The saying that ‘the pen is mightier than the sword’ is one of those trite things people say when they want to be seen as cool and profound. A Katana versus the pen-holder doesn’t only make the pen stop writing, but also stops the words that the holder of the pen is writing.

English: Japanese sword handle tsuka.
Photo credit: Wikipedia

People generally don’t think when they spout nonsense like that.  The message, the idea, is only powerful if it makes its way to our hearts. There are so many hurdles and obstacles before that happens. The Katana guy is already there, playing on our instinctive fear of death.

The message only exist as a set of fired neurons in a brain. The idea only exist as a passion felt by the brain upon reading that message. The words only have power in that intersection of minds that reading is. Without the reader, no, the pen is just a cheap bit of plastic standing in a cup; a piece of plastic that leak liquid in a controlled way. It is not the pen doing the work, it’s the mind reading.

If the mind reading is receptive to the message, and the idea, in the first place it might move us; either as something new thing that we can play with, or it merely confirms something which is already known. Cognitive dissonance, bias, and habit tend to select away what the reading mind doesn’t like.

It is difficult to convince without unassailable facts and figures and data, and even then the mind wants to dismiss the data as biased and unreliable. Just look at any political debate. Just look at the anti-science movements. Modern people who have never known pandemics because of vaccines will say that the lack of disease means vaccines are not needed because there is no need for them…

The mind is a funny thing. Conviction is a funny thing. Bias and self-selection is a funny thing. I mean, could I convince my mum, by power of facts and figures and data, that say Thatcher’s neo-Liberalism had the correct answers to a subset of problems of poverty? What if someone made a scientifically unassailable study that showed that the welfare state was harmful? Would any lefties actually take that study in?

Could I ever be convinced by facts and data and statistics that God could, theoretically, exist as an aspect of the nature of matter? Could I ever believe that homosexuality was, if it was backed by data and studies and science, harmful to social cohesion?

Could I, you, anyone, be convinced by something diametrically opposed to what we value and believe – even if that view was the unassailable truth? I don’t believe so. Because humans are subjective animals. We don’t live by our minds, but by our hearts.

The pen is not mightier than the sword because the sword works on an instinctive level against our fear. It already lives in our hearts. The pen has to go through many selections before it speaks to our hearts. The message and the idea filters through our brain, and only that which the brain accepts gets to play with the strings of our hearts. 

All we can do is to hope that we own the heart of the Katana guy. Then we don’t have to chose between the sword and the pen. We can have both, and that seems a far better solution than to try to convince anyone that the pen is mightier than the sword.