Homo sapiens. Interesting species. Superior? Our dog Rondo’s hearing and smelling skills are far better. He can smell a cookie from close to the moon. He can make it clear, even silently, that I am required to share. If you have a pet, you understand.
Several other species also communicate among themselves. However, so far as I know (that’s not much) our species can claim first place in the number of words we can speak. We humans can even write stuff down, get stuff recorded or filmed for later. (If we say we’ll release our tax returns or Mexico will pay for a wall, that may not be good, of course.)
The word “sapiens” comes from the Latin sapient: “having or showing great wisdom or sound judgment.” Yeah, well, sometimes. Sometimes not. Etymology ( apologies for the big word) can be important. That’s an investigation of-not just where a word or term came from, and when – but how the meaning may have changed over time.
Words often trigger subconscious emotion and bias. Positive and negative.
Consider left and right. A passage in the Gospel of Matthew speaks of a post-resurrection Jesus coming to separate sheep from goats. Obedient sheep on the right, headed for Heaven: Disobedient goats on the left, bound for Hell. Right, good. Left, bad.
The dictionary also defines “right” as being “in accordance with fact, reason, or truth; correct. That triggers the subconscious, at least of some, to assume “left” must mean the opposite..
The term left comes from the Old English word “lyft,” which meant weak and useless. The word “sinister” originally referred to left-handedness. On your family coat of arms, if the bar (stripe) goes from bottom right to top left, that’s -called “bar sinister.” That proclaims you are not legitimate offspring, but a bastard. Sinister. Left-handed.
The underlying and persistent bias toward left began long ago.
Ten (some sources estimate 15) percent of people are born left-handed. That’s probably from genetic and/or biological causes, but still not well-understood. Certainly not centuries ago. Looking, speaking, acting “different”can be risky, to say the least. Being in style is and has been easier and more comfortable.
Left-handed people were not “popular.” Merriam Webster defines “popular’ as “suitable to the majority, adapted to or indicative of the understanding and taste of the majority, commonly liked or approved .” In my younger days, I recall parents trying to get left-handed kids to learn to favor their right-hands – so they wouldn’t be, you know, different.
Today the word “cack-handed” remains in slang English. “Cack” comes from Low German or Middle Dutch from Latin cacāre, which meant to defecate. (tinyurl.com/y856j7yj). Today it’s a synonym for inappropriate or clumsy behavior. Historically, in some cultures the proper use of the right hand was to eat and drink and shake hands. The left hand was to perform personal hygiene, not something to share.
From my somewhat biased perspective, today’s politically rabid right can be understood as two linked sections. The first: Five million plutocrats/autocrats and hired help clever enough to know that the second: 35 million dumb voters eat polarizing labels. Division is the goal. Left-wing Democrat or right-wing Republican. Conservative or liberal. Anti-regulatory capitalist or regulatory we-the-people socialist. Yes. the left can be divisive as well.
But no compromise, no middle ground allowed. So, where do you fit?
The minimum wage, overtime pay, safer workplaces, clean food and water regulations, Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid, child labor laws, free speech, a free press, public schools and universities, public highways, the right to own firearms (not assault weapons), equal rights for women, progressive income taxes.. All of those I support. Like Lord Acton, I believe power tends to corrupt, and absolute power corrupts absolutely. And there’s too much dark money in politics. What do you think?
Whatever the history, I have no negative opinion of left-handers. I like many right handed people – especially those who understand man-related climate change is not a witch-hunt. Sometimes the right is wrong. Sapiens remains a work in progress.
Maybe what’s required these days is a willingness to reconsider some things we were sure we already knew. Maybe we can change our minds about something we didn’t think we could. Life is better if you have two hands, not just one.
At 80 years old, I am still hopeful I could be wrong, of course.
Bob Hooper is a fourth generation Western Kansan who writes from his home in Bogue.