The Bloodless Materialism of Elon Musk

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.

13 thoughts on “The Bloodless Materialism of Elon Musk

  1. Pingback: Saturday morning links - Maggie's Farm

  2. Most commercial satellites of the world are launched from French Guiana on Ariane 5 rockets, the US launch market is dominated by the Military Industrial Complex.

  3. The Declaration is sex, not marriage. The Constitution was written, argued, opposed, and ratified by men sobered by the true nature of the circumstances which they themselves had created.

    The Constitution could not withstand the grasp of Visionary and Utopian thinkers over time because those opposed, who were granted their 10 amendments, did not think to make the 10th Amendment the 1st, and specifically grant States the right to secede.

    It did last 72 years, which is not nothing. Now the Constitution is just sex, with the taxpayer over the barrel.

  4. ….”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….”

    But people will ALWAYS do dumb things and the more “ambitious” amongst us, will use this human foible to amass power and authority. And these “more ambitious” individuals will almost never be benevolent.
    Folks who “think” like a George Washington or a James Madison no longer bother to seek office; they realize that our present system is IRREVOCABLY BROKEN – IT CANNOT BE FIXED. It simply must be dismantled.

    The solution is to have competing states within a very weak Federal system as ORIGINALLY intended in the US Constitution.
    Yes, some states WILL become autocratic, but others will not. This will allow people to physically get up and relocate to those states they find most appealing.

    When states realize that the citizenry can “escape” their clutches, it will force most of them – but not all – to establish a system of government exists to serve the people.

    Presently, regardless of which state one chooses to reside in, the Federal TYRANNY, the Federal DICTATORSHIP, will follow you like your shadow. You cannot escape its clutches.

    If a state’s Constitutional Convention is not convened to amend the Constitution, then the states must begin the process of secession.

    Secession to pursue individual liberty and freedom is noble and virtuous, and conforms with the spirit of our own Declaration of Independence.

  5. I thought I was clear that I have no animus for Musk, despite his silly name. From what I can tell, he came about his money legally and, for the most part, honestly. Calling him a great inventor or entrepreneur seems like an abuse of language to me. Like Steve Jobs, Musk’s primary skill was in getting just ahead of a fad and cashing in on it.

    SpaceX could prove to be an exception, but it could also prove to be a huge flop. Satellite launching services have been around a while now. SpaceX is hardly breaking new ground here.

    Again, it is clever marketing more than anything. International Launch Services has been putting satellites in space for a fee for two decades. No one outside the business knows anything about them. Everyone knows about SpaceX.

    The real point of my most is the anti-human vibe that I get from these guys. They suffer from the same problem Randians have in that their materialism leads inevitably to a blood bath. It’s the trouble with “economic man” and “transactional man” in that moist robots can never have empathy.

  6. Elon Musk’s greatest skill is identifying a cash flow to farm. Not creating a concept, but figuring out how money moves and inserting a toll road, so to speak.
    The signal annoyance with the takeover by automation of personal life is what I call the ‘accommodation effect’, as in what aspect of your life will you be forced to alter because whoever setup the machine never even thought about you doing something a particular way. Ask anybody with a Roomba about dropping a receipt or piece of newspaper on the floor. The driverless cars will end up as government property, because “why would you need your own?”.

  7. He certainly gives off a huckster vibe. But I’m cynical about self interest or self aggrandizers. Why in the world is Mark Cuban on TV selling AT&T smart phones?

  8. 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?

    Same as it is for every man—and less. I’ve yet to see Musk implement a bureaucracy of Death Panels and Groningen Protocols. Or applaud one. Or call for one.

    No matter what Musk’s philosophy, it’s a long leap from rockets, batteries, and AI to the “destruction of life not worth living.”

  9. Blame Elon Musk’s parents. Give a kid a name like that and he’s going to grow up thinking he’s Buckminster Fuller. Elon Musk is his own refutation – in a well-ordered world his would be the name of a particularly offensive brand of cologne.

  10. I don’t know about SpaceX being a parasite; I thought most of their business plan involved revenues from other businesses. The SpaceX launch that just happened carried two private satellites, didn’t it?

    The U.S. Government is just another customer to them, although one with very deep pockets.

    I think Musk is just a smart guy who sees which way the wind is currently blowing. He doesn’t want to end up like Gibson Guitar if he can just mumble the right things and get a free pass.

  11. I always liked Thiel, the other PayPal Co-founder, better, he says stuff like:

    “The future of technology is not pre-determined, and we must resist the temptation of technological utopianism – the notion that technology has a momentum or will of its own, that it will guarantee a more free future, and therefore that we can ignore the terrible arc of the political in our world.”


    “I no longer believe that freedom and democracy are compatible.”


    • Theil is right. Majoritarianism/democracy means people voting to enlarge the welfare state by taking wealth from the most productive and spreading it to the least, a form of slavery in which the productive are exploited by the parasitic..

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