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By James Silverberg, J. Patrick Gray

This publication explores the position of aggression in primate social structures and its implications for human habit.

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Aggression and Peacefulness in Humans and Other Primates

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Birds peck one another . . in a "triangle": a pecks b, b pecks c, and c again pecks a. [Perhaps] strength has given a despotism over b, courage has made b despot over c, and circumstances have caused c to become despot over a (Schjelderup-Ebbe 1935:952-953). His admonitions about the single-determinant fallacy and the frequency of triangles (Sade's "cycles," Chapter 3) have often been ignored, as mass media popularizers and some scientific ethologists resonated back and forth to stereotype the dominance hierarchy as linear (transitive), rigid and based essentially on fighting ability.

This approach does not deny that human consciousness mediates the social impact of these variables. In fact, some theorists argue that the symbolic world is a straightforward reflection of the operation of these variables. The approach asks if consideration of human consciousness adds significantly to the power of our explanatory models. For example, we might ask whether the different understandings individuals or even whole societies hold—about human nature and the acceptability or inevitability of conflict, violence, or war—play a major explanatory role when we examine cross-cultural variations in terms of variables such as resource depletion.

30 AGGRESSION AND PEACEFULNESS IN HUMANS AND OTHER PRIMATES A review of the ethnographies of several societies at peace led Howell and Willis to identify a correlation between "'peacefulness' as a moral value and gender equality" (1989a:24). Is this correlation one that would hold in a larger sample of societies? We briefly examined this problem using Ross's methodology and conclude this section with our results. Using a holocultural sample, Whyte (1978) demonstrated that female status (prestige) is not a unified trait, but is best measured on several subscales that vary independently within societies.

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