McLaren presents his model of society in Everthing Must Change in terms of the following diagram on page 63:
At the core of the model is the "societal machine” composed of three interlocking systems. They are:
The prosperity system seeks to fulfill our desire for happiness – our desire not just to survive, but to thrive. We associate happiness with enjoyable sensations, so through the prosperity system we create ways to fulfill that desire – for good tastes, for pleasant and interesting sights and sounds, for enjoyable tactile, intellectual, and emotional experiences – and for relief from the opposites (such as disease, injury, or boredom).
To fulfill this hunger for happiness, the prosperity system feeds civilization with the products and services that people want to obtain – or “consume” if you will. The prosperity system comprises a host of subsystems that cooperate to keep the prosperity system coming – agricultural systems, manufacturing, energy, transportation, education, entertainment, communication systems, and so on.
Of course, when some individuals or groups of people have a bigger share of desired products and services than other, jealousies arise. Sometimes those jealousies erupt into violent attempts to steal some of that prosperity, or at least to interrupt another’s monopoly of the means of achieving it. The danger of interference from others in the pursuit of happiness means that all who desire prosperity will also desire security – protection from the danger of interference.
To protect a successful prosperity system from interference, a society develops a security system, also comprising a wide array of subsystems: weapons systems, intelligence systems, broader control systems, policing and surveillance systems. Then, of course, it us recruit, train, and support personnel and infrastructure to manage these security subsystems.
Security systems are important, but they are often very expensive in terms of both money and personnel, all the more so when enemies and criminals keep developing new means of subverting yesterday’ defenses. So, along with the desire to pursue greater happiness through the prosperity system, and then to guard all means of achieving that happiness through an expanding security system, a society must develop ways to equitably spread the rising cost of systems maintenance and development, Thus, the third component of the societal machine comes into play.
The equity system seeks not only to fairly spread the expense of the security system, but also to support the expansion of the prosperity system in equitable ways. For example, by breaking up monopolies, the equity system assures that some members of society don’t gain unfair advantage over others. Or by equitably spreading the expense of building roads, the equity system helps the prosperity system transport more products and services to more people who to enjoy them in more places, and it makes possible the happiness that comes from travel.
The equity system fulfills the desire for fairness in four primary ways. First, it develops and enforces laws to protect people’s freedom to pursue prosperity and security – including protecting one person or group’s freedom from inequitable encroachment by others. Second, it levies taxes to distribute the shared expenses of developing and maintaining all three systems. Third, it establishes or protects the press and court systems so they can investigate and report the truth of inequities. When laws, taxes, the press, and courts fail to address human suffering and inequity, impromptu organizations spring up to supplement the equity system – nongovermental organizations, charities, and the like – organized to alleviate suffering through a range of interventions and projects.
Equity, as I’m using the term, doesn’t mean equality. This distinction is important. Equity means fairness and justice, the outcome of wise and virtuous judgment, without prejudice, favoritism, or corruption, but with a human sense of mercy and compassion. Equality, which means mathematical sameness, can actually be an expression of inequity: for example, most of us would agree that it would be inequitable for a sick or disabled person who can’t work to be treated exactly the same as healthy, able-bodied person who refuses to work. …. (55-57)
Notice that the machine is encompassed by an oval. This oval represents the Earth’s Ecosystem. Within that ecosystem we find resources, renewable and non-renewable alike, represented by the four bars on the left. Solar radiation enters our ecosystem from beyond (top left) and our consumption of resources results in waste and heat distributed back into the atmosphere (top right).
Now McLaren envisions this oval ecosystem as a type of “fishbowl.” In the diagram preceding the one above (p. 62), McLaren shows the resources emblem and the machine diagram as the same size and relatively small relative to the ecosystem. In the diagram I have reproduced, he shows an enormous machine crowding out the ecosystem. The implication is that if it grows much bigger it will cause everything to collapse. Our societal machine has become a suicide machine.
The final element in the diagram is the framing story we visited yesterday. That is represented by the black gear at the center of the diagram. It is the framing story that meshes all three of the societal systems. We will turn to McLaren’s observations on the framing story in the next post. After that I will begin to offer my critique and supplement some desperately needed historical context.
With that said, I want to make one observation about a mindset that is evidenced here and throughout the book. Nowhere in this description, and indeed I do not believe elsewhere in the book, is there mention of the institution of the family. Then there is the following observation, which I quoted above:
When laws, taxes, the press, and courts fail to address human suffering and inequity, impromptu organizations spring up to supplement the equity system – nongovermental organizations, charities, and the like – organized to alleviate suffering through a range of interventions and projects. (56)
There are only individuals and the state. The preeminent institution in society is the state. All other institutions, like voluntary associations, are “impromptu organizations [that] spring up to supplement” the state in achieving equity. Yet if we look at the biblical narrative, the only institution established by God prior to Genesis 3, was the family. Most Christian social thinkers believe the narrative implicitly anticipates the necessity for larger institutions beyond the family but they exist to supplement the family. There is warrant for this throughout the biblical narrative. The family is the primary social cooperative unit in society. Families, kinship groups, churches, and intermediate institutions are presumed to have a closer relationship with people and are therefore more likely to have their best interests at heart. The state intervenes only in those matters more local institutions can't address themselves or in order to restore functionality where dysfunction has emerged. The state is ancillary to families and voluntary associations living justly with each other as they live out internalized virtuous values. I’ll have more to say later but you may wish to consult my Government Equals Society post from an earlier series.