I have had enough days in nature to know what it is like to long for the simplest comforts of civilization. But the brightest memories are not of those comforts; I have spent enough days in civilization to know the longing for the wilderness.
On every return from nature, I am shocked by the physical and spiritual malaise of city life. The litter and noise, the constant, constant sales pitch, omnipresent reminders of rank and status, and people broken in all manner of ways.
It's strange to return from the world of stone and trees to this one that at times seems even more savage than nature. Here every message is that some thing will give you happiness. But away from the artificial world, the default state seems to be exactly that one. Even when the basic needs are only partially met, the reward seems to be beauty and meaning. Eating simple meals over a cookstove, more joy than at world renowned restaurants.
Some vices miss what is right because they are deficient, others because they are excessive, in feelings or in actions, while virtue finds and chooses the mean.
Aristotle, Nichomachean Ethics.
Earth supports life because it is exactly the right distance from the Sun at this point in the stellar lifecycle (i.e., within the circumstellar habitable zone). In a universe where the temperatures ranges from about -272°C to 3,000,000°C, the healthy temperature for a human body is ~36.5-37.5°C. The trick to life has always been balance – not too hot, not too cold, not too much, not too little. Success is not first place, not maximums or minimums, but averageness.
There is a point of balance between the state of nature and the technology that we have today. It is possible to build quiet cities that interweave with and respect nature. It is possible to enjoy shelter and agriculture and books while still being able to delight in the hooting of an owl and blinking fields of fireflies. And yes, it is possible to have the best of civilization without wrecking the foundations on which it rests.
But that is not where we are today. What we have instead is a world where millions starve while others drown in the misery of material possessions, where we are safe from the elements but blind to the stars, and where nearly every metric of planetary health is failing. Our planet is sick because our civilization is sick. Our civilization is sick because technology cannot, has not, and will not answer spiritual and psychological dilemmas. In fact, the very things that can, nature and community, are being destroyed by the it.
The task before us is moderation – dialing back excess – finding and choosing the mean.