I’ve long been interested in the way language embodies class and power relations. Obviously, our language embodies much of our culture, so it’s not surprising that it would embody class relations. The word ‘poor’ is used to describe many conditions of inadequacy. ‘Rich’ can describe a chocolate cake or a wealthy person, both desirable components of a valuable life. ‘Right’ does not only indicate a direction in it’s most obvious sense, but also correctness. To be correct is to be right, as in right-handed. In contrast, to be left-handed is to be sinister. The ‘proper’ adjective used to point to my left-handedness is ‘sinistral.’ Left-handers are sinister. Of course ‘left’ indicates nothing good. The sun is bright and right, the moon dark and left . Both these terms in turn are symbols for men and women respectively. The moon is the domain of women, the sun belongs to men. After all, who is at the right hand of God, and who at the left? It’s fairly clear that Jesus sits to the right of God, but there’s a great deal of uncertainty among Christians about who sits on His left. Probably better not to go there. Where are women in heaven? Not particularly evident, at least not in the heaven I learned about as a young Catholic boy.
Turning this discussion to politics it’s clear what we can expect. Any conservative political party is on the right of the political spectrum and the socialists, liberals and communists occupy the sinistral left. Now, isn’t that convenient? Right is correct, left is just plain wrong, isn’t it? Our language pre-conditions us to think about conservative (Republican in the US) parties as being right, as in better than those on the left. Kevin O’Leary, that obnoxious and rude commentator on the CBC about business and finance has no doubt that he is right because he’s on the right. After all, he represents the interests of business and finance, the natural elements of conservative thinking and of what C.B. Macpherson called possessive individualism. After all, who can be against business success? Our prosperity depends on it, or so the argument goes. The poor are immobile, the walking dead, the wealthy have money to allow them mobility. The poor are what’s ‘left,’ and they get what’s left when we’ve finished eating. The wealthy always eat first and are always on the right path…don’t you know?