Conclusion of yesterday’s column.
Many people never talk to a therapist or read a self-help book. They nevertheless develop a stance of anger towards the rest of the world. Why? ‘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 ever 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 to the core error of deterministic thinking. If an individual concludes that no matter what has happened in his past, he is still in charge of his life and can use his thinking mind to develop himself, then he will be mentally fit and free of deterministic thinking. If he fails to develop this attitude, then he will succumb to one of the many trends in our culture geared to reinforcing deterministic thinking.
Are people doomed to be deterministic? Of course not. Any hint of human progress can be attributed to the rare periods of human history (today is not a shining example) in which a self-responsible attitude was dominant. Even in periods such as our own, occasional bursts of progress are still possible (e.g., the Internet, continued development in medical technology). Good ideas and the willingness to practice them will always be available to human beings to save them from the sort of 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 to (indeed, any attention to) the notions of reason, reality, independent judgment and taking charge of one’s own life. The sad reality, as so often documented in this column, is that these fields and institutions, in their present form, simply do not deliver to humans the rational, life-affirming ideas they so desperately need.
It’s not that deterministic thinking has any rational credibility to give it so much power over our culture. Its appeal lies in basically two psychological factors: fear and laziness. Laziness is the unwillingness to take charge of one’s life. Laziness means, in essence, choosing to leave the driving to someone else—not just on a particular road trip, but also for all of one’s life.
Fear both gives rise to and reinforces the laziness. It might be a fear of not knowing what’s best for oneself. It might be a fear of making a mistake. It might be a fear of becoming happy and 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’ a fraud.
The specific form the fear takes is less important than the presence and dominance of fear and laziness in one’s psychology. The specific means (religion, litigiousness, self-help victimization trends, chronic anger) by which one chooses to escape the fear and laziness is also less important than the presence of the deterministic thinking itself.
Very few people are completely devoid of or totally dominated by deterministic thinking. If you’re reading this article, it’s most likely that you have mixtures of both deterministic thinking and self-responsible thinking with one or the other more dominant in your psyche. If reading this article makes you rather afraid, annoyed, irritated or angry—then you probably are more deterministic than not. If reading this article gives you a sense of, ‘This is right! I have some of this deterministic thinking in me—but I don’t want it!’ then you’re less deterministic than most.
The antidote for everyone 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—the polar opposite of the deterministic thinking that infects so many and holds individual and collective human progress so unnecessarily and tragically back.
The good news is this: it need not be this way one more moment of your life. Focus exclusively on what’s under your control and take the action necessary to continuously improve and sustain your life. The deterministic thinking will fall by the wayside. By changing and correcting your false beliefs, you can make it happen.