Elon Musk: visionary or billionaire troll?

Elon Musk is exhibit A in building the case that billionaires should be abolished.

Image credit: James Duncan Davidson

With his seeming (but still pending) acquisition of Twitter, the world’s richest person, Elon Musk, is portraying himself as a free speech ‘absolutist’ bent on liberating people from the tyranny of the social media giant’s terms of service, something that most of those who use it never come up against. How those interested in politics fall on this still ongoing purchase seems to divide almost perfectly between the left and right, with most centrists, as usual, straddling the fence.

In recent days, this divide has become very clear in terms of sheer numbers on the platform, with reactionaries like Marjorie Taylor Greene receiving an influx of tens of thousands of new followers while progressives like Alexandria Ocasio Cortez lost many. AOC’s losses are the likely result of many on the left showing their displeasure with the likely sale by closing their accounts.

Jack Dorsey (net worth: $3.25 billion), who co-founded the company but no longer runs it, cheered Musk’s $44 billion purchase, tweeting, “This is the right path…I believe it with all my heart.” 

Musk, 50, has claimed he was on the political left when he was younger but has been left behind by the embrace of ‘wokeism’, posting a ridiculous cartoon on April 28th that implied the left has moved steadily further from the center in recent years while the right and centrists have remained in the same place on the political spectrum. Hopefully this is yet another attempt at trolling and the billionaire doesn’t honestly believe that the right hasn’t moved in an ever more extreme direction in this era of so-called conservative populism.

Like so many others who seem to be in his social circle, including celebrities like Joe Rogan and Dave Chapelle, Musk has publicly displayed bigotry towards trans people on numerous occasions, most recently posting a meme that also managed to be racist, which read, “Netflix waiting for the war to end to make a movie about a black ukraine guy [who] falls in love with a transgender russian soldier.”

This is a remarkable display of callousness for communities discriminated against in almost every aspectsof their lives from housing and employment to medical care, regardless of where they live. In truth, the broad left that Musk insists is becoming ever more radical at present is merely acknowledging that most of our movements have failed LGBTQI+ people until recently and that there is still a lot of work to be done to achieve equality for these diverse communities.

On a more positive note, earlier in his career the Tesla CEO was seen as someone who had made investments in companies that were creating solutions to climate change, helping to turn the electric car company that he helped make famous into something of a blue chip stock popular with liberals concerned about the issue, at least with the money to make such an expensive purchase.

Musk’s own often boorish behavior, especially online, and his rabid fanbase of dedicated trolls seem to have damaged his visionary image with environmentally conscious liberals. His sale of $4 billion in Tesla stock during the last week of April, likely to raise money for his purchase of Twitter, which caused its share price to fall precipitously, may be the final nail in the coffin of his romance with the centrists who helped make him the richest man in the world.

Putting the lie to Musk’s environmentalist bonafides, there’s the little told story of Solar City, a company founded by his cousins that he convinced Tesla’s board to buy in 2016, despite the company’s cash flow issues and the fact that the solar powered roof shingles the company was touting didn’t exist. 

Although he won a lawsuit last week that had been brought by some Tesla shareholders who objected to the purchase, the way he presented the non-existent shingles to the world a little more than five years ago, using an abandoned set from the television show “Desperate Housewives” and claiming that the shingles on the buildings there could power the homes was shameless. 

Some have argued that this carefully crafted presentation and the larger public relations campaign for a product that wasn’t ready for market was an instance of fraud, but the boondoggle doesn’t seem to have impacted him or his reputation, with the business press continuing to hype his every venture in the years since Solar City faded from most people’s memories. 

There are few if any consequences for people like Elon Musk, who are celebrated and invited to host Saturday Night Live, where he was allowed to talk up the ‘meme crypto’ Doge Coin despite being heavily invested in it.

In May of 2020, with a national stay at home order still in place in the United States and most of the world, Tesla demanded 10,000 workers return to the factory floor at the company’s plant in Fremont, California, threatening their unemployment benefits in the process. He also threatened California state officials by saying he would move the facility to Nevada or Texas if not allowed to restart production. 

As reported by the UK Independent, at least 450 workers caught the virus between May and December of that year, likely spreading it to their families and others they came into contact with. Despite making public claims to the contrary, the South African billionaire had already shown that he is no friend to working people as he and others on Tesla’s board fought tooth and nail to prevent unionization efforts by Tesla employees, eventually moving the company to Texas with its “right to work” law.

Of course, this is fine if you’re widely hailed as a billionaire genius; if this is the case then you’ll be taken seriously even when giving advice to people about things you know nothing about.

For example, Musk has a tendency to give medical advice to his more than 89 million Twitter followers. He was certainly wrong in predicting in March of 2020 that Covid 19 would no longer be spreading by April… of 2020.

Further, after questioning MRNA vaccines and then walking this back before saying he would not get the shots because he’d already caught the disease and could rely on the immunity this provided, he contracted the virus a second time. 

Most recently, Musk used what may become his private company to opine with another billionaire about two drugs usually prescribed for very different things: Adderall, mostly used to treat ADHD and narcolepsy and Wellbutin, which is often used to treat depression. He went on to say the latter drug is “worse” than the former and “should be taken off the market”.

His reasoning? During conversations with friends, he wrote, “Every time that drug has come up in conversation, someone at the table has a suicide or near suicide story.”

As a slew of actual medical professionals pointed out in the article cited above, although they have been listed as a possible side effect of the drug, suicidal thoughts are also often associated with depression. Like all pharmaceuticals, Welbutin comes with risks, precisely why we rely on the experts and those taking it to describe any problems rather than anecdotal evidence provided by billionaires to decide how risky or effective it is.

As explained in a recent article by philosopher Phil Torres,  Musk (and other billionaires like Peter Thiel) embrace a philosophy called “long termism” which posits that doing good for the future rather than using their vast resources to alleviate suffering today shows that he and his wealthy friends are the prophets of a new kind of fascism at worst or latter day P.T. Barnums at best. This philosophy allows him to engage with fantasies about humans conquering the stars and living happily in computer simulations where they will worship him for making their utopia possible hundreds if not thousands of years in the future.

Those who espouse this philosophy also believe that rather than help the suffering in poorer countries they should invest in richer ones to make their fantasies about the future come true. That a philosophy so dumb is associated with the UK’s most prestigious universities also explains why someone like Boris Johnson is a perfect symbol of the rot at the heart of these institutions.

Regardless, Elon Musk is exhibit A in building the case that billionaires should be abolished. He is more of a troll like so many of his fans than the visionary so many seem invested in pretending he is.


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