30 September 2020

The Atlantic: “The Cult of Elon is Cracking”

Several fans told me that they’re struggling to reconcile this version of Musk with his pre-pandemic persona. Calling someone a bad name or insulting someone without evidence is obviously bad, but I think nothing compares to taking human life lightly, Sun, a scientist in the Bay Area who asked to go by only his surname to protect his privacy, told me. Sun has watched countless Musk interviews over the years in which Musk says egregious but less dangerous things, but the pandemic tweets became so painful to see that Sun eventually unfollowed Musk. It’s like one of those hero characters in movies where he works on a grand mission and then he loses sight [of it] and thinks that vulnerable people are expendable, he said.

I also heard from many fans that Musk is behaving less like humankind’s savior and more like a ruthless industrialist. This uncomfortable truth seemed to crystallize when Donald Trump tweeted in support of Musk’s desire to restart Tesla operations and Musk thanked him. If Musk is supposed to be a climate hero, he’s suddenly fraternizing with a villain who doesn’t believe in human-caused climate change and has spent his time in office reversing dozens of environmental policies. Only three years ago, Musk removed himself from a presidential advisory council specifically because Trump withdrew the U.S. from international accords meant to address climate change.

Marina Koren

I hate to break it to Elon Musk’s fans, but he has always been a ruthless industrialist – this crisis is just making this crystal clear for (some) people in denial. His behavior is veering more and more into Trump territory – so much so that Musk openly considers voting for him, after his earlier support for Kanye West.

The Cult of Elon is Cracking
Yichuan Cao / NurPhoto / Getty / The Atlantic

In the early days of the pandemic he has downplayed the dangers of the virus, offered unfounded predictions that the disease will soon disappear, and mobilized wealthy tech investors and venture capitalists against shelter-in-place orders – prompting Bill Gates to comment that Musk should stick to his areas of expertise.

After cutting salaries and forcing employees into unpaid leave, Musk reopened the Tesla assembly plant in California, bringing thousands of employees into work in defiance of local stay-at-home orders. Local officials eventually okayed the forced reopening, but the state later rejected subsidies for Musk’s other company, SpaceX, while Musk threatened to move production to another state. The reason for the rushed reopening, risking workers’ health, and for his dismissive position on the pandemic, has become clear in the months that followed, when Elon Musk earned a record payout from Tesla, worth more than $700 million – basically getting rich on the back of other people’s suffering.

His views have barely changed in the past six months, as a recent interview shows him doubling down of earlier statements, along the lines of: I’m rich and can afford protection from the disease, the rest of the world can go to hell:

In a wide-ranging interview with the journalist Kara Swisher, the Tesla and SpaceX CEO said he would not take a Covid-19 vaccine when one becomes available, and declined to say whether he feels a duty to pay employees who want to stay home to avoid contracting the virus.

I’m not at risk for Covid, nor are my kids, said Musk during Monday’s episode of the New York Times podcast “Sway”.

Musk has long cultivated a public persona of an eccentric entrepreneur who knows better than the experts and isn’t afraid to offer controversial opinions.

On the podcast, Musk argued that instead of sweeping stay-at-home orders to mitigate the spread of coronavirus, anyone who is at risk should be quarantined until the storm passes.

When Swisher confronted Musk with the possibility that people would still die in the process, he replied bluntly: Everybody dies.

Ganesh Setty

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