We already knew Elon Musk was a villain


He’s so villainous, sometimes he openly admits his villainy!

Elon Musk has wielded a virtual monopoly on how we think about the future, but will his visions really deliver better lives for most people in our society? For all the tech industry’s talk of “disruption,” keeping us all trapped in cars for decades into the future by equipping them with batteries or upgraded computers doesn’t feel like much of a revolution.

A much more sustainable alternative to mass ownership of electric vehicles is to get people out of cars altogether—that entails making serious investments to create more reliable public transit networks, building out cycling infrastructure so people can safely ride a bike, and revitalizing the rail network after decades of underinvestment. But Musk has continually tried to stand in the way of such alternatives.

He has a history of floating false solutions to the drawbacks of our over-reliance on cars that stifle efforts to give people other options. The Boring Company was supposed to solve traffic, not be the Las Vegas amusement ride it is now. As I’ve written in my book, Musk admitted to his biographer Ashlee Vance that Hyperloop was all about trying to get legislators to cancel plans for high-speed rail in California—even though he had no plans to build it.

Several years ago, Musk said that public transit was “a pain in the ass” where you were surrounded by strangers, including possible serial killers, to justify his opposition. But the futures sold to us by Musk and many others in Silicon Valley didn’t just suit their personal preferences. They were designed to meet business needs, and were the cause of just as many problems as they claimed to solve—if not more.

Monologuing is such a bad habit for villains to get into — they spill all the beans.

So yeah, the Hyperloop was an obviously absurd scheme that was never going to reduce traffic congestion, so it’s useful that he revealed his actual motivations, which was to kill mass transit, which actually does work for his previously stated goal. His “serial killer” rationale is also silly — like Ted Bundy was knocking women unconscious and flagging down a bus to carry them to the murder site, or the Green River Killer was picking up prostitutes on the King County Metro.

Now I’m wondering, though, what is his ulterior motive for colonizing Mars? We know it isn’t going to work, and we know it’s not to save humanity, so what’s going on in his selfish little brain to drive him to hire people to build SpaceX?

Comments

  1. tacitus says

    Mars is clearly an ego trip, regardless of whether he makes the actual trip.

    There’s probably some animus toward “big government” driving his need to see a private company making the first landing, conveniently ignoring all the groundwork and continued subsidizing NASA has done which makes it all possible if and when it happens.

  2. sqlrob says

    I hope @tacitus in #1 is right, because the only other thing that comes to mind is missiles.

  3. jo1storm says

    “We know it isn’t going to work, and we know it’s not to save humanity, so what’s going on in his selfish little brain to drive him to hire people to build SpaceX?”

    Public money going to private hands and tax incentives. Anecdote time: in the city of Belgrade exists a public bus company that is supposed to serve citizens. It is the biggest city in the country and a market of 3 million people, densely packed. So, around 12 to 15 years ago, to not very massive but some protests, the city decides to privatize payment and ticket processing (as well as create brand new e-ticketing system) of the public and city owned bus company. And they give the job to freshly formed private company owned by a godfather and uncle of two politicians. Who promptly get 40% of the revenue of the public bus company. And because collecting that revenue and chasing freeloaders is dangerous business, private security firms have to be hired to protect those doing that job. In short, around 45% revenue now goes to a private company.

    Public bus company, who is already overworked thanks to Belgrade being a capital city without subway (but has subway company that is payed by taxpayers, which didn’t sell a single ticket because, you know, no subway or a single subway tunnel, but that is different story) feels the loss of revenue and starts saving on expenses. Which means less lines, less buses, less drivers. Which means that some parts of the city which were covered by buses are no longer covered by buses. So the city officials come to a brilliant idea: private bus companies can pickup the slack! Subsidized from the city budget, of course. Each of them can choose the price of their own tickets and do their own collection.

    The same thing at much greater scale only with NASA and space exploration happened in USA. Basically, privatization of public good that is space, paid by tax-payer’s money.

  4. says

    Now I’m wondering, though, what is his ulterior motive for colonizing Mars?

    He wants to be the sex king of Mars: not that they will actually colonize the place, Musk will have choice of the crew, and he’s already having palpitations over how he’ll choose the pretty young ones to help populate the planet.

  5. consciousness razor says

    It may be a little hard for some to tell from this video that Musk secretly loves mass transit, but he’s definitely thinking about it, even if he seems to be focused on other matters.

    PZ:

    Now I’m wondering, though, what is his ulterior motive for colonizing Mars?

