Suicidal System


Okay, now we’re getting somewhere.

In Part 2 of Brian McLaren’s “Everything Must Change” (chapters 6-9, titled, “Suicidal System”), he outlines his model. He acknowledges that he has a model, you have a model, all God’s chilluns got a model, but to make sense of his goal of solving the problems of the world, we need to work with a model.

Chapter 6 shares several attempts to summarize major global problems – the Copenhagen Consensus, the Millennium Development Goals of the U.N., J.F. Rischard of the World Bank, Rick Warren’s PEACE plan, and a group of scholars McLaren calls the New Vision Group. He talks of how much he struggled to coalesce all these efforts into a model that worked for him until his friend, Leonard Sweet, used a term that brought it all together – the suicide machine.

By suicide machine, McLaren means that the major problems of the world aren’t distinct; they are interrelated in a destructive, reinforcing cycle.

He then attempts to develop a model of this social machine…

First, he presents three interlocking gears he calls prosperity, security, and equity. To summarize, society works to fulfill our basic desires to be happy, to be safe, and for things to be fair or just. These are all related to one another.

Second, he adds both input and output to his model – input in terms of raw materials and energy used to make products that fulfill the three interlocking desires, and output in terms of waste products resulting from this production.

Third, McLaren explains the suicidal nature of his suicide machine by pointing to the size of the interlocking gears – desires that have grown so large that neither the amount of resources needed nor the need for waste absorption can be fulfilled. (In so doing, he makes a nice little allusion to the Garden of Eden story, a place of beauty doomed to oblivion by the desires of human beings.)

There is a fourth section to McLaren’s model, the answer to the question of what drives the interlocking gears. He places one gear in the middle of the three interlocking gears (the desire to be happy, desire to be safe, and desire for things to be fair or just). This gear that drives the other gears is our framing story. And his conclusion is that ours is failing.

Let me share his thesis statement from each of the three areas:

THE PROSPERITY DYSFUNCTION: “Our story does not guide us to respect environmental limits, but instead inspires our pursuit of as much resource use and waste production (also known as economic growth) as possible, as fast as possible.”

THE EQUITY DYSFUNCTION: “Our framing story does not lead us to work for the common good. Instead, it legitimizes the growing gap between rich and poor in a variety of ways…” (and at the end of this section…) “Each group becomes a competing us/them faction that seeks advantage for “us,” not a common good for all.”

THE SECURITY DYSFUNCTION: “Our framing story does not lead these competing factions to reconcile peacefully. Instead we find, nested in the larger framing story shared by both rich and poor, a huge bank of patriotic and religious stories that celebrate how “redemptive violence” has helped good people (“us”) to defeat evil people (“them”) throughout history.”

Near the end of this section, McLaren offers a final helpful analogy, and compares the world situation to an addiction. Our framing stories are globally destructive (picture the alcoholic turning once more to the bottle), but they produce a short-term “high.” Eventually, we’re hooked. And regardless of the problems we face, we keep turning to the framing stories (bottle) for solutions, only to discover that we are becoming hopelessly addicted to the very thing that will lead to our undoing.

McLaren concludes, “Without altering our framing story, we will never successfully solve our crises.” He then raises the possibility that a fresh look at Jesus may provide the alternative framing story that our world desperately needs.

NEXT SECTION: “Reframing Jesus”

10 Responses to “Suicidal System”

  1. urbino Says:

    I don’t see much to disagree with, here. It sounds like he’s basically describing our situation as I described it in comments to the previous posts. His long-term harm vs. short-term gain is my point about unsustainability, and how that, if accounted for, prevents the sine wave of history from having an aggregate positive slope.

    One difference I have with him is that “suicidal” is not really an apt word for what he describes. Suicide strongly implies intent: one commits suicide; one doesn’t happen into it. I don’t think there’s anything intentionally self-destructive about the system McLaren describes. It just happens to have turned out to be self-destructive. Nobody chose it with that end in mind. Many are still in denial about its self-destructiveness, certainly, but that’s still not the same as being suicidal.

