal is undiminished, while the artist foresaking the Goal is the one who might find himself at a loss.
Yes, except that his silly ideas are a lot more common than you might expect. He came out and formalized a position I think a lot of people hold unconsciously: "there is no absolute meaning or purpose, but somehow I can patch together a life that will fulfill me. Anyone who says otherwise is trying to sell you something." I wanted to stomp on that philosophy while I had the chance, with it out in the open.