    As always, corporate welfare is the entire point.

    tacitus:

    There’s probably some animus toward “big government” driving his need to see a private company making the first landing,

    This is too fancy. As long as he gets the government’s money, which he does, then nothing like that really matters.

  6. Susan Montgomery says

    @3 Enlightened Europe strikes again, huh?

    Seriously, is there no middle ground between private monopoly and government monopoly?

  7. birgerjohansson says

    Mars?
    There is a scary SF novel by S.J. Morden titled “One Way”.
    It describes Mars colonisation the libertarian, John Galt way.

  8. birgerjohansson says

    Europe has a lot of middle ground, but the purchase of the overly big Ariane launchers has a lot to do with corporate welfare for the French companies , lobbied by the French politicians that had been lobbied by the corporations. Just like USA.

  9. Susan Montgomery says

    @10 Is there really any practical way around that? Power and prestige are extremely seductive to the people who shouldn’t be given either and any system can be gamed. And, the more expansive the rules and regulations meant to stop it gets, the easier they become to game – after all, if no one really understands the rules how can you say they’ve been broken?

    And, as for California high speed rail, is there some genuine need that isn’t being met that justifies the expense and eminent domain claims required or is this another “because they do it in Europe” things?

  10. says

    Elon Musk has wielded a virtual monopoly on how we think about the future…

    Yes and no. What he’s done is pick a few of MANY future-fiction ideas created by others, taken them as his own (without really trying to think through or understand any of them), and made himself the #1 spokesman/huckster for those ideas, merely by “virtue” of being a Bold Visionary Tech Entrepreneur who pretends he can actually make them work in real life. This “virtual monopoly on how we think about the future” is just as much a creature of pure hype and noise as his “self-driving” cars and Mars colonization. Once we tune out all the noise, his “virtual monopoly” poofs away like the vaporware it is, and there’s plenty of other future-thinkers we’re now able to hear from.

  11. Susan Montgomery says

    @12 He’s a “Bold Visionary Tech” guy in the same way I’m a “Bold Visionary Coffee Innovator” when I pay Starbucks for my venti Americano.

  12. drew says

    I’d think a crowded public place would be the best place to brush elbows with a seral killer.

    Musk was clearly trying to scare rural and suburban people, people who fear being near other people, when the only unsafe time in a city is when no one’s around.

  13. silvrhalide says

    @5 Mars is a two year trip, one way, optimistically. Radiation is a thing in space–the Earth’s electromagnetic field knocks out the vast majority of incoming radiation (seen as the Northern Lights at the northern magnetic pole and environs.) So Musk and his crew of sexy babes are likely to arrive sterile. So much for populating Mars with the mini-mes Muskrats!

    Also, since Musk clearly has a thing about having sons, there is only the F1 generation of male mini-mes and that’s it.

  14. silvrhalide says

    @9 if we could get rid of all the libertarians by sending them to Mars, it would be worth it.

  15. Susan Montgomery says

    @14 Precisely. That’s my name where the Mermaid’s naughty bits would be if they showed the entire woodcut, ergo it’s all mine.

    @17 The cruelest thing you can do to hardcore libertarians is give them exactly what they say they want.

  16. silvrhalide says

    @15 You’ve clearly never ridden NYC’s #7 to the end at midnight. Empty is better than the angry ranting belligerent homeless or the idiots inexplicably having sex on the subway. The R to Bay Ridge, OTOH, is safe regardless of population & time of day.

    @11 “And, as for California high speed rail, is there some genuine need that isn’t being met that justifies the expense and eminent domain claims required or is this another “because they do it in Europe” things?”
    YES.
    LA traffic (southern CA in general really) is its own special hell. I liked living there as a kid but I need readily available water and more seasons than “mud” and “tinder” and the traffic is actually worse than East Coast urban. (In Boston, it is literally faster to walk or take the T than it is to drive. The hunt for a parking space alone makes it faster.)
    Not that I have any real hope that CA would do high speed rail right anyway. These are the same idiots who decided to build subways–in earthquake-prone CA–and named the two main lines the Red Line and the Blue Line. Guess which gangs immediately claimed those lines as their own?

  17. Susan Montgomery says

    @19 I’ll have to take your word as I don’t know LA traffic or geography but it seems that the situation you describe calls for more local light and medium rail rather than massive inter-city trains. Do you think there’s enough demand for an LA/SF link, for example?

