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.


[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.

Don’t buy into the right/left political divide.

My next blog post will be a follow-up of my last one about what a post-capitalist world would look like. Before I undertake that one, however, I need to get this off my chest.

There’s lately been a move among ‘leftists’ to describe themselves as progressives. That’s all fine and dandy, but the left/right distinction is still in common use. I’ve always thought it stank of conservative righteousness.

We know that right is generally associated with correct. Going back to biblical references there’s the whole right hand of God thing which implies the correct side of God. On the left side of God is nothing good and that’s in fact where we first find Lucifer. It seems that right is always associated with correct and with conservative politics. The left, as we all know, is sinister. The technical term for left-handedness is sinistral. Well, I’m left-handed and that designation, frankly, pisses me off. The left is generally associated with clumsiness, ineptitude and political parties like the social democrats (New Democrats in Canada). I know some of my more conservative friends would think that was just fine, but I think it is a complete distortion of reality and panders to the powers that be.

Moreover, man has long been associated with right and woman with left. Man with the sun, woman with the moon. That should piss women off too.

So, in future blog posts, I will not use a left/right model of political discourse. I suppose they can be useful shorthand terms, but I  think they profoundly prejudice, distort, and colour our thoughts about politics. Enough of that.




Why is Kevin O’Leary so smug about being on the right?

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?