Elon Musk, antisemitism, Krakow, Poland
Elon Musk attends a symposium on fighting antisemitism titled ‘Never Again : Lip Service or Deep Conversation’ in Krakow, Poland, on January 22, 2024. Photo credit: © Beata Zawrzel/NurPhoto via ZUMA Press

Thoughts on Elon Musk vs. Don Lemon, plus a Hopi prophecy.

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Since watching former CNN anchor Don Lemon’s interview with Elon Musk last week [March 18], I have been thinking about what it reveals about our contemporary moment. I have many inchoate thoughts, which I will share here in hopes of pushing through the ambiguous murk to reach that ever-elusive state of clarity. According to Vanity Fair, “the sit-down was just another maddening peek into the increasingly extremist and internet-rotted mind of one of the world’s richest and most powerful people.”

I am trying to locate an indigenous prophecy I read a while back that defines this time as one where uninitiated/adolescent “man boys” gain control of the world, with disastrous consequences for all life on Earth. I am not finding it. However, as I wrote in depth in Quetzalcoatl Returns, I suspect we see the fulfillment of indigenous prophecies such as the Hopi myths. This seems evident to me.

As I explored in my book, “prophecy” has to be understood carefully. As Armin Geertz, an anthropologist of the Hopi culture, writes: “Prophecy is not prediction, even though it purports to be so. Prophecy is a thread in the total fabric of meaning, in the total worldview. In this way it can be seen as a way of life and of being.” In an oral culture like the Hopi, there was a shared capacity to elaborate on traditional foretellings. Prophecy changes and morphs with the speaker, while remaining coherent in its essence.

The Hopi prophecies, as well other Native American legends, refer to a time when humanity loses its connection with nature and spirit. We wake up the dark chthonic forces of the Underworld, get trapped by our machines, and suffer catastrophic losses as a result. Back in 1970, Dan Katchongva, a Hopi leader who died in 1972 at age 112, said:

We have teachings and prophecies informing us that we must be alert for the signs and omens which will come about to give us courage and strength to stand on our beliefs. Blood will flow. Our hair and our clothing will be scattered upon the earth. Nature will speak to us with its mighty breath of wind. There will be earthquakes and floods causing great disasters, changes in the seasons and in the weather, disappearance of wildlife, and famine in different forms. There will be gradual corruption and confusion among the leaders and the people all over the world, and wars will come about like powerful winds. All of this has been planned from the beginning of creation.

That, for me, is another fascinating element in the worldview of the Hopi: They conceive of an inevitable destiny in the pattern of cyclical time. When I visited Martin Gasheseoma, one of the traditional elders who has since passed away, he conveyed his belief that what we live through now is like a movie or an unfurling scroll. While we can make individual choices, we can’t stop the larger unfolding of this shared destiny.

Anyway, to return to the interview between Musk and Lemon, Musk — like Putin, Zuckerberg, Sam Altman, and Donald Trump — seems to be one of those contemporary “man boys” who have attained tremendous power without the requisite training or emotional maturity for such a role. He seems a bit lost and in quite a bit of unacknowledged pain — no surprise he numbs himself frequently with ketamine. He suffers from childhood trauma, as so many of us do. We build our personality structures based on the mechanisms we develop when young to shield ourselves from a dangerous world.

I guess Musk prefers to increase the size of the working class by raising the birthrate of US citizens (particularly white people)? However that is hard to do when the super-wealthy have hoovered up most of the capital, making it difficult for ordinary people to afford food, homes, or healthcare.

Yet I found Musk far more appealing during the interview than Lemon, who came across as a bland corporate apparatchik, the kind of person who has suppressed the greater part of themselves in the determined effort to conform to corporate systems that reinforce old hierarchies and authority structures.

This was particularly evident in their painfully dumb conversations around “moderation” versus “censorship.”

Musk reveals a kind of vulnerability and even a childlike naïveté, which I find relatable but also seems an expression of his underlying narcissism. I sympathize with parts of Musk’s answer to Lemon’s last question on what he wants for his legacy. I think he answered honestly, from his perspective:

I care about the reality of goodness, not the perception of it. I think we should view civilization as tenuous and fragile. If you do study history broadly, you’ll see there is a rise and fall of civilizations. They don’t always go up. So we should do everything we possibly can to preserve and extend civilization as we know it and improve it and become more enlightened over time. And we therefore want to address civilizational risks. We want to make sure that we don’t have, for example, demographic collapse which is the case in a lot of countries — just very little birth rate. We want to avoid, obviously, World War III — anything that is a civilizational risk. That’s what I care about: Civilizational risks. How do we extend consciousness into the future such that we are able to better understand the nature of reality. That’s what I care about. That’s my motivation.

