In certain primitive societies, chieftains would lead ritual efforts to defend their world from the forces of evil. Even when that evil was a total figment of their imaginations.
The fact that the moon wasn't eaten each month by an invisible dragon, or that the sun wasn't going to disappear forever around the winter solstice, sometimes wasn't fully grasped by good folks who would try anything, from dances and incantations to the sacrifice of a virgin, to protect their lives from being snuffed out by forces unknown.
Such was the scene the other day at the Utah Statehouse, when Gov. Gary Herbert and other medicine men gathered for a rally dubbed a Celebration of Marriage.
Not that there's anything wrong with that. Celebrating marriage is fine, like being glad when the sun comes up or spring returns or corn ripens. Sometimes, though, people can be a little unclear on the progression of cause to effect.
The motivation for Tuesday's celebration, of course, is the fact that a whole lot of wholly sincere Utahns fear that the institution of marriage is endangered by the rapid acceptance of same-sex unions. That is, they are convinced that marriage is threatened by a lot of people who want to get married.
The fact that the U.S. Supreme Court may be about to decide two cases that will advance the cause of gay marriage is not a bad omen for marriage at all. It may be the best chance the institution has for being cool again. Because, right now, among an ever greater number of straight people, especially straight women, it isn't.
The cold, hard stats are presented in a report cleverly entitled "Knot Yet: The Benefits and Costs of Delayed Marriage in America." It has a lot of data about how people are getting married later. Which can be good if it means people don't rush into marriage with the wrong person, and have more education and more sense of themselves before choosing a life partner.
More worrisome, perhaps, is what the report calls "The Great Crossover," the finding that the average age at which women marry is now older than the average age at which women have their first child. Soon, more than half of all first births will be to unmarried women.
Single motherhood is no longer so stigmatized (thus lower abortion rates). And, with the loss of the sustainable support system of the extended family, which fell to the wholly inferior idea of the nuclear family (properly named for the fact that it is unstable and likely to fission), ad hoc and publicly provided support systems are taking their place.
Yes, statistics show that the children of single mothers, especially young, uneducated single mothers, can have the deck stacked against them in terms of wealth, health and opportunities. But people don't live in statistical charts. They live real, imperfect, personally chosen lives.
And as stand-up philosopher Tim Allen observed years ago, "Men are pigs." So, now that making a living no longer requires, as Newt Gingrich used to say, hunting giraffes, more and more women are electing to heed the call of their biological clocks without the weight of a smelly, unkempt, even violent, man hanging around.
Thus the recent move by the American Academy of Pediatrics to come out in support of what is calls "same gender civil marriage." That group sees it as a much-needed force for the stabilization, not the undermining, of the American family as a safe and nurturing place for children born, fostered and adopted which the straight world is less and less able to provide.
George Pyle, a Tribune editorial writer, thinks all people who claim to know how to raise children are either crazy or liars. Disabuse him of that idea at email@example.com or via Facebook at facebook.com/stateofthedebate