Elon Musk’s crazy ideas make sense – on Mars


I had hoped to avoid writing anything about America’s most overexposed billionaire philosopher king. But Elon Musk’s seemingly flippant plans to buy Twitter, a move that would put him in charge of the world’s most important media platform, make it inevitable.

I have long had a muted dislike for Musk. The facts of his life and personality – highlighted by this biography – have sharpened some of my animosity.

At the same time, the book made me admire much more of what he created. Its mission and ambition are literally otherworldly. The engineering achievements of his companies are unmatched.

Buying Twitter — because it amplifies his personality flaws and multiplies his power seemingly without serving his mission — seems pointless. But that’s not the most important part of Elon Musk’s story.

Her personality

Vance’s biography provides ample evidence of the Tesla and SpaceX CEO’s personality. He is clearly capable of grueling work. And because of his utter indifference to other people’s feelings, the book shows, he makes unreasonable demands. To work for Musk is to be subject to a grueling master.

You don’t want to work for him. People are a means to an end and will be fired as soon as the ends are met or not. Vance writes, “What was clear was that the people who worked for him were like ammunition: used for a purpose until they were used up and thrown away.

You don’t want to be married to Musk. His first wife, Justine, recounts how, at the start of their relationship, she complained: “I am your wife, not your employee! To which Musk replied, “If you were my employee, I would fire you.”

He is grand. It’s a hype machine that creates castles in the sky long before they have solid foundations. In his focus on mission, he is not held back by realism, modesty or truth.

What’s less clear in the book than Musk’s personality on Twitter over the past five years is that he enjoys being an online troll. Where this unattractive part of his personality came from is unclear. But as Justine, her ex, once wrote of her, quoting musician Moby, “There is no such thing as a well-adjusted public figure. If they were well adjusted, they wouldn’t be trying to be a public figure.

He delivers

Despite his megalomania and hyperbole, the impressive thing this biography makes clear about Musk is this: he has a world record for realizing great ideas.

PayPal is really helpful. Tesla cars are truly amazing. SpaceX rockets are truly state-of-the-art, changing the relationship between the private sector and space exploration. I leave much more respectful of this part of him. The challenges of creating these solutions seemed insurmountable to all observers except, apparently, Musk.

Most importantly, I respect and admire the central mission that has driven its past 20 years: to colonize Mars.

Because there are no fossil fuels on Mars, we are going to have to harness solar energy. Hence his takeover of SolarCity Corp. Once on Mars, you’ll need advanced batteries to store solar energy and battery electric vehicles to get around the planet, so you need Tesla. Obviously, to get there, you need cheap, plentiful, upgraded rockets provided by SpaceX.

Boring society.

The next point comes not from the biography but from someone else’s writing last week. It absolutely blew my mind. The Boring Co. is Musk’s contribution to transportation policy, proposing underground tunnels between and within cities.

San Antonio, for example, is considering contracting with the Boring Co. to build an underground transportation tunnel between downtown and the airport. The city needs such a tunnel like a fish needs a bicycle. The Boring Co. never made sense to me, and San Antonio meddling in that is just weird.

But! The Boring Co. makes sense if you take Musk’s plan to colonize Mars seriously. If humans inhabited this uninhabitable planet, much of life would have to be lived underground in massive tunnels.

Musk tweeted last week tunnels are insensitive to surface weather conditions. “It wouldn’t matter to Hyperloop if a hurricane raged on the surface,” he wrote. “You wouldn’t even notice.”

Although this is false in the case of flooded urban subway systems during heavy rains, we can guess that Musk actually imagines his future Mars colony protected from the harsh conditions of the Red Planet.

Heard within the framework of the Martian mission, the Boring Co. finally makes sense! Although, to be clear, not in San Antonio, which is more livable than Mars (except in July and August, when it’s essentially a tie).

Anyway, in short: The biography is good. His personality is horrible. Musk’s manic focus on colonizing Mars is consistent and impressive.

What remains, at this stage, to say about his purchase of Twitter?

The purchase doesn’t seem to contribute to its Mars mission, so that part is confusing. The buying seems to stem from his personality issues.

Am I worried that he will impose his troll views on a major global platform? Yes, in line with my big idea that we should find a way to limit the outsized impact of all the billionaire philosopher kings on our society.

Musk’s technical greatness is indisputable. The threat to our society posed by the concentration of power in the hands of a few is also indisputable.

Michael Taylor is a columnist for the San Antonio Express-News, author of “The Financial Rules for New College Graduates” and host of the “No Hill For A Climber” podcast.

[email protected]

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