Saturday, July 28, 2012


During one period of my photographic career, I found myself photographing cracks in things. . . sidewalks, drift logs, rocks, walls. Once you start looking for them, of course, you see cracks everywhere. We take them for granted to the point we hardly pay attention, unless they're cracks of some obvious significance, like noticing that one has suddenly appeared in the ceiling or wall of our home.

After photographing cracks for a spell, I began to contemplate the interesting significance of these forms.

Cracks, or fractures, occur when stress on an object reaches a point where forces holding it together are less than the forces pulling it apart. They follow lines of maximum stress, and/or areas of minimum strength in the material being stressed. That being the case, the shape of a fracture can tell you both something about the material and something about the way it was stressed. Certain materials, for example the glass in your automobile windshield, are designed with internal stresses or weaknesses that will cause them to fracture in a particular way. Typically an automobile windshield will practically explode into tiny fragments when struck. It's designed not to break into large shards that might cause serious injury to someone riding in a car when a collision occurs.

Some materials can actually be identified by noting how they fracture. For example, the volcanic glass called obsidian exhibits conchoidal fracture, which is smoothly cupped, like the inside surface of a cockle shell. Some forms of quartz fracture this way also, and can be chipped (selectively stressed) into arrowheads, and more recently, extremely sharp surgical tools.

Perhaps one of the most interesting aspects of the phenomenon of cracking or fracture is that it's not a phenomenon restricted only to solid physical materials. Fracture can occur in the atmosphere, in the form of lightning. This is an instance when electrical stresses build to a point where the atoms in the air are torn apart into free protons and free electrons, a physical state known as plasma. Once this fracture has occurred, it becomes electrically conductive, allowing the passage of a flood of charge which we see as an instantly brilliant channel of light, and hope we're not too close. A crack of thunder occurs due to the sudden expansion accompanying the heat of the stroke. It's a literal explosion.

Perhaps I was drawn to cracking in physical media, most significantly, because of its metaphorical relationship to cracking in humans and society. We speak of people cracking, or being cracked. This is simply a state when an individual becomes stressed to the degree that something in the psyche gives way so that normal social function is no longer possible. The very same thing occurs when a whole society is placed under stress. At some point the stress creates a fracture that manifests in the form of demonstrations, riots, outright mayhem, or destructive wars.

Comparing societal fracture to physical fracture can present clues as to the origin of the former. If fractures are a manifestation of stresses acting on a material, and weaknesses within, it's obvious to ask, what are the stresses on society or an individual, and what are the weaknesses within, leading to crackups of various sorts, or even large scale war.

We're living in a period of history when these are important questions to ask. Cracks are starting to appear in the social fabric and we should be asking how they might be leading to large-scale fractures. . . that can't be glued back together like broken pottery. It's easy to remain unconscious of stresses and small crackups until it's too late to do something about them. Such manifestations of social stress as mass murder in a school or movie theater are frequently written off as “random,” events, when, in actuality they are symptoms of social stresses getting out of hand and weaknesses being ignored. The solution is to address those and not to focus on simplistic fixes such as more guns OR gun control, or ineffective security measures in schools, theaters. . . and airports. (I DO advocate prudent gun control measures, but do not believe they are the ultimate solution to violence stemming from societal stresses to which we currently seem oblivious.) All too often these sorts of "solutions" end up exacerbating the stresses that lead to a “crackup” in the first place. They serve mainly as a means of distracting us from the real work of initiating social changes that could alleviate the stress associated with poverty, abuse, and other social ills. You might say they are equivalent to smearing plaster over a crack in the wall, when the source of stress is a decaying foundation beneath the house.

Kevin Jones

Tuesday, July 10, 2012


If you've visited Mindport, you may have noticed, or even played with, the exhibit pictured at the left.  It doesn't get a lot of attention, because it's a low-key exhibit, whose message is subtle. This is not surprising, since the metaphorical statement it makes refers to an aspect of reality that most Americans studiously relegate to the unconscious realm, if they are not indeed completely oblivious to it.

The exhibit, “Interdependence,” consists of a group of magnets glued to the bottom ends of a number of stiff wires that are suspended by their top ends so that the magnets are free to move like pendulums. The magnets are oriented so that they mutually repel, causing them to space themselves apart from one-another. A rubber squeeze bulb and air hose are situated so that you can direct a jet of air at the suspended magnets. The result is that the movement of one or more magnets causes all the others in the field to move in response. None of them can move independently from any of the others.

“Interdependence” relates to ecology, which is at the core of environmentalism. Ecological studies inform us that everything under the face of the sun is affected by and affects everything else, directly or indirectly, more or less.

Instead of maintaining an awareness of interdependence and the truths of ecology, we Americans typically focus on its opposite, independence. In fact, our whole traditional style of scientific research involves arbitrarily separating the subject or process being studied from its natural surroundings, then drawing conclusion about it as an isolated object or function. This can be a useful strategy at times, but more often than not, the conclusions derived from such study are misleading.

The idea of independence is a myth entwined in the roots of America's beliefs about itself. It's likely that many of the observable differences, say, between the Canadian character and the character of Americans goes back to the fact that we “won” our independence, while Canada maintained its membership in a commonwealth. To Americans, “commonwealth” smacks of socialism and we certainly want no part of that. . . unless it's socialism for the lords of banking and Wall street. We also are in love with the mythology of the West; the idea of the independent settler, and the myth of the self-made man. The fact that the frontier closed long ago, and we live in close contact with many of our fellows has yet to dawn on us. And no man is self-made these days. Anyone who manages to rise in the social/economic ladder does so either with the active help of others, or by acting at their expense.

I believe blindness to the importance of interdependence in nature and all social systems is at the root of the terrible predicament in which we find ourselves, economically, environmentally, and socially. We humans were not always so oblivious to this principle as we appear to be nowadays. Henry Ford historically realized that he must pay his employees well enough that they could purchase his cars if he wanted a market for them, a bit of wisdom that seems to have been forgotten. Most indigenous peoples realized that if they destroyed the environment that supported their lives, they would destroy their ability to survive. Many of us have abandoned traditional notions of civility and consideration, forgetting that ignoring our neighbors or treating them badly will sooner or later result in unpleasant forms of “blow-back.”

Ignorance, willful or not, of the principle of interdependence is a force behind all the ecological disasters that are currently afflicting us. We've barely acknowledged that if you clear cut all the forests, not only do you eliminate one possible sink for excess carbon dioxide, but the mountainsides turn to sliding mud, the salmon spawning grounds are destroyed, and the evaporative cooling supplied by living trees is eliminated, one more factor contributing to climate change.

Socially, certain members of society, who have managed to sequester a great deal of power, in the phantom form of money, remain oblivious to the fact that if they impoverish the “99%”, inevitably the value of money will decline, and the masses will likely turn on them, a sad lesson that has been repeated (and ignored) many times in history.

Perhaps the views elaborated here on interdependence will lend insight as to the thoughts that inspired  the creation of  its namesake exhibit pictured above. Despite the seeming non-assertiveness of its presence, the exhibit expresses an idea whose importance is such that if we ignore it, the continued survival of human beings on this planet is doubtful.

Kevin Jones
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