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Anthropology has contributed a great deal to our understanding of interpersonal human aggression (a behavior in which one person uses physical or verbal abuse to attack, dominate, or humiliate another). The evidence suggests that levels of interpersonal aggression vary enormously between societies and do so according to their “stage of social and cultural evolution.” This use of the word evolution, however, is highly misleading because it implies that there has been a simple and unilinear evolution from the primitive and violent to the civilized and nonviolent: In fact, nothing could be further from the truth.

During the thousands of years of human prehistory, most of our ancestors lived in small bands of hunters, gatherers, and fishers. In such small and mobile groups, tight controls were exercised ...

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