The following passage from a spy novel I am reading right now, I find, warrants contemplation.
Whether the author intended to highlight this manifest contradiction or whether doing so was merely an instance of slipshod composition on his part, I cannot ascertain. But since this particular author always tends to furnish a few explanatory remarks immediately following each issue he raises and failed to do so in this case, I am tentatively inclined to presume the latter; although, granted, I have not yet finished the novel, and the contradiction in question may perchance constitute the punchline of the whole tale, to be revealed in the main villain’s climactic final monologue right before losing his head to a rotating chopper blade, or however else he may ultimately cash in his chips.
Either way, here the head of a fictional U.S. intelligence organization discusses its objectives:
[…] And ultimately to complete the larger mission we were assigned in 1942 — to put an end to any power that is dedicated to our destruction. […] We were born of necessity, we live of necessity, we are immortal. Not in the physical sense, of course, but in the context of the immortal corporation. We may have to reorganize from time to time, take on partners, hire and fire, but we don’t go out of business. Not until we’ve finished what we set out to do.
So the organization is being described as “immortal” until such time as it goes out of business, which will happen as soon as its mission has been accomplished.
By invoking the concept of immortality—which connotes infinity—the speaker effectively admits that his organization is not meant to ever finish what it has set out to do.
And it makes sense, for why would an organization—any organization—desire to put itself out of business by accomplishing what it has set out to accomplish? Individuals have a survival instinct, so why wouldn’t an organism composed of individuals have one as well? Why would it want to commit suicide by removing the reason for its existence?
Instead, from a survival perspective, it would be much wiser for such an organism to periodically make a few inroads and achieve little victories here and there, just enough to validate its existence and guard against charges of inefficacy, but always to stop short of winning the war; and should the war ever teeter dangerously close on the brink of being won, to take concerted action to prevent this, even if it means sabotaging its own mission. For once the war is won, the organism will have been stripped of its purpose.
This is not to say that organizations are founded solely for their own sake and that their respective missions serve as mere pretexts for their existence right out of the gate.
However, once an organization has attained to a certain size and complexity, it invariably takes on a life of its own, whereupon, on some level, it may begin to perceive the potential completion of its stated mission as a threat to itself and, accordingly, its enthusiasm about the prospect of actually achieving said mission may flag in proportion to the organization’s increasing size, complexity, and, yes, power.
And generally, the more entrenched and massive an organization, the more unwieldy and set in its ways; hence a diminished incentive for creating conditions which may necessitate replacing a familiar mission with a new one in order to remain relevant.