Metamorphosis and Metastasis
By Andrew Lim
Two big polysyllabic words. Nevertheless, it has made its way into mainstream use via different routes, one through early education, the other when illness strikes someone you know. Top of mind answer for metamorphosis is the butterfly, which starts as an icky itchyworm (sosyal for higad) and finishes as a work of art, beautiful to look at. Usual grade school biology stuff. For metastasis, it is a more closely defined condition arising from the spread of a disease (usually cancer) from the initial site to other parts of the body.
One signifies growth and improvement and movement from nice to good to great; the other signals dread and a dark foreboding. One leads to glory, the other likely leads to a denouement. Expanding its usage into the realm of society, a Third World country previously in the throes of poverty and injustice but have racked successive years of growth and made inroads in fighting corruption can be characterized as on metamorphosis mode. A metastasizing society on the other hand, can be described as discarding all notion of civility, losing trust in institutions, justifying the means by pointing to its ends. Care must be used however, in comparing a single organism like an insect or a human body to society as the latter is infinitely more complex. After all, society is composed of several organisms itself.
Metamorphosis uses what nature has given us – oxygen, water, sunlight and the nutrients from what we devour to continue one’s path to growth and development. You can’t get more natural than that. In building great societies: evidence based arguments, freedom of information with few restrictions. Robust institutions. Rule of law. Human development, not death-driven development. Consistencies in policy pronouncements. The admiration and pride of the community of nations.
On the other hand, metastasis introduces an alien (induced by a carcinogen for instance), tricks the host into multiplying itself that eventually leads to its destruction and death. Are lies, non-sequiturs, unfounded statements grabbed from Facebook and other social media the carcinogens of our time?
In literature and film study, we are lectured on the narrative arc, that gradual upwards slope which builds to that most anticipated state of all, until the lights are switched on again or the book cover is closed. The middle part is usually the best; no wonder in most trilogies the second part is the most applauded: Empire Strikes Back, Godfather 2, The Two Towers.
In the film “The Curious Case of Benjamin Button”, Pitt’s charcter is born as an old man that gradually transforms into an infant by the end of the film. He is Brad Pitt the handsome while his contemporaries are slowing and aging. The author’s genius is in showing to us how much of a gift our middle years are; and even if we reverse the aging process, both bookends of infancy and old age are the same- you are not in control, and your best has either come and gone or is yet to come.
Which leads us to the final question: is an old organism capable of metamorphosis? Emphasis on the word “organism” because we are discussing the progression of things in the natural world. An old car for example, can be remodeled and restored to showroom standards but it is not an organic process. It does not do it by itself.
The answer is a definite no. It is not in the natural order of things. Neurology shows us how our brain develops the equivalent of grooves in old vinyl records as we age; the diamond stylus keeps on treading the same path over and over again. It takes tremendous effort as well as self-awareness to produce new tracks.
And usually, we succumb to the carcinogens of pride, arrogance and apathy, human frailties we have had since mankind began.