Elon, the Twitter bodhisattva


By Jason Lim

The legend of Elon Musk has only grown in recent days with his $44 billion takeover of Twitter. What’s really interesting about this purchase is that Musk doesn’t do things for the sake of doing things. He does things to achieve the vision.

What I mean is that he created Tesla not to make electric cars, but to use electric cars as a way to “accelerate the global transition to sustainable energy.” He says on Tesla’s webpage: “Today, Tesla not only builds all-electric vehicles, but also infinitely scalable clean energy generation and storage products. Tesla believes that the faster the world will stop relying on fossil fuels and move towards a better emission-free future.”

Basically, he built an electric car company to change the ingrained habit of how we use energy.

Similarly, SpaceX is not about making reusable rockets to reduce the cost of rocket launches. As Musk is quoted on the webpage, it’s “You want to wake up in the morning and think the future will be great – and that’s what a space civilization is…And I can’t think of nothing more exciting than going out there and being among the stars.”

It is nothing less than making human life interplanetary. Reading between the lines, my ultimate conclusion is that he wants to wean humanity’s consciousness from the earth itself and that we begin to think of ourselves as children of the cosmos – basically, expand the mental safeguards in which we enclose our own sense of existence.

When Musk bought Twitter, the first question that came to everyone’s mind was, “Why?” One thing Musk isn’t is shy. So it wasn’t hard to figure out what he wanted to do with Twitter.

All you have to do is go to his Twitter feed, where he says, “Free speech is the foundation of a functioning democracy, and Twitter is the digital public square where issues vital to the future of humanity”.

“I also want to make Twitter better than ever by enhancing the product with new features, making algorithms open source to increase trust, defeating spambots, and authenticating all humans. Twitter has huge potential ― I can’t wait to work with the company and the user community to unlock it,” he added.

The functional enhancements, such as end-to-end DM encryption, that he talks about aren’t mind-blowing on their own. I mean, ‘authenticating all humans’ seems like a challenge I’d love to take on, given my day job, but it’s also a means to an end. And that’s the interesting question. What’s the end for Musk when it comes to Twitter?

In other words, if the past is any indication, how does he want to change collective human behavior via Twitter? To do that, you need to have some idea of ​​what he thinks is wrong with Twitter’s current collective behavior. Again, he’s very transparent about what he thinks of today’s Twitter. “For Twitter to earn the public’s trust, it must be politically neutral, which effectively means upsetting the far right and far left alike,” he tweeted.

Basically, Musk doesn’t think Twitter allows free speech to exist in an uncritical or biased way. He really wants to see Twitter as this mythical place in town where people can come and say what they want to say and discuss things that matter, which could affect the future of humanity. He wants an unrestricted, attributable but productive discussion between millions of people that can be supported because he hates the way left and right silence people who don’t toe the orthodox line.

Again, he fundamentally wants to change our behavior. All of these functional enhancements that he talks about really speak to creating the incentives and disincentives to changing the collective human behavior of online mutual engagement. What he may be forgetting is that not everyone is like him. It’s easy to project your own behavior onto others and assume that everyone will behave like you.

Either way, all of this tells me that Musk must be the biggest optimist and believer in the goodness of human nature in the world, which he backs up when he says on his SpaceX webpage, “He’s is about believing in the future and thinking that the future will be better than the past.”

In a sort of Buddhist parlance, he is an anti-karma crusader, in that karma is an amalgamation of collective subconscious behaviors that cause people to act the way they do.

He wants to train people to behave differently for their own good. He is like a bodhisattva who postpones his own entry into nirvana to save humanity from suffering by helping him to realize his own buddha-nature. Unfortunately, he could also be a bodhisattva in the body of Sisyphus, where he vainly rolls the boulder of collective human karma down a slippery hill.

Jason Lim (jasonlim@msn.com) is a Washington, DC-based expert in innovation, leadership, and organizational culture.


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