If Americans are typically wired to Exit, then who are the people, typically on the left but only a minority there, who pursue the Attack strategy and seek to capture institutions?
The late science fiction writer Jerry Pournelle coined something he dubbed “The Iron Law of Bureaucracy” that sheds light on this:
In any bureaucratic organization there will be two kinds of people. First, there will be those who are devoted to the goals of the organization. Examples are dedicated classroom teachers in an educational bureaucracy, many of the engineers and launch technicians and scientists at NASA, even some agricultural scientists and advisors in the former Soviet Union collective farming administration. Secondly, there will be those dedicated to the organization itself. Examples are many of the administrators in the education system, many professors of education, many teachers union officials, much of the NASA headquarters staff, etc. In every case the second group will gain and keep control of the organization. It will write the rules, and control promotions within the organization.
In other words, there are people who are focused on the mission of the organization, and there are those who are focused on using the organization to achieve other goals, typically self-advancement, but often political or other ones. This second group need not be consciously aware that they are seeking to use the organization this way, but using it they are.
People who are typically classified today as right-wing are almost all “mission-oriented” in some way. In the Christian context, these are people who want to preach the gospel, save souls, feed the hungry, etc. It’s especially notable in the Evangelical world that those that reject various leftist incursions often justify their position by an appeal to the mission of evangelization or some such.
But there are also plenty of people who would boast of being on the political left, who check every progressive box, who fall into the mission-oriented category. Consider, for example, a person working in Apple’s iPhone division who is focused on creating “insanely great” phones. People like this are on the left but are clearly most oriented towards making their organization deliver on its core function.
Yet there are plenty of people within every organization, neighborhood, city, etc. to whom the mission is secondary to other objectives. The vast bulk of these are simple careerists who see the organization primarily as a vehicle for getting ahead personally. Fortunately, in the business world getting ahead is generally linked at some level to advancing the mission of the organization. And conflicts between personal benefit and organizational benefit are mostly well understood and addressed at the management level. Everyone knows that salesmen are basically mercenaries who are seeking to maximize personal compensation, for example. That’s why firms aggressively manage salesmen, their compensation structures, etc. Non-profits, like churches, are much less adept at recognizing and managing this, alas.
But there are other people who have other agendas that they are promoting within organizations. They are seeking to change the organization or its mission to align with their own preferences and to serve different ends.
I believe this is only a minority (albeit not a tiny number) of people, but in a world where most people care either about the mission or personal advancement and in which the default strategy for unhappy people is Exit, it’s not surprising that these activists often gain the upper hand.
In fact, as noted above, these activists actually want you to Exit because that strengthens their hand in taking over the organization.
Unsurprisingly, as these activists (and self-advancers) capture the organization over time, it becomes increasingly unable to deliver on its actual mission. That’s one reason for our overall institutional sclerosis today.
The implication of this is that you need to care at least as much about the organization as you do about the mission. Because if you don’t, the organization will be taken over by people who don’t care about the mission and in fact might not even like the mission all that much.
The more I think about it, the more I think there’s almost a sort of pride involved in being too focused on direct mission activities. It’s as if people think they are too pure to get involved in denominational politics or bureaucratic maneuvering.
Sadly, I probably fall into the category of too mission-focused myself. I don’t think it’s out of pride in my case (at least I hope not). Rather, it’s because I’m much more interested in developing content than I am building institutional infrastructure or support, or raising money. But if there’s no “organization” then ultimately there’s no mission either, or at least not for long.