Not Left and Right, But Sinister and Dexter

Subhash Kak
4 min readOct 5, 2022
Photograph by Tom Parsons, Unsplash


When words are overused, they become debased. One must then go back to the roots of the words to reconnect to the original meanings, or bring older words back into circulation.

For last year’s words belong to last year’s language

And next year’s words await another voice. T.S. Eliot, Four Quartets

As example, consider the political or social categories of Left and Right. A few decades ago, the American Left was anti-War, the Right was for military interventions for geopolitical ends; the Left was the party of the working class, the Right the party of the business community; the Left was for compassion, the Right for patriarchy; and the Left was for free speech, whereas the Right was for censorship of subversive literature.

Now, the Left and the Right are largely united in their desire to prolong the war in Ukraine; the Left is the party of the tech and pharma billionaires, the Right is the party of the blue collar workers; the Left is for control, the Right for libertarian positions; the Left is for changing one’s gender if one so feels, the Right is for the customary sexual persona; the Left is for censorship of doctors opposed to the Public Health orthodoxy, whereas the Right is in favor of free choice in vaccination.

In the past, if the Right used masks for anonymity in their demonstrations, now the Antifa activists of the Left wear masks.

People are so confused that during the early Covid period, one was advised to wear masks outdoors, even when there was nobody around.

The Left says: “we follow the science”; their Right opponents say: “you are merely following the money.”

If the labels Left and Right have become useless, how do we find words that better captures the original difference between them?


Since many legal and political terms in the English world are derived from Imperial Rome, let us go to Latin for help.

In Italian, directly descended from Latin, Left is called Sinistra, and Right is called Destra. The original term in Latin for the left side is sinister, and for the right side it is dexter. I propose we should use them in a fresh way, without any presumed baggage associated with them.

Igne natura renovatur integra.

Through fire, nature is reborn whole.

The Sinister is associated with the heart, whereas the Dexter is associated with the head; the first is where emotions are paramount, whereas in the second reasoning and tradition are important.

The sinister is associated with the irreverent, the profane, and the revolutionary, whereas the right is associated with the sacred, the traditional, and the orthodox.

Political people have always been aware of this distinction. The Roman religion went around the altar rightwards, that is clockwise, whereas in Christianity the movement around the altar is leftwards, or anticlockwise. There is also a complementarity between life and death, so in funeral processionals in northern Europe the casket goes in clockwise direction.

For the Jews, walking in an anticlockwise direction is an important event of their ritual and Muslims during Hajj circumambulate in the anticlockwise direction around the Kaaba. In Hinduism the normal circumambulation is clockwise but at cremation, the chief mourner goes around the pyre anticlockwise.


The human body has bilateral aspects. Notably, the left hemisphere of the brain is predominantly for language and reasoning, whereas the right hemisphere is for emotion and feeling.

These complementary functions of the two hemispheres are important for the well-being of the body and mind.

Sinister political parties are driven by emotion. This is the reason why workers’ parties in earlier Europe and America were Left parties. But now wealthy billionaires are driven by emotions generated by the power of their wealth and so they gravitate to sinister groups.

Literally all dynastic parties in India are sinister because it is easier then to use emotion to exercise control. The dynastic head names the successor from amongst his or her family or just remains at the top like a king. There are major parties in India where no elections have been held for a generation.

In the Indian tradition, the dichotomy is between righteousness and non-righteousness, that is dharma and adharma. The dharmic action liberates both at the individual and the collective levels; and the adharmic action enchains and subjugates at both levels.

Subversion of morality for narrow political gains is adharmic, as is prolonging an unnecessary war. Compassionate action is dharmic and it extends enlightenment.

The pure left is demonic, which means that it is principally about power and domination. This explains why political parties that believe in top-down control and religious groups whose philosophy is to dominate others often see each other as political allies.

In a world based on domination, almost everyone — including those who exercise levers of power — lives in a psychological prison, without being aware of it.

The way to obtain sinister control

The globalized world has diverse interacting cultures and society is pulled in different directions, and there is no consensus on which way to move forward. It is not easy always to determine righteousness of the unfolding action. One must judge choices with the help of a polarizing lens, and possibilities along sinister and dexter paths help imagine the future.