By Sarah Begley
August 11, 2016

Americans tend to think of vices as, well, vices: shameful habits to avoid. But throughout history, such behaviors have played a critical role in shaping societies, sometimes for the better. So argues Cracked editor Robert Evans in A (Brief) History of Vice: How Bad Behavior Built Civilization. A desire to drink and party, for example, led early nomadic humans to establish more-permanent roots in farming communities, where they could produce more beer and hold social gatherings–which ultimately helped them develop a more complex, sophisticated culture. And during the AIDS epidemic in the 1980s, a spike in kinky interests–like foot fetishes–meant more people were satisfying their sexual desires without risking (or spreading) infection. “Behind every vice is an impulse,” Evans writes. And while impulses can be destructive, they can also be used to “improve our ability to deal with the world, and … help us grow as people.”

–SARAH BEGLEY

Contact us at editors@time.com.

This appears in the August 22, 2016 issue of TIME.

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