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Political Borders Are Mental Tricks

When scientists looked at how the existence of political boundaries affects our behavior, they found we invest them with irrational significance. Ditto for the ego, says Oliver Burkeman.

What’s the Latest Development?

After visiting the Four Corners Monument where Arizona, Utah, New Mexico and Colorado meet, Oliver Burkeman was inspired to find out how political boundaries affect our decision making. It turns out we invest them with plenty of irrational significance. In one study, for example, people were asked whether the proximity of fault lines would dissuade them from buying a house in the area. When people were told the fault lines were in another state, though still the same distance from their prospective real estate, they were more likely to buy the potentially dangerous property. 

What’s the Big Idea? 

What influence do the categories imposed by our intellect have on our lives? If we treat artificial political borders as having a physical reality, is there, for example, any hope of collective global political action? And what about the mental divide we impose between our ego and the world? “The decision to see yourself as a separate thing may be highly practical, day to day, but it’s still a decision. The feeling of a separate self, from this viewpoint, is a kind of border bias,” says Burkeman.


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