Is it Right to be Biased against the Left?

Is it Right to be Biased against the Left? 6

If I suggested a specific race or gender was prone to be clumsy, neurologically disordered, have lower IQs, and more emotional and behavioral problems, I’m pretty sure I’d be strung up.

And if there were suggestions that a certain race, gender or gender identity were economically disadvantaged because of their race, gender or gender identity, there would be a ton of activists out there with signs and petitions and legislation to make things “right”.

So I’m confused how a clearly biased study can come out suggesting that all these things are true for a particular segment of our population.  Not just a particular segment – but a segment that makes up, by some estimates, 10-15% of the general population.

I’m talking specifically about left-handedness.

Joshua Goodman, an economist at Harvard’s Kennedy School, has published a study on left-handers – The Wages of Sinistrality: Handedness, Brain Structure, and Human Capital Accumulation. Goodman writes: “Lefties exhibit economically and statistically significant human capital deficits relative to righties.”

Goodman suggests his study shows a correlation between low-birth rate (which, according to him, suggests trauma in-utero) and left-handedness. According to the study, there are two types of lefty: genetic lefties – whose handedness is passed down through DNA, and environmental lefties – whose left-handedness was caused by trauma or stress during their mothers’ pregnancy.

But interestingly – the study showed that left-handers whose mother was also left-handed (genetic lefties) do not suffer from the differences in cognitive ability. And right-handed children of left-handed mothers also appear to have similar “cognitive deficits” to environmental lefties.

Which suggests that Goodman’s has come to the wrong conclusion. Maybe a mismatch in handedness between parents and children contributes to cognitive ability. Maybe it’s more remarkable in left-handed children because they’re more likely to be raised by right-handed parents.  Maybe right-handed parents just don’t know how to raise left-handed children.

As to the economic deficits…I don’t know—but perhaps the problem isn’t that left handers are stupid (sorry, I mean they have difference in cognitive ability). Maybe it’s because they’re living in a right-hand biased world!

Most common tools are designed solely for use by right-handed people, making them difficult, painful, or downright unsafe for left-handed people to use. I’m talking about objects as simple as scissors and can openers and more complex like power saws and cars.

How are left-handers supposed to get a leg up when all the tools they’re given in school are right-biased—right down to the desks that they use.  Do you have any idea how hard it is to concentrate and take notes backwards?

Not to mention the historic discrimination against left-handers. Lefties have been subjected to deliberate discrimination and disparagement. Left-handedness is considered in some customs to be unlucky or even malicious.

Many languages use “left” references to convey awkwardness, dishonesty and even stupidity. The English word “left” itself derives from the Anglo-Saxon word lyft, “weak”.  In Sanskrit, the word “वाम” (waama) stands for both “left” and “wicked.”  In colloquial Russian the word левый (levyĭ) ‘left’ means unofficial, counterfeit, strange.  In French, droit(e) means “right” and “straight”, while gauche means “left” and is also a synonym of maladroit, literally “not right”, meaning “clumsy”.

And the Roman alphabet is drawn from left to right…so lefties are always smudging their work.  And ball-point pens don’t work as well when you’re pushing the ink instead of pulling.

Even in relatively “modern” societies, left-handed people have historically been—and in some places still are—forced from childhood to use their right hands for tasks which they would naturally perform with the left, such as eating and writing.  The practice borders on torture.  Some studies have demonstrated that this conversion can cause multiple problems in the developing left-handed child, including learning disorders, dyslexia, stuttering and other speech disorders.  Other studies have shown that as early as ten weeks in-utero, handedness is decided.  So really, it’s like forcing someone to not be who they are naturally.  The world is built for right-handed people.  That’s why left handers have more “learning disabilities”. They’re constantly compared with right.  And forced to be right.  And if they don’t conform, that must mean they’re not right.

Yes – left-handers are economically disadvantaged.  Not by birth – by design. It’s just not…right!  For instance – there are fewer left-handed surgeons.  Do you know why?  Doctors are trained with mostly right-handed instruments. Left-handed interns are not given left-handed mentoring, and they’re more prone to needle stick injuries than their right-handed colleagues. And right-handed teams don’t want to work with them.

Do you know what jobs left-handers tend to gravitate to? Jobs that don’t need right-handed tools.  You’re much more likely to find a left-hander in a career in entertainment or arts and culture.  Think Dan Aykroyd, Matthew Broderick, Carol Burnett, Tom Cruise and Nicole Kidman, Greta Garbo, Jim Henson (and Kermit), Marilyn Monroe, Keanu Reeves and Oprah Winfrey.  Or M.C. Escher, Michelangelo, Raphael and Leonardo da Vinci. There are writers too:  Lewis Carroll, Marshall McLuhan and H.G. Wells.  And don’t forget music!  Creative musicians include Natalie Cole, Judy Garland, Jimi Hendrix, George Michael. Almost half of the Beetles were left handed—both Paul McCartney and Ringo Starr!

Left-handers excel at politics and public speaking.  Joan of Arc, Ramses II, Roman emperor Tiberius, Alexander the Great, Charlemagne, Julius Caesar, four of the last eight presidents have been left-handed (although Reagan was technically ambidextrous).

There are some sports that are left-handed (or neutral)—baseball, cricket, fencing, boxing, and tennis. Left-handers have also made strides in the fields of science and neurology (probably because they’re trying to figure right-handers out).  Four of the five original designers of the Macintosh (Apple) computer were left-handed.  And one in four Apollo astronauts were left-handed—250% more than the normal level.

Goodman and I do agree (somewhat) related to his conclusion. The economic deficits his study “uncovered” might be prevented if more attention was given to left-handed students. If the proper resources and tools were provided…if left-handedness was specifically considered in the design of curriculum, if more mentoring were available—we could potentially combat some of the issues.  Because really—it’s just not right.

The Left-Handed Book


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