Which is better, Up or Down? North or South? Left or right?


Which is better, up or down? North or south? Left or right?

Well, technically, up and down are just words. Most of us think of them as neutral words that simply indicate orientation in space. They are that, but they also contain a political and moral side that is undeniable.

Left and right. Are they just words that indicate a direction from a fixed point in space but they also carry a load of political and moral baggage.

The reality is that left and right are not just neutral words that simply indicate direction. They are packed with poIitical and moral referents. In politics, we refer to socialist, communist and anarchist parties, movements and ideas as those occupying the left-wing of the political spectrum. We identify liberal and conservative ideas, parties and movements as more or less right-wing unless of course you’re a con troll. For con trolls (conservative internet trolls) everything on the left side of Ayn Rand is evil. This is all highly significant because of the qualities we normally attach to the words left and right without really thinking about it. Right is good, left is bad.

Right and correct are often used as synonyms. We use them interchangeably. So, what can we make of that? Right-wing parties are correct parties? It would seem so. At least that’s what the use of right in this context implies. Who sits at the right hand of God? Why, Jesus, of course, although sheep do too, apparently. Thomas Aquinus was quite concerned about the significance and the symbolism of right and left with reference to God. For some reason I remember the angel Gabriel as sitting on the right of God and Lucifer, before he was cast into hell, on the left. Was Lucifer the first leftist? [1] It makes sense, especially when you consider how the political right sees itself as truly moral and correct.

 

North and south are great examples of how words that are supposed to simply refer to navigational directions on earth, have become politically charged. The North is good, don’t you know. It’s cool, collected, upright, hard-working, morally impeccable and just as pure as the driven snow. The South, by contrast, is hot, lazy, unpredictable and morally suspect leaning towards nudity and hedonism. So, where do northerners go to vacation and let their hair down? Why, to the hedonistic south, of course. And, if you look at any regular map of the globe, north is always on the top. Strange, but when I see photographs of planet earth taken from space, I don’t see those distinctions.

I’m left-handed and us lefties, aside from being called sinistral, are often referred to as southpaws. The implications of this use of language is clear: left-handers are somehow morally suspect.

So, north is up and south is down. Go figure. Up and down are two other words that were initially intended to simply indicate direction, but have been recruited for political purposes over the years. Who knows exactly how that happens, how these language uses evolve, but they do, and they serve political[2] ends. We see them as being natural, neutral and anything but controversial, but they have their nasty side. If I’m feeling particularly chipper one day, I’m said to be ‘up.’ If I’m a little depressed because I just lost my job, I’m thought of as being ‘down’. “What’s wrong, why are you looking so down today?” Sheesh.

There are many more examples of politically charged words parading as neutral. Just think of east and west, over and under, standing and lying, top and bottom. I’ll let you think of others.

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[1] See: https://www.quora.com/Handedness-Why-was-there-prejudice-against-left-handed-people. Quora is not always a reliable source of information, but in this case, reliable enough.

[2] By political here I mean simply the distribution of power in society in a very broad sense. Politics is everywhere there is imbalance of power and some people have more executive license than others, more privilege, more resources, and, in their minds at least, the moral high ground.

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