The Left's Grasp
Or, how a pre-frontally damaged left-hemispheric oligarchy grasps at whatever they can in a desperate attempt to control something divorced from reality.
I’ve written a little of Iain McGilchrist’s The Matter With Things, and I’m guessing I will be contemplating this work for a very long time to come. As I was reading parts again recently I cannot help but make the obvious correlations between the nature and actions of the left hemisphere and the nature and action of the global psychopaths attempting to take over the world.
For those not familiar with McGilchrist, he is a psychiatrist, philosopher and author who’s primary thesis is that the western world is leaning toward a left hemisphere perspective. He has taken two master works (The Master and His Emissary, and The Matter With Things) to tease out this idea to an extraordinary degree of rigour.
I’ve done a series based on part of the last chapter of The Master and His Emissary if you are interested in the complete vision of a left hemisphere dominated world - it looks frighteningly like Orwell’s 1984, 21st Century China, or the WEF.
The left hemisphere is all about our capacity for utilisation (to make use of things), expressing the will of the ego by acting on the world, manipulating the world for some utility. Whereas the right hemisphere is very different and has a broader scope. The right hemisphere could be thought of as responding to the world beyond itself with an understanding of the ‘whole’, the ‘big picture’, if you like. McGilchrist offers that the left hemisphere is about ap-prehending (from Latin ad + prehendere, to hold onto) and for the right hemisphere com-prehending (from cum + prehendere, to hold together) when interacting with the world.
Now when I look at the psychopaths in government and these big international organisations I see a lot of ‘apprehending’. There is a lot of grasping for control. The ‘grasp’ by the right hand is a key feature of the left hemisphere, and it’s not just about physical grasping. Speech development in the left frontal cortex is closely associated with the motor cortex for right hand movement. We are all familiar with infants pointing as they name an object - the pointing and the naming go together. Furthermore the speech area of the left hemisphere is activated by grasping and manipulation - it seems to go both ways, this intimate connection in the left hemisphere between the physical grasp and language.
So when we talk about people grasping for power and control we are talking about the language and the physical acts. No surprise right? But it is when the left hemisphere is damaged in its capacity to think and reason properly that things get really interesting.
(You are welcome to freely associate left and right hemispheres with the left and right of politics - but that is not at all what McGilchrist has intimated - but I think it’s a fun and freakish coincidence of our language).
We find when the left frontal cortex (the area associated with higher order thinking/language) is damaged there is no longer complete control over the right hand - the right hand can take on a life of its own:
Following loss of inhibitory control through stroke – what is known as a ‘release’ phenomenon – one woman found that her right hand would tend spontaneously to reach out and grasp objects (eg, door knobs) that she passed; in another case the hand would randomly pick up a pencil and start writing. A right-handed patient who had suffered infarction of the left medial frontal cortex had troublesome spontaneous grasping which he could no longer inhibit. Another, again after a left frontal stroke, found her right hand “showed an uncontrollable tendency to reach out and take hold of objects and then be unable to release them. The patient would repeatedly express astonishment at these actions. At times the right hand interfered with tasks being performed by the left hand, and she attempted to restrain it by wedging it between her legs or by holding or slapping it with the left hand.” (McGilchrist, 2021, pp. 183-184)
This is true also for left-handed people, as the left hemisphere control over grasping is a prefrontal cognitive process. The grasping of things, in a fully functioning left hemisphere, is always about manipulation and utility, and without some reasoning just becomes a mad grasp at anything!
I can’t help but see some of the mad grasping at whatever is close by for the sake of the ‘narrative’ is so similar to a left prefrontal stroke! “I can’t think straight, but at least I can still grab at stuff.”
The right hemisphere in contrast is about exploring the world, rather than simply grasping, without the single agenda of making use of whatever it can grasp. When exploratory movement are made (still of the right hand) it is the right hemisphere that is primarily involved, very different to the seizing hold or taking control, motives of the left.
