When I see the Inner Development Goals, an interesting movement that borrows a lot of interest from the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals, I worry. The premise is to fix yourself so you fix the world. It’s a good one. But…
As a fan of Adam Curtis, it feels very familiar. It does feel like we’re flirting with some of the most significant faults that the counterculture made in the 60s and 70s. And
Here are some of the key points that Curtis makes in “The Century of the Self” about the counterculture of previous generations and its shift inwards:
- Consumer Individualism: Curtis argues that over time, the radical ideas of the counterculture were co-opted by the system it sought to overthrow. The rebellion against conformity turned into a kind of “self-expressive individualism” which was eventually absorbed by consumer culture. Companies realised that they could sell products by appealing to this newfound individualism.
- The Rise of Therapy Culture: As the countercultural movement evolved, there was an increased emphasis on self-discovery and personal well-being. This shift was linked to the rise of therapy culture, where individuals were encouraged to explore their inner feelings and emotions. Curtis points out that while this introspection can be beneficial, it also turned people’s attention inwards, away from collective action to change society.
- From Changing the World to Changing the Self: The initial goal of the counterculture was to transform the world and challenge established norms. However, as the movement evolved, the focus shifted to personal transformation and self-realisation. This, Curtis argues, had the unintended consequence of depoliticising a generation, making them less likely to take collective action to address societal problems.
- Co-optation by the Establishment: Curtis suggests that by turning inwards, the counterculture inadvertently allowed the establishment to harness their energies for commercial and political purposes. The ideals of personal freedom and self-expression became tools for marketers, and the once-radical movement was integrated into the mainstream.
Both the the Inner Development Goals and the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals are very worthy things to focus time on. Of course. But by assuming the conventions of the Sustainable Development Goals, I hope the Inner Development Goals are not misunderstood by people. I hope well-meaning people they don’t create a moral equivalency between the two.
And yes, I get it, just like how a firefighter puts their mask on before helping others, many people should work on themselves. But I would hate to see history repeat and for those most motivated for change to shift their focus too far to the world inside than the outside world.
So let’s not be hippies. Let’s make sure we do both.