Is Fiction Useful?

I have thought about becoming a writer since I was very young, but my parents actively dissuaded me from this profession, and that’s why I became a programmer. However, the dream did not completely die, and I ended up writing a few novels, all of them unpublished.

It is hard to justify to any reasonable person why it is a good idea to become a writer, especially one who writes fiction. Does fiction do anything useful, or a mere diversion from the main task of earning a living. Scientists sometimes get flack for the things they do, but at least they can cure cancer or design practical things like computers. Is there a justification for the existence of fiction, besides the facts it helps otherwise useless people earn some money?

Some people argue that fiction does have very important uses, I have heard a writer making an online video saying that you need an understanding of fiction to persuade others. This comes from a long line of postmodern thinkers who argue that fiction is the way through which we understand reality. There might be some truth to what they say, but in the end I don’t believe that fiction requires any justifications for its existence, the same way that nothing requires any justification for its existence.

Most societies believe that it is important for the things we create to be useful. It is understandable, because societies that concentrate on creating useful things are the ones that survive. But the idea of usefulness is a human invention, it isn’t a part of nature. Things like honeybees and pine trees never had the notion of usefulness in their minds, and they are still able to survive. The idea of “usefulness” may have been an evolutionary adaptation by humans to survive, but it doesn’t express any ultimate meaning of the universe.

Some people have elevated the idea of usefulness to an absurd level of importance. The universe itself is ultimately pointless and absurd, but that may be the best thing about it. As some philosophers have pointed out, if the universe did indeed have some purpose for which we humans partake, human action would always be limited by some cosmic principle. For example, if it is true that we live in a universe where the goal of life is to he useful, we would cease to have freedom because we would always be compelled to take actions that are useful. It seems the only way we would have any meaningful freedom is if we are able to pursue activities that are not useful.

Any life that pursues only useful things is a life not worth living. In order for our lives to be meaningful, there has to be a fair level of meaninglessness in it. I have met many incredibly driven people who accomplished many things, and at some level they do what they do because they enjoy their work, not because what they do is useful to anybody, even themselves. The feeling of marvel at the majesty of the universe is what drives most people.


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