Since the end of feudal society in the 18th century, where religion gave the medieval citizen almost the only moral support, the ‘enlightened’ man has been looking for new gods to replace the old ones. Today this quest results in the glorification of sportsmen and women, politicians, but also entrepreneurs. They are the new Supreme Ones and everything they say, tweet, or do is elevated to the Holy Word. The ‘primus inter pares’ – the Ancient Greeks would speak of Zeus, the supreme god among all other Gods – is without a doubt Elon Musk, who has pushed Bezos and co into the background.
Yuval Noah Harari coined the term ‘Homo Deus’ to indicate that a small part of the population will have superstar looks in the near future. They will dominate society and the economy thanks to artificial intelligence, genetic engineering and data science, and blessed with eternal life. The rest of the population will participate in the system imposed by them. The value that people can still add to the economic system will then be reduced to virtually zero.
It is safe to say that the current economic apparatus is well on its way to realizing Harari’s vision. ‘Homo Dei’ such as Mark Zuckerberg, Jeff Bezos, Sergei Brin and Jack Ma already define our daily lives. Thanks to sophisticated software applications, they dominate sectors such as retail and media.
Musk is the first Homo Zeus
However, Elon Musk is an exception. He’s not so much a Homo Deus. He has already passed that statute and now ranks as ‘Homo Zeus’ or ‘supreme god’. Musk is doing something no one has done before him. He manages on his own – with his unbridled mind and iron willpower – to overthrow mega-industries, where there are very high barriers to entry for smaller companies. The automotive or aerospace sectors are extremely complex sectors to break through. Musk has successfully completed this unlikely task, which will undoubtedly earn him a place in the gallery of the greats of capitalism.
He is no longer even seen by his followers as a fellow human being, but as a real God. You can take his status literally. Tesla fans were surprised when a study of 511 Christians – asking what God would look like – provided a blueprint of a face almost similar to that of the Tesla founder.
Disclaimer: I was and am one of the biggest fans of the South African child of the gods. In September 2013 I ordered a Tesla without ever having seen it and have now been driving it for 7 years. I devoured Ashlee Vance’s wonderful autobiography “Tesla, Space X and the quest for a fantastic Future” when it was published in 2015. It is therefore one of the most awesome entrepreneurial stories in existence. An absolute must. Which doesn’t prevent it from being time to slow down and ask some questions about the man.
Musk, an innovator unparalleled, but not an inventor…
Without any discussion, Elon Musk is a business genius, a brilliant industrialist and an innovator. Probably the largest of its kind, a status he takes over from Henry Ford. The latter launched the revolution of mass production, thus giving the growth of capitalism a huge push. However, Musk is not an inventor – a status that many mistakenly attribute to him – like Benjamin Franklin, Thomas Edison or his idol Nikola Tesla. He does have the ability to make the most of existing technologies, ranging from an electric motor with a long range, a much cheaper way to launch rockets into the air or the efficient exploitation of solar panels.
But he didn’t invent anything. The Hyperloop was conceived as early as 1972 by the engineer Robert Salter. The electric car already existed in 1832! In 1883 Charles Fritz developed the first solar cell and the first rocket flew into the air in 1926, an invention of Robert Goddard.
Better than Steve Jobs
Musk can best be compared to Steve Jobs, who was also a master at this. Jobs did not invent the mobile phone, he certainly did not invent the touchscreen, but like no other he was able to process all these puzzle pieces into a clear, user-friendly product that has become indispensable in our existence. In addition, they both created an unlikely cult around their personalities. With an army of fans willing to buy anything, provided the Apple or Tesla logo is on it.
Musk is distinguished from his fellow gods. Due to his background in physics and his insatiable appetite to learn about various topics such as car mechanics, artificial intelligence, solar energy or rocket technology, Musk has immersed himself in highly complex industrial processes. He’s not a software geek like Zuckerberg or the Google founders Brin and Page. Every day he has to familiarize himself with complex interactions between hardware and software, a quality that unquestionably elevates him intellectually above his Silicon Valley rivals.
