Clerestory

In Defence of Fiction

October 15, 2019

Yesterday I listened to an episode of the Mission Daily Podcast from May 2019. In it, Chad Grills interviews Rob Wiblin of 80,000 Hours. The episode was cross-posted to the 80,000 Hours Podcast.

The podcast as a whole is wide-ranging and interesting. The section I’m interested is about fiction, and it begins around 0:55:54. I’m planning to write a few posts about the six minutes that follow, and I will probably excerpt snippets from their conversation.

The overall takeaway from this discussion is that people should be careful which fiction they read. Neither Rob nor Chad advises people not to read fiction, but the sense is that because it is difficult to ascertain which fiction is good, or rather which authors are good, it might be safer not to read it at all.

I found this discussion really interesting. As a disclaimer, I studied English literature, have run a fiction-heavy book club in London for many years, and I’m writing a novel — so it should come as no surprise that I am rather in favour of literature. But I thought that Rob’s concerns were principled and interesting, and worth addressing. I don’t disagree with all of them. I also like the 80,000 Hours Podcast, in large part because of Rob, so it was personally fascinating to me that he doesn’t read fiction.

This post amounts to little more than a teaser at the moment, but I’ll update this section as I write.

Overview

  • 1: In Defence of Fiction (this page)
  • 2: What is fiction?
  • 3: Does fiction improve understanding?
  • 4: Fiction and morality
  • 5: Fiction and trauma
  • 6: Fiction ratio

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I'm Bryan Kam. I'm thinking about complexity and selfhood. Please sign up to my newsletter or see more here.