Deterministic Thinking Kills People

The following is an excerpt from Dr. Hurd’s new book, Bad Therapy, Good Therapy (And How to Tell the Difference). The book is available in Kindle e-book format through, and autographed copies may be purchased at this web site.

Not everyone turns to religion. In today’s increasingly secular society there are many alternatives to religion, but most of them boil down to the same deterministic thinking. The political and legal establishment, which today is based more on redistribution of wealth than on actually protecting the rights of individuals, encourages people to sue. Angry at the world? Then get what’s yours—financially! Although superficially a very different approach from that of religion, the underlying error is the same: ‘Forces outside of my control determine my happiness. Until they pay me what I am entitled to, I’m helpless.’

Instead of the passivity, guilt, shame and depression fostered by the religious approach, the dominant emotion for the litigious person becomes one of anger. For those who can’t afford to gain access to the courts, they can (thanks to our corrupt political process) often ‘sue’ through their elected representatives by gaining wealth or benefits through inane government programs, redistributed to them ‘free’ of charge. As some undeservedly prominent politicians have gleefully labeled it, ‘Spreading the wealth.’

Not everyone seeks monetary compensation. For others the compensation is psychological. Many people find solace in the self-help literature that typically focuses on victimhood at the expense of how to take charge of, and responsibility for, one’s own life. For example: ‘My marriage isn’t unhappy because of flaws in my husband or myself. My marriage is unhappy because the self-help guru du jour says men are from Mars and women are from Venus. Biology is destiny.’ At first, such a ‘revelation’ can be liberating for some. Freedom from responsibility feels especially invigorating to those who don’t want responsibility to begin with.

But the course suggested by such deterministic viewpoints is inevitably one of inaction. If you’re not responsible, then of course you can’t act. But if you can’t act, then nothing will ever improve. What other mindset can this ultimately lead to but anger, despair and depression?

Many people never talk to a therapist or read a self-help book, but they nevertheless develop a posture of anger towards the world. This often happens ‘Because I had a lousy childhood, and because things haven’t gone the way I wanted them to in life. So now everyone else around me must pay, because I’m certainly not going to let go of my anger at reality and at the world.’ Chances are you have encountered at least one person like this in your life.

Any of these neurotic social trends can be traced back to the primary error of deterministic thinking. If an individual concludes (no matter what has happened in his past) that he is still in charge of his own life and can use his thinking mind to develop himself, then he will be mentally fit and free of deterministic attitudes and ideas. If he fails to develop this attitude, he will end up mindlessly following one of the many trends in our culture that reinforce deterministic thinking.

Are people doomed to determinism? Of course not. Pretty much all progress can be attributed to the rare periods of human history (today is not a shining example) in which self-responsible attitudes were dominant. Even in periods of regression and decline, occasional bursts of progress such as the Internet, developments in medical technology, etc., are still possible.

Good ideas, and the willingness to practice them, will always be available to rescue us from the sort of debilitating intellectual and psychological trends we see today. It would help if the fields of psychology and philosophy, along with our media and academic institutions, paid more attention (indeed, paid any attention) to the notions of reason, reality, independent judgment and taking charge of one’s own life. The sad reality is that these fields and institutions, in their present form, simply don’t deliver what people so desperately need.

Deterministic thinking has no rational credibility that might even give it the power it has in our culture. Its power and appeal lies in two factors: Fear and laziness. Laziness is the unwillingness to take charge of one’s life, choosing to leave the ‘driving’ to someone else. Fear gives rise to and reinforces that laziness. It could be a fear of not knowing what’s best for oneself, or maybe the fear of making a mistake. It might be a fear of happiness and the feeling that something is wrong with that. It might be a fear of rejection or disappointment. It might be a fear of accomplishing something and being ‘found out’ as a fraud.

The specific form the fear takes is not as important as the presence and dominance of fear and laziness in one’s psychology and personality. The specific means (religion, litigiousness, self-help victimization, chronic anger) by which one chooses to escape the fear and laziness are also less important than the presence of the deterministic thinking itself.

Very few people are completely devoid of or totally encumbered by deterministic thinking. It’s most likely that it’s a mixture of both deterministic and self-responsible thinking, with one or the other more dominant in one’s psyche. Take this simple test: If reading this book makes you kind of afraid, annoyed, irritated or angry, then you are probably more deterministic than not. If, on the other hand, you begin to feel a sense of, ‘This is right! I see some of that deterministic thinking in myself, but I don’t want it!’ then you’re probably on the right track.

No matter how all this makes you feel, the antidote is the same: A commitment to a life of independence, reason and self-responsibility. The sum total of these virtues and commitments are known as self-determination. It embraces the polar opposite of the deterministic thinking that infects so many and holds individual and collective human progress so unnecessarily and tragically hostage. The good news is that it need not be this way even one more moment of your life! Focus exclusively on what’s under your control. Take the action necessary to improve and sustain your life. The poisonous thinking of determinism will dissipate. By changing and correcting your false beliefs, you can make it happen.