Saturday, February 12, 2011

"What’s more powerful, a gun or a pen?"

"What’s more powerful, a gun or a pen?"

I stopped reading your email at that question. I was afraid you would extrapolate on something that would not only affect my answer, but unnecessarily expand the discussion.

Before I go on, I want to make clear the definitions I ascribe to 'gun' and 'pen.' By 'gun', I assume you mean violence between human beings at every level of interaction, from the personal to the global. By 'pen,' I am going to assume you mean language, in that it is the abstract medium by which human beings communicate emotions, ideas, and concepts.

With those definitions stated, I think the question "what's more powerful, a gun or a pen?" is just shy of asking "what's more important, a candle or the very physical and chemical laws that make the candle's manifestation in our universe even possible?" Here is why.

Violence, in one form or another, has always been a component of the human condition. The reasons necessitating violence are much too varied for me to list, but it has been a tool employed by humans to alter their reality in a very specific fashion: that of removing obstacles that stand between a present circumstance and a desired future circumstance. Within the context of these words, this is often "kill that fucker before he kills me and steals the things I value." The mechanisms of violence have increased in not only complexity and sophistication, but also in scale and efficiency.

When once we humans were loose hunting parties, roaming savannas and utilizing rudimentary clubs and spears to not only acquire food but also defend themselves from aggressors (human or animal), we are now nations millions strong armed with guns, missiles, and bombs with which we attempt to take or defend entire geographical regions and the valued resources within. Mankind now has at its disposal weapons that can cause death and destruction with such frightening efficiency that a nation can reduce another nation on the other side of the planet to radioactive glass over the span of hours.

You can watch James Cameron's Avatar and be dazzled by an ecosystem aesthetically based off of Las Vegas while the United States of America bathes a rival nation in atomic fire. A thousand year span of history and culture and the millions of people who are its current inheritors can be exterminated before you get up for a third bag of popcorn.

This could not have been possible without language. .

It was through language that humanity began organizing itself into more coordinated and efficient social groups. It was through language that the cycles and patterns of the world could be communicated to those unfamiliar with them, thus making them more useful to the society in a shorter amount of time. Technology, agriculture, architecture, philosophy, science, military: all the hallmarks of civilization existed as more than a behavioral anomaly due entirely to the use of language in the perpetuation of the thoughts and designs behind them. It was through language that humanity formed nations and the armies that shielded or conquered them.

More than providing the means by which the designs of (for example) a gun can be distributed, and how people can be sufficiently organized to construct these guns in unimaginable quantities, language also provides the entire mechanism by which it is made known to all involved why the guns are needed. Before armies are amassed, guns and tanks constructed, and orders made and conveyed regarding the most deliberate and effective deployment of these weapons and the men operating them, they have to know why.

It is through language that those who lead nations can make it known to those tasked with defending them or assaulting them why it is in there interest to use violence to take the lives of others and be willing to sacrifice their own. Language puts the gun in a soldier's hands and propels the bullet that kills him.

Language not only makes violence above the level of clubbing someone to death with a rock possible, language also justifies violence and the processes needed to carry it out.

It was the thundering rhetoric of Adolf Hitler that motivated Nazi Germany to rise out of it's postwar destitution and reinvent itself into an industrial juggernaut. It was his call to conquest that heralded the Blitzkrieg that cracked western Europe apart. His words drove a nation strangled by despair to tear that constriction from itself and fight for a more prosperous world, justly built atop the bones of lesser nations and enemy states.

The firm, steeled words of Winston Churchill defined and reinforced the determination of the United Kingdom in the midst of its darkest hour. As German bombers rained destruction on the British countryside and eventually London, his speeches resonated within the souls of the ground and air forces who ripped the Luftwaffe out of the smoke-choked skies and cast them to the earth screaming in balls of fire and twisted steel.

Now I ask you father, disregarding any other external dimension of discussion and within a frame of reference where only violence and its relationship with language can be analyzed and discussed, what is stronger: the gun or the pen?

Which of those two can exist without the other? Which one of those is necessary for every single aspect of the others existence in not only construction but also in justification?

1 comment:

  1. Fine words, sir, as always. I've always thought the question of Sword/Gun vs. Pen to be rather silly. Kind of a "Duh" in my book. =P