Questions of Commitment

I’m still reading 1984, and I highly recommend it if you haven’t read it yet.  There is a point, most of the way through the book, when Winston and Julia are being inducted into The Brotherhood.  O’Brien asks Winston a series of questions to determine his commitment and how far he’s willing to go to change the world:

Are you prepared to commit murder?

Yes.

To commit acts of sabotage which may cause the death of hundreds of innocent people?

Yes. 

You are prepared to cheat, to forge, to blackmail, to corrupt the minds of children, to distribute habit-forming drugs, to encourage prostitution, to disseminate venereal diseases—to do anything which is likely to cause demoralization and weaken the power of the Party?

Yes. 

If, for example, it would somehow serve our interests to throw sulphuric acid in a child’s face—are you prepared to  do that?

Yes.

Obviously, this is an extreme case, because it is a matter of life and death.  But I think the concept is sound.  Whenever I commit to a course of action or a plan, I want to make sure that it’s absolutely solid. That I’ve foreseen the potential pitfalls and addressed them.  Similarly, if I ever initiate a joint venture with other people, we need to all be on the same page, with the same specific goal in mind.  Otherwise, it will all fall apart, and we won’t be able to trust each other, let alone work together.

In 1984, O’Brien needs to know that Winston and Julia are in, no matter what happens.  Bringing people into an underground revolutionary movement is frighteningly dangerous.  Which explains the need for all the terms and conditions he lays out.  With any concept, pursuit, or decision, it is crucial to have all elements defined, and everything agreed upon by the rest of the group.  This keeps ruinous misunderstandings from arising, and helps ensure that for better or for worse, we’re all committed to this course of action.

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Questions of Commitment