There doesn't seem to be someone more of a light for the moths than Elon Musk these days. Whether liberal or conservative, opinions range widely and all seem to coalesce on what people think his politics might be. From progressive darling for heading a reasonable environmentalist movement to becoming the most feared billionaire on the face of the earth because he wanted to purchase Twitter; he's been at the center of their focus for some time.
Conservatives have also suffered from whiplash in their emotions about Elon Musk. In 2010, Musk received a $465 million in federal loans to help support Tesla, a company many conservatives felt was flailing and taking advantage of green energy subsidies. Some reports cite as much as $4.9billion in government subsidies in total.
The whole subsidy argument is a wash, because a)subsidies are there for the taking, and every man should take advantage of what is available to him...as long as it is within moral standards, and b)Ford borrowed $5.9 billion, and had yet to pay it back as of July 2020. What seemed to rankle the conservative base is the Obama press for green subsidies. The simple retort that comes out of us is, “Solyndra.” However, Telsa is credited with paying back the $465 million dollar federal loan it received in 2010.
Getting stuck in the subsidy argument doesn't help at all when determining how conservatives believe they should feel about such an iconic man. Long after the loan debate raged, people became more comfortable as Tesla found its footing, and Musk started company after company. From SpaceX, to Boring, to Neuralink, the man has proved himself the entrepreneur of all entrepreneurs. He has devoted every fiber of his being to running these businesses, often at the sacrifice of his marriages and his family. Add in an attempt to purchase Twitter and bring it back into a neutral political position, and the right-side of politics has been cheering and championing him.
The question people debate back and forth is: is he trustworthy for our cause? Is he on our side? Is he a wolf in sheep's clothing? Is he an ideologue?
I've heard accusations that his attempt to buy Twitter is to gut it in a vicious venture capitalist move, to restore all semblance of free speech to the world, to control speech with his own tyrannical brand of <enter assumption about political leanings> or even to take over the world. Plenty of liberals ironically claim that having a single billionaire in control of Twitter is tantamount to removing the possibility of free speech from the world. It goes without saying that they miraculously ignore the strength of Zuckerberg, the power of Twitter's board, Google's insatiable appetite for controlling information, and the political influence of people like George Soros and Klaus Schwab.
Both political sides have posted up with “their” billionaire, defending the power the person wields, depending on their effectiveness in getting the agenda across the finish line.
What seems so interesting about Musk, is that he hasn't proven himself to be all that interested in a single wing of the political spectrum. The same man who sees the innovation of Tesla as revolutionizing environmentalism, also pursues the free-market with vigor. This man who argues with high level politicians about how much he pays in taxes is also the one who supports a universal basic income. In a seeming paradox, Musk speaks about the dangers of artificial intelligence and at the same time runs Neuralink, a company devoted to implanting chips into human brains. He's friends with Obama, has presented himself as friendly with Trump, and has stayed somewhat reserved in his criticisms of the Biden administration. The man has actually semi-endorsed a republican candidate and moved operations from California to Texas, yet is building business relationships with the CCP.
We all fail in trying to pigeon-hole him, and this is mostly because he can't be pigeon-holed. In my opinion, the man is beyond ideology and is attempting to find the most coherent, meta-narrative he can. His pursuit of entrepreneurship has always revolved around upending the current system. Not for the money, but for the benefit of humanity. He's attributed as admitting on a Podcast that if Paypal had executed the plan he wrote in 2000, it would have put the entire banking industry out of business. I think plenty on both end of the political spectrum could appreciate such a thought.
Musk is a lightning rod for controversy, and it seems to stem from which side he's made mad that day. Often, the mad side becomes the naysayers, and the number of people who lack self-awareness is fascinating. They become the naysayers that are so often referred to when looking back at the greats. Henry Ford put up with plenty of “that'll never work” when he revolutionized the car industry. Steve Jobs was forced out of his own company (before being brought back when the company was days from bankruptcy.) Guglielmo Marconi proved radio could work, yet was taken into custody and examined in a psych hospital because they thought his idea was too crazy. We still have yet to truly appreciate the greatness of Nikola Tesla, instead always drumming up the name of Edison. Tesla envisioned a world with limitless energy, free of charge, and some might argue he never succeeded because of the financial destruction that could do to certain industries.
