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If war has an opposite, it’s not peace, it’s civilization. (inspired by Ursula LeGuin writing in 1969)

Civilization is the foundation of every successful culture. It permits us to live in safety, without being crippled by fear. It’s the willingness to discuss our differences, not to fight over them. Civilization is efficient, in that it permits every member of society to contribute at her highest level of utility. And it’s at the heart of morality, because civilization is based on fairness.

The civilization of a human encampment, a city or town where people look out for one another and help when help is needed is worth seeking out.

We’re thrilled by the violent video of the iguana and the snakes, partly because we can’t imagine living a life like that, one where we are always at risk.

To be always at risk, to live in a society where violence is likely—this undermines our ability to be the people we seek to become.

Over the last ten generations, we’ve made huge progress in creating an ever more civilized culture. Slavery (still far too prevalent) is now seen as an abomination. Access to information and healthcare is better than it’s ever been. Human culture is  far from fully civilized, but as the years go by, we’re getting better at seeing all the ways we have to improve.

And this can be our goal. Every day, with every action, to make something more civilized. To find more dignity and possibility and opportunity for those around us, those we know and don’t know.

Hence the imperative. Our associations, organizations and interactions must begin with a standard of civility. Our work as individuals and as leaders becomes worthwhile and generous when we add to our foundation of civilization instead of chipping away at it. 

The standard can come from each of us. We can do it. We can speak up. We can decide to care a little more. We can stand up to the boss, the CEO, or the elected representative and say, “wait,” when they cross the line, when they pursue profit at the cost of community, when they throw out the rules in search of a brawl instead. The race to the bottom and the urge to win at all costs aren’t new, but they’re not part of who we are and ought to be.

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Toward civilization
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