How the Soft Determinism of “Dirk Gently” Provides Comfort In A Messy World

Jody Aberdeen
5 min readMay 13, 2018

There’s almost no avoiding a personal reflection when beginning a piece like this. 2018 has been a difficult year for me, filled with challenges around work, living spaces, family, health, and more than few instances of getting stuck in late-season snow at a farmhouse where I somehow found myself renting, and now find myself having to leave in two month’s time (as of this writing).

What gets me through, however, is the idea that destiny has something in store for me, that it’s all happening for a reason, that manifesting is bunk because half the equation involves what the Universe has in mind, meaning it’s not my fault somehow, and that I can be “a leaf in the stream of creation”.

That, and reruns of Dirk Gently’s Holistic Detective Agency, which just reinforces everything in the preceding paragraph.

The characters in the Max Landis/Arvind Ethan David series — now facing a long, largely fan-driven journey towards being picked up for a third concluding season after its cancellation earlier in the year — all operate within this almost-fatalistic conception of reality in which reality itself has a plan for everyone and everything, with everyone’s actions taking place within that framework.

Or, as Dirk put it to Todd, “just because you know you’re in a game doesn’t mean you can’t pick your moves”. It’s apparently a philosophical idea called compatibilism, the notion that free will and determinism can exist within logical consistency. Or, as Wakti Wapnasi puts it in Season Two, “fate and chance are not mutually-exclusive, and alongside them exists free will”.

The pop culture in 2018 and over the past several years has seen widespread and deadly-serious conversations by intelligent people about similar notions: the idea that reality is a giant computer simulation, and we are all Sims being controlled by an unseen user. Or, especially popular in the Trump era, that we are actually in a sideways reality, a somewhat darker alternate universe that opened up when the Large Hadron Collider (LHC) in Switzerland went online.

Mandela Effects, Simulation Theory, the stream of creation: all just gonzo ideas, right? And yet, they’re comforting. They’re comforting because strange explanations for inexplicable and often horrifying events help us make sense of the happenings in our lives (and the world at large) that defy the conventional wisdom of the previous era. Stuff happens, and it may not be entirely our fault.

A running theme in Dirk Gently’s Holistic Detective Agency is the notion of misfits: Farah Black declares “I’m one of the freaks!” after spending a lifetime trying to be as “normal” as possible (when she is, in fact, extraordinary). Dirk, Bart, The Rowdy 3, Mona Wilder: all of them are looking for a direction to follow, some kind of “causal role”. They want a destiny, and until something happens to send them along the stream of creation, they sit idle, occupying their time, much like a scattered family of Sims. Ken Adams, the ultimate Neutral Evil, discovering this soft determinism in Season One, declared “I have been doing nothing my whole life and assuming it was just that: nothing”.

And yet, the characters we love spend most of their time trying to sort out their place in reality, whether it’s harmony with the Universe (Bart and Dirk in Season One); swimming upstream against the Universe (Bart and Dirk in Season Two); or that in-between place, occupied notably by the Rowdy 3, who go from one day and one energy-feeding to the next, waiting for grander signs from the Universe.

Everyone in the Dirk Gently universe is lost, having to create family and home wherever they go.

That last sentiment, I think, speaks to me very directly in this year of non-stop moving, bizarre and traumatizing job losses, and equally-serendipitous gains and surprises. As a “Dirktective”, what appeals to me most about Dirk Gently’s Holistic Detective Agency is that very notion of casual fatalism. It has informed my somewhat woo-woo worldview, which is all the funnier, considering that Dirk Gently’s original creator, legendary science fiction author Douglas Adams, was a Radical Atheist who’d likely consider it a great big practical joke on the spiritual community.

By helping me understand that any intentions or manifestations I set are almost always decided by the Universe, the show helps me I see that I am never quite in control of anything, which means I’m not entirely to blame for a lot of the weirder things that have happened and are happening. There is always that x factor that is out of my hands completely, and in the hands of others in the world, or even just happenings that are a function of greater political, socio-economic, and cultural systems. Hell, sometimes I wonder if the strange things that have happened to me personally this year have been a subtle form of voodoo, given the level of strangeness.

But if I wake up every day, as the Rowdy 3 do, as Dirk and Bart do (and eventually Todd, Farah, and Amanda) and surrender myself to the Universe, becoming that leaf on the stream of creation, I can cope with surprises and shocks, much better than if I either assumed complete responsibility for events outside my control, or completely gave up and did nothing with my time, leaving even such simple decisions as going to the grocery store “up to fate” (and possibly starving myself to death out of learned helplessness).

The soft determinism of Dirk Gently’s Holistic Detective Agency gives fans a special sort of comfort, maybe even empowerment, in difficult, ridiculous times. Though it is fictional, I suspect, as do many other fans, that there are some very real principles underlying the fabric of the show’s reality that have very close parallels, if not identical ones, to how our crazy-ass world actually works.

Things happen, and they may be just what the Universe intended to make us stronger, build up our gumption, and prepare us for the bigger, more important challenges that are coming next.

(Here’s hoping that the Universe also intends a Rowdy 3 spinoff show and a Season 3 renewal for Dirk Gently into that mix)

Since his last Dirk Gently-related post, Jody Aberdeen has reinvented himself as a Creative Writing Consultant and, as of this post, will soon be of no-fixed address somewhere in the Greater Hamilton Area of Ontario, Canada. He has taken control of his life, and interesting things have started happening.

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