Left/Right Culture

Sat, 26 Mar 1994 17:24:49 -0500

Heeding JOBRIEN's call, I think I'll throw in a thread here, so as to get
some anthropological minds moving again.

To wit: Left and Right. In many European societies, the word meaning "left"
also means "wicked" or "improper," e.g. "gauche" or "sinister." Many
cultures assign 'impure' tasks to the left hand and force undesirable
groups to occupy the left side of the street. The left is associated with
inversion or subversion (esp. in the political lexicon) and the Devil (this
is where he perches; the guardian angel sits on the right.)

Does anyone know of any good works revolving around how various societies
view the left side of the body, and whether the denigration of the left and
its associations is found outside of Western civilization? Do all cultures
associate the left with the feminine, the passive, the negative, etc.? Is
this a universal human phenomenon, or not?

Some thoughts on these matters have preoccupied me lately, namely:

1. Is there a connection between the predominance of right-handedness and
the preference for the right as a spatial orientation? Is the breakdown of
southpaws vs. righties (I understand left-handers are about 10% of the
population in the U.S.) the same all over the globe? Is handedness found in
our primate cousins, and in what distributions? Most importantly, why are
humans very rarely ambidextrous? And why do most societies read from left
to right, with a few exceptions?

2. Since the left side of the body is controlled by the right brain, is
there any link between denigrating the left side of the body and the
preference our society has for left-brain (analysis, computation, etc.)
over right-brain (synthesis, pattern recognition etc.) functions? Is there
any basis to the belief that left-handers are more right-brain-oriented,
and therefore more creative, analogical, inutitive, etc? Is there any basis
to the belief that females, homosexuals, or artists are more likely to be

3. Language processing generally occurs, even in southpaws, in the left
hemisphere. In some people, it occurs in the right hemisphere. Do these
people process language any differently than the rest of us? Why is it that
in many linguistic systems, "right" means both "to the right" and "correct"
or "proper"?

Any responses on these topics would be greatly appreciated.
Seeker1 [@Nervm.Nerdc.Ufl.Edu] (real info available on request)
Anthropomorphist, Metanoid, Lerian, MatrixWanderer, HyperRealist, etc.
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