Thursday, February 26, 2015

Discrediting the Past

Back in the old days, if you wanted to discredit a rival, you'd accuse them of witchcraft.  All sorts of investigations and trials would ensue.  Even if the victim was exonerated, the whole lengthy process would have left them tainted and probably broken, not just mentally, but physically as well, thereby removing them as a credible rival.  Nowadays, the way to cast doubt upon someone is to imply sexual impropriety - allegations of groping are enough to undermine someone, rape or peadophilia will destroy them - even if the claims are disproved, their reputations will never fully recover in the eyes of the media and public.  Now, many of these claims will turn out to be true, but even if they are, should they completely discredit the guilty party and all their works?  I only ask because the latest prominent figure to be accused sexual harassment is the head of the UN's climate change panel, the allegations forcing him to stand down from his position. 

It's clear that in some quarters, there's a feeling, hope even, that if this leading proponent of climate change is discredited, then, in some way, the whole idea of man made climate change is somehow compromised - even though the allegations against him are to do with his personal, not his professional, conduct.  You know the attitude: 'I'll be damned if I believe anything a sex criminal says - especially about global warming'.  Hell, I'm guilty of this sort of thinking myself: when Dominique Strauss-Kahn, the then head of the IMF, was accused of rape in New York a few years ago I tried to use this to discredit the IMF and its policies: 'I'll be damned if I'll be lectured to on economics by an organisation headed by an (alleged) rapist!'  Indeed, I did it again when Strauss-Kahn was recently on trial for  pimping: 'I'll be damned if I'll be lectured on economics by an organisation which used to be headed by a pimp!'  It's always tempting to think that something discreditable in someone's private life completely invalidates their entire life's work.  Look at the way all of Rolf Harris's paintings have been taken down from public display, (although that might just be because they are shit).  But just because it is revealed that, say, a singer was once guilty of domestic violence, should we boycott all of their albums?  Are the two things inextricably linked?  Does their entire canon, which you previously enjoyed, retrospectively become evil when their misdemeanour is revealed?  With increasing numbers of 1970s media figures being accused of various sex crimes, the question is becoming ever more pertinent - after all, if we reject all of their historical work because of their crimes, we'll be in danger of losing a huge chunk of our cultural past.



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