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Myth: The Pen Is Mightier Than the Sword

The Pen Is Mightier Than the SwordWhoever said the pen is mightier than the sword obviously never encountered automatic weapons.
– General Douglas MacArthur

Engage brain.

You’re alone in a field. A large, snarling man is running at you with a long, steel sword raised above his head, and he’s getting close; are you feeling confident with only that Bic Quad-color pen in your hand?

“Okay,” you say, “the pen isn’t mightier in that situation. But sometimes it is.”

Really? And when would that be?

“Well,” you mumble as you hurriedly assemble your defense… After all, you’ve said “the pen is mightier than the sword” a lot of times, and you don’t want to just admit that you’ve been mindlessly repeating it to friends and family, and that other people started repeating it from your example!

Let me stop you right here. You’re ready to defend something that you more or less know is false! Think about that. What this means is that you’re willing to call black white, if it keeps you from facing blame.

Dear reader, take the blame. We’ve all said stupid things. Sorry, but that’s the truth. We’ve all been born into a difficult and confusing life, and we still have a long way to go in clearing our minds. I don’t like that any better than you do, but we’re never going to escape stupid errors if we don’t face them.

So, you screwed-up. So what! So have I; so has everyone. Get over it and move on. We’re all ignorant of many things, we’ve all been confused at times, and we’ve all made mistakes. As long as they weren’t gigantic mistakes, they really weren’t that important. What is important, is correcting them when we see them.

So, stop being so defensive and move on.

Okay, your response was going to be: “But the pen can make the people rise up and oppose the wrong.” Fine so far, but what that really means is that the people – being many – will bring some kind of force against “the wrong.” This can be physical force, or perhaps just angry people who will vote a politician out of office.

What this all means is that the pen is only mighty when it gathers force. And this, of course, means that the pen is not mightier than the sword. In other words, the old saying is misleading at best, and utterly stupid when we base further ideas and arguments upon it.

The truth is this:

The pen is only mightier than the sword when it calls more swords to the battle.

Paul Rosenberg

[Myth: The Pen is Mightier Than the Sword is an excerpt from Paul Rosenberg’s book, Mindless Slogans – 101 Cheap Substitutes for Actual Thought]

{ 3 comments… add one }
  • Dar May 13, 2013, 6:17 am

    I am thinking that the saying may be referring to true long-term changes,which do require ideas and not just mindless action.

  • Kds June 14, 2013, 3:31 am

    Obviously not in this authors hands. He doesn’t get that this is a metonymic adage, a figure of speech.

  • Kratoklastes September 19, 2013, 8:18 am

    If you live in a world where sentences convey literally only the information contained in the words as written, then obviously “the pen is mightier than the sword” is dumb coz’n if’n Ah hit mah pen with mah sword, the pen gon’ break.

    Seriously, I know America has a totally shallow philosophical tradition, but (as Jimmy would say)… come on.

    The aphorism is meant to convey the fact that pens are used to give permanence to ideas in ways that oral traditions can’t: by making the word ‘flesh’ they enable the transmission of ideas both over distance and time. (“WORDS DON’T BECOME MEAT!” I hear you say, failing to get the point).

    And you also ignore the origin of the aphorism: Edward Bulwer-Lytton’s play “Richelieu: The Conspiracy”.

    Think about how important words are, dummy: think of Washington making sure that Paine’s GLORIOUS “These are the times that try men’s souls” was read aloud to every one of his bedraggled men prior to the battle of Trenton. Think of why Jefferson wrote that Paine should ‘go on doing with his pen what at other times was done with a sword’ – in other words, making men think about their station.

    Neither the French Revolution, nor the American, would have been won without Paine’s prose: senior figures from all sides of both conflicts said as much. The pen was the ‘sine qua non’ that made the world shake.

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