The Madness of King Musk

Ed Zitron 6 min read

Tesla CEO and “guy who won’t shut up” Elon Musk has said that he won’t proceed with his $44 billion takeover of Twitter unless they can prove that bots make up less than 5% of the userbase. It’s the latest in what can be described as something between a tantrum and nervous breakdown from one of the world's richest people, a man who, despite having no PR or marketing department, desperately craves to be in the news cycle at all times.

Generally, when a man enters his mid-life crisis, he tends to purchase a motorcycle or a leather jacket. He decides he wants to live dangerously, taking on new hobbies that prove that he’s still “got it” and that his life is still - and will always be - exciting and cool.

That’s where we find Elon Musk, a man who has now leveraged many of his assets to maybe or maybe not purchase one of the largest social networks in the world. His public spats with Twitter CEO Parag Agrawal frame him as someone lacking the maturity, empathy, and consideration that one would expect from an adult human, let alone a multi-billionaire. He has acted with callousness and recklessness that is actively ruining Twitter as a company, creating a hostile and uncertain environment for no reason other than to appeal to and unite the biggest cretins in the world:

The impression among employees is that Musk is messing with Twitter “like a dog playing with a toy,” said a person familiar with the situation, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to describe internal discussions. “No matter what: The company is in play now. I don’t think it’s a situation where Elon walks away and things can go back to normal.”

Some argue that his actions are an attempt to lower the price of the deal, considering the stock is now trading at nearly $20 below the agreed-upon purchase price. One might say (and some have said) that these are “trolls” - that Elon Musk is using his outsized wealth and near-100 million followers to scorn Twitter for whatever reason, interested in torpedoing the deal.

The problem with this logic is that it suggests any intentionality or logic behind any of Musk’s moves. In a deal of this size, with this much attention, he has acted in about as bad faith as anyone could imagine, antagonizing “libs” (he means “anyone who doesn’t want to see a bunch of racists and their favorite president back on Twitter”) and doing the classic “I’m not a Republican, but the Democrats have pushed me outroutine that the conservative movement requires of every participant in the culture war.

The supposed “smartest person in any room” has, for the most part, acted like a dimwitted and confused 50-something, dropping cringeworthy memes to make the same vague, generic points that every single empty-headed conservative stooge makes. Despite being so wealthy that he could do literally anything, and allegedly smart enough to learn just about anything, Musk has, despite taking up immense media attention, said and done very little. He has repeated the same tired conservative talking points that we’ve heard for years, posted features that have been on Twitter for quite some time, or made obtuse statements about his safety. He has caused endless trouble in a deal that he has no reason or incentive to damage, all in search of attention.

Seeing Musk as a trailblazing genius is a comfortable way of justifying his immense wealth and power. He has enjoyed years of effusive, uncritical press that hails him as an inventor and a genius, falling over themselves to cover every stupid thing Elon Musk says or does. Despite all of this attention and vast fortune, Musk has remained reactionary and childish, constantly trying to shift the world’s eyes back to his Twitter account so that he can have another puddle-deep news cycle. And what, really,  has he contributed? What has he used his vast influence and wealth to do, other than to send waves of horrible bastards to harass people?

And quite honestly, why are so many people humoring such a colossal fucking bore of a person? Strip away his Twitter account and large sums of money and Musk has the temperament and ideologies of every single 23-year-old center-right white guy. Being wealthy opens doors to doing and learning many different things, and Musk time and time again has chosen to do boring, annoying and malicious things. What interests does Musk have? What does he do for fun, other than make money, attack people and cause utterly meaningless news cycles?

Framing Elon Musk as a quirky firebrand inventor (he is not the inventor of many of the things he’s credited with inventing) is irresponsible and unfair to any of the numbers of people who aren’t cretinously boring, let alone so wealthy and so influential that they could change the world with a tweet. It’s also an easier pill to swallow than the truth - that Elon Musk is just a smart guy and a good operator that got exceedingly lucky in the timing of his successes, leaving him with a massive fortune that he spends in ways that range from stupid to actively bad for society.

