National Commentary

Nicholas F. Benton: The 8% Solution

We now have something purportedly definitive about the cause of left-handedness, a characteristic of somewhere between 8% and 10% of the population worldwide. This week, news has come of an Oxford University study that claims a gene that causes left-handedness has been discovered, and that it is associated with a mildly-elevated disposition toward schizophrenia.

As a southpaw myself, I remain skeptical. It seems akin to the claim that there is a “gay gene.” Some hail that notion, since it suggests that same-sex, or gay, sexual orientation is hard-wired into biology and not a learned trait (that can also be unlearned). But there are others, such as rightwing religious types, who also welcome the claim, saying it offers hope that gayness can be exterminated, by exterminating its gene, one way or another.

I much prefer to believe that, whether in the form of a single gene or something more nuanced, both left-handedness and being gay are built into nature for good reasons.

I have often thought, in fact, that there is a “cosmic dissymmetry” in the very fabric of the universe that accounts for its creation and development. Our universe is bi-polar in nature, which means it works by an interaction of a two-sided, positive/negative, etc., dynamic that can unfold into almost anything.

As manifestations of the universe, human beings are also bi-polar, with two of most everything including genders and sides of the brain. We think in a bi-polar way, also, with almost all knowledge that we process, and language skills, reducible to the 0/1 binary code used in even the most advanced computers.

But if the nature of bi-polarity were symmetrical, then there would be no way for it to exercise any sustainable dynamism. Equilibrium, in this sense, equals no action. It takes disequilibrium, through the factor of an ordered dissymmetry, for the initial spark of creation and an on-going, evolving progress of the cosmos to occur.

In my view, left-handedness and gay identity are two “clues,” so to speak, of many manifestations of disequilibrium in nature, although they are not, of course, directly related to each other. But each is about 8% to 10% of the population. The 2000 U.S. Census seems to confirm this for gays when you add in reasonably-derived hidden numbers reflecting the extreme social stigma against being gay that still exists, and the fact that the gay phenomenon is not always experienced in a sexual way.

I first associated gay identity with the natural phenomenon of left-handedness in the editorial I wrote for the first edition of the Gay Sunshine newspaper back in 1970.

In the human context, the ostensibly gay manifestation of universal dissymmetry has always been around in nature and history, although not always understood in the sexual fashion it is nowadays. It can be seen as represented by an impulse to temper the tendencies of societies to be overly militaristic. In ancient Greece, the gay impulse and democracy seem to be related.

It could be argued that it is nature’s 8% to 10% dissymmetry, in general, that allows for progress toward a more perfect human society, pushing it in favor of equal rights and the affirmation of diversity and against a solely testosterone-dominated model.

This dissymmetry optimizes the potential for the society as a whole to progress through the optimization of the creative potential of the maximum number of its participants. These are manifested through universal education, advancements in science and the arts, and special care for the abandoned, young and old.

Societies in which this dissymmetry is suppressed – met with suspicion, hate and even a zeal for extermination – tend to become militant and genocidal. Where sheer testosterone is not tempered by this natural countervailing factor, brutality reigns and humanity sinks into ignorance and self-destruction.

I would argue that this has always been the case. It is only in this modern era, with more access to freedom of speech and protected diversity of behaviors, including sexual ones, that the gay impulse has begun to be identified and experienced as we now do, even if that remains, in terms of broader natural and historical contexts, too limited.     

But this theory suggests that an on-going, active push-back against tendencies to suppress the 8% to 10% factor is key to the long-term survival of civilization, itself, and even, theoretically, to the cosmos.