Elon Musk isn't just a man, nor just a genius, but a Rorschach test for ourselves. We consolidate everything he's done and attempt to justify our feelings. The conservative base went rampant with this when Musk signaled his intentions to purchase Twitter and clean proverbial house. We clapped and cheered, claiming that the man was restoring free speech to the public sphere. Claims flitted around the Christian gossip circuit that he was days away from accepting Christ, that he was God's vessel to restore the nation to the right path, and that like Trump, was an unlikely hero who could change the course of the nation. In a sadly embarrassing moment, the Babylon Bee pressured Musk to accept Christ in the middle of the interview. For all of my love for the Babylon Bee, I thought that portion of the interview was quite cringe-inducing and lacked taste for something so personal.
But the messaging was clear from the Christian right: we need to get him on our side and claim him as our own. We need his membership into the club, so that we could finally have an influential and powerful disruption artist...much like Trump. As Musk figuratively flew the middle finger at the establishment financial industry, establishment democrats, and establishment authoritarians, we finally felt as though we had a person who saw things the way we do.
And it's not to say that he doesn't see some of the things we do and understands our frustration. He's voiced his opposition to various policies and the attempted consolidation of power over speech and communication. He went as far as to install starlink in Ukraine to help fight Russia. In a more humorous (yet seemingly half-serious) attempt, he challenged Putin to a fight for Ukraine.
He's endeared himself with the right through his trolling antics and low-key, dry sarcastic humor. He'll tell you a joke and keep a straight face, knowing it'll take most of us a second to even realize he made a joke. The first four models of Tesla were the S, 3, X, Y. Anybody whose scoured the more meme-centered areas of the internet will recognize the '3' being interchangeable with 'E.'
I must admit, when I learned this fact, I gained a whole new appreciation for the man. Is it childish humor? Sure. But a man who is willing to inject a joke like this into his global company, perhaps to make himself laugh, is a man who obviously doesn't take himself too seriously all the time. Could you imagine a Soros or a Buffett doing something similar? From smoking weed on the Joe Rogan podcast (a no-no for both sides: liberals hate rubbing shoulders with Rogan, conservatives distrust weed smoking) to running afoul of the SEC because of tweets, Musk's humor and low-key antics have gained him supporters and detractors. Don't forget, he tweeted support of Doge coin, a meme coin that saw epic growth for a short time after the tweet, and then he announced that Tesla would accept bitcoin as payment.
Everything he does seems to align with a deeper plan that neither is for or against normal narratives. He does what he does, and while he may care what people think, he keeps pushing forward. In fact, when an opinion he doesn't like is voiced, he tends to poke the bear.
So why the entire blog post on Elon Musk? Because at some point, we have to be honest with ourselves about who he really is. He's not the conservative caped hero we clamor for, but he's not the progressive ideologue we imagined for so long. His approach to politics is what we should hope to be: on a case-by-case basis. You watch him calculate each issue extremely carefully before responding. At times, the pause is unbearable, as you wonder if he'll ever speak. When he does, it is exceptionally clear and focused, yet down to earth and...normal. The man is just a man, yet a mythic-genius-entrepreneur savant-icon-jokester. He battles with the establishment without the sense of personal-mandate, yet carries the vision to personally change the direction of humanity.
I'd rather him that way. All men are sinful and can be brutally misdirected, but I appreciate an honesty in him that is rare. He doesn't see himself bigger than he is, yet he recognizes his unique position. I dare say there is a rare humility, down-to-earth nature that offsets certain claims about his personability. Plenty of people could speak to this, but I can't. There are reports that he's not good with people at certain times, that he lacks empathy, and that he lashes out under stress. I'd argue: who doesn't. But then others claim he's sensitive and caring for those around him.
His goals and vision are otherwordly...literally. He has professed a serious intention to colonize mars, throwing his hat in the ring by launching a Tesla to mars. He's creating underground driving tunnels with the vision of people being whisked away at incredible speeds between cities. He created a flamethrower to help fund his projects. He is pushing for normal people to go into space, much like millions of us get on jets every day and fly around the world. This would simply be out into space instead. Don't forget the solar roofs, the house batteries, and the new vehicle concepts. Don't forget, that “in the spirit of the open source movement,” Tesla would not “initiate patent lawsuits against anyone who, in good faith, wants to use our technology.”
Where does that leave us? He's a man, just like any of us. As he continues to make headlines, we're going to be inundated with opinions about who he is and what drives him. We can appreciate him for what he's done and is doing, yet understand that just like all of us: he may make his slip ups and mistakes.