Fruit of the Poisonous Tree: An Open Letter

Dear fellow millennials:

I don’t know how to start these things without portraying a tone that is condescending and dripping with sanctimony. At best, I can implore you to understand that it is with earnestness that I write this letter. If you neither understand nor agree with any word the follows, my sincere hope is that you at minimum appreciate my motivations as genuine concern.

I certainly cannot compel you to understand or make you think. Your capacity to comprehend, think critically, and act on available information — your mind, for the sake of this discussion — is deeply rooted in your individual composition. In fact, it’s what makes you, well, you. Our minds are the very things that are unalienable about us. The rights we are born having and deserving could be trounced upon by a tyrant, notwithstanding the Preamble to the Declaration of Independence. Don’t mistake me here. Our freedoms as Americans are incredible and the toast of the world; however, you delude yourself if you believe that life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness are rights acknowledged by the tyrants running North Korea, China, or Russia. But, the human mind, specifically the capacity to think and reason, transcends the whims of even the most oppressive state. It could no more be compelled to innovate than a blind man held at gunpoint could be compelled to see.

It is in the spirit on this notion that I write this open letter. I have often viewed myself as boulder in a river, holding fast to my spot while allowing the current to take the path of least resistance around me without interrupting the flow too much one way or another — obdurate, but navigable. However, with the recent eruption of vitriol in our midst, I am now damming up the river and directing its course to one of my choosing.

So, to my fellow millennials, my premise is this: your ideas are toxic. You are not. But, the abdication of your mind, your individualism, in favor of a tribal mind and collectivism is the most fatal of poisons. It will only bear fruit of pain, suffering, and despair.

If you’re still with me, allow me to explain.

We will start with the most recent impetus of all this open outcry, the election. This election split the country to the point where the losing candidate received the majority vote. A great many of our generation supported this candidate and through a largely divisive campaign season, came to revile those that supported the eventual winner. The revulsion is fine, I am not lobbying for or against either candidate here. The collectivist response, however, is not. You alone own your mind and your feelings, as each of us does with our own minds. Your own frustration and sadness at picking the wrong horse does not give you the freedom to loot the minds of others by way of attribution — namely, the assignment of an -ist word to an individual solely based on their electoral preference. We have projected the worst alleged traits of the winning candidate upon his supporters. “If you voted for a person who is X, you are also X or completely sanction X.” Tell me you haven’t heard that rhetoric.

We have described America as racist, misogynistic, xenophobic or homophobic as a result of this election. In so doing we have become as guilty as anyone we have accused. We have deprived the entire electorate — not just our opponents — of their agency by making the entire election about our lens on the world. Ironically, this is exactly what we have accused the winning candidate of doing. We have ceded our individual desires for a notion of the public good and society in general. Worse still, many of us have donned the mantle of victim and asserted that a vote against our candidate is a personal attack against us and everything that is good and wholesome in the world. In so doing, we have looted the individuality from countless people who voted differently than us. In our feelings of betrayal, we lashed out and sought to shame or coerce others into thinking like us. We asserted that ours was the only view of the world worth having and that the goals for society mattered more than individualism and closely held convictions. We sought to bend the electorate to our will, not through the merits of our position, but through manipulation by the sword. Who then is the real tyrant?

We invoked the public good and the well-being of society in our pontificating. We still do in our protests. We demand that we be accommodated at the cost of contrary opinions to our own — labeling not just those views, but the people who hold them as ‘backwards.’ In short, we demand a sacrifice upon the altar of the public good by dismissing individualist views as selfish and harmful to the public good. The despicable creation of this bully pulpit environment with no room for discourse is squarely on us because we are the ones who have given the use of our minds over to ‘thought leaders.’ We have convinced ourselves that, individually, we are valueless and that we cannot create value ourselves. Therefore, the only course of action is to pool our value for the public wellbeing and distribute it based on some arbitrary system. This, of course, is absurd. We have let ourselves believe that society owns our successes, but our failures are individual and occur in spite of the great gifts bestowed upon us by this same society. We believe in the public good over our own good and expect the government to lavish freedoms upon us so that we might repay some nebulous, metaphysical debt. The truth is: our freedoms are not mortgaged and they are neither society’s nor the government’s to bestow. We have them by virtue of our own self-reliance and individual minds. I will not be giving mine up for anyone.

In our rush to accept the worldview that collectivism achieves greatness by virtue of equality, we have also become bigots. In our rush to rid the world of hurtful speech, we have become oppressors. Using the same principles of attribution we used on the electorate, we boldly proclaim that one specific demographic is at the root of all of the suffering of the rest and demand restitution for generations of suffering caused by that discrete group of people. We have fomented discord amongst ourselves by breathing life into the vapid concept of privilege and turned it into a weapon to cull rebellion against the ‘correct’ way of viewing the world. Disagree with our worldview that sanctions rioting by those ‘oppressed by society?’ Your white privilege means you won’t ever understand. Object to the assertion that something other than gender played a role in our preferred candidate losing? Your male privilege and the patriarchy make it impossible for you to ever understand.

Do you understand what is happening here? We are looting people of their mind and agency and in the same breath compelling their obedience to our beliefs using shame — effectively, we are telling people that they must concede the point because they can’t see the world as we do. We are demanding our arguments be graded on a curve as opposed to absolute merit. We are recklessly blaming people for the color of their skin and the way they were born and we seek control by moving the goalposts in whatever way benefits “society” at the time. Again, who are the bigots here? Who are the tyrants?

The time has come for us to give up this poisonous rhetoric before it takes us a bridge too far and we can’t undo the damage. Each of us is an individual, the smallest minority on earth, and each of us has a responsibility to ourself and no one else. I implore you to stop sacrificing your own mind for someone else’s power. That’s what it is at the end of the day; collectivism is a power concentrator from the individuals to the few people in positions to shape the notion of the ‘public good.’ Why would you give away for free that which can’t be taken by force, your mind?

So, fellow millennials, I do not seek to sway you to my side, as it were. Doing so would be hypocritical at best and downright evil manipulation at worst. I seek simply to remind that the benefits in our world (knowledge, wealth, joy, good will) are not fixed quantities. They can and are created on a daily basis by individuals, but to seek to curtail that individuality is to take a knife to the Mona Lisa or a hammer to the Gutenberg Press.

The best thing for us all is individually debating, disagreeing, discovering, and building the world. It’s incumbent on us to exercise the precious ability which has been granted to us all: the ability to reason.

Very truly yours,

Gavin Hawkins