In this society, superstitions regarding right- and left-handed people are accepted as fact. (I'm going to be politically incorrect and call them "righties" and "lefties" henceforth). To overly simplify things, righties are considered stronger in science and math, so they are in the highest caste and serve as leaders, scholars, and professionals. Lefties are believed to excel in the arts, so they are part of a lower caste consisting of performers and craftspeople. The third and lowest caste is composed of the physically and intellectually disabled, who are domestic servants and menial workers (and are forbidden to breed).

There are specific laws regarding lefties. They are required to expose their left hands at all times, so everyone can see their status (usually this is done by rolling up or cutting the sleeve). Because they are considered "incapable" of academic learning, they are not allowed to study math and science, and are banned from righty schools and universities. They're also banned from many public buildings used for recreation, like libraries, theaters, pubs, etc. They are allowed to charge a fee for their services, but 9/10ths of their earnings go to the treasury, so they often live in poverty.

As long as they obey the rules of their caste, lefties are free to live their own lives. They have formed a kind of guild system in which they associate with others of their trade. Each guild has its own specifications for joining; members must show a certain level of skill or commit to a certain quota. Some restrict their membership to kin, but many are willing to take on apprentices. In general, lefty children born to lefty parents will train alongside their parents and eventually join their family's guild, but there could be exceptions. A lefty who shows particular talent/promise in an art might be apprenticed out to perfect it.

There is limited social mobility. Although people born as lefties can never join a right-handed caste, no matter how talented, a lefty who is particularly in demand might gain a certain social status. They are respected among their caste, earn impressive wages, and live influential lives. A lefty born into a right-handed family also has certain privileges. They are considered part of the lower caste, but their parents might use their influence to secure their futures. (My story is about a physically disabled boy born to a powerful politician, and his father uses his pull to get him into a silversmith guild even though he is incapable.)

So here is my question: what would happen to a right-handed child born to two lefty parents? This child has received little to no education and knows nothing other than their family's trade. It's hardly likely that righties would willingly adopt these children. However, the probability of a righty being born to lefty parents is extremely high: about 75%! While the probability of a lefty being born to righty parents is about 1 in 10, which my story can support. (See this link for statistics). What's more, it would be common for lefty parents to force their lefty kids to use their right hands if it allowed them to join a higher caste.

Now, I could easily say that once someone is born to lefty parents, they are of a lower caste no matter their handedness. But I'm wondering if there's some scientifically plausible way for the higher caste to ensure that at least most children born to lefties are left-handed. Over a long time period, inbreeding would be an option, but my story doesn't allow for that (the lefties in the story are 2nd-3rd generation at most). I'd be willing to consider unethical solutions, but keep in mind that this society is not advanced enough for genetic engineering to be an option.

Is there another way for righties to make sure that left-handed parents give birth to lefties? If not, what system can righties institute to reduce the chance of righties being born to left-handed slaves?

In case this is relevant: the society is a religious one. They believe people are born left-handed (or disabled) as a result of the sins of their parents (usually related to impure thoughts), and that they must serve as "atonement" for their ancestors' actions. Righty parents who have a lefty child generally consider this a mark of shame, so they willingly condemn their children to a lifetime of service. If it's possible to reduce the number of righties born to lefty slaves, then in the rare case such a child is born, their sins could be considered "forgiven" and the child would be accepted into the higher caste.

Note: I am using the tag because it deals with "questions about the use and perception of science by the inhabitants of a fictional world" and "asks how people treat and use science in-world." Seems appropriate here as I wouldn't consider this (it's more of a creative thinking question than a science question). I would appreciate answers based in science but I'm not limiting answers to scientific ones.

