Swissatopia: does fiction harms us?

Starship_SwitzerlandSoon, every Swiss citizen will be able to sit on their ass and do nothing and still receive $33,000 per year if a new referendum gets passed. Europeans and even Americans are watching with bated breath.  Will it work?  Only time will tell.

Tim Harford, “The Undercover Economist”, a columnist for the economically conservative “The Financial Times” wonders if “a universal income is not such a silly idea.” But I won’t go into the pros and cons here — tis’ not the point of this post.  Instead, I want to point out the last sentence in Tim’s article:


Maybe Tim meant that as a joke, but I am not sure because I wonder if the brains of lots of nerdy white boys of my generation, raised on Star Trek, did not subconsciously absorb Gene Roddenberry’s idealistic fictional world into their heads and thus think, “See, it really can work like that — we should push for that.” Just as many people reading much of the nonsense in their fictional holy scriptures absorb its nonsense and then display it in bad decisions and actions.

The human brain has a very hard time separating fact from fiction. This fact is what makes movies and novels so fun, but it is also what can make economists, gamers and religious folks so dangerous.


  • I posted on the same issue here: “Is Fiction Bad for You?” and   “Star Trek and Disney
  • This post is not to discuss politics or economics.  But go ahead and make those sorts of comments if you are compelled by the Spirit (that is, one of the many voices in your head).


Filed under Philosophy & Religion

5 responses to “Swissatopia: does fiction harms us?

  1. Scott McGreal

    Wow, $33,000 a month! Who would bother working, when they can get rich doing nothing! Perhaps you meant a year?? I don’t think even the Swiss could be that rich, unless the international price of chocolate has skyrocketed! Just kidding around Sabio, thanks for posting this interesting development 😉

    I have not really thought about whether fiction harms before. I would think for most people the willing suspension of disbelief ends when the show is over, unlike in religion, where it is a full-time requirement. But on the other hand, conservatives criticise liberals on the grounds that the latter push to institute new social forms that have never been tested except in fantasy, which is like conducting massive social experiments with uncertain consequences based on dreams. Maybe there is something to the idea that Star Trek has inspired people with dangerous ideas…

    To be fair though, I’m not endorsing conservatives particularly, as the latter tend to justify the status quo when it suits them and turn a blind eye to the way that traditional institutions can be oppressive to those who don’t share conservative values. Both sides of the political spectrum have their blind spots.

  2. @Scott,
    Yep, thanx, fixed it: “a year”. While writing, I debating publishing it as per week, per month or per year. I figure most people can’t do math, so I decided on per year. Maybe I should have done “per hour” –>$15/hr if the ‘work’ day was 8 hours, like the rest of us idiots.

    But seriously, I am convinced that fiction influences our beliefs and that though we ‘suspend’ belief while reading or watching, part of us doesn’t — the neurons keep humming and that buzz influences us later — especially if we consume a lot of the same genre of fictitious stuff.

    I’d be surprised if there were no studies on this — you should know.

  3. rautakyy

    There is no progress without social experiments. The Swiss are a very rich nation and have gotten their wealth and status through capitalism. Now they are ready to experiment on this socialist agenda (though it seems they are overextending it, the cost of living is higher than in most countries because of their wealth). Not for the first time, are they experimenting on socialistic ideals, though. They had a peoples army led by committees when the rest of the world was relying on feudal and mercenary troops, and it was a succesfull experiment, wether it was based on fiction is hard to determine, because nobody (exept the ancient Greek and Romans) had really even suggested anything like it before them.

    Is money actually a good incentive? If more money is dealt to people who have “higher” responsibility about other people, does that not lead to most greedy people having most responsible (and powerfull) positions in a society?

    How is the systematically unemployed part of the population supposed to support themselves, or is homelesness a “natural” part of any society?

  4. Scott McGreal

    I am aware of a number of studies that have looked at how fiction can influence people, although I’m not sure whether they have examined influences on broad beliefs about the world, such as ideologies. It would not surprise me too much if this were the case though. I do know of studies that have found that people use information in fiction as a source of knowledge about the world. For example, experiments have been done in which people read a fictional story which incorporated either accurate facts about the world or deliberate misinformation. Readers’ answers to a subsequent knowledge test were influenced by these items, e.g. those exposed to obscure but accurate facts remembered them correctly, but the others repeated misinformation gleaned from a story as if true. The strange thing was that they later claimed that they had actually known these fact(oid)s before reading the stories even when they were wrong! So fiction can have an influence of which people may be unaware, not only on what they know but what they think they know.

    On the positive side, there are some studies that suggest that reading fiction could improve a person’s ability to empathise with others, as people learn to develop empathy for the characters in stories.

    I would not wish to imply that social experiments are always a bad thing and acknowledge that change is necessary for progress. I do like to play Devil’s advocate to a certain extent. On the other hand, I think that social experiments should be approached with the same caution and reasonable scepticism that would be applied to other kinds of experiments.

  5. @ Scott,
    Thanx mate, that is a cool footnote to this article and exactly my suspicion.
    One Take-Home Message:

    Beware of what we consume, it makes us who we are!

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