The remarkable thing about Elon Musk, the only remarkable thing, is that sensible people take this silly man seriously. Judging from the news accounts and the cultural megaphones blasting away at us, Musk is regarded as some sort of seer, a man with a detailed working knowledge of the future. For reasons known only to him, he lets us in on it once in a while, usually at some big event where he is pitching all things Elon Musk.
According to Musk, Elon Musk is is a South-African–born, Canadian-American entrepreneur, engineer, inventor and investor. He is the CEO and CTO of SpaceX, CEO and chief product architect of Tesla Motors, and chairman of SolarCity. He is the founder of SpaceX and a cofounder of PayPal, Tesla Motors, and Zip2. He has also envisioned a conceptual high-speed transportation system known as the Hyperloop.
That’s copied from his Wikipedia page, which I’m going to assume has been approved by Team Musk, as it were. Famous people today carefully manicure their Wiki pages. Rich famous people also have the power to sue Wiki into the stone age so they get to sign off on their Wiki entries.
The thing with Musk, like most of the Internet billionaires, is he never really invented anything. His first company was a service he cleverly sold to Compaq. Both are long gone. His second act was PayPal, but he did not “invent” that service. He bought the company and then cleverly sold it to eBay. SpaxeX and Tesla are both parasites, cleverly living off tax payer subsidies.
Musk is a clever and gifted pitch man, for sure. He is the P. T. Barnum of the Internet age, blazing new ground in the field of suckering the rubes, but that’s about it. I’m not even sure calling him an entrepreneur is the right way of putting things. His companies were all built to be sold, preferably to a greater fool with loads of cash. Mark Cuban got rich like this, too.
None of this is to say I have anything against the man. From what I can tell he made his money legally and did so without causing harm to others. It’s just that I have no interest in what he has to say about anything, unless he is giving tips on how to flip properties to rich suckers. That I might find interesting.
That makes me the weirdo as it seems the media falls all over itself to report on his every utterance. His latest is the claim that driverless cars will not just rule the future, they will make driving illegal. This is not the first time I’ve heard this claim. It and similar sorts of logic are popular with the Ray Kurzweil types. The robots will take over and humans will, well, no one really knows. Maybe live like Eloi tended to by robots.
For some reason, the futurists of today always remind of Whittaker Chamber’s take down of Ayn Rand. Chambers knew the authoritarian mind and he knew that man-made systems of human organization must always have coercion at their heart. The reason for this is that humans are not moist robots.
It is when a system of materialist ideas presumes to give positive answers to real problems of our real life that mischief starts. In an age like ours, in which a highly complex technological society is everywhere in a high state of instability, such answers, however philosophic, translate quickly into political realities. And in the degree to which problems of complexity and instability are most bewildering to masses of men, a temptation sets in to let some species of Big Brother solve and supervise them.
That’s the central issue with libertarianism in general and techno-libertarianism in particular. The only way it can work is if a benevolent dictator makes sure the people don’t do something stupid like vote for state provision of public goods. Guys like Musk imagine himself as the watch maker. His creations, the self-driving cars and personal robots, will implement his perfect society – or else.
Nor has the author, apparently, brooded on the degree to which, in a wicked world, a materialism of the Right and a materialism of the Left first surprisingly resemble, then, in action, tend to blend each with each, because, while differing at the top in avowed purpose, and possibly in conflict there, at bottom they are much the same thing. The embarrassing similarities between Hitler‘s National Socialism and Stalin’s brand of Communism are familiar. For the world, as seen in materialist view from the Right, scarcely differs from the same world seen in materialist view from the Left. The question becomes chiefly: who is to run that world in whose interests, or perhaps, at best, who can run it more efficiently?
There’s that magic word that comes to mind whenever these technologist cross my view. It sounds so reasonable. The managerial elite love to use the word “efficiency” when discussing their latest ideas for how to manage your affairs. How hard is it to imagine Elon Musk saying that it would be more “efficient” to recycle the old for their phosphorous? Turn deformed babies into animal feed?
After all, that would be more efficient.