To be civilized is to be removed from the relationships that sustain us, and to conform to predetermined rules and conventions. The city, one of the shining examples of our civilization, is an efficient grid of concrete, plastic, rubber and steel that denies us the ability to feel the earth. It denies us the ability to feel each other. Without our relationships – both with other people, and the natural environment – people are, in fact, nothing. Our cities are massive nodes of commerce allowing us to consume products from around the world. Often these things destroy people’s lives or the natural environment in the way they are produced, transported, consumed, and disposed of. Established conventions compel people to ignore these consequences of relationships that sustain us; they compel us to be alienated from ourselves because a life without relationships is empty. Our senses are so stunted by following these conventions that people don’t realize or don’t care that we are nourished by suffering – that our actions are in fact suicidal, by jeopardizing the health of natural ecosystems, without which no person, let alone a civilization, may exist. We are preoccupied with our freedom, recognized as choice in our consumption habits. Arguably, this freedom amounts to little more than a greater range of relationships to ignore; it is simply greater freedom from ourselves. To know who we are, we must seek out the relationships that sustain us. Unfortunately, many of us will find ourselves living an inevitably empty, suicidal, and parasitic or tyrannical existence. We have two options to address this situation. We may wait until our suicidal tendencies end us. Or, we may foster and honour our interrelationships with other human beings and end our parasitic ways; our tyranny. We may honour our interrelationship with the natural environment, and overcome suicide. We may break the concrete conventions that compel apathy and ignorance and lionize suicide and tyranny. We may reinvent our cities, our societies – our lives – to honour our interrelationships. In doing so, we may cease to be empty.
In doing so, we may know ourselves.