Dolphins, presumed to be the most intelligent and empathetic creatures of the deep, have shared a deep bond with humans. There are innumerable heart-warming stories about dolphins helping to save doomed swimmers, heading off sharks, retrieving dropped tools for divers, and so on. But a paper on dolphin behaviour in the Royal Society’s journal, Open Science, finds more common ground — like humans, dolphins are predominantly right-handed, and they are even more fundamentalist about their preference than humans. The authors observed that over 99 per cent of observations showed them favouring the right side.
Right-handedness appears to be intrinsic to cetaceans, which include whales and dolphins, the only creatures other than primates who are presumed to have some human-like qualities. This is bad news for the left-handed, who are oppressed quite enough already by the primacy of right-handedness among humans. The very words we speak are directionally weighed. Dexterity is from the Latin dexter (right), and sinister is Latin for “left”. The modern meanings are derived via convoluted routes, including but not limited to myth and augury, but the association of the terms with cleverness and vileness are now permanently set. In politics, too, left and right originally signified your place in the pecking order. The world is deeply divided into nations which drive on the right and on the left, each side believing that the other is plain wrong. The list is endless.
The most egregiously handed word is hiding in plain sight. It’s even in the headline above: “Right”. A wily, duplicitous word signifying both a direction and rectitude, and thereby conflating the ideas. With that, the victory of the right in human affairs is complete. But fortunately, barring humans and cetaceans, the rest of nature is ambivalent about handedness. Mice and budgies just don’t care, for instance. It’s best that way.
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