Our need for new Gods
However, man cannot resist running after gurus. In the feudal society of yesteryear, all moral and ethical decisions were placed in the hands of God. This freed much of the population from the obligation to think. Those who followed the commandments of the Church could count on a place in heaven. The Enlightenment changed that. While the 19ecentury intellectuals rediscovered the Greek philosophers and Kant showed us the way of critical thinking, the dogmas of the church were gradually called into question. In its place came the ideology of liberalism and the unshakable belief in man’s capacity to judge what is right and what is wrong.
Humanism was born. In ideal circumstances, this means that we all form our own opinion and base our decisions on rational arguments and thoughtful thought processes, in the tradition of Socrates. Unfortunately, that turned out to be more difficult than expected. Today we fall back into the uncritical pursuit of a number of gurus who do the thinking for their fellow human beings. Elon Musk is the prototype of this. He is followed by millions – education is no object – as if he were Jesus Christ in person.
Contradiction is not tolerated
But when we no longer dare to ask critical questions and accept what Elon Musk propagates without blinking, we err.
It is no secret, for example, that electric cars are not as environmentally friendly as they seem. The production methods for building an electric car are not at all CO2 neutral. In addition, the world would be better off if governments and companies invested in public transport and infrastructure. By far the best-run city-state in the world, it even dared to contradict Elon Musk. Singapore has indicated that it wants to continue to focus on buses and trams, rather than giving a free rein to its ambitions to switch all of Singapore to electric cars. A contradiction that Musk did not accept.
That is what typifies Musk. He is so convinced that he is right that he does not accept any criticism. When Bill Gates dared to buy an electrically powered Porsche Taycan, rather than a Tesla, Musk saw it as a personal insult, prompting Gates to swipe the pan. Trump couldn’t have done better.
Mars or Earth?
In addition, we may wonder what the purpose is to colonize Mars. Wouldn’t it be wiser to use all the brainpower in the world to save the earth? instead of looking for a route to escape – a privilege that will ultimately only belong to the ‘Homo Dei’ of this world? The fact that some of the richest people in the world – Musk, Bezos, Branson – want to leave the earth as soon as possible, also says something about the current state of the planet.
The recent book by Michaël Mann ‘The New Climate War’ – one of the world’s leading experts in the field – is yet another call to make the right decisions and not to listen too much to who shouts the loudest. Fleeing to Mars is no solution. You can understand the ‘moonshot’ philosophy, but all the great progress in the world has come when the government can play its part in the transformation process. Now these private players have so much money that the public interest is in danger of being snowed under in the interests of the ‘happy few’.
How small investors can get burned
The question also arises as to why Musk is launching into the hype surrounding bitcoin. The recent purchase by the company itself received little sympathy. Bill Gates does not spare his criticism and warns smaller investors not to go along with every mania that launches the Tesla God. Is this really the core activity of Tesla or is this yet another provocation against the ‘establishment’, of which he, as the richest man on earth, is now more than ever a part of? Moreover, bitcoins are an energy-guzzling and inefficient technology, as Puilaetco chief strategist Frank Vrancken rightly pointed out recently.
But maybe Musk himself wants all that calms down. As the Israeli thinker Yuval Harari quick-wittedly answered at our Newsweek event in the Lotto Arena to Thomas Vanderveken’s question about how he deals with his god status, Musk would also respond to this worship now.
After all, Professor Harari is in the same situation as Musk. Millions of – mostly highly educated – Westerners hang on his every word. In his answer he made a warm appeal to keep thinking critically and not to let ourselves be seduced by the sirens chanting of the gurus.
Critical thinking is the greatest gift of the Enlightenment. It is our duty not to leave thinking to others. (am)
The author Xavier Verellen is an entrepreneur in the ‘Internet of Things’ industry. His first book will be published soon ‘Human Park‘ from.