It’s an old cliché. “Missing the forest for the trees” has little meaning by itself, but calls up a deeper cultural conversation. This kind of “conventional wisdom” is worth exploring in a world full of a lot of detail but little useful, objective truth.
Lost in the forest images come to us from the Brothers Grimm, who used the journey as a metaphor for confronting our deepest fears. Their inspiration was the Black Forest, so dense that light itself cannot penetrate it. In the shadows lurk wolves and other unseen dangers ready to pounce.
It’s neither the forest nor the trees which are the issue. It’s the dark.
Yes, trees define the dark and block the vision of our path. If only there weren’t so many of them there wouldn’t be so much danger. But it is the darkness they define which closes imagination around us. Before we can see the forest what we need is light.
The trees in our world are many. Daily stories of shootings unnerve us. Political turmoil changes the rules constantly. Rude people outnumber the kind and decent. Friends and family succumb to addictions or other problems. Everyone’s job is under constant threat.
What is going on? Too much to make sense of all at once, for sure.
Calling our conventional politics a fairy tale is both too easy and a bit off the mark. Like the Tales of Grimm, it is about our deepest fears turned into a fantasy. Unlike the stories told to children, however, politics today is less about confronting fears and much more about sitting down and waiting for the darkness to kill us all.
Barataria is a series of personal essays bent on exploring the connections between people and understanding the changes which we are all experiencing together. Making the observation that conventional politics serves no useful purpose, save gaining power for its own sake, is easy. What’s harder is providing a solution which empowers and transforms the world, grasping the winds of a world drawn closer together and harnessing them for a better future.
To beat the forest and trees analogy to death a bit more, most of this writing has been a plea to ignore the trees and see the forest. Not only is this difficult, it goes against a lot of advice for creating a happy life. Aren’t we supposed to live in the moment, savoring each precious morsel of time for what it is?
So let me try something else.
Let’s take the Grimm approach and confront the darkness once and for all. What does it take to do that? The answer is always a matter of light. Call this the Campfire approach to politics, since everything needs a handle. If you want to make it look a bit more hip, let’s write it as Camp/Fire.
The idea is that those of us who are comfortable with the deep woods are not here to provide everyone with a map. This is a democracy and we all have to find our own path. What we can do is settle down into one otherwise scary part of the forest and build a campfire. Chase away the darkness by setting alight deadwood.
No matter how dark the woods are, a good campfire can be seen from some distance. And the journey from one campfire to the next can be quite invigorating.
Where do we need these camps? How far apart? The short answer is that for now just find a place to settle and make it your own. I claim People’s Economics, or a transformation of how we think about the economy, as my camp. I own that space, for better or worse. Where my terms like Managed Depression have yet to catch on, this perspective has been much more illuminating than just about anything else out there, if I do say so myself.
Illumination is the key to Camp/Fire.
So I ask all of you to pick your topic and build your fire ring. Refine your message by stirring the coals. Add more deadwood ideologies onto the fire. Always greet everyone who comes by with warm love. They are probably lost and scared, so you can’t expect much at first. But use the fire not just for its own purposes but as a chance to connect with them and ignite their own fire within. Let them add their own branches onto it.
And yes, each moment enjoined is a moment enjoyed.
I’m building my own small beacon right here. It’s about time to have another discussion group and stoke the fire again. Economics? It’s about people. That’s my thing. Want to sit a spell and talk about it? If nothing else it’s a nice warm spot out here in these otherwise cold and dark woods.
Is this your way of saying you’re going to focus on that topic? I think there is a lot more there if you want to do that.
I think I have to. It’s the calling.
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Love this metaphor. And really like the challenge. I’ve been reading more Lakoff and believe his lessons to progressives about framing need to get out there more broadly, so I see that as my fire. (among other things that may or may not come to fruition!) Thanks Erik!
Thank you! You have a good one there. It’s one I’m loathe to make good use of for strange reasons. I need to get over it.