The problem with Musk being “normal” is that it shows the world to be a deeply unfair place. If Musk is just a guy - a smart guy, but neither an inventor nor a “genius” in any cultural or even business sense - then you have to wonder if the universe is that fair, and whether “just some guy” is the person who should own and run Twitter, or whether it’s fair that one of the largest bully pulpits in the world is controlled in perpetuity by a guy who called a man saving childrens’ lives a pedophile.

If we lionize Musk and claim he’s the real-life Tony Stark, we can forgive his public cruelty and immaturity because he’s a complex, troubled genius that you “can’t pin down.” We can view his actions as those of a multi-layered and complex genius, explaining away his petty grievances and mean-hearted actions as things that perhaps make sense to him in his massive brain - that he may see a bigger picture than us normal folks.

Except for every day that the Twitter acquisition goes on, we see the truth about Musk - that he is unbelievably dull, bereft of ideologies, purpose or meaning in anything he does. Everything he says is framed to be interpreted as “smart” by people that have no interest in any introspection, and his actions are those of someone who thinks being smart at one thing is immediately transferable to any other interest or discipline. This acquisition is exceedingly indicative of the kind of person and leader Musk is - he demands the control and attention that comes from a multi-billion dollar acquisition without having any responsibility for the people involved or the harm he may cause in the process.

And that’s who he is - a colossal blowhard that craves more and more attention, despite receiving arguably the single most attention a human being can get in their life. He is ungrateful for his wealth, malicious with his power and petulant when he doesn’t get his way. As I’ve said before, Musk could do tremendous good if he did something with his money and influence that wasn’t entirely self-centered - say, building massive amounts of affordable housing, a bipartisan move that benefits everybody - but he would rather do utterly boring and shitty things on a daily basis.

I have no idea if the Twitter deal will progress, nor whether Musk wants it to. It’s become entirely apparent that he didn’t do the due diligence one should on any acquisition, let alone one worth tens of billions of dollars, and that this entire thing may be the extremely childish actions of a man with more money and power than billions of people combined. While the attention the deal brought him was initially satisfying, I get the sense that Musk has lost interest because running a social network isn’t easy, and despite all of his supposed goodwill, the court of public opinion is rapidly judging him as someone that doesn’t know what he’s doing.

However, I would not be surprised if the deal falls apart very quickly and quietly. Twitter has said that they will enforce the deal in response to Musk’s claims of it “being pending” of anything - after all, the contracts he’s signed have been exceedingly clear that once you agree, you are buying the company. The only reason I won’t immediately call the deal dead is that Musk himself is so arrogant, so utterly self-conscious, that I do not believe he would cancel a deal if he couldn’t frame it as a failing on the part of the other party.

Maybe that’s what he does - create a situation where he frames Twitter as a degenerating company that isn’t worth buying, paying a billion dollars and saying, “Twitter can’t be saved.” He will talk publicly with fellow specious dullard and former Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey about how “the new Twitter isn’t what Jack wanted,” and he’ll go back to whining about how regulators or the government have terribly maligned him.

Or perhaps he realizes that the era of constant positive attention is ending for him and his companies, and he’s trying to pivot into a new role. Tesla failed to deliver the cybertruck before Rivian and Ford launched their own electric trucks, and every day the competition seems to make up more ground as the design and features of the Models X, 3, S and Y stagnate. Starlink internet may have received tons of positive press, but customers are furious and have been waiting months to receive their units - and every time Comcast or another company moves into an area, their addressable market contracts.

Musk may have succeeded in being first or very early in several markets, but he has yet to prove that he can actually compete when challenged. If Musk is such an erratic visionary, why is he splitting his focus again and again, specifically during a time when the fourth-largest auto manufacturer has just launched an immensely successful and popular competitor?

Or is he just a man who has become so distant from the world that he only sees it as a vending machine for his own satisfaction?

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