  • $\begingroup$ @AlexP those are the same statistics I provided. I’m aware of the facts. Now I want to get creative and find a way to make this work. I like the idea of a righty/lefty caste system too much to throw the idea away because of genetics ;) $\endgroup$ Commented Jan 8, 2023 at 1:26
  • $\begingroup$ then you are just handwaving it, and you don't need justification for that. $\endgroup$
    – John
    Commented Jan 8, 2023 at 1:27
  • $\begingroup$ Well, there is this idea that mothers who receive ultrasound exploration during pregancy have a greater chance to give birth to lefties... $\endgroup$
    – AlexP
    Commented Jan 8, 2023 at 1:28
  • $\begingroup$ @John That’s why I didn’t tag the question as science-based. But I still need a way to explain all those righties being born to lefty parents. $\endgroup$ Commented Jan 8, 2023 at 1:28
  • $\begingroup$ @AlexP That’s an interesting idea. But I’m not sure it would work because this society has no technology, including ultrasounds (for the same reason they have no genetic engineering). Didn’t think to include that because I couldn’t see how it might be relevant, but maybe it is. Do you know of any other environmental factors that may have an effect on handedness…? $\endgroup$ Commented Jan 8, 2023 at 5:00

2 Answers 2


Left handedness isn't fully genetic, and we're not quite sure why it happens, so it can't easily be controlled.

Twins have a weak tendency to have the same handedness, but it's far from certain. Otherwise, we don't really know why it happens, so a not very scientific society certainly can't stop it.

Postnatal abortions can solve your problem.

Just send a death squad through the left handed slums and check each child to see what hand they use, and execute them if they use their right hand. This is because the left handed people are clearly faking it to hide their sin, and so their children deserve death.

You can also incentivize lefties to hide such children by having very public executions where you torture the children for their sin and pretending to be a rightie.

  • $\begingroup$ Sadly - this is the most realistic answer. Anytime there is an 'undesirable' feature in a society, this is what happens. $\endgroup$ Commented Jan 8, 2023 at 20:48
  • $\begingroup$ +1 This is great. It has a lot of potential to work in my story. I'm just going to wait and see if there are other, possibly better solutions before accepting. $\endgroup$ Commented Jan 9, 2023 at 1:19

I'm skeptical that "handedness" isn't simply adjustable with sufficient motivation.

It's anecdotal, sure, but I've known multiple people who have had crippling injuries on their dominant arms/hands which left them unable to use them for months/years and they rapidly became "dominant" with their other, non-dominant hand. Even after regaining functionality in their original dominant hand and extensive physical therapy, they never really switched back to it, adopting a more ambidextrous approach. I also know someone who purposefully trained themselves to be able to use their left hand as well as their (dominant) right, and they just did so because they were annoyed at not being able to use the computer mouse left-handed.

The reason we have left handed people today is in part because (western) society accepts them (or simply doesn't care) either way. Children in school who are having difficulty writing are told to switch hands as a possible solution instead of being forced to stick with it until they get it. This is a bit different in stricter, more authoritarian educational environments. For example, Chinese left-handedness percentage is quoted at almost an order of magnitude lower than American left-handedness (1% vs 10%). Why? I'd wager it's because their educational system has a much stricter doctrine on "the correct way of doing something" and a general societal drive to conform, not simply less left-genes. People who are born "lefties" are simply forced into being "righties".

I don't see why in a society that heavily discriminates, parents or governments wouldn't simply practice "hand-binding" or something similar, essentially mutilating the child's left hand to force them into being a righty if they so desired. Weirder, and downright sadistic body modification/mutilation is still practiced in the world today for absolutely stupid reasons (FGM, footbinding, that thing in Africa with the neck-rings) and I don't see why someone--say a teacher--wouldn't simply have a couple hand-braces or something similar in their desk drawer to lock onto the hands of students they spot are being too left-inclined before resorting to more drastic methods.

  • $\begingroup$ Yes- this is super in line with my story. The protagonist's father actually stitches down the left sleeves of his clothes to force him to use his right hand. The problem is that it doesn't work because the boy is actually physically disabled (he has a nervous system disorder I won't get into here) so he really can't learn to use his right hand. $\endgroup$ Commented Jan 9, 2023 at 1:16
  • $\begingroup$ However, my question was specifically in regards to children of left-handed slaves. Why would their parents be motivated to coerce their children into using left hands? Wouldn't they rather secretly train them to be righties, then find some way to have them accepted into mainstream society...? $\endgroup$ Commented Jan 9, 2023 at 1:17

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