Kathleen Parker

A persistent argument keeps finding its way into my mailbox almost regardless of subject. Whether the topic of the day is fatherhood, family, marriage, divorce, childbirth, nutrition, addiction, blackouts or the California recall, some little snip out there launches the "oh-yeah-well-in-primitive-cultures-yadda-yadda-yadda."

As in, nothing we believe, trust or defend as long-standing cultural standards based on Judeo-Christian tradition is necessarily valid.

Blame Rousseau's noble savage, Einstein's relativity or multiculturalism's maxim of non-judgment. Whatever the mix of influences, we seem to have devolved to a state of such self-contempt that any ol' aborigine is better than what white men have wrought in the guise of Western civilization.

In the romanticized world of the noble savage, primitive wisdom - tied as it is to, oh, moon cycles, deciduous tree droppings, squirrel couplings - is always deemed superior to white man's brain emissions.

The underpinning of these recycled arguments rests on the assumption that the closer humans live to nature - absent the corruptions inherent in civilization (see McDonald's) - the purer and better they are. Hunter-gatherers good; Publix bad. Diapered aboriginal spear-throwers good; Orvis-clad white men in duck blinds bad.

No matter what theory or cultural icon you want to knock down, there's a convenient excuse - I mean, antique antidote - waiting to be Googled.

We seem most attached to primitive remedies in discussions of gender and relationships. Hence the current goddess movement and the search for the lost sacred feminine. Modern woman finds her self-esteem in the arrangement of rocks in rural England.

Hetero men, meanwhile, race to the woods, run around campfires and beat drums trying to rediscover their inner butchness, while gay men lobby to marry each other and adopt babies. And by exactly what authority does anyone deem heterosexuality to have greater value to civilization than homosexuality? In Siberian shamanism, bisexuality was honored and androgyny was the goal. And you thought it was a '60s thing.

History, in other words, proffers unguents to salve the stickiest wickets. But whatever our current mood, evolution should count for something, and several centuries of human head-banging have produced a nuclear-family template that ideally works pretty well. Man and woman unite, sanctioned by society and supported by culture, to procreate - if they're absolutely determined to be miserable. (That's a joke.)

Kathleen Parker

Kathleen Parker is a syndicated columnist with the Washington Post Writers Group.
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