Marriage IId: A Brief Refresher on Commitment

It’s hard to believe that I started the “Marriage” series three and a half months ago! (I imagine I will be saying something similar about Quas Lacrimas itself in 2051: It’s hard to believe I started this blog thirty-five years ago…)

I imagine few of my readers remember that post now, and only one or two have the fervent dedication to QL思想 to return to it to re-read it before the final section, so it will be useful for me restate the preliminary conclusions I offered there. (These are only slightly reworded from their original versions.)

  1. (The concept of commitment.) Someone commits himself to the course of action A>B>C when he takes an initial step, A, that locks him in (and forces him to follow through with B and C).
  2. Commitment refers both to:
    •  what someone has committed to do; and also to
    • the evidence which gives proof of that commitment.
  3. An observed course of action (call it A) can function as a commitment (to some future course of action like A>B>C) if:
    • The choice of A is consistent with possible future choice _>B>C, but is inconsistent with another possible future choice (e.g. _>G>H); or if, at a minimum,
    • A is at least a probable fit for _>B>C and an improbable fit for _>G>H.
  4. (Intention and commitment.) To communicate a signal-message correspondence successfully, I must bring my audience to consider it probable that I will use the signal(s) as I have promised, and improbable that I will use them differently. Therefore: when I arrange a signal with someone, that arrangement is its own commitment
  5. Over time, going along with a fixed pattern of expectations creates an implicit signal, and allowing this signal to take shape is its own commitment.
  6. (Trust and obligation.) A group of agents must try to deduce each others’ future plans from past choices whenever they:
    • have little information about one another,
    • have little opportunity to communicate with one another, or
    • don’t trust each other.
  7. Past choices can make future plans explicit even where there is little grounds for mutual trust; commitments which tie the promiser’s hands reassure those to whom he has made the promise, and thus give the promise force.
  8. The pairing of a promise and a corresponding commitment may become so routine that the commitment is a promise all by itself.
  9. A commitment can function as a promise; a signal can function as a commitment; and a promise, ideally, functions as a reliable signal of the promisers’ intentions.
  10. A commitment is, as noted above, a sort of signal; and signals can be misinterpreted or counterfeited.
  11. In any context where you are suspicious of your counter-party, you have adequate reason to be suspicious of his commitment-signal, too.

If you are reading this series belatedly, of course, this is all fresh in your mind. My sharper readers probably already understand, in light of the Locked-Door Principle, what commitment has to do with marital values. But I will spell all of this out explicitly in the conclusion. (Originally I hoped to finish the conclusion today, but it is getting late already; I would probably have to stretch the definition of “today” beyond what is strictly compatible with a disciplined sleep cycle, or abandon some of my other goals for the day. I may break the conclusion into two parts so I can publish I little bit today and the rest tomorrow or Monday, to prevent myself from pushing it off into August.)


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