Elon Musk’s Emotional Immune System
Should we use social media to drive our most prominent citizens insane by showering them with insults?
Here are two seemingly unrelated facts: 1) While most of the world was celebrating the rescue of a soccer team from a cave in Thailand, Elon Musk was calling one of the men that found the boys a pedophile. 2) Donald Trump’s nominees will account for at least a third of Supreme Court Justices within five years. Conclusion: freedom of speech is doomed. We now live in a world where we can use social media to drive our most prominent citizens and powerful leaders insane simply by showering them with insults until something inevitably gets under their skin. Right now we enjoy the power to pummel our elites with insults. It’s only a matter of time before they start hitting back.
They might hit us back even if they know what they’re doing is wrong. Elon’s comments were a huge mistake which cost him millions of dollars and endanger the success of his life's work. His retaliation was a lapse of self control, a reminder of our common humanity. It’s terrifying to realize that Elon Musk can be enraged by a stranger’s comments on the internet. If genuinely nice person like Elon can be inflamed with hatred by an insult, it stands to reason that less kindly disposed people could be induced to regret having the public interest at heart in the first place. There’s a distinct possibility that the level of vitriol delivered to celebrities via twitter could induce elites to despise humanity wholesale. Arguable we’ve been seeing this for years. The supreme court nomination process seems tailor made to induce the justices to hate the media, and this may in part explain their trademark secluded lifestyle and tendency to cling onto their protected positions until wrenched away by the icy hand of death.
It’s tempting to think of Elon or any public person as a natural phenomenon which simply appears and disappears as itmoves in and out of our attention. In fact, Elon has to wake up every morning and find a reason to get out of bed, something which is made more difficult by constant threats and insults even if they come from people with no ability to enforce them. Without a sincere belief that he deserves to live, Elon would spend his days refusing food and neglecting his responsibilities, until his body became a dead husk. This seems obvious, but it’s a counter intuitive vision of a billionaire celebrity.
I’m as guilty as anyone else when it comes to attacking public figures. It’s hard to get my mind around the fact that a man would lose his self possession in response to a mean tweet when he had the option of responding in a nearly infinite number of ways more productive ways. Elon could have instantly procured a massive helping of his favorite food, or flown somewhere to pet a dolphin, or called the shockingly attractive head of state Kolinda Grabar-Kitarović to congratulate her on Croatia’s recent world cup success. Heck, he could have injected himself with a combination of nootropics, antidepressants, and B-vitamins of his own design and then used the resulting mental clarity to find an exciting and profitable use for his recently invented submarine. Instead, he blurted out a lame insult, which was perfectly formulated to do zero damage to his opponent, yet meet all the substantive requirements of England’s per-se libel laws. Why did he do it?
Elon was tired, worn down by years of ostentatiously sleeping at his office while trying to be a father to his enormous family. He probably thought that visiting Thailand and working on this submarine would be a welcome break from solving the logistical and engineering problems inherent to running 3 enormous tech companies each of which is dedicated to a goal which although far from impossible, was intentionally set beyond the reach of current technology. From his perspective the logistics of removing 13 5'4" 120lbs objects from a series of muddy tubes seemed like a simple engineering task which would sooth his nerves and provide him with the reassuring feeling that he was doing good in the world. Unfortunately, he ran into the same resistance he encounters in all areas of his life, skepticism over whether a metal contraption can match up to natural engineering of the human mind and body. His honest attempt to reassure himself by helping others, became a small scale reenactment for the most painful aspect of his life. When he was told to, “check his ego, stop meddling, and to shove his stupid invention up his ass”, the cracks in his strained mind split apart and he went ballistic. His wealth and power did not protect him.
Much like the Jiu Jitsu maxim, that “the larger the opponent, the harder you have to fight to stay on top.” Elon is about to find out, that showing weakens and conceding ground only improves the ergonomic situation for the people who are waiting to hand you your ass. As any engineer can understand, it’s much easier to kick down. Elon will spend the next few months on defense, probably end up getting humiliatingly deposed in a libel lawsuit, and this incident will be follow him all the way to Mars. Although I’m sure he’ll recover his momentum, this wound and many like it will fester. Once an immune system admits a pathogen the viral rna never fully leaves the body. Musk has signed up for the PR equivalent of shingles.
Despite his frustrations, Elon is lucky compared to the people who decide the limits of our civil liberties. The Judicial nomination process for example, takes a pre-vetted nominee who is more or less guaranteed to sit on the court, raises them from anonymity, and dumps them in an acid bath of public scorn. There is no way that person exposed to this process could come out with more love for the American people than they went in with, and this is not a unique phenomenon. The crushing of Barack Obama’s idealism by an avalanche of hysterical attacks is a matter of public record. Our lives are increasingly governed by people who we raise above our selves and then torture into hating us.
Our powers of speech extend beyond our circle of friends, and influence people so far removed from our lives we have difficulty seeing them as human. The next supreme court justice’s world view, will be influenced by what we shout during the confirmation process as surely as callously breaking a man’s heart will cause him to write a bitter pessimistic article. Just be glad that this depressing crap is just an opinion piece rather than environmental legislation directly affecting the lives of the very people that threw me into my current despair.