Source: Why Do Many Reasonable People Doubt Science?, 2015 March, by Joel Achenbach

In the U.S., climate change somehow has become a litmus test that identifies you as belonging to one or the other of these two antagonistic tribes. When we argue about it, Kahan says, we’re actually arguing about who we are, what our crowd is. We’re thinking, People like us believe this. People like that do not believe this. For a hierarchical individualist, Kahan says, it’s not irrational to reject established climate science: Accepting it wouldn’t change the world, but it might get him thrown out of his tribe.

hierarchy = 1.3. An arrangement or classification of things according to relative importance or inclusiveness (I picked definition 1.3 for 'hierarchy' because it's more general than definition 1.)

Etymology of individualist = 1840, from individual + -ist. Related: Individualistic.
(I heed the Etymological Fallacy, but I present this instead of the definition, which is self-revelatory from the root individual)

How does it make sense for an individualist to be hierarchical then? What does this mean?

Footnote: The author has a BA in Politics, if this undergraduate background underlies his diction.

  • 1
    I've never heard the term "hierarchical individualist" before. If you give it a google, you'll find some clues pretty fast. It's a neologism, so people post definitions on the Internet a lot. – Ben Kovitz Mar 1 '15 at 17:02
  • The terms are roughly defined in the paragraph before the one you quote: "In contrast, people with a 'hierarchical' and 'individualistic' mind-set respect leaders of industry and don’t like government interfering in their affairs; they’re apt to reject warnings about climate change, because they know what accepting them could lead to—some kind of tax or regulation to limit emissions." – Nate Eldredge Mar 1 '15 at 18:58
  • @NateEldredge I don't that stuff is intended as a definition. From other googling, it appears that the term is intended to mark a deep psychological distinction, which explains certain attitudes toward science and government. – Ben Kovitz Mar 2 '15 at 0:51
  • Hey, LA51PC! How'd you like to try googling for the term, reading a few pages, and posting an answer yourself? That might trigger others to post competing answers, but certainly it'll be a good exercise in figuring out what an unfamiliar phrase means without a dictionary—just as nearly all native speakers have to when they first encounter "hierarchical individualist". – Ben Kovitz Mar 2 '15 at 0:53
  • @BenKovitz Thank you again! Yes, of course! I'll try to research this more and write back later. – Accounting Mar 3 '15 at 3:40

I suggest you look up "authoritarian personality" for better insight on how someone can be "hierarchical" (swayed more by "authorities" than facts) and still, paradoxically, imagine himself to be an "individualist" (that is, thinking for himself). There's an excellent essay on this topic, available free online. http://members.shaw.ca/jeanaltemeyer/drbob/TheAuthoritarians.pdf

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  • This doesn't answer the question, but I wanted to thank you for the link. It looks like it will be a thought-provoking read. – Gary Mar 3 '15 at 8:10

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