Gallery 2/12: Union Station, Toronto, Ontario.

Photo by the author.

"Civilization! A word like no other, in any language. It announces every society’s highest and deepest values: it’s the name we give for the most enduring and most glorious of humanity’s monuments and cultural achievements. It speaks of that which a nation may share in common with other nations. In a previous study, I said the sacred is “that which acts as your partner in your search for the highest and deepest things: the real, the true, the good, and the beautiful.” Civilization is a name for the sum of all those partnerships; perhaps it follows that civilization is the sum of all that is sacred; or to put it another way, it is the most sacred of all sacred things. Or, so it might be for those who live in a ‘civilized’ society.

Yet the word also speaks of the conquests, colonizations, and oppressions which make that enduring glory possible. It lifts up one society by putting down another; it demands the capture and taming of wild lands and animals; it summons flag-waving believers to war.

How can civilization be all these things, both wonderful and terrible, at the same time? What is the essence of civilization-- if it has one, at all? This book is about one possible answer to those questions, and it’s the story of how I found it."

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