  18. birgerjohansson says

    It seems to me the municipal authorities could reduce unemployment by having plenty of (properly vetted and trained) guards on the subway trains.
    And they should have the authority to ban individuals from the subways that have been disruptive in the past.
    I know face-recognition software is error-prone but we have to start somewhere.

  19. bigwhale says

    I assumed the Mars stuff was so that he could ignore climate change on Earth.

    Ted Bundy is sometimes classified as a “highway killer”, odd example to promote cars over public transit.

  20. birgerjohansson says

    Idea: if ex-presidents are found guilty of mishandling secret documents, they shall have to clean the urine and fecal matter from subways and subway wagons.

  21. gijoel says

    A lot of “disruptive” transport technology seems to be driven by their CEO’s antipathy to sharing space with other people.

  22. silvrhalide says

    @20 LA is too spread out. NYC, Boston, etc. are all pretty densely packed together. Light rail would take forever. Light rail & cable cars work ok in SF because relatively densely populated (more like NYC). But high speed trains, like bullet trains, would be useful, to move large numbers of people between hubs, although you’d still need a local mass transit system to move people around. A 200-400 mile round trip commute is not unusual in CA. Which is why CA has so many emissions laws–they have to. Look at a map–CA is long and skinny and is clearly the bulk of the West Coast. When you consider that most of the homeless in SF have jobs, some of them high 5 and low 6 figure jobs but can’t afford SF housing, you begin to understand why the commutes are so long. Also, CA doesn’t have a lot of precipitation, so the smog in the air from traffic tends to hang around, as opposed to getting flushed out of the atmosphere, like in the Northeast or Northwest (notably Seattle).
    https://www.vox.com/a/homeless-san-francisco-tech-boom
    The upshot is that pretty much everyone speeds, drives like a maniac and half of them are something mind-altering while they’re driving. The roads themselves don’t help the situation–lots of CA cities like the hub and spokes style of roadways. Think demented orb weaver as map maker.

    Sure there’s enough demand for a SF-LA bullet train but… you can bet the NIMBYs will immediately freak out about the hoi polloi in their neighborhoods, taking the same trains as they are, etc. To be fair, those long train lines do lend themselves to gangs riding the rails all day and extorting passengers, so it’s not entirely without truth that the bullet trains would also bring crime into pristine wealthy neighborhoods. That said, there are so many homeless in SF that human sewage in the public parks is a thing and trench fever is kind of endemic in the homeless encampments in CA
    https://www.scientificamerican.com/article/medieval-diseases-flare-as-unsanitary-living-conditions-proliferate/

    You have to love the wealthy who want their fancy expensive restaurants but don’t want to pay the people who work there a living wage. Ditto the daycare workers, the lawn care and landscape workers, etc. They don’t seem to realize that the $200/head meal they just had in a trendy restaurant also came with a side of Hepatitis A from the $8/hour dishwasher in the back who is homeless and can’t afford to stay home from the job when sick.

  23. Susan Montgomery says

    @26 Okay, thanks for the information. I’d heard that LA had a great trolley system once upon a time. I would have to guess it’s been so built over that reviving it would be impossible.

  24. birgerjohansson says

    I read somewhere -probably Mother Jobes- that LA had a lot of bicycle-only roads during WWII, and you can still find some relics of this network here and there.
    .
    I also know some town in Germany has a system where the trollies hang down from the rail- the system is designed from day one to run above the cars and pedestrians.
    Shocker: This trolley system was built in the 1920s and still works fine.
    .
    Gangs? The railways will simply have to pay up for more guards (proper guards, vetted and trained) together with cameras at does and in wagons. The Japanese would have a posse of policemen waiting at the station if somebody tried gang activity on the Shinkansen.

  25. says

    I’d heard that LA had a great trolley system once upon a time…

    I heard that too. I also heard that it was all deliberately destroyed by people who wanted to manage LA’s growth according to a shiny new car-dependent layout.

  26. consciousness razor says

    LA had a great trolley system once upon a time

    Thus my link to a scene from Who Framed Roger Rabbit in #8, which is (very loosely) “based on a true story” as surprising as that may be.

    If you haven’t seen it multiple times, you’ll have to be deported immediately. Sorry, I don’t make the rules. This is a shit country anyway, so it’s not all bad.

  27. lochaber says

    This was from some random class I took decades back, so no sources at hand, but I’m sure someone will poke their head in with a better summary and maybe some links…

    What I had heard, was that LA had a really good PLAN for extensive light rail, in large part using already built, but no longer used trolley rails for a large part of it. I believe it was Oil and Rubber companies banded together, and formed some corporation that existed solely to buy the old trolley lines, tear out the tracks and sell them for scrap, and were able to do this and prevent LA from establishing a decent public transit system.

