The Sword and The Pen

A sense of truth is gleaned from a lifetime of discarding lies. It filters like sunlight through an old growth forest of dogma and misconception. Like sunlight, it is more apparent by its absence; for it is pervasive and reflected everywhere. Like the dew, it condenses in cool and quiet hours only to evaporate in the heat of daily activity.

Just as water and oil will separate, truth has a way of overcoming falsehood by rising above it. Truth has often been symbolized as a sword, or as brandishment of a sword; this is an allegorical reminder of the subjugation of the pen when it becomes poisonous, or sterile. The pen truly is far mightier than the sword when properly employed. Hands wield the sword in the realm of the flesh, but the intellect wields the pen in the realm of understanding, or of the spirit. The clatter of the sword rings out for a moment on the battlefield, but the rustle of the pen may murmur through the ages. When we recall great battles, it is primarily because the pen has preserved them. When the pen does not serve the truth, the sword must by default.

Currently, the pen seems to have yielded to the sword. The pen has largely ceased to serve the truth, at least in the popular media. Fortunately, this has enabled new and independent media to thrive. However, when so many notable political watchdogs and pundits use the pen to pommel each other like a stage full of debating politicians, trouble looms. Is there no greater purpose to be served, no better principle to uphold, while our republic sinks before our eyes with so many slumbering passengers on board?

Any writer is likely, at some point, to encounter the temptation to use the pen as a sword; to strike back or to wound another. Conversely, the warrior will face the temptation to use the sword as a pen, to leave a 'mark on history', to deal the immortal blow. There is an intimate and sublime relationship between these two symbols. One clearly represents war, the other implies nonviolence or the resolution of conflict. Perhaps it is helpful to think of the pen as the evolution of the sword, a higher manifestation of the same principle, or the obverse of the same coin.

A sound philosophy will withstand assault; wisdom retains her dignity in the face of adversity. Spite, like a carnival mask, is obvious to the dispassionate observer; it looks ridiculous. Fight bad ideas with better ones, and with humor. Fewer egos jousting will make for healthier debate; who's left to mind the shop if everyone has 'stepped outside'? Using loaded or derisive terms lowers the tenor of debate. It's generally more rewarding to win a chess game than a fist fight, and certainly less painful to lose. Fist fights will attract a larger audience, if that's the audience you're trying to reach; an audience in search of something better will move on quickly.

It's a shame that Jesus' wit seems to have lost so much in translation, and with the passage of time. His admonition, 'first cast the beam out of thy own eye; and then thou shalt see clearly to cast the mote out of thy brother's eye' must have been a real zinger. Rather than a personal insult, it was a general, perspicacious observation and it's still advice we'd all do well to follow.

Reminiscent of an old medical misconception, there is an entrenched corps which still believes that bloodletting, or war, will set things right. Tragically of course, it won't; although eventually it will kill or weaken the lust for battle. One wrong plus one wrong equals two wrongs, that's simple math. A strange quiescence has overtaken the multitude; huddling like sheep who sense a wolf, they remain unaware that the familiar sheepdogs may be wolves in sheepdog's clothing.

Connecting dots? People who arm, supply, and aid belligerent regimes in other countries don't trust us with arms, or even nailclippers on our airlines. People who haven't balked at using depleted uranium, cluster bombs, 'daisy-cutters', or at 'collateral damage' of civilians. These same people are prepared to mandate vaccinations for everything from small pox to drug use, and herd us into football stadiums like cattle for 'public health' reasons. Let's not forget, our government is a collective of individuals. In whose interests are they acting?

Mark Twain once said, "The difference between the right word and the almost right word is the difference between lightning and the lightning bug." Perhaps the difference between popular enlightenment and nuclear war will be the difference between the right sentiment and the almost right sentiment. We are, each one of us, responsible; and efforts to shed individual responsibility or to scapegoat ultimately only make us more so. If a person surrenders his responsibility to another, shouldn't that entail becoming responsible for the actions of the other as well? The easiest, safest, and wisest course is to accept responsibility for ourselves, and let each individual do likewise.

There is a conundrum in the prevalent thinking that speech and the press should be free, while weapons should be controlled. Ideas are far more 'dangerous' than firearms; they have a different kind of power, but it is farther reaching and harder to regulate. Inevitably, ideas are far more threatening to institutions of power than rifles are. Disarming civilians may be the means to an end; but confiscation of 'dangerous ideas' will ultimately be that end. The fewer the voices raised in opposition, the easier it will be for authoritarian control to be asserted.

The written or spoken word can aptly be symbolized as a weapon, such as a sword or an arrow. Words can convey ideas as scattershot, or as a missile truly aimed. Words begin wars, words end them, and words can prevent wars. Words must be accompanied by action, but it is the nature of our words which will direct our subsequent actions: and, theoretically, our government's.


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