And that is what I thought was really ironic. This youngster wasn't arguing that circumstances like being born into poverty or racial discrimination were to blame for his personal woes. No, it was the fact the government and "big oil" are suppressing radical new technologies!
Come again? You are really serious about this?
But getting away from thorium and conspiracy theories, it does raise the valid point - which affects your life more, circumstances or your choices? It is a valid question and at first it seems that either (a) there is no clear answer, or (b) circumstances win, as they can overwhelm choices anytime.
You are stuck on the Titanic and it is sinking. Circumstances trump choices, right? Perhaps. Myself, I would try to make a raft out of a stack of deck chairs roped together and get away as soon as possible. Or try to get one of those folding lifeboats to work. Sadly, a lot of people sat around doing nothing, convinced that (a) the ship wasn't sinking, or (b) nothing could be done to change their fate.
The reality is, that even though there were not enough lifeboats on the ship, many were only partially full if nearly empty. Most of the folding lifeboats were not assembled as "no one could figure out how to assemble them" - where are the Engineers when you need them? A lot of people died not because of circumstances but because of poor choices.
The people locked in steerage? Maybe they had a lot fewer choices. The folks in first and second class had far more - but many refused to exercise them. Many refused to even get into empty lifeboats. People do weird shit like that.
But however bad circumstances are, the choices you make - how you react to circumstances - often determine your fate, rather than fate itself. Growing up in South Philly is a bad circumstance. Your friends are all doing drugs, dropping out of High School and getting pregnant. Seems like a preordained destiny, right? Maybe. But I have a friend who faced those circumstances and chose to join the Navy and get the hell out of there. She is now comfortably middle class. One choice, too, was all that it took, in that situation.
Now granted, this is not to say that everyone has choices or that these choices are easy. If a house falls on you, you have no choice. And climbing out of poverty is not an easy choice to make - but a series of very difficult choices one must continually make over time. Things don't happen over night. It ain't like flicking a light switch. But choices can make a huge difference in outcome, even when it seems destiny is against you.
The characters on the television sit-coms are reactive, not active. Think of Cheers, where everyone knows you name. Does anyone on that show actually do anything other than sit around and drink beer and react to what happens to them? No one makes choices in life, except perhaps for Frazier, to leave Boston for good (and that turned out to be a good choice, eh?). This sort of programming reinforces the notion to the plebes that you are a victim in life - of circumstance. When bad things happen to you, they are not a result of your poor choices, but just like the weather.
And a lot of folks believe that. That money comes and goes in their life like the weather. One day it rains money, the next, a drought. For most of these people, it is drought, all the time.
That is the ultimate choice.