The future is strange

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The hero of free speech gets into an online, very public argument like an angsty teenager. Eric Fronhoefer via Twitter (@EricFronhoefer)

Elon Musk probably doesn’t realize he isn’t running a mine in apartheid South Africa

I think we should get used to a small group of egomaniacal billionaires owning everything. Wealth inequality is worse now than it was at the height of the Roman Empire – you know, the civilization that was built on the labour of slaves. The concentration of capital into fewer and fewer hands is at a uniquely alarming stage at this point in history. But who knew these hands would belong to such strange men? One of these strange men is the particularly insufferable tech lord, Elon Musk. It seems that the bloated, lethargic American state can’t compete with these Silicon Valley whiz kids. Will they take over everything?

You know that Orwell quote: “If you want a picture of the future, imagine a boot stamping on a human face – for ever.”Not altogether untrue. However, Orwell had no idea about pay-to-play microtransactions, nor could he have predicted multiple generations of young people with blown-out dopamine receptors doom scrolling TikTok for six hours a day.

To wit, if you want an NFT image of the future, imagine Elon Musk slapping you in the face as he passes by on the Hyperloop – forever.

Born to an influential and wealthy family in apartheid South Africa, Musk enjoyed a privileged upbringing. His father, Errol Musk, owned half of an emerald mine in Zambia. Musk attended prestigious schools and universities throughout his youth. He ended up studying physics, economics, and engineering. He dropped out of Stanford and pursued a career in technology, taking advantage of the dot-com bubble. We’ve heard this story before. He made his own fortune when he sold PayPal to eBay in 2002. The price tag: $1.5 billion.

Musk is smart. Very smart. In the past decade, he’s gotten into the business of science and technology. He undoubtedly fancies himself a techno-utopian visionary, and he might just be. Tesla, SpaceX, The Boring Company, Neuralink, and now Twitter. After months of all manner of eight-dimensional pussyfooting, backpedalling, and post hoc tomfoolery, Musk bought Twitter for $44 billion in late October.

The takeover has been a dumpster fire, to put it mildly. Musk has laid off over half of Twitter’s workforce. The board of directors and directory of top executives is in utter shambles. He stated that Twitter would move in a more engineering-based orientation. He also offered an ultimatum to remaining employees: forget your family and work yourself to death, or leave. In the past week, the resignations have been described as a mass exodus.

Interestingly, Musk has cited the issue of free speech as one of his main motivators for buying Twitter. The social media platform, allegedly, had become too woke. Accounts that spread hate and vitriol were suspended. Neither Trump nor Jordan Peterson survived the woke purge. To everyone’s utter horror, no doubt, Twitter put in effort to fact check misinformation. Not on Musk’s watch.

To remedy this intolerable state of affairs, Musk offered the blue checkmark (indicating a verified account) to each and every Twitter account for the cool price of $8 USD per month. Hilarity and hijinks ensued.

One account pretended to be the pharmaceutical giant, Eli Lilly, a notorious purveyor of insulin at ridiculously inflated prices. This account paid the $8 and composed a very simple tweet: “We are excited to announce insulin is free now.” Suddenly, Eli Lilly’s stock price decreased 4.37 per cent, costing the company billions of dollars. For $8, that return on investment can’t be beat.

Musk responded by implementing a new “Official” badge in addition to the blue checkmark. So much for free speech!

But it was never about free speech. It was about a maladapted, eccentric workaholic investing in his cult of personality. There’s no doubt that Musk has an authoritarian streak. Good government is supposed to have checks and balances to prevent individual personalities from lording arbitrary impulses over the rest of us. But private companies – and especially private tech companies – aren’t subject to these conventions. Musk has demonstrated this throughout his storied career.

It’s a circus. But perhaps we should get used to it; rich men with unfathomable amounts of influence and money treating the world as their personal plaything. Money can’t buy happiness. Money can’t buy wisdom and prudence. But it can buy a handsome set of hair plugs. And it can buy Twitter. Let’s see what happens.

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