Reality – Your personal guidebook

A different Reality, different realities

These instinctive responses are so influential that people with different political beliefs literally come to inhabit a different reality or different realities. Many studies have found that people’s beliefs about controversial issues align with their moral position on it. Supporters of capital punishment, for example, often claim that it deters crime and rarely leads to the execution of innocent people; opponents say the opposite.

That might simply be because we reason our way to our moral positions, weighing up the facts at our disposal before reaching a conclusion. But there is a large and growing body of evidence to suggest that belief works the other way. First, we stake out our moral positions, and then mould the facts to fit.

So if our moral positions guide our factual beliefs, where do morals come from? The short answer: not your brain.

According to Jonathan Haidt at the University of Virginia, our moral judgements are usually rapid and intuitive; people jump to conclusions and only later come up with reasons to justify their decision. To see this in action, try confronting someone with a situation that is offensive but harmless, such as using their national flag to clean a toilet. Most will insist this is wrong but fail to come up with a rationale, and fall back on statements like “I can’t explain it, I just know it’s wrong”.

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