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Exclusion Fever

// Posted by on 01/20/2012 (2:39 PM)

Fred Turner’s From Counterculture to Cyberculture not only provides an accurate history of the Whole Earth Network, but also convincing arguments discussing both its positive and negative aspects. With the ultimate hope of a Utopian future, participants in the counterculture… Read more

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Fred Turner’s From Counterculture to Cyberculture not only provides an accurate history of the Whole Earth Network, but also convincing arguments discussing both its positive and negative aspects. With the ultimate hope of a Utopian future, participants in the counterculture that blossomed in the late 1960s embraced the ideals of psychedelics such as LSD. The high provided by such drugs allowed one to see things differently, feel liberated from the looming nuclear (and by association Communist) threat, have an individual yet communal experience, and have enlightened thoughts. Stewart Brand – one of the most influential participants in this counterculture, as well as creator of The Whole Earth Catalog, genuinely worried about losing his identity as he grew up in the 1950s, a period characterized by containment, anxiety, and fear. This desire to actively seek, secure, and improve one’s identity was very common among active supporters and members of this counterculture, and more specifically the Whole Earth Network.

Stewart Brand

While the liberal concept behind the Whole Earth Network might seem attractive at first, Turner has persuasively provided legitimized criticisms for this “way of life” Brand created. The following five points are representative of Turner’s critique:

  1. Members disregarded and ignored racial issues
  2. Traditional stereotypical masculine and feminine roles were enforced and continued
  3. Communalists acted as colonizers
  4. Members ignored the current Vietnam War
  5. Members utilized mainstream culture yet denounced it at the same time

The first point is especially intriguing. While the members of this counterculture envisioned a peaceful Utopian environment that was all-inclusive and welcoming, practically all of them were white Americans. The vast majority of this white crowd was young, well educated, intelligent, and wealthy. Without blatantly vocalizing racist views, the homogenous members all demonstrated an adherence to them. In The Whole Earth Catalog itself, only white men and (sometimes) women were pictured. This ignorance of other races proves to be even less liberal and progressive given the time period, when the fight for Civil Rights had just gained major publicity and attention. However, the members of the Whole Earth Network weren’t the only exclusive group at the time.

From 1960 through 1975, a revolution was occurring known as the Black Arts Movement (BAM). This site (Perceptions of Black) provides a detailed background of the movement as well as Black art images and excerpts from texts relevant to BAM debates. As the introduction points out:

“Advancing African American liberation through self-determinacy and, in time, Black Nationalism, the ‘Black Power Concept’ directed African Americans to separate from mainstream (understood as white) society to determine ‘who are black people, what are black people, and what is their relationship to America and the rest of the world’ ”

The BAM intentionally excluded the black community from the rest of America in order to find their identity and place in the world after suffering through a history of belittlement, injustice, and discrimination. It aimed to achieve this goal through the encouragement and demonstration of Black Power. Simultaneously, white men and women in the Whole Earth Network were excluding themselves most obviously to communes where they too sought to find their identities, in fear they would lose them.

Although both movements held very different (perhaps even opposing) reasons for their quests for identity, they shared the same common goal. They also excluded their respective groups from the rest of society not supporting them (or those not members of their respective in-groups) – for the BAM it was non-black America; for the Whole Earth Network it was practically white Americans not fitting the majority stereotype detailed earlier as well as individuals of other races, etc. While both movements may have had aspects that are seemingly liberal, open-minded, and welcoming, their actions proved to be quite the contrary. Both the Whole Earth Network – representative of the 1970s counterculture – and the BAM fell victim to the same illness that has driven problems throughout all of history – exclusion fever.


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