Antimetathesis (an-ti-me-ta’-the-sis): Inversion of the members of an antithesis.

Bad and good. Good and bad. What a waste of time making these determinations when the passage of time sheds new light and bad is made good and good is made bad. These reversals bear witness to the contingency of what matters—now it is good, then it is bad. Everything is subject to shifting sensibilities or the ongoing revelation of “truth” by the researches of science as it sweeps away folklore and banishes myth to life’s sidelines along with poetry and fiction. But people may freely believe what their communities, friends and families believe, even if it entails their rejection of life-saving medicines or procedures, resulting in death. We saw it over and over during the COVID epidemic and from time to time in communities that don’t permit blood transfusions or surgeries.

When we observe what we think is crazy, ignorant, destructive behavior we may call it tragic or stupid or evil. And we may condemn these people when their children die and we may just shake our heads when adults are put on respirators and die shortly thereafter. But where there is agency there is error, and error may go all the way around the circle of people constructing a community, and choosing, choosing, choosing. Right now there are former US military personnel filing lawsuits for cancer contracted from burn pits. Then there was Agent Orange . . .

Every choice we make is motivated by faith—there is no other way to obtain the fate that choosing projects—the future does not exist now: it exists in the throes of hope and fear and imagination—no matter how quickly we go from the present to the future: You put your key in your car’s ignition. You turn it. The car starts. Your faith is fulfilled. But, there’s always a chance it may not be—possibly in a deserted parking lot on a below-zero night.

When good and bad trade places we are reminded of their contingency: they are subject to change and can transform into each other. The clearest case I can think of right now is marijuana’s legalization. When I was in high school in the mid-sixties, a person I knew was sent to prison for a year for possession of one marijuana seed. Now, it is legal to buy it at a store in the mall. I guess it was always true that it was harmless, but that didn’t keep people from seeing it as harmful, and acting on that view. Anyway, most of the time when we act, we expect a given consequence to be brought into being by the action, but there is always a gap between what we do and what happens, however tiny. There also may be a constellation of conflicting assertions about our motivations for a given action: pulling the trigger on a handgun and killing somebody can result in the imputation of a variety of motives, from a tragic accident, to self-defense, to first degree murder. Depending on the circumstances, decisions are made about “what happened” in order to determine what to do next. All I know is we need to be aware of the contingency of deeply rooted cultural norms and their susceptibility to change or preservation. Permanence, without human assistance, is an illusion.

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Definition courtesy of “Silva Rhetoricae” (

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