It all goes back to the French National Convention (or something) back in the days of the Revolution – Google it; I can’t be bothered – when, I guess, all the troublemakers sat on the left side of the hall (But who’s left? Their left or the usherette’s left?) and all the mild-mannered twats with a soft spot for the king sat on the right.
I’ve seen something like this before when I was teaching at a dysfunctional Japanese co-ed public school. All the lads sat on the side of the class near the door and all the lassies sat by the windows. To the boys the door represented “freedom” and a valuable extra few seconds out of the classroom when the bell rang. To the girls the windows were an important source of illumination to be used in complex make-up operations sometimes carried on during actual lessons on desks that were way too small for their cosmetic paraphernalia and their textbooks.
It only strikes me now that, from my point of view, the right side was nearer the light and the left side closer to the toilets!
I suspect the French National Convention (or whatever) that gave us these hallowed terms – Left and Right – was rather like this. Maybe the aristos with their paradoxical mixture of syphilitic, pock-marked skin and powdered vanity shunned the windows, while the bookish bourgeois types that drove the revolution preferred to sit in the light so they could swot up on Voltaire and Rousseau in between debates on the price of cake.
Whatever the exact facts, I’m pretty sure that the genesis of these terms was not exactly edifying or meaningful.
Why did they catch on and why have they subsisted now for over two centuries? This is probably due to a combination of the enormous “soft power” of La France and the mainly traditional rightist force of blind, dumb habit, but I also think each side has actually developed a liking for its sidist denomination.
The Rightists are happy to be “in the Right” (sigh, groan) and to have the idea of cack-handed sinisterism appended to their opponents; while the Leftists like the sense of danger, wildness, unpredictability, and mild disability that their sidist denomination connotes and evokes. Also a lot of them probably are Left-handers, who were radicalized at an early age by door handles (such is the triviality of most people’s political orientation!).
Anyway, the terms Left and Right have served the world of politics and ideology extremely badly, and led to endless political confusion. Examine the history of the National Socialists, the Soviet Union, the Neo-Cons, Communist-stroke-Fascist China, and the British Conservative (sic) Party to see how easy it is to confuse the terms Left and the Right. Such confusion is inevitable because there is nothing intrinsically different or qualitative about what are simply relative terms (whose left, whose right?).
I think a solution for this ancient problem can be found by switching to a less relativistic vector and one that has its basis in the eternal verities of mathematics, namely the concepts of VERTICAL and HORIZONTAL. By replacing ‘The Right’ with ‘The Vertical’ and ‘The Left” with the ‘The Horizontal,’ an enormous gain in clarity is achieved. If the Right Wing has an essence that most can agree on, it is hierarchy, natural inequality, meritocracy, and aspiration to the sacred, in other words a sense of the vertical. Likewise the essence of the LEFT, when it isn’t forming itself into elitist revolutionary cliques preparing for heroic military conquest, has been an all-embracing egalitarianism and anti-hierarchical tendency, essentially a horizontal value.
So, let us consign LEFT and RIGHT to the dustbin of history, where they belong, and instead start thinking VERTICALLY and HORIZONTALLY. You know it makes sense!