If a student in a UCLA shirt says that USC is completely, utterly, no-questions-asked superior to UCLA in every way, would you ignore him just because he’s wearing a UCLA shirt?
Probably not, since he’s just stating what’s true.
But on the whole, there’s a rather disturbing public trend: We will voraciously pursue the most immaterial details of a person to try and discredit his argument.
On Friday, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency fined Space Explorations Technologies (SpaceX), a Hawthorne, Calif.-based company that designs and manufactures space launch vehicles and rockets, $45,600 for violations of the EPA’s hazardous waste requirements. SpaceX CEO and founder Elon Musk also created the famous green technology car manufacturer, Bay Area-based Tesla Motors, so naturally the pundits sprang to action, howling their accusations of liberal hypocrisy.
A few cleverly placed hints about “hazardous materials,” suggestive images of radioactive waste, a string of snide remarks about holier-than-thou green technology advocates, a little jealousy over Tesla’s success and voilá — a “gotcha” media moment ensued for Musk.
In this case, as with most, the hullabaloo is a little ridiculous. According to the EPA, the main violations were improperly storing or labeling hazardous materials, one of which was isopropyl alcohol, i.e. plain old rubbing alcohol.
But scandal-mongerers will hunt for any excuse at all to discredit a cause — in this case, green technology.
When “climategate,” a server-hacking incident involving the Climatic Research Unit, occurred, climate change skeptics immediately pounced on the opportunity to denounce the possibility of global warming over a paltry number of e-mail correspondences between a few scientists. The poor choices of the scientists do not serve as legitimate proof against climate change.
In 2006, the public lambasted Al Gore for possessing a less-than-eco-friendly private jet and failing to practice what he preached in his Oscar-winning documentary, An Inconvenient Truth. Although the criticisms might have been both reasonable and deserved, using them as a reason to ignore his campaign against global warming was unwarranted.
Although proponents of an idea should certainly adhere to it themselves — if only for the sake of credibility — there is no need for ad hominum attacks on the messenger in order to obscure the message.
Even if the spokesperson for a movement does not always angelically toe the line, the idea behind the movement is still valid.
If an advocate from California’s Public Interest Research Group hasn’t registered to vote, it doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t vote. If our professors skip steps in solving problems, it doesn’t mean that we should on exams.
Admittedly, with certain issues, if the champion advocate fails to live up to expected standards, his entire message is called into question. Politicians and their campaigns can be broken by a single scandal, not matter how trivial. Americans detest hypocrisy perhaps more than any other character flaw a public figure can possess.
A single individual’s choice, however, should not have the leverage to undermine the entire perspective on an issue.
We might view the primary spokesperson as the face or embodiment of a movement itself, and the way the two are currently synonymous leaves much to be desired. Glenn Beck and Sarah Palin neither represent nor discredit all conservative American ideals; neither do Jon Stewart and Paul Krugman encapsulate all liberal views.
Attacking the messenger only serves as an excuse to deny the message without considering the truths it might contain.
Of course, it might be far simpler to write off the opposing viewpoint by besmirching the personal lives of those involved. Plenty of people on all sides do not strictly follow their own teachings.
If SpaceX, one of Musk’s many start-up babies, has already corrected the violations behind its EPA fine, then this irrational, barely tangential smear on green technology can finally fade away into the insignificance it merits.
Next time the figurehead of a cause is caught doing something unsavory, let’s not forget that his actions don’t tell the whole story.
Rebecca Gao is a freshman majoring in global health.