The New Left and the New Communalists

Angeline Henriquez

Digital Media and Society

November 10, 2015


The New Left and the New Communalists

In the chapter titled “The shifting Politics of the Computational Metaphor” Turner explores how branches within countercultures have differing relationships to information technologies. More specifically, he explains how the emergence of the New Left and the New Communalists has its roots in the war and post-war environment of the 1950s and 1960s where free speech movements started proposing the idea that the knowledge taking place in universities was inherently entangled with the military-industrial complex. In this way, free speech movement supporters were concerned that knowledge and information were being fragmented to fit the necessities of the political environment of the time and that students were then being deems as part of the machine. Turner writes “the university generated new knowledge and new workers for an emerging ‘information society’. In that sense…the university was an information machine.” (p. 12). This implied then, that university was underpinned by a hierarchy system, and the students opposed to being used as parts to a machine or bits of information. They refused to be compared to the two-dimensional dullness of an IBM card. “The transformation of the self into data on an IBM card marked the height of dehumanization.” (p.16)

However, Tuner alludes that there was an openness in this seemingly closed world that has been forgotten by historians. He highlights that the war environment provided a platform for new technologies to be produced, and allowed for multiple disciplines in universities to work together in a system of collaboration rather than in a hierarchy system. “The laboratories within which the research and development too place witnessed a flourishing of nonhierarchical, interdisciplinary collaboration.” (p. 18). This environment of collaboration seemed to be obscured when it resulted in the production of the atomic bomb, exposing to many, that decisions made in in the higher tiers of the hierarchy affected the everyday lives of individuals. “Some men come to occupy positions in American society from which they can look down upon… and by their decisions mightily affect, the everyday worlds of ordinary men and women” (p.29) From here stemmed the ideologies that forged the New Left. Having understood that a new kind of social structure would have to take place, the New Left “took activism to be the fundamental mission of the movement” (p. 35), Turner’s argument is that they did so while still using the traditional political tactics. New Communalists however, while also pushing for a new kind of social structure considered that “political activism was at best beside the point and at worst part of the problem.” (p.35). The New Communalists considered a change of consciousness as the answer to significant social change and if they were to focus on changing the mind first, it was logical to them that this cannot be separated from information. “Information would have to become a key part of countercultural politics.” (p.38) viewing cybernetics and systems theory as a viable alternative to overthrow hierarchies and promote a system of collaboration through which the flow of information could reach and change consciousness.


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