Elon Musk makes me miss Carl Sagan.
In the few days since the world’s richest man struck the deal to become the sole owner of Twitter, I’ve been overwhelmed with Musk’s wisdom — advice for young people, advice for success , warnings about pornography.
I guess if Pope Francis is to ask priests and nuns to purge “adult entertainment” from their cell phones, porn must be more prevalent than I thought. But Musk mentioned porn so many times that I was starting to wonder if he was protesting too much.
Then again, he may be trying to distance himself from a porn site that featured a Tesla and a couple taking advantage of the electric car’s autopilot feature.
Meanwhile, Tesla is facing a lawsuit over the death of a Tesla driver who crashed while using the vehicle’s driver assistance feature. Tesla argues that crashes are the fault of drivers, not the Autopilot system – noting that drivers are supposed to keep both hands on the wheel and eyes focused on the road while on Autopilot.
To complicate matters, Musk tweeted that there were “more ways to use autopilot than we imagined.” What could he mean?
The lawsuit could be the least of Musk’s problems.
Days after taking possession, Musk retweeted – and then deleted – a gruesome conspiracy theory about the brutal hammer attack on Paul Pelosi, husband of House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, late last week. Rather than condemning the violence and pledging to use its powerful medium to advance a more civil society, he suggested that a baseless conspiracy theory could explain the events in San Francisco early Friday morning.
Why feed the monster? Why not kill him instead?
The answer is not encouraging. In short, Musk fell in love with the monster. He fell in love with the immediate and acted with the impulsiveness of a child who suddenly realizes he can unlock doors.
Having promised to open up Twitter to more voices and declaring himself a “free speech absolutist,” Musk is a man out of control. He fired many of the company’s executives as well as the board of directors and hinted that Twitter’s attempts to monitor and weed out harmful speech would be abandoned.
Yes, Virginie, there is too much money.
Musk’s bits of wisdom about fortune cookies, meanwhile, point to a disconcerting superficiality. His advice is not so much bad as it is prosaic and sounds like a pablum to school children: Read books, think big, be useful.
If only. As we approach the midterm elections amid growing concerns that we are on the brink of civil war, Musk is missing an opportunity to be useful himself and change the world for good.
For starters, Musk could add Sagan, a fellow pilgrim searching for meaning in the universe, to his playlist. The philosopher/astronomer Sagan, who died in 1996, managed to raise our gaze to the heavens and uplift the human spirit with an economy of language that should please the new Twitter czar. His humility in the face of infinity is a stark contrast to Musk’s flamboyant goal of colonizing Mars.
Although Sagan, most famous for studying extraterrestrial life, was frequently the butt of ridicule in his day, he was a prophet in retrospect. In a snippet worthy of a “Cosmos” tweet, Sagan could have spoken of today’s increasingly vile and violent partisanship when he wrote:
“Each of us is, from the cosmic perspective, precious,” he said. “If a human disagrees with you, let them live. In a hundred billion galaxies, you won’t find another.
I used to think it was best to let people, including former President Donald Trump, have their say, no matter how ignorant, manipulative or deceptive.
Now I’m not so sure anymore. Eliminating hate speech, especially at a time when anti-Semitism is on the rise and racist epithets are re-emerging on Twitter, might be the least we can do. In the first 12 hours of Musk’s ownership, the use of certain racial slurs on the platform increased by 500%, according to the Network Contagion Research Institute, a research group that predicts emerging threats based on content.
One of the results is people leaving the platform, including high profile celebrities like ‘Grey’s Anatomy’ creator Shonda Rhimes. Perhaps more ordinary people will ditch Twitter altogether and return to human interaction with neighbors and friends.
This is what we need. And letting the orcs fight each other wouldn’t be the worst thing. Let them live — among themselves.
Kathleen Parker’s email address is [email protected]