    I imagine most urban locations that have a decent number of flights would be suitable for high-speed rail. It would take a large initial investment, but I would think it would be less expensive, safer, more efficient, and less pollution in the long term. We don’t seem to be very good at valuing long term over now…

  28. silvrhalide says

    @27 Wouldn’t know about the old trolley system–I was a little kid when I lived there. But even if it still existed, you’d need either cars or a bullet train to move people between hubs. No one in their right mind is going to ride light rail for 150 miles one way.

    @28 “I also know some town in Germany has a system where the trollies hang down from the rail- the system is designed from day one to run above the cars and pedestrians.
    Shocker: This trolley system was built in the 1920s and still works fine.”
    Well, that’s because the Sprockets people built it. Of course it still works. Teutonic monomaniac vision and engineering.

    “Gangs? The railways will simply have to pay up for more guards (proper guards, vetted and trained) together with cameras at does and in wagons. The Japanese would have a posse of policemen waiting at the station if somebody tried gang activity on the Shinkansen.”
    Yeah, I don’t think you understand how many high-powered, high-capacity firearms are out and about in CA (and the US in general).
    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/North_Hollywood_shootout

    What gets me is that the police go gun shopping to get more and better guns at the 5 minute mark in the video. Surreal.
    And in case you’re thinking “well, that was a long time ago” try this:
    https://spectrumlocalnews.com/nys/rochester/public-safety/2022/04/04/police–man-stopped-in-mt–morris-with-58-illegal-handguns-in-trunk
    Keep in mind that the drug cartels in Mexico (and Central America in general–MS 13 got its start from El Salvadoran teenage refugees) already have a fairly firm hold in CA. High speed rails would just make it that much easier for them to spread out and take over. As it is right now, now they have to drive and get stuck in CA traffic.
    The drug cartels and organized gangs in general already have enough firepower to go toe-to-toe with Mogadishu or the failed state of your choice.
    Japan (and other similar countries that aren’t awash in firearms) basically have police who shout “halt or I’ll yell ‘halt’ again!” because that’s the social contract in those countries.

    @30 well… yes and no. A lot of the trolley and light rail systems were operated by private companies under contract to various municipalities. The problem was that no one wanted to raise fares/rates regularly but costs kept going up, so eventually the trolley and light rail companies either quit or went out of business. It should also be noted that private companies seldom want to invest in infrastructure, so that’s an issue as well. Then the Detroit car companies come along and buy up financially distressed light rail lines and trolleys and put them out of business, functionally forcing people to buy cars, walk, or take the bus. In NYC, as an illustrative example, the only reason to take the bus is if the weather is terrible. In most cases you can walk faster than the bus moves.

  29. KG says

    Seriously, is there no middle ground between private monopoly and government monopoly? – Susan Montgomery@7

    In cities, municipal ownership of local public transport, which improves accountability over either private or national government ownership. Works well in Edinburgh as far as buses are concerned. The trams are a different matter! (It’s not at all clear to me why we needed trams when buses cover the tram route, and work on the extension has been fucking up the traffic for five years now.)

  30. Walter Solomon says

    silvrhalide @19

    named the two main lines the Red Line and the Blue Line. Guess which gangs immediately claimed those lines as their own?

    Sureños? MS-13? 18th Street?

  31. says

    As I’ve said before Musk isn’t going to Mars. He’s not going to spend 2 years, let alone the rest of his live, in a tiny cubicle without the creature comforts people with his money expect.

  32. pilgham says

    @7 re: “Enlightened Europe”, Belgrade is in Serbia, a sort of exception that proves the rule. But, yeah.

  33. silvrhalide says

    @35 The Bloods (Red Line) and the Crips (Blue Line).
    Don’t ask me what the city planners were thinking when they decided it would be fine to name the subway lines for various colors.

  34. Susan Montgomery says

    @33 I learn something new every day, thanks!

    @37 I’m sorry for banging that drum so often. But seriously, while Europe may exceed the US in many metrics, beneath the surface they’re not so special that they can really afford to look down on us – as many UK/EU commenters like to do.

