Paul Staley: Mutations

Save ArticleSave Article

Failed to save article

Please try again

Paul Staley says there’s a whole lot of mutating going on.


It’s a thing these days.

Viruses are doing it. Conspiracy theories as well. But it has always been part of life.

Einstein once said that God doesn’t play dice with the universe. But it’s clear that He, or She, is pretty fond of reshuffling the deck. The attitude appears to be that exact replicas are fine most of the time, but it’s interesting to keep trying new sequences, a little tweak here or there. The manufacturer is always tinkering with the product.


Most of the time these new versions don’t work out, and in this respect life resembles a venture capitalist’s portfolio: a lot of duds but hopefully a handful of big winners. And it is these winners that alter the landscape.

But it takes time not only to sort out the winners and the losers, but to smooth out the rough edges of this process.

Within the span of our own lives, we worry that somewhere inside us genetic instruction will get garbled and cells will gnarl into a tumor. But at the same time we have to acknowledge that every one of our senses, and therefore everything we enjoy about life, can be traced back to some ancient mutation. That cells will not always reproduce perfectly is part of the bargain. In this sense mutation is like something buried in the small print of the user agreement we have to consent to in order to use the app or the device. At the moment of our births, we clicked on the little box that says “agree.” We didn’t bother to read it. Who does? We were too eager to start the fun and games.

But obviously we never had a choice in the matter. We have to play by the rules in a world where cells are free to break them. Mutation may be the engine of evolution, but that doesn’t mean we have to like it, and our language betrays that. Mutant implies deformity, while evolved suggests progress. We may marvel at it over the long run, but fear and resent it in the short term.

With a Perspective, I’m Paul Staley.

Paul Staley lives in San Francisco.