I’m evidently in the minority, but my first reaction to Elon Musk buying Twitter was a positive one.
I could be wrong because I don’t know what they’ve watched.
And I think I know why there’s a disconnect between me and many of my tech-peers on Twitter. In short, I’m watching a lot of what Elon actually says, and my feeling is that many on Twitter are reacting to what they think he’s said. I could be wrong about that, but I don’t think I am.
At least in my own anecdotal experience, I don’t find much overlap between people who actually follow and (mostly) like Elon, and people who think he’s a horrible menace to society that shouldn’t be allowed anywhere near Twitter.
Very little overlap.
I know tons of people who hate him, but they tend not to watch his talks or his interviews. They have formed their opinions based—in my view—on other peoples’ opinions. Conversely, I know tons of people who follow his interviews and his talks, and I don’t know any of them who think he’s a true menace to society.
That said, I do think he’s a bit loose sometimes, and a bit eccentric, and a bit irresponsible, and a bit petty. And these can combine into something downright undesirable at times. Agreed.
But let me tell you why I don’t immediately cringe when I hear he’s buying Twitter. Here’s a quote from his interview at TED on April 14th:
I just think it’s important to the function of democracy. It’s important to the function of the united states as a free country, and to help freedom in the world, more broadly than the US. I think there’s civilizational risk is reduced the more we can increase the trust of Twitter as a public platform.
He goes on to say:
I could technically afford it, but this is not sort of a way to make money. My intuitive sense is that having a public platform that is maximally trusted and broadly inclusive is extremely important to human civilization, and I don’t care about the economics at all.
Then, even more telling, here’s another clip from a previous conversation:
He’s asked about philanthropy and people criticizing him for being rich and he says:
If you care about the reality of goodness instead of the appearance of it, philanthropy is extremely difficult. SpaceX, Tesla, the Boring Company ARE philanthropy. If you say philanthropy is the love of humanity? They ARE philanthropy! Tesla is accelerating sustainable energy. This is phil, an, thropy. SpaceX is trying to ensure the longterm survival of the species. This is love of humanity. Neuralink is trying to help solve brain injuries and existential risk from AI. Love of humanity. Boring Company is trying to solve traffic, which is hell for most people. This is also love of humanity.
Now, you hear something like that, and you might be inclined to call bullshit. It’s a fair response in most cases, but Elon Musk is not most cases.
- He doesn’t collect material things
- He doesn’t own yachts
- He doesn’t own large homes
- He doesn’t take vacations
- He says with family and friends when he travels
- He single-handedly moved the automotive industry to electric vehicles
- He single-handedly reinvented space travel
When you take all those together, and you hear that same man say he’s not doing this for the money but because he thinks it’s important for society, I think we should believe him.
That doesn’t mean he doesn’t need to work on his shit. He should definitely be more cautious with how he critiques things and makes random comments.
But when you have someone contributing so significantly to human civilization, we should expect some eccentricity. And no that doesn’t mean he gets a pass. He doesn’t get a pass. I’m saying we should expect some kind of strange behavior. Often that’s the desire to hoard wealth and power and a military for the purposes of world domination. I’ll happily take cannibis jokes and a public adversarial relationship with the SEC over that.
This guy is a humanitarian nerd who’s literally trying to help our species the best way he can.
That’s my read of the situation. For now, anyway. And future behavior could easily convince me he’s doing more harm than good. But for now—on the ledger of human benefit vs. harm—I think he’s squarely in the green.