The Testosterone Principles
Your Crumbling Y Chromosome
That's what it must have sounded like when the volcano blew, only followed by about a half million M's.
By the best estimates of archaeologists, it happened around 1630 B.C.E.
It was a beautiful, sunny day, or at least I'm presuming it was because it seems that cruelly, paradoxically, bad shit always happens on bright, sunny days, suggesting that the universe really enjoys effing with us.
The Minoans who lived on the Mediterranean island of what is today known as Santorini – or at least the tragically optimistic Minoans who had ignored all the warnings and decided not to relocate – were going about their bronze-age business when the aforementioned volcano, arguably the worst one in recorded history, exploded.
It registered between 6 and 7 on the Volcanic Explosivity Index and spewed out four times as much rock ash, magma, and general effluvium as history's most famous earth-pimple, Krakatoa.
After the initial explosion, a plume of ash around 30 kilometers high darkened the sky, causing a rain of pumice of up to 5 meters thick to bury the ancient city we call Akrotiri, named for the city that now rests above it.
The resultant tsunami, estimated to be between 35 and 105 meters high, destroyed the northern part of the island, along with any other nearby colony or civilization that had made the ill-fated choice of settling on beachfront property.
The entire island of Santorini became uninhabitable for 300 years.
Historically speaking, the volcan-orgasm that buried ancient Akrotiri in ash had one positive effect – it preserved the city, or at least what was left of it, until archaeologists found it in 1967.
What they found was amazing. The people of Akrotiri lived in comfortable, multi-level apartment buildings of beautiful and advanced architecture. The walls were covered with incredible frescos. They had flush toilets and in-wall hot-water heating, amenities that were not seen in average European households until the 19th and 20th century.
Given their level of sophistication, one half expected to see the remnants of a KFC in the ruins, the smell of rancid chicken grease still clinging to the broken rafters.
Despite their remarkable level of technological and social development, the Minoan city of Akrotiri was largely forgotten, although a brainy Greek pedophile by the name of Plato used to talk about it once a while. He didn't call it Akrotiri, though. He called it Atlantis, or at least historians are pretty sure he was talking about Akrotiri when he mentioned Atlantis.
But let's add some perspective to this historical tale. Ancient Akrotiri existed and thrived about two millennium before Spartacus and Crixus led their slave revolt against Caesar and the Romans, and it's been about two millennium since Caesar was et tu'ed by Brutus.
You could make a strong historical and technological case for the following assertion:
If ancient Akrotiri hadn't been destroyed by the Theran eruption, if their budding but awesomely advanced technology hadn't been squashed by mountain-sized boulders, ash, and magma, Spartacus might have centuries later used a Thracian version of Twitter to organize his rebel slaves, and Julius Caesar might have watched reports of their progress on a high definition television.
It's absolutely plausible. If the Minoan's civilization and technology had survived, it's easy to imagine that it would have progressed in much the same way our civilization has between Caesar and now.
Imagine where our technology would be if things like the computer and HDTV existed two thousand years ago. By now, we'd be living in a Star Trek world, zipping between planets and having inter-species sex with green babes who have bioluminescent hoo-hahs that flash like the neon signage advertising Donny and Marie at the Riviera in Vegas.
Ah, what could have been!
And that brings me to another "what could have been," one that has to do with your balls, or more precisely, your genetic compliment.
Two hundred to three hundred million years ago, the Y chromosome – the sex chromosome that determines maleness and carries male traits in mammals – was a vigorous, strapping thing. Its jeans were bursting with genes, but alas, it's not what it once was.
Today, it's a wee, feeble creature, possessing only 3% of the genes it once carried. You can often see it standing on street corners trembling, anxiously awaiting a Cub Scout to help it cross the street.
What happened to the poor bastard?
The problem lies in the way cells replicate. When cells divide, they swap genetic information in a process called recombination. It's kind of like shuffling a couple of decks of cards together before dividing them back into two decks.
The recombination process allows cells to correct genetic mistakes and mix and match genes. Unfortunately, unlike the other 45 chromosomes carried by humans, the Y chromosome doesn't have anybody to swap genes with. Instead, it gets paired with an X chromosome. The two standing there looking at each other, hemming and hawing nervously, until the Y chromosome mutters something about having to go catch a Knick's game.
As such, the Y is passed on without recombining. In fact, it's estimated that there are about 16 million men in Asia who carry the exact same Y chromosome that's been passed down directly from Genghis Khan, who, as a conqueror, did conqueror-like things, like raping. And raping. And oh yes, raping.
I don't mean to excuse Genghis for his procreative excesses, but he was just fulfilling the crazy ambition of the Y chromosome, which is to distribute itself as widely as possible. Shee-it, Genghis...in fact, any healthy male of his era, produced enough sperm every day to impregnate every female on the continents of Europe and Asia combined, so why not put it to use? Besides, I bet he sent each and every one of the ladies a nice jasmine bouquet the next day, along with a hastily written note that said, "Love ya' –let's do dim-sum real soon!"
But alas for his and every other Y chromosome, if it doesn't recombine, it degenerates by shedding genes and it's been doing that at a steady clip since the whole mammalian cell-division thing started, causing some to postulate that men would soon, possibly within 100,000 years, be extinct.
That wouldn't necessarily mean that human kind would come to an end. As long as there are refrigerators, plastic cups, and Victoria's Secret catalogs around, women should be able to stockpile frozen jizz for a long, long, time. Besides, it's actually possible to fertilize an egg, in vitro, with another female's genetic compliment.
