Monday, December 8, 2014

Dumb Lefties — Left Handers, That Is

My present topic is not politics but handedness. In particular the findings of a recent investigation that left-handers are deficient in cognitive skills, have higher rates of mental and behavioral disability than normal people, and earn less.

As a lefty, this comes as a shock, brought up as I have been to the idea that we lefties are smarter than the right-handed mass. For example, among left-handed rulers there was Ramses II, whose reign is considered by many historians to mark the pinnacle of Egyptian art and culture; Alexander the Great, conqueror of the Persian Empire; Charlemagne, who invented joined-up writing, while founding an empire that set Western Europe on the march from stinking backwater to dominant global power; and, in Washington, DC, sometimes identified as the home of a "vast left-handed conspiracy," four of the last five US presidents (George Dubya Bush being the exception).


And lefties have excelled at most other things including art (Leonardo and Raphael) ; invention (Leonardo again, Henry Ford, Bill Gates, Alan Turing — inventor of the computer, Nikola Tesla); science (Einstein, Madame Curie — the first person to win two Nobel Prizes, Linus Pauling, the only person to win two unshared Nobel prizes), etc., etc.

Clearly history vindicates the undeflatable self-esteem of the left-hander: we have something that righties will never grasp.

Still, this new study makes one wonder. In our family, three out of four are left-handers. I was graduated from university with first-class honors and the faculty prize, my wife, who is smarter than I, was a distinguished young scientist, chief editor of scholarly treatises and journals, an administrator, and educator, all while doing a superb job of domestic management and child rearing. Our son graduated in a hard subject from a major North American University with first class honors and the faculty prize. But then there's our daughter, who is right-handed and is smarter than all of us — possibly all of us put together.

So yes, one is left to ponder whether left-handers may indeed be missing something. And if I am able to identify that missing mental feature, I would say it has something to do with socialization. Our daughter, who at university played on the school hockey team, while getting A plus in everything from physics to fine art and poli-sci, is tremendously sociable and to my knowledge has never expressed a view that is truly at odds with the deepest convictions of her friends and co-workers. She is, in other words, very well integrated, with the result that she has never had difficulty finding a job, getting on with peers and bosses, or finding friends. All this I think is wonderful, but it reflects a mentality very different from my own, which makes me wonder whether this difference is the key to understanding the left-right divide.

To me, in any conversation, it is always the subject that is of interest: the facts, the logic, the implications, the hypotheses that might be formulated. Never, spontaneously, do I think how the conversation might be adapted to suit the interests or feelings of those with whom I am talking. This is an aggressive mode of interaction that serves very well in debate (I was chairman of debates at school and, momentarily, at university), but does not gain one a reputation for tact. It is the mentality of those who fail to court the management because, like the leftie Thomas Edison, they "just aim to accomplish somp'n." With age, I have learned a little discretion. But when compelled by polite company to speak with circumspection I am often at a loss for anything whatever to say.

If this is the critical feature of the left-handed mind, it suggests that a deficit in attention to social relations and the emotions and thoughts of others allows scope for greater reflection on objective reality beyond the social domain. Such a difference could sometimes pay-off big-time, even though more often than not it means one will be regarded as awkward, ill-adjusted and unworthy of a pay raise.

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