  35. Ichthyic says

    He wants to be the sex king of Mars: not that they will actually colonize the place, Musk will have choice of the crew, and he’s already having palpitations over how he’ll choose the pretty young ones to help populate the planet.

    uh, this is no joke. in case people don’t know, he has 10 kids over (3?) marriages. He’s definitely an “overachiever” on the breeding front.

  36. KG says

    Susan Montgomery@39,
    I think I’ve lost count of the number of chips you have on your shoulders!

  37. Susan Montgomery says

    @41 Referring to objections and critiques as “chips” is kind of dismissive. Can you maybe expand on that thought?

  38. Walter Solomon says

    silvrhalide @38
    My point is it was never that simple. There other gangs who use those colors and other colors to boot. You might as well make it a rule not use any colors by your logic.

    Furthermore, both of those gangs have sets that fight each other. You should watch the interview with the musician Afroman where he talks about his experiences of attending Horace Mann Middle School in LA in the 80s where there was an ongoing rivalry between two Crips gangs.

  39. says

    silverhalide @19 These are the same idiots who decided to build subways–in earthquake-prone CA–and named the two main lines the Red Line and the Blue Line. Guess which gangs immediately claimed those lines as their own?

    Um… what? I don’t know where you got your ideas about the Los Angeles rail system, but they seem to be only tenuously connected to reality. I live in L.A., I’ve taken both the Red Line and the Blue Line (the former much more often than the latter, but only because I’ve less frequently had reason to go where the Blue Line goes), and I’ve never seen any signs of either being claimed by a gang, nor have I ever felt unsafe there, even late at night. Annoyed by the people soliciting donations for their guitar playing, sure, but not threatened. (Granted, it’s been a few years since I took them regularly, due to changes in my circumstances not worth going into here, and it’s possible things have changed since then, but I doubt they’ve changed that much. Also, granted, I’m a cisgender white male, so I’d perhaps have less reason to feel unsafe than people in more vulnerable demographics.)

    (Okay, on second thought, it may be an exaggeration to say I’ve never felt unsafe; I don’t recall any specific occasions, but there have probably been times that there were people acting oddly enough to make me feel uncomfortable… but I mean, no more so than can happen on the sidewalk. Certainly I don’t recall seeing any signs of gang activity; I’m not saying it never happens, but if it does I didn’t see it.)

    Also, it’s not as if the designers of the Red Line didn’t know that Los Angeles was prone to earthquakes and design it accordingly. And it worked. The Red Line was around during the 1994 Northridge earthquake, and sustained no significant damage.

    But the most blatant inaccuracy in your statement is your reference to the Blue Line as a subway line. It’s not. The Blue Line does go underground very briefly at the northernmost tip of its route where it connects to the Red Line, but aside from that it’s all aboveground, like the Gold Line, the Green Line, and most of the rest of the Los Angeles rail system. Los Angeles doesn’t really have a subway system. It has a light rail system which includes two subway lines (the Red Line and the Purple Line), but the majority of its lines run aboveground.

    And honestly, while it’s not without its flaws, the Los Angeles rail system is definitely a change for the better, and I hope it continues to expand. I wish the Expo Line had existed when I was a student at USC; it would have made it a heck of a lot easier and more convenient to get to campus, and I wouldn’t have had to battle L.A. traffic to do so. Certainly Los Angeles has its issues (and traffic is still a big problem here), but your criticisms of its rail system don’t really hold water.

  40. says

    (It’s also perhaps worth noting that even if you do for some reason disapprove of the L.A. rail system, the California high-speed rail system wouldn’t be implemented by “the same idiots” anyway. The L.A. light rail system is constructed and administered by the Los Angeles County Metropolitan Transportation Authority; the high-speed rail system would be a state-level project.)

  41. antigone10 says

    Probably a little late to the game but on the “do we need high speed train lines” question:

    Quick tell? How many planes fly between these two places? MSP to Chicago probably needs a rail line. LA to Vegas absolutely, 100% needs a rail line. Portland to Seattle (and honestly, probably to Vancouver) needs a rail line. Those are the ones I’m most familiar with but there’s more.

    Rail is more efficient energy-wise and therefore more environmental, nicer, cheaper, and generally safer. The only thing flights have over them is time and A LOT of that has to do with the fact that we have invested in air infrastructure* and divested in train.

    *Yes, there is flight infrastructure. Actually, there’s a lot of it. Not just airports, but ATC, WAAS, GPS, VROs, glideslopes, satellites for weather- it goes on and on. It’s a good thing; we have some of the safest air in the world because of it. But it’s not free, people just don’t notice the cost.

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