Translator: Andrea McDonough
Reviewer: Bedirhan Cinar Let’s talk about the facts of life. You remember that conversation you had when you were a kid about sex or drugs with your parents or some trusted adult? Probably not because it’s a myth. You don’t talk to kids about that stuff. It’s just so embarrassing. And, hey, maybe that’s OK. We’ve been outsourcing the facts of life for decades. We spend billions of dollars on it. So, why talk to kids when you can just turn on the TV? I learned about drugs from an egg and a frying pan: “This is drugs, and this is your brain on drugs. Pssssssss. Any questions?” Yeah, actually, I did. But it’s not about questions. It’s about data. In the 1980’s when I was growing up, those data were terrifying parents: 1% of high school seniors had try heroin, 12% hallucinogens, 12% tranquilizers, 17% cocaine, 26% stimulants, and over 50% of us had tried marijuana. It was an epidemic! At least, that’s what they told us. And marijuana was the gateway drug, leading to all the harder stuff. Of course, 92% of us were drinking alcohol, and that was killing more of us than all drugs combined. But, nevermind, it’s legal. So we declared war on drugs! Nancy Reagan was our general. All drugs will kill you, so just say, “No!” Just say, “No!” to pot. Just say, “No!” to cocaine. Just say, “No!” to everything. So simple! If you want to save kids, you have to scare the hell out of them! And we spent ridiculous amounts of money doing that. Soon that war on drugs spread to become a war on sex. We were pushing abstinence on kids to fight AIDS. And when all the data finally came home, guess what: completely ineffective. We love big solutions to big problems, don’t we? What if the facts of life don’t work that way? What if the experience of having that conversation can’t be mass-produced? What if it can’t be scaled up? Well, that would be very frustrating for everyone in this industry, wouldn’t it? And, many of them are really trying to help. Who, then? Us. We have to talk to kids. Openly and honestly. But are we ready to be honest? I don’t think so. We mythologize childhood. Mine was in Stone Mountain, Georgia, a completely typical 1980’s American suburb. For the parents, a wholesome paradise of bridge parties and tennis games. For us kids, we were all working on a secret research project, and our laboratory was in the woods after school, under the covers during sleep-overs, really, any opportunity we could take to peel off our clothes and investigate. What were these things, bodies? What do they do? We had to figure them out and that’s childhood. It’s not just fun and games, it’s actually a Manhattan project of nakedness. And then you walk into your first class in middle school, and the bomb goes off. You are not just a body any more. Oh no, now you are grotesque. That’s when the suffering really starts. So, yeah, talk to kids. But if you are not honest about your own experiences first, everything you say smells like bullshit. Don’t worry, you can practice and you should start by talking to the one kid you definitely know: you. What kind of kid were you? What troubled you? For me, it was age 13. That was the worst year. I was obsessively curious about sex and also deeply ashamed by it. It wasn’t my only problem, of course, not by a long shot, but it was the beginning of a downward spiral. And my bad luck was to hit bottom while watching “The Wall” by Pink Floyd, which is a bad idea for a miserable 13-year old high on weed. So, that night, for whatever reason, it seemed like good idea to shave off my eyebrows, and then try to kill myself by swallowing all the pills in the bathroom, which was not at all fatal, but everyone noticed the eyebrows. And that made middle school extra fun. So, what was your low point? And if you could build a time machine to travel back and talk to that kid, what would you say to yourself? For me, it was easy. All I really needed was someone to reassure me that somehow I was a normal part of the universe. But I didn’t feel like I could talk to anyone. And yet weirdly, I fully expected a time traveler to materialize at any time because I was a geek. I didn’t know if it would be my unborn son or a T-101 cyborg. But either one would be awesome! Hey, it’s me, yourself from the future, in the year 2012. I have crucial information for you, but not about the future, about the past, a billion years in the past, when this planet was covered with nothing but cells and all they did was fight, eat, and divide; fight, eat, and divide. Except for one. And that’s your ancestor. This cell enslaved other ones, but master and slave became one. And then those cells invented sex, and then they invented the first bodies with each cell doing a different job, some smelling, some moving, some eating. And the job of sex went to a special cell called the gamete. And those bodies became giant. The distance to the next body was vast so they had to swim. Most would be lost and die so they were mass-produced. Soon the oceans were a non-stop riot of sex and death until 500 million years ago, when the first beast crawled onto land. Land is hard because bodies are heavy. And the sun kills gametes. To keep them safe, so deep inside of a body, the mother builds a tiny ocean. Outside are events of unimaginable violence. Whole new forms of life are being created only to be wiped away. Millions of years are flashing by. But in here, it’s always the same. Peace. Just peace. Maybe we will never know why, but of all the possible bodies that have appeared on this planet, it was this one, bilaterally symmetric, warm-blooded, bigger than a mouse, smaller than a horse, 2 legs, 10 toes, no tail, big brain, language, technology, and civilization rising and falling for thousands of years. And here you are, a 13-year old human perplexed and embarrassed about sex. That’s what I came here to tell you: we don’t know why sex evolved nor why it persists. Why don’t we just clone ourselves like all life did a billion years ago? It’s so much more efficient. We would all have babies, no mates. It could be that children who are genetically different from each other are protected from disease. And that is still our best guess. So be comforted to know that even in the distant future, in the year 2012, we still don’t know what sex is for. It is perplexing. You shouldn’t be embarrassed by it. Sex is a beautiful puzzle. And without it, you simply would not be here. By the way, be nice to your little sister. She’s your best friend. You’ll see.