Why We Hate Going to the Dennis

I don't think much of myself, but sometimes I'm all I think about. And neuroscience suggests I'm not alone. Research into humans' "implicit egotism" -- first published in 2002 and now back in the news thanks to David Brooks, New York Times columnist and author of the new book The Social Animal -- reveals that, "Because most people possess positive associations about themselves, [they] prefer things that are connected to the self" -- even, the study found, things connected to the letters in our names.

To use Brooks' favorite example, if your appellation is Dennis, you are more likely to become a dentist than a differently monikered individual. (I would add, anecdotally, than one reason we hate going to the Dennis, I mean dentist, is because these tooth-torturers are all too often named Payne or Hertz.)

The study is not so bold as to claim that Herbs are more likely to smoke pot than their non-Herbian brethren. Nor does it tackle the question of whether girls named Ruth hit more round-trippers than, say, Debbies, or whether guys named Desi disproportionately become baseball's designated hitters. Conversely, just why my high school friend Miles excelled at tennis rather than track, why the great Jane Ayer became a publicist and not a governess, or why my two boyhood buddies named Dick have turned out to be extraordinarily kind fellows, is also left unexplored.

More important, the researchers failed to kick their Dennis-try up a notch by asking the obvious question, "Do Dennises tend to become menaces while Bills seek out jobs in accounts payable?"

Now, this ain't no party, nor is it a disco. Future research might reveal that our unconscious non-choices have grave implications for our very way of life. To wit (and we'll table for now the question of whether men named "Whit" are cleverer than, say, the punk drummer Dopey Haydenbaugh): Does the implicit egotism of us left-handers contribute to our lefty politics? Specifically, did the fact that I played left wing in high school soccer -- and here my explicit egotism requires me to point out that I did not play with two left feet -- preordain my placement on the left wing of the political spectrum?

Since southpaws comprise a small minority of the human population -- around 10%, as opposed, for instance, to the 47% of left-clawed parrots -- are we squiffies doomed to forever having our ideals crushed by the Right?

Granted, many potent portsiders have wielded political and cultural power -- Bill Clinton, Barack Obama, Mark Twain, Kurt Cobain, Albert Schweitzer and Lenny Bruce, to name but a few. But in fairness we must admit that Jack the Ripper ripped from the left hip and the Boston Strangler strangled from a left-leaning angle. Further, any gibble-fister Hall of Shame(lessness) -- a left-handed compliment if ever there was one -- would no doubt include John McCain, Pat Robertson and Glenn Beck among its charter inductees.

That Ronald Reagan apparently converted from lefty to righty status, both handedly and politically, underscores the peril we skiffle-handers face, a state of affairs that can't be lost on such left-leaning right-handed comrades as Ohio Congressman Dennis Kucinich, whose latent connection to dentistry, by the way, revealed itself recently when he sued a Capitol Hill cafeteria for dental fees as a result of a stray, tooth-splitting olive pit.

Despite the astonishing breakthroughs of the neuroscientific revolution, why some people are born left-handed remains a mystery. Our last, best hope may be that some even-handed psychic can tease out the primordial truth about left versus right. I'm skeptical, but last month a controversial scientific paper claimed to demonstrate that some of us do indeed possess ESP. Alas -- and I wish I could write this off as just a heavy-handed Woody Allen joke -- subjects exhibited these powers only when it came to identifying porn. Now that's a factoid from left field.