Surprisingly, in 2003, some researchers found that the lonely Y, forbidden to recombine with an X, actually recombines with itself. Like a tiny, molecular Ron Jeremy, the Y twists and contorts and services itself, so to speak, so it may just survive after all, despite its' crippled and diminished state.
Regardless, all of this is enough to make any man feel a little insecure about his importance, or at least his permanence.
And you can't ignore the sociological changes that are also contributing to this insecurity. There are more women currently enrolled in college than men. More and more women are heading up corporations. The majority of young women who have babies have them without fathers, and it's often a conscious choice to do so, rather than the rat bastard not taking responsibility.
Add to that the fact that women are actually more complex than us – they're made of essentially two types of cells, men only one, and women have between 200 and 300 more genes than we male types do.
It's enough to make the typical male feel like his balls are being assaulted by the Pacu fish of New Guinea, which has stormed onto the list of "most fearsome predators" for its habit of biting, chomping, and devouring human testicles with its dull, horse-like teeth.
I can't help wondering if our crumbling Y chromosome, along with our diminished significance in the world, hasn't brought about this epidemic of weakness in today's male. Oh, and I'm not necessarily talking about physical weakness – although you certainly can see a lot of that around – but weakness of spirit, character, and purpose.
I heard this line from a movie, "Where are all the good men dead, in the heart or in the head?" And it kind of haunts me, because the answer is both, both! They're dead in the heart and in the head.
Men were given a mind, a body, and a finite lifespan, but they largely squander those things. Their major ambition is to be distracted all day long by sporting events, YouTube, facebook, Twitter, and Call of Duty: Modern Warfare.
They rarely learn, seldom work towards anything significant, and if they have any time left after the previously mentioned pastimes, they devote it to trying to acquire control over approval from others, success (their limited definition of it), their image, security, and having lots and lots and lots of mindless Cyndi Lauper fun.
Likewise, the traditional male virtues like authority, virility, and strength are dissolving like the Y chromosome on which those traits are likely located. In their place, men are adopting traits like creativity and sensitivity.
Don't get me wrong, creativity and sensitivity are great, but those "female" traits should fit in alongside the bookshelf of maleness, instead of replacing the mighty fine aforementioned classics like strength and virility that were already on the shelf.
Maybe that personality transformation, along with males wearing fitted jeans, sandals, and shoulder bags are an attempt to blend in with the ascendant female race. After all, as columnist Maureen Dowd has noted, "it's better to be an X chromosome than an ex-chromosome."
So, much like I wonder what might have happened if Akrotiri hadn't been destroyed, I wonder what might have been had our Y chromosome not lost so much of its presumably right stuff. You gotta' admit, the typical male isn't behaviorally as far along as we'd expect him to be.
I imagine the complete and quintessential man would have been way different. I think he wouldn't be absorbed in his own beliefs, feelings, prejudices, obsessions, and fantasies. His mind wouldn't come fully stocked with answers, opinions, and judgments; it'd be open to new ideas and he'd continually grow in intelligence and wisdom until he breathed his last.
He wouldn't avoid the truth and protect his beliefs from being contradicted by accurate observations. He'd work to acquire more of what he needs rather than spend all his time in a relentless and fruitless and never fulfilling chase for things that he wants.
He'd devote energy to learning about life instead of vainly devoting energy to controlling security, image, financial success, or entertainment. He'd be useful to other people and the world in general, because he'd know that's what makes life worth living.
Likewise, he'd be protective as males were always meant to be, not only of his own people and property, but also of living things in general. He'd respect women as his allies, and realize that their strengths only compliment his own. He'd laugh at the notion that he can be emasculated by a woman (or a man), because only he has the ability to do that to himself and it's a safe bet that it'll never happen.
This super male would be interested in mastering new things every day and as he got older, he wouldn't contract, wouldn't get fearful, wouldn't cling to old, outmoded ways of thinking, no matter how deeply entrenched.
He'd give his body what it needs instead of what it wants. He'd train it long and hard so that it was a useful tool, useful in accomplishing physical tasks and useful in being able to protect things that mattered to him.
Adversity would be faced with a frontal, full-on attack. He'd thrive on challenge, but he wouldn't do it because he cared only about winning, because winning to get approval from others is nothing more than a masturbatory ego stroke; a sad attempt to tell anyone who'll listen that you have some worth.
Worth is more complicated than that; it's self-worth that's important and meeting your own expectations and definitions of success is far more satisfying than futile attempts to gain it from others.
Our could-have-been man would gamble hard and often with those things that offered great reward, and he'd have the wisdom to know the difference. He'd stand up for his rights, too, along with the rights of others.
Most importantly, this big brained, big souled, big-muscled, self-actualized man would have purpose. He'd actually start and finish things he said he would, so that when he died, he'd have no regrets over wasted time or opportunities. He'd take a look at the setting sun, smile, take his last breath, and die satisfied.
So yeah, it would have been nice to have our Y-chromosomes remain intact, because I sure as hell don't see many men around to fit my fanciful description.
But maybe, just maybe, we've still got the right genetic stuff left to approximate the type of man I'm talking about. Maybe it just takes some awareness, some conviction, and burning a whole lot of calories through both mental and physical effort.
I think it's worth thinking about because playing "what could have been" games always end up being a little depressing.