Is Elon Musk’s Cult of Personality Starting to Collapse as Criticisms and Missteps Mount?

Many believe, including Elon Musk himself, that he is the future. But once unquestionable belief in Musk's future plans and predictions is starting to wane.
elon musk

The jury is out on people’s opinions of Musk. Some might say, ‘I’m sorry, but Elon Musk is not the future. We need to look beyond him and focus on innovating and developing new technologies that will help us move forward in the future.’

Transportation

Paris Marx, a tech writer, has a very different view of the future than that of the tech mogul in charge of Tesla. In the book Road to Nowhere, Marx argues that the future of transportation will not be solved by technology.

In this book, Marx takes a look at a variety of different technologies that he believes will play a role in the future of transportation. He discusses self-driving cars, flying cars, and even autonomous boats.

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While some of these technologies may seem like they could potentially solve our transportation problems, Marx argues that they are all flawed. He argues that self-driving cars are likely to be unreliable, flying cars are likely to be expensive, and autonomous boats are likely to be dangerous.

Overall, this book is a satirical look at the future of technology and its potential role in solving our transportation problems. It is humorous and enjoyable to read, but it does not necessarily offer any real insights into the future of transportation.

Is Musk a visionary?

Some people might say, “Elon Musk is a unique visionary who is leading people to a better future, or at least that’s what he and his fans want us to think.” Supporters and news outlets have praised him for his bold stories about Tesla and SpaceX for the past 20 years. These stories have helped him avoid scrutiny and become the world’s richest man. When Musk tweets, you can look at his replies to see how much his millions of followers care.

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Elon Musk overlooking the remains of F9R  by Steve Jurvetson under CC BY 2.0

A counterview is,’ But behind the scenes, Musk is a serial liar and a dangerous business person.’

In a recent interview with Rolling Stone, Marx writes that Musk admitted to taking drugs and alcohol in the past and even said he’s had suicidal thoughts. But he insists that he’s now a reformed man and that Tesla and SpaceX are doing great things.

But as we’ve learned in the past, anything Musk says can be taken with a grain of salt, especially regarding his timelines which have always been highly optimistic if not outright unachievable.

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Musk’s media image

Marx’s article acknowledges that due to the media’s relentless pursuit of Musk, Musk is now a household name. Musk has become the strong man everyone was hoping to meet, the one who could convince them that the magic of the free market and technological innovation could solve all of the world’s problems without help from the government. Marx thinks that there is an irony in Musk’s media image, hinting at subsidies that have kept Musk’s businesses afloat throughout the years.

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Some people go as far as to say Elon Musk is a genius. He’s a visionary and an innovator. There is no doubt Musk has been a very lucky man. He has made a lot of money by convincing people that faith in the power of technology and the market can change the world without government help. Is it correct to say that his companies have been able to ride on the back of taxpayer money? SpaceX was seed funded with much of Musk’s money from his sale of PayPal shares. Unfortunately, there are opinions that Musk is a little bit of a fraud. 

In his critique of Musk, Marx is critical, saying that Musk’s companies haven’t been able to live up to this promise. Marx perhaps goes too far. SpaceX has worked on solutions for NASA at a fraction of the cost of companies with longstanding relationships with NASA.

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The worship of tech billionaires

Marx thinks that the widespread love and praise of Musk have only made him more arrogant and difficult to deal with. It’s now getting difficult to overlook the flaws in such future forecasts and the risks of praising millionaire dreamers.

Musk is a person who has achieved a lot of success and is now being praised for their work. However, Musk has some flaws which are starting to be noticed. Marx thinks that Musk’s visions are flawed and dangerous.

People are finally noticing the flaws in these billionaire visionaries. It’s been clear for a long time, but everyone is finally catching on.

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Tesla’s troubles

Marx is critical of Musk when he says Musk’s plan as CEO of Tesla was to use money from high-end cars to pay for a cheaper electric car. The Model 3, which starts at $35,000, was supposed to be that car. But the price starts at $46,990 right now, and most people end up paying even more. 

Teslas are supposed to be the best example of “green” transportation, but the emissions needed to make each one is going up, and there are still problems with the quality of production, which means they might not last as long as cars from other companies.

It’s good to see that Musk is still trying to revolutionize the automotive industry. He’s come up with some truly innovative ideas in the past, like the Tesla Model S and the Tesla Model X. However, his latest venture seems to be failing miserably. Tesla’s Model 3 is supposed to be the cheap electric car for which the company is known, but it’s not that cheap anymore. 

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Tesla Model 3 by Noah Wulf under CC BY-SA 3.0

People end up paying more than if they had just bought a regular car. The emissions needed to make each car are going up, 

Marx writes that the supply chain for Tesla cars is not clean and green. Mining companies worldwide are excited about the chance to make money from the switch to battery-powered cars, which use a lot more minerals than the cars we drive now. 

The International Energy Agency thinks that by 2040, demand for battery minerals, like cobalt and lithium, will go up by up to 2,100% and 4,200%, respectively.

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Others are wondering about the environmental impact of Tesla are asking if we will be driving around in mineral-intensive vehicles for the next few decades, hoping that the environment won’t suffer because of it.

Tesla is known for doing business in a way that is good for the environment, but that hasn’t stopped it from getting into controversy. In 2019, it was named in a lawsuit about the deaths of children in the Democratic Republic of the Congo who died while mining cobalt at sites owned by the British mining company Glencore. Even though Musk talked about batteries without cobalt, he signed a deal with Glencore to supply its Berlin and Shanghai factories in 2020. The lawsuit was thrown out in November 2021, but an investigation by Global Witness in April of this year found that Tesla may be one of several companies that get minerals from mines in the DRC where children work.