And if we can glean anything from the natural world beyond ourselves, it should be noted that great apes and monkeys will reach out with their right hand to utilise an inanimate object but with their left hand toward something living. As I’ve written about in the past, the left hemisphere does not comprehend the living - everything is a ‘dead’ re-presentation of what’s ‘out there’ and largely ignores direct experience of the living world. Again I can’t help but the make the comparison between the bureaucracy of today’s governments and the grasping reach of the left hemisphere toward the non-living (charts, stats, theories, narratives, as opposed to real people and real situations) for utilities sake. They may as well not have windows in their ivory towers because as sure as heck they don’t look out of them into the real world.
And on this point of grasping non-living things, language (of the left hemisphere) may be more about mapping the world than ‘communication’. A map isn’t the world, it is a representation. It is a useful abstraction. It is also non-living. Words become symbols or tokens for things and grammar a schema for how the things relate and how we can navigate and manipulate the world effectively. McGilchrist explains it thus:
As a map enables us to see things that just living headlong ‘at ground level’ would never allow us to see, so language, the manipulation of those symbols, enables us to see, as if ‘from above’, what the overwhelming impact of immediate experience hides from us. It enables alternative hypotheses to be compared and examined for their projected consequences. We can, for the first time, go ‘offline’ and play with the shapes. I have compared the left hemisphere’s use of language to a general’s strategic campaign map of the territory, which has the important facts for the purpose clearly flagged, but leaves out almost everything of the reality in the terrain it maps. In a map, that is not a weakness, but precisely the source of its strength and usefulness. (McGilchrist, 2021, p. 185)
I don’t know about you, but when I see that video of Bill Gates and his light table and an exponential graph of population growth, I see a left hemisphere ‘offline’ and playing with shapes to ‘grasp’ at a map, a plan, an abstract solution to an abstract problem. Now as McGilchrist points out, maps are powerful tools, they have great utility - but when you mistake the map for reality and then act with a great many resources to an abstraction you have mistaken for reality - we can get into big trouble.
You know… like blotting out the sun… that sort of big trouble.
So the left hemisphere uses words as arbitrary signs, yet for the right hemisphere those same words are fused with aspects of the reality they represent. When subjects have had their left hemisphere temporarily suppressed they reported that things were named because of some reality about that object. The right hemisphere saw an intrinsic relationship between the word and the reality. For example “the sun was so named ‘because it shines’, bread because it is ‘so tasty and fresh’, spaghetti because it’s ‘what you eat with cheese’.” These subjects could not accept that these objects could be renamed – for the right hemisphere the name was part of what the object was. So language is like another token system, money, whereby the token has a real-world connection and is not purely referring to itself. This can also be problematic and so the separation of words and reality, the abstract nature of the words, is brought into play by the left hemisphere.
The problem in this propagandised world we live in is that there is more abstraction of words than there is of the relationship between the word and reality. It’s too much to go into here, but Orwell wrote at length about the importance of language shaping thought. The ease to which altering language alters thoughts and perspectives - the language and the ‘grasp’ is intimately entwined. We are in an age now where we have to continually clarify what someone is saying - “What do you mean when you say that?” Because the words are becoming divorced from what we have known as reality. ‘Science’ becomes a government’s supposition or a mandate, ‘safety’ becomes obedience, ‘change’ becomes catastrophe, ‘carbon’ becomes abhorrent, ‘suicide’ becomes the right thing to do.
Again, going back to the start, we do not need pure apprehending from the left hemisphere psychos, but firstly comprehending from the right. Yes we need to ‘grasp’ the world in many ways, and yes we need the utility mastery of the left hemisphere, but not to supersede any understanding of the big picture and certainly not before exploring and weighing up all our options (and not just for utilities sake). But what I am seeing is a pre-frontally damaged left-hemispheric oligarchy grasping at whatever they can in a desperate attempt to control something divorced from reality.
I don’t mean that to sound like a cartoon. I do realise these people are ‘smart’ within their psychopathology (or they couldn’t pull it off like they have). But I do also see the left hemisphere bent, filtered down through the media, government departments, universities and anywhere it can reach with its right handed grasp.
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McGilchrist, I. (2021). The matter with things: Our brains, our delusions, and the unmaking of the world. London: Perspectiva Press