ONE EXTRA PIECE OF INFORMATION - Gareth Higgins
French farmers have been teaching me how to live better since I was sixteen years old. That’s when I first saw Jean de Florette and Manon des Sources, two films from the mid-Eighties, which portray rural life in Provence in the period immediately following the First World War. They’re beautiful-looking movies, with immersive performances, and directed with the kind of power that implies the crew took a time machine back to 1919 and starting filming. And in their humane gaze, they have a depth and empathy that deserves to be called Shakespearian. The plot considers the travails of farmers trying to make a sustainable living from the land, competing with neighbors for the spoils of a tulip field and a mountain water spring that could bring life to thirsty soil, and hungry people. It’s a universally resonant tale: I have mouths to feed, resources seem scarce, so I’ll build a fence around the land I believe to be mine, keep the plenty in and the barbarians out. Jean and Manon, based on novels by Marcel Pagnol, are epic dramas of the soul, comparable to movies like The Godfather in their exquisite settings, and clear-eyed lament for human selfishness. They’re tragedies, not just because of the disaster that befalls those egocentric enough to steal from their neighbors, never mind humble enough to ask for help. In one of the great scenes of the subtle dawning of a terrible realization, one of the characters awakens to the fact that he has devoted his life to greed in the service of a misguided notion of honor; and that his natural hunger for peace and security has manifested in the destruction of the lives of others. There is one extra piece of information that he did not know, or that he ignored, which led him to - literally - ruin his life.
One extra piece of information that could have led him to empathize with an opponent.
One extra piece of information that might have opened him to see beyond the limitations of “private property”, to see his neighbors as partners in the kind of community where everyone gets their needs met, rather than competitors in a war game where the prize is merely who gets the most stuff.
For this issue of the Porch, dedicated to "one extra piece of information", we asked some of our friends to reflect on the notion of one extra piece of information that changes everything: among them peace activists Jayme Reaves, Glenn Jordan and Michael Fryer explore the question of what defining enemies does to “us” (two of them independently deciding to quote the same Egyptian-Greek poet: serendipity?); Mona Haydar invites us to consider her viral pro-feminist “Hijabi” song, and ask not what other peoples’ heartfelt work can do for us, but how we might make our own creative work in response; and Lyndsay Dyk sees in the haunting science fiction series The OA a transcendent evocation of the fact that we are not alone. Our growing community of writers, dreamers, poets, activists and people seeking to live better are stepping into a conversation that’s bigger than “us and them” - seeking the one extra piece of information about our neighbors, our relatives, and even our enemies.
So welcome, friends, to the fourth issue of The Porch. We’re glad you’re here.