‘Being really rich doesn’t make you clever – as Elon Musk has so adeptly shown’

By RJ Quinn

Elon Musk is a Dumb Guy. The CEO of Tesla, SpaceX – and the figurehead of a dozen other misbegotten ships of a dozen other ventures ranging from the depressing to the dangerous – is a Dumb Guy.

Despite his vaunted IQ points and the commas in his bank account, Elon is a poster child for the Dunning-Kruger effect, where your perception of your own intelligence is inversely correlated to actually how clever you are.

This is not to say Elon Musk is stupid in the sense that he eats paint, buys lottery tickets, or gives radio shows to fascists as part of a strategy to beat them by amplifying their voices. No – these are all failures of cognition, and Musk’s cognitive capacity is basically fine. He’s not stupid, he is a Dumb Guy.

Elon Musk’s type of Dumb Guy is akin to Catcher in the Rye’s Holden Caulfield. The world exists in relation to the Holden Caulfield Dumb Guy – and almost all of humanity is comprised of “phonies” who don’t “get it”. This is Silicon Valley’s most common type – you can recognise them in the wild: emaciated from an all Huel diet and accidentally inventing a bus. Or, in Elon’s case building a line of automobiles that seems more and more similar to the terrible car that Homer Simpson designed in the early 1990s with each update cycle.

This is because Elon Musk, the brave master of these tech centurions who keep accidentally reinventing the bus, is specifically not a genius.

But he’s a billionaire. He’s saving the world with electric cars. He’s saving humanity with rockets. He’s a billionaire. You’re not a billionaire. Maybe you just don’t get it.

Musk’s empire is built on a combination of luck, fantasism, gross inequality, and a truly staggering government subsidy package. If you’re in the UK and you’re rich enough to afford a Tesla, then you get £4,500 just for signing the line, and you don’t have to pay the congestion charge like poor people – and that’s before tax incentives! From the labour of the many, to supercharge the price competitiveness of Tesla.

He’s a make-a-wish kid who’s got his grubby, candy-sticky mouth directly over the fire hose of public money that could put out the myriad fires created by the state shrinking Reagan and Thatcher projects of the 1980s. He’s slurping from the chocolate river, but unlike Charlie and the Chocolate Factory’s Augustus Gloop who falls in and is sucked away, Musk just gets fatter and fatter as we all wait, poised for a splash in the water that never comes.

The whole premise of the Boring Company, another one of Musk’s wild ventures, is that public transit sucks and we deserve something better. And you need to look no further than Southern Rail to know he’s right. His solution of course is to dig networks of tunnels that will allow people to transport their cars in tubes from their houses to their destinations. So we fund him. We fund his toys, and his schemes, and we laud him for it. Because it takes a Dumb Guy of the highest order to invent a system of pneumatic tubes to solve the real problem, which is that we have underfunded and privatised public transport infrastructure across the world.

Elon Musk was not born – but became – a Dumb Guy, when he was lauded as humanity’s saviour, the STEM-lord genius, and a dab hand at memes to boot. We rewarded him so much for the singularity and purpose of his incredibly stupid mission that it has begun to drive him insane. When he tweeted out that he meant to take Tesla private at $420 a share, was he making a weed joke, or popping out a half formed business idea into the void?

He said he wants to take Tesla private to refocus on his vision. But the Holden Caulfield Tech Bro fails to realise that production relies on social relationships – between the capitalist and society, himself and his workers. He does things like set his company an impossible target for the Model 3 – hitting it by sacrificing his workers’ wellbeing – and then releasing the car with brake failures. Because it’s all about him. Whether it’s bitcoin bros, Tesla, or Peter Thiel, this type of Dumb Guy is the centre of his own universe – and if we ask them to solve our problems, their personal delusion will inevitably crash back on to us.

Musk is the answer to a question nobody asked: how do we reverse all the terrible political choices inflicted upon us by neoliberalism – from the promotion of environmentally unfriendly forms of transport, to the gutting of national budgets for science and research – with problem solving and whimsy. He’s a Dumb Guy. A Holden. He’ll show us all how great he is, and there’s no one on earth less likely to save us from anything.

RJ Quinn is a host of the TRASHFUTURE Podcast (@trashfuturepod)

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