The truth of Elon Musk

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To enter the conference room in TED, the world’s premier jamboree futuristic optimism is to enter what appears to be a bubble floating in space: a multi-level theater built inside a giant darkened ballroom and filled with red, blue, pink and purple colors, in the center of which a series of extraordinary people tell extraordinary stories. outstanding achievement despite extraordinary circumstances.

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Even among this string of heroes – and many of them are real heroes – Elon Musk is especially admired among TED devotees. It’s not hard to see why. The CEO of Tesla and SpaceX epitomizes TED’s passion for big dreams and impossible odds. And his interview at the closing session of the conference on April 14 certainly reinforced that commitment. Asking Musk about his offer to buy twitter and perspectives on combating climate change, TED curator Chris Anderson showed a video clip of Musk on Saturday night life ridiculed himself for his low-key, flat affect as “the first person with Asperger’s” to host the show and asked him what it was like growing up with the syndrome.


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Carefully choreographed, as it seemed the moment, it was spectacular. The richest man in the world described a lonely childhood in which he struggled to pick up on social cues and implied meanings. “Others could intuitively understand what was meant by something,” he said. “I just took everything very literally, that the words that were said were exactly what they meant.” Fleeing from people’s confusing duplicity, he became “absolutely obsessed with truth” and took up the study of physics, computer science, and information theory “in an attempt to understand the truths of the universe.” In another part of the interview, Musk said, “The truth is very important to me … almost pathologically important to me.”

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As I floated inside the TED bubble, I suddenly felt sympathy. I don’t have Asperger’s, but I too was a lonely child who didn’t understand other people and instead sought the truth in science and computing. No doubt many of the successful geeks who attend TED can understand this too.

But there are truths of the universe, and there are truths of the Mask. As he usually does, he rewrote the story during an interview, claiming that the infamous 2018 tweet in which he claimed “financing secured” for Tesla’s privatization, and which he then had to retract following an SEC investigation, was nonetheless right; he was “forced” to withdraw it and negotiate with the SEC to keep money flowing out of Tesla’s banks and scare off short sellers. He talked about spending three years “sleeping on the floor” at the Tesla factory to show his solidarity with employees by hushing up frequent stories about his verbal abuse and allegations of racism at a plant in California.

And his vision of Twitter, as he blurted out on stage, is a platform where not truth, but freedom is the most important value. Speech must be “as free as possible,” he said, and aside from speech that might be illegal, such as direct incitement to violence, he doesn’t know where the line should be. For Musk, this freedom is nothing but an existential need. “Having a public platform that is highly trusted and broadly inclusive is extremely important for the future of civilization,” he said to applause.

A twitter that can say anything legal can be “broadly inclusive” but “maximally trustworthy”? Most likely, it will simply become an even bigger cesspool of misinformation and abuse than it already is. In an idealized version of Musk’s platform, his ability to spread his version of the truth is unrestricted, enhanced by his massive Twitter following. Spam and bot accounts will be removed (he didn’t explain how), he said, but apparently not the armies of real Musk fans who rush in and sometimes threaten his critics.

Musk’s interest in Twitter may ultimately have less to do with his attitude towards truth than with his martyr complex, which has surfaced repeatedly in interviews. His electric vehicle business will help save the planet: if humanity creates enough renewable energy, stationary batteries and electric vehicles, he said, “we will have a sustainable energy future.” He often said that his ambition to colonize Mars was necessary to save humanity from possible extinction. Even in his account of how he worked almost to death in Tesla’s factory, he portrayed a man making the ultimate sacrifice: “Those were three years of hell… three years of the most excruciating pain of my life… It had to be done, otherwise Tesla would be would be dead.”

This is Musk’s truth: everything he does, even buys Twitter, is of the utmost importance to humanity. And there is no greater aspiration in the TED bubble.

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