It’s easy to overlook the consequences of Tesla’s supply chain when looking at the company’s amazing products. These problems go all the way to the heart of how the company makes things. Tesla’s Fremont factory is known as “the plantation” because of the racist abuse that black workers have been subject to. Musk praised workers at Tesla’s factory in Shanghai for “burning the 3 a.m. oil” by working 12-hour shifts and six-day weeks while sleeping on the factory floor. Meanwhile, workers at Tesla’s Nevada Gigafactory are suing after more than 500 of them were fired at once.

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Be wary of self-driving cars, warns Marx

Marx has the opinion that Tesla’s customers are also in danger. Marx mentions in their article that cars have crashed into highway medians, emergency vehicles, delivery trucks, and other things while using the Autopilot feature, which is supposed to drive the cars by itself. 

Marx also says that Musk keeps telling lies about how safe and useful the system is, even though the U.S. agency in charge of traffic safety is about to call back hundreds of thousands of vehicles. And Tesla is only the tip of the iceberg.

We should remember that although Marx may be correct in their views about Tesla, virtually every major automaker is engaged in a race to develop self-driving technology, and the public is being misled about the safety hazards.

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Sarcastically, you could say that Tesla’s customers are putting themselves in danger by driving their Tesla and that Musk is misleading the public about the safety of the Autopilot feature. However, this is not just a Tesla problem – every major automaker is racing to develop self-driving technology, and the public is being misled about the safety hazards.

Is Elon Musk’s future vision just a utopia for the rich and a dystopia for the rest of us?

Marx is critical of how Musk has wielded a virtual monopoly on how we think about the future. Will Musk’s ideas really help most people in our society live better lives? 

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Even though the tech industry talks about “disruption,” making us all stuck in cars for decades by adding batteries or better computers doesn’t feel like much of a change.

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People like Marx think that a much more sustainable alternative to everyone owning electric cars is to get people out of cars altogether. This means making significant investments to make public transportation more reliable, building cycling infrastructure so people can ride bikes safely, and bringing the rail network back to life after decades of underinvestment. Is Marx right when he says that Musk has always tried to stop such alternatives from happening?

Marx says that Musk has a history of coming up with false solutions to the problems caused by our over-reliance on cars, which makes it harder to give people other options. 

In his article, Marx says Musk admitted to his biographer that he was trying to get legislators to cancel plans for high-speed rail in California, even though he had no plans to build it.

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He’s a genius at coming up with solutions to problems that don’t actually exist. His company, The Boring Company, was supposed to solve traffic, but it’s become the Las Vegas amusement ride it was always meant to be. 

Mars

One of the most inspiring things about Musk for the space community is his ambitions to set up a human colony on Mars.

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Dragon to Mars by SpaceX Photos under CC0 1.0

The town of South Texas and nearby wildlife reserves are being sacrificed on the altar of Musk’s ambition for SpaceX. Employees who wrote an open letter asking the company to distance itself from its increasingly controversial CEO were recently fired. Meanwhile, astronomers and indigenous groups are worried about what Starlink is doing to the night sky. Scientists will tell you that living on Mars won’t be easy.

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Finding new inspiration

Marx portrays Musk as someone who is cribbing from the pages of science fiction of the dystopian variety. Marx assumes in his article that Musk’s ideas about the future are influenced by the libertarian ideas of Robert Heinlein, the technocratic ‘longtermism’ of Isaac Asimov’s Foundation series, and the dreams of Wernher von Braun, a Nazi who became a rocket engineer for NASA. 

Marx says that Ursula K. Le Guin took aim at the “imperialistic kind” of science fiction that Musk likes, saying, “Space and the future are the same things: it’s a place we’re going to get to, invade, colonize, exploit, and suburbanize.” 

Well, that’s one way to put it. Ursula K. Le Guin would be happy to know that her scathing critique of “imperialistic kind” science fiction has had a lasting impact on the genre, inspiring some of the biggest names in tech to create work that reinforces the same ideas. She would also be pleased to know that her words have been used to dismiss entire genres of writing as nothing more than escape fantasies instead of exploring the potential of what these stories can do.

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Does Musk believe in some 1920s science fiction cliché and distract us from the problems on Earth?

Marx’s views of Musk may come across to some as a scathing critique of the tech industry, which is often seen as a savior of the world. The author points out that while the industry has brought convenience and empowerment to many, it has also brought an unprecedented expansion of surveillance, erosion of workers’ rights, and the empowerment of white nationalist and fascist groups.

Elon Musk has been selling us dreams for years to keep us from thinking about the actual future he’s trying to build and to get people to accept his growing anger. We don’t need more cars, colonization dreams, or techno kings right now. We really need a group project to improve the lives of billions of people around the world and solve the problems we face right now, regardless of whether it makes money for corporations. That is not something Elon Musk can do on his own.

Not everyone will share Marx’s views, though. Musk is an inspiring person, and many people will feel that it is finally good to see someone like Elon Musk take on the world’s problems head-on! Finally, someone is willing to stand up and solve the world’s problems instead of just dreaming about them.

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Featured image credit: Elon Musk photo.jpg by ElonMuskCore under CC BY-SA 4.0