    My other quibble — and it really is a just a quibble — is that he starts off with the metaphor of a “framing” story, then turns right around and represents it in his model — this image of interlocking gears — as not a frame at all. There’s nothing framey about a 4th gear that drives all the other gears. That’s why, I think, he apparently starts off talking as if the problem is the size of the 3 gears, and ends up talking as if the problem isn’t their size at all, but how fast the 4th gear turns them. Seems to me he’d have been better off describing the framing story as the chassis (or, you know, frame) that holds the gears. Then he could say the gears can’t be any bigger than the chassis allows, or can only have the shapes the chassis allows, or whatnot. At least that way you’ve got your framing story, you know, framing something.

    He then raises the possibility that a fresh look at Jesus may provide the alternative framing story that our world desperately needs.

    That’ll be interesting in at least two respects. One is how he reframes Jesus. The other is how he demonstrates that reframing Jesus — a process that is meaningless to non-Christians — is a global solution to the global problem. How will reframing Jesus fix this busted system in Asia? How will it fix it in Western Europe or Australia, where Christianity has been dead as a hammer for a century or more? Will this reframing spark a wave of revival in such places?

    Don’t get me wrong. If McLaren’s reframing of Jesus could just get America on the sustainability train, it’d be a huge benefit. Huuuge. But he seems to be aiming for something global, and it’s hard for me to see how he’ll get there just by reframing Jesus.

    As Simon Burch put it, “I fail to see how pork chops could lead to intercourse.”

  2. alsturgeon Says:

    LOL! Leave it to Simon… 🙂

    Good thoughts. As always.

    It would take some work to construct an entire model from it, but I like the addiction metaphor. Makes sense to me that humanity in general is hooked on all three (we want more, the us/them mentality, and redemptive violence). All three make things worse, but we keep turning to them anyway.

    And w/o looking ahead in McLaren, I think Jesus offers a different framing story than all three dysfunctions.

  3. urbino Says:

    But is it an addiction, or is it simply an expression of the nature of our evolution-shaped mental circuits? IOW, maybe our constant return to those 3 things isn’t a matter of addictive relationship, but of echo. Maybe they’re just how we think. In a low-population environment of scarcity, competition, and cooperation — the kind of environment we lived in when our brains were given their fundamental “shape” — all 3 are highly adaptive.

  4. alsturgeon Says:

    You make sense, too. The addiction metaphor just helps me in regard to the fact that we seem to keep turning to something that hurts us instead of helps us, and we can’t seem to stop.

  5. mrspeacock Says:

    I tried to read through this when it was first posted a few days ago, but my eyes started glazing over somewhere around “Copenhagen Consensus.” But I’m glad I gave it a second go.

    The other is how he demonstrates that reframing Jesus — a process that is meaningless to non-Christians — is a global solution to the global problem.
    If Christians would adopt this reframed Jesus, then maybe that change of focus could have a major impact on the global solution. That’s where I’m guessing he’s going, at least. I certainly believe that if Christians (in general) would refocus our resources and energy, we could have a crazy impact. Crazy in a good way.

  6. Terry A. Says:

    But is “crazy” decent or in order?

    I’m watching you, Peacock. But it’s for your own good. You’ll thank me for it someday… hopefully before it’s everlasting too late.

  7. urbino Says:

    That’s my guess at where he’s headed, too, P. Just wanted to point out that he does have some work to do on that point.

  8. urbino Says:

    Just ignore Lura- I mean, Terry. He’s a heeldragger from way back.

  9. mrspeacock Says:

    Terry – You are the Colonel Mustard to my Mrs. Peacock.

  10. Terry A. Says:

    Though my contribution to this discussion has been, well, obnoxiously off-topic, I really AM reading this very same book (McLaren’s EMC). I’m also simultaneously reading Lee Camp’s Mere Discipleship for our small group study @ church.

    My head hurts a lot lately. And so does my soul.

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