Saturday, 16 May 2009

Downright Sinister

Like me, Barack Obama is a member of a persecuted and misunderstood minority, one which is disproportionately represented in the creative arts and politics, but which can inspire horror, revulsion and cruelty in sections of the majority "normal" population. But then, surprisingly, so were four of the previous six US Presidents, although apparently Churchill and Callaghan have been the only British Prime Ministers to be inclined this way, ever. I mean, of course, we are both left-handed.

Growing up left-handed is a lot easier than it used to be, but it's still a challenge. Once, left-handed children were persecuted and punished into adopting right-handedness, with predictable developmental consequences. This may seem trivial and even necessary to the right-handed majority, but I would say it is at least on a par with the socially-enforced denial of one's sexuality.

As someone who is completely left-sided, I have got used to my daily encounters with rectitude. Indeed, I have never knowingly bought or used a "left handed" product, not so much as a pair of scissors or a computer mouse. You just learn to turn yourself inside out: writing with an ink pen is a classic problem with a classic cack-handed solution, but just try opening a penknife, for example, or to cut with precision using scissors (if you're right-handed, you probably had no idea there might be a problem). If nothing else, being left-handed pre-disposes you to sympathy with other invisible minorities who are daily inconvenienced, or worse, by the unthinking majority.

I even learned to play guitar on a borrowed, "normal" instrument, and as a result play left-handed but upside-down i.e. with the bass strings at the bottom. This actually makes some "difficult" chords easier, but it's not ideal. Jimi Hendrix did the same, but had the sense to restring his instrument, which is almost certainly the only reason I'm not as good as him. I'm not sure how lefties fare in the military, but I don't think mixing "handednesses" sits well with the tidy military mind. Hendrix would have known, as he had been in the US Airborne (briefly, as an alternative to imprisonment); maybe he fired his weapon upside down, too. I have read stories of at least one left-handed M16 user getting a hot ejected shell casing inside his shirt collar and inflicting "friendly fire" on his comrades in the ensuing panic. That's why they call us sinister, baby.

Sinister, as well as gauche, cack-handed, maladroit, etc., etc. -- the cultural prejudice about left-handedness is universal, and almost totally negative, despite the eminence and disproportionate contribution of southpaws to cultural life. Let's start at the top... Beethoven, Michelangelo, Leonardo da Vinci, Goethe, Nietzsche, Tom Stoppard, Charlie Chaplin, half of the Coen Brothers ... The list, as they say, is endless, although oddly smudged along the edge.

One of the culprits has a finger missing all but the top joint

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