Elon Musk has got what he wants: cave diver Vernon Unsworth is suing him.
As news of a criminal investigation by the US Justice Department was breaking, Elon Musk, America’s other hyperreal hero (after the president), learned that he has succeeded in finally persuading cave diver Vernon Unsworth to sue him for libel and slander. In a boastful attempt to impose his own technology solution to rescue of a group of Thai teenagers trapped in a cave this summer, Musk addressed the expert cave diver as “pedo guy” in a derisive tweet.
Yahoo News highlights the growing loss of confidence in the visionary who has taken it upon himself to define the future of all types of human transport, on earth, below the ground and throughout the solar system. “An increasing number of others, including hedge fund CEO Ross Gerber, agree that Musk needs to — at the very least — tone down his tweeting,” Yahoo reports.
Here is today’s 3D definition:
Reduce the volume of a leader’s tendency to make a public show of insolence and contempt of ordinary people in the interest of consolidating power and prestige
The drama in the background reflects that of Musk’s political doppelganger and fellow Twitter addict, Donald Trump. How many crazy, irresponsible acts will lead the political and financial system that each represents to neutralize by impeachment or replacement the dangerous leader and change him with a respectable “grownup”? Someone who understands that, when wielding power and controlling vast sums of money, it is better to respect the rules if only to avoid having to respond to embarrassing questions about the system itself.
Musk has made investors nervous, and not only his own investors. Yahoo Finance’s Rick Newman recently opined: “I lose confidence in this guy by the day. I’m starting to wonder if he’s qualified to run a public company.” Gene Munster, an investor, sent an open letter to Musk in July citing “too many examples of concerning behavior that is shaking investor confidence.” Writing for CNBC, Munster warned, “If Tesla doesn’t make some changes, starting with the board, it could spell the end for the company.” He tellingly added: “Musk has built an aura of being a bad-ass billionaire who does what he wants. For the last several years, that’s been great for Tesla.”
This comment should help us to understand that Musk isn’t just the face of Tesla and SpaceX. He is also the face of the recently crafted myth of daring techno-entrepreneurship, Silicon Valley style, the new capitalism of the post-industrial age, which we are all invited to admire because it promises to bring to us the Star Trek style devices that we all dream of owning and playing with in the future. Musk’s visionary qualities, in conformity with the tradition of Steve Jobs and Mark Zuckerberg, constitutes a major selling point for the whole venture capital ethos. It expects ordinary people to see these leaders as heroes and social benefactors rather than the inflated egos they tend to be in real life.
Have we become the civilization that requires out-of-control wealthy narcissists as its leaders? Munster wrote approvingly of the “bad-ass billionaire who does what he wants,” while warning that it’s bad for business when the image morphs into that of “part jerk, part bully and part liar,” which echoes the complaints over the anonymous op-ed writer in The New York Times concerning his boss in the White House.
Hyperreal figures, convinced that their destiny is the world’s destiny, are compelled to push its limits of the system that endowed them with power. Donald Trump is testing politics to see how far pure ego can take a man. Elon Musk is testing the world of business and finance. Both are attempting to prove what is otherwise obvious: That wealth and celebrity put individuals who attain both not only above the normal rules of behavior, but also above the law. Before his election, Trump proclaimed as much, when he said, “I could stand in the middle of 5th Avenue and shoot somebody and wouldn’t lose any voters.”
A quarter of a century ago, O.J. Simpson proved that money used to purchase a legal dream team could buy one’s way out of justice for a crime they obviously committed. Despite his celebrity and wealth, Simpson had no power. But his money was enough to get the job done. Musk has hyper celebrity and hyper-wealth and the power of being seen as someone who will define everyone else’s future. He believes in his own impunity.
One of Unsworth’s lawyers, L. Lin Wood, highlighted the social problem everyone recognizes but accepts as inevitable: “Musk’s influence and wealth cannot convert his lies into truth or protect him from accountability for his wrongdoing in a court of law.” We learn from The New York Times article that Unsworth’s lawyers are “seeking damages in excess of $75,000.” ABC News in Australia mentions a sum of “$105,000 in compensatory damages, plus unspecified punitive damages” for a second suit in California. Those sums will certainly help to compensate Unsworth for the damage to his reputation, but Musk, whose fortune is evaluated at more than $20 billion, could settle for 10 times that amount and not notice the difference.
What could better illustrate the growing and already extreme trend of income and wealth inequality documented by Thomas Piketty two years ago and practically every economist since?
*[In the age of Oscar Wilde and Mark Twain, another American wit, the journalist Ambrose Bierce, produced a series of satirical definitions of commonly used terms, throwing light on their hidden meanings in real discourse. Bierce eventually collected and published them as a book, The Devil’s Dictionary, in 1911. We have shamelessly appropriated his title in the interest of continuing his wholesome pedagogical effort to enlighten generations of readers of the news.]
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