The origin of right-handedness is a most interesting result of the wars when man first began to struggle against competing man, and shows how this first overpopulation has profoundly affected our physique. There are very many explanations of the reasons for the right-handedness which is so universal among all races of man - perhaps over ninety-eight per cent, of the men now living are right-handed. None of the anthropoids, indeed, no other animal except man, shows any preference in the use of either a right or left limb. They are all ambidextrous (or ambisinistrous). So the habit arose in primitive man. Babies at birth and for eight to ten months afterward, show no preference for the use of either hand, and are as ambidextrous as anthropoids, but before the first year of life is ended they have already begun to use the right hand more than the left. This shows two things: first, that the trait is due to an actual onesided growth of the brain, a natural phenomenon over which the child has no control; and secondly, this period of the child's development (ontogony) corresponds in its ancestry (phylogeny) to an extremely early period of human development, just after man had emerged from the simian condition and was truly a man, though a very low one.
* "War was the great occupation of their lives," says the Duke of Argyle of the Highlanders, and Southey wrote in a copy of the "Annals of Ireland": "Jugulatio, vastatio, devastatio, proedatio, depraedatio, occiseo, combustio, strages, altercatio, belliolum, praelum atros - behold in these words which everywhere occur in this book the history of the Island of Saints." (Munro, "British Races," p. 200).
* "Animals of the Past".
Now, the only reasonable explanation given of the origin of dextrality is as follows. As soon as man began to use weapons in fighting his human competitors, some men, say fifty per cent., used the weapon (stone or club) with the right hand and the others with the left. It was soon necessary to use a shield or guard of some kind to ward off blows. Those who guarded with the left hand were at a tremendous advantage as they protected the heart. Their chest wounds being on the right side were not nearly so often fatal as those of the left-handed men who guarded with the right. The natural place for the blows of the right-handed man would be directly over the heart of the opponent as the latter raised his arm to strike. Even a non-penetrating blow might so shock him that he would fall an easy victim to later blows on the head, while his own non-penetrating blows on the right chest of the right-handed man, would not cause shock or collapse. Primitive warfare, then, could eliminate the left-handed in a few thousand years, and right-handedness was thus established by the operation of the ordinary laws of selection. The point to be brought out here is the undoubted fact that this remarkable human trait, depending upon a greater development of one side of the brain, is due to the first wars of man, and they were the result of bringing more babies into the world than could be fed.
Natural ambidexterity, then, is an arrest of development while sinistrality is a departure from the normal and indicates some more or less profound interference with the developing child or ovum. My own observations tend to the view that there is more or less nervous instability in all such cases, not degeneration by any means, but a neurotic condition which is not incompatible with normality. In classes of men, among whom there is a large percentage of the neurotic - that is, the criminals, insane and men of genius - it is shown that there is a decidedly larger percentage of left-handedness than among the population at large. Moreover, sinistrality not being a harmful trait any more, is becoming more and more common from survival of these types.
Dr. George M. Gould, the famous oculist, has shown that right-sided efficiency extends to other parts of the body, even to the eyes, and that right-handed people are also right-eyed; that is, when the images of the two eyes conflict we reject that of the left and use the better vision of the right. This also was developed during the wars of primitive man, for the use of the right hand to hold a weapon compelled him to peep out from behind the shield or tree, and those with a dominant right eye were at an advantage leading to survival.
In savage life, survival was frequently impossible unless the men were constantly ready to fight. They lived in idleness, with occasional hunting trips, but free of all other burdens, and we find as an almost universal trait, that the savage woman does all the labor, and carries all the burdens, while the men walk or ride, free of every impediment except the weapons and shields. It even caused the evolution of separate physical types as among our Indian. The men are often small, active, lithe and quick, while the women are slow, big, muscular and able to stand the necessary burdens. It isn't brutality which compels a savage to leave the burdens to the wife - but the necessity of constant war.
That modern wars have been successful in killing off crowded populations needs no proof, but a few words on the subject may not be out of place. Professor Richet, of Paris, has stated that the wars of the nineteenth century alone have caused 14,000,000 deaths. A very curious book, "The Wastes of Modern Societies,"* by J. Novicow, devotes one chapter to an account of the wastes of war. Among other things he says that from 1618 to 1648 Germany lost 6,000,000 inhabitants in war, and that in Europe the wars of the last three centuries caused 30,000,000 or 40,000,000 deaths, some estimating it even at 20,000,000 per century. In 1870 Germany alone lost 2,000 men a day. Far better, some think, for these men to have died fighting for their families than to have died idly starving. It is currently reported that the Czar has stated that Russia could easily have spent 1,000,000 men in the war with Japan, and the Japanese contend that they could have spared 500,000. Russia itself has witnessed a destruction of life by Mongol hordes, which is scarcely conceivable. The history of the Mongols in Russia, written by the late Jeremiah Curtin, is ghastly reading.
* "Les Gaspillages des Societes Modernes".
It has also been estimated that in the last 100 years, 3,000,000 Mussulmen have been killed by Christians, in that struggle of Europeans to exclude the Asiatic intruders. They were religious wars, but, as Taylor and others have shown, all such wars are really race wars, and we must now see that they are merely expansion wars, fighting for room. In spite of this appalling number of deaths the Turks are still the rulers and are periodically killing Christians in Armenia to protect themselves.
It is high time to restate the old proposition that peace restores the losses of war. It is the very opposite, for war is necessary to repair the damages due to overpopulation resulting from peace. Indeed, war has been the normal and peace the abnormal.