The Obsession with Utility

The bias of Englishman to practical skill has reacted on the national mind. They are incapable of an inutility, and respect the five mechanic powers even in their song… No poet dares murmur of beauty out of the precinct of his rhymes. No priest dares hint at a Providence which does not respect English utility. The island is a roaring volcano of fate, of material values, of tariffs and laws of repression, glutted markets and low prices.

-Ralph Waldo Emerson

There is a popular movement, or school of thought, that what is important in life is to be useful, practical, and successful. If you’re job doesn’t offer you a certain salary, if your job isn’t “pragmatic,” then you are wrong. The goal in this worldview is that the end of life is to, at best, have glory or a good name and, at worst, have overwhelming wealth. This is vanity. Is it so outrageous to think that the end of life is… I don’t know… “To glorify God and enjoy Him forever?”

Now, of course, some people are called to work on Wall Street, to be a civil engineer, to go into finance, or to go into medicine. If people did not go into these fields, our society would cease to function. Also, not everyone believes in God, and, therefore, do not adhere to the ‘Chief End of Man’ as defined in the Reformed Faith. However, to believe that all to live is money, success, and glory is a vain existence.

One should find a field in which they are truly interested and can rejoice in the work they are doing. How could you possibly survive as an accountant, while hating everything to do with the subject of accounting? Why put yourself through the schooling (and the price of that schooling)? Why suffer through decades of work you despise?

People wonder why there is so much depression (and suicide)? I posit that some of these cases of depression and suicide are due to this hatred of one’s work coupled with a lack of purpose, resulting from the foolish thought that utility is the point of existence.

I cannot be “pragmatic.” However, I can find what I love, and do all I can to be as useful in that discipline. This is a different type of utility. It is not a form of foolish practicality, it is a way of putting all of myself into the work placed before me. To do otherwise, is to curse the lot God has placed before me (Ecclesiastes).


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