Hierarchical (vs. nonhierarchical)

Are things better or worse or just different? This belief concerns whether things can typically be ranked in order of importance or value. It involves an assumption about the extent to which difference implies something is better or worse. On the opposite end is the belief that distinctions don’t matter and difference is largely meaningless because it lacks value implications. Most things, situations, and even people are not better or worse than each other.

[Hierarchyexists in living creatures, but not in them only; it originates in the constitution of the universe; even in things with no life there is a ruling principle. 

— Aristotle, Politics, circa 350 B.C.E.

Hierarchical is one of the five primals that are not part of Safe, Enticing, Alive, or Good. Thus, it is not a belief about whether the world is good or bad.

Interestingly, Hierarchical is not connected to well-being, depression, kindness, or any other variable we have measured so far with one big exception: politics.

What is noteworthy is that most major primals do not correlate with political differences. For example, many liberals may believe that Republicans would be lower in Safe (i.e., see the world as dangerous). That would explain fear—fear of outgroup members, immigrants, the poor, and so forth—which could lend itself to policies that seek big militaries, big prisons, and less immigration. However, it would not explain other major policy differences, such as lowering taxes on the wealthy. What’s more, based on research so far, this theory is empirically false. There is little difference between Democrats and Republicans when it comes to Safe; thus it cannot be a major driver of behavioral or policy differences.

Instead, the data shows substantial differences between liberals and conservatives when it comes to Hierarchical and important but lesser differences when it comes to Just and Progressing. In a world that is naturally hierarchical and just but getting worse, the rational thing to do is to constrain change in order to preserve the ethical and wise social order that currently exists. Likewise, in a world that is naturally nonhierarchical and unjust but getting better, the natural thing to do is to aid and speed up the process of flattening the unethical social order that currently exists. This theory is a better explanation of conservative/liberal splits on immigration, taxation of the rich, safety nets for the poor, attitudes towards criminals, and a host of other issues.

Whether or not Americans can ever work out their political differences, it may be useful and even comforting to know a bit more about where each other is coming from. However, much more research is needed; this is only the beginning of our work.