Of course, I find that last part about extending consciousness into the future particularly interesting. I believe overcoming the reductive materialist paradigm is one of the core factors for human continuity: Monistic or analytic idealism is simply more logical and far more spacious and hopeful. It would be great if someone like Musk could make this leap, which would ripple through society. From an idealist POV, the prospect of transferring our individual ego-bound consciousness to a silicon matrix is far from compelling.

I don’t like the model of “civilizational risks,” developed by the effective altruist community, because it prioritizes distant events in an imaginary future while ignoring more immediate human needs and deteriorating planetary conditions. For example, global warming is accelerating, due to many known and unknown feedback loops. We are seeing more famines happening already. Even in a few years, we could see a very large dieback of the human population if agriculture becomes untenable due to droughts, floods, and so on. I believe it is incumbent on us — particularly those with resources — to help the people, those here now, survive this critical threshold before we focus on more distant goals like space colonization.

Since taking over Twitter and rebranding it X, Musk has opened the spigot on a vast human sewer of racist, sexist, anti-liberal spew. He is obsessed by a phantom shibboleth he calls “Woke Mind Virus.” He has also developed deeply paranoid — in some cases, even insane — ideas about Biden and the Democratic Party. Because Musk has little filter or self-control, it is instructive to see the workings of his mind as it reflects, partly, the thinking of other billionaires and famous technologists who would never have the guts to express their terrible ideas so freely.

As one example, Musk recently accused Biden of “treason,” retweeting a racist, Alt Right extremist who claims that the President “has secretly flown 320,000 illegal immigrants from Latin American airports to 43 U.S. cities.” Musk himself wrote: “If Dems win President, House & Senate (with enough seats to overcome filibuster), they’ll grant citizenship to all illegals & America will become a permanent one-party deep socialist state.” He also posted: “It is highly probable that the groundwork is being laid for something far worse than 9/11. Just a matter of time.”

It is astonishing and bizarre that one of the most well-rewarded men in the world — Musk must work closely with the government and the military industrial complex on many aspects of his businesses — embraces such low-level conspiracies. Good articles on Musk’s “remarkable political evolution” and his move toward Trumpism can be found here on Axios. Politifacts has published a thorough rebuttal of Musk’s immigration claims, which parrot the “Great Replacement Theory” favored by White Christian nationalists, imagining a liberal /Jewish conspiracy to replace people of European descent with nonwhite people. Musk’s roots in apartheid South Africa are relevant here.

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At the same time, it is true that many mainstream Democrats support immigration because the working-age population in the US is shrinking fast. Steven Ratner, a financier who worked in the Biden administration, wrote in The New York Times:

Without immigration, our population would begin to decline in 2037, according to United Nations projections. Even continuing to admit a million legal immigrants a year would leave our population flatlining within half a century. Maintaining our historical population growth rate of 1 percent would suggest admitting nearly four million individuals a year.

While that may be more than today’s politics can withstand, we should care about keeping the number of Americans growing at a reasonable rate. Immigration is our defense against the challenges of an aging society. Fewer workers supporting more retirees makes it harder to adequately fund Social Security and Medicare.

I guess Musk prefers to increase the size of the working class by raising the birthrate of US citizens (particularly white people)? However that is hard to do when the super-wealthy have hoovered up most of the capital, making it difficult for ordinary people to afford food, homes, or healthcare. Both views ignore the deeper reality that we can’t continue this current growth-based model of Capitalism in any form, due to its planetary impacts. We should move toward some form of managed Degrowth before we deal with inevitable, uncontrollable contraction.

This has gotten long. I wanted to get into the issues Lemon raised around censorship and moderation, but perhaps I will do so in another post. It is a complex and contentious topic. Obviously I do not see Musk as a heroic free speech advocate. Instead, he misuses his power to disproportionately impact what content gets seen on the X platform — and first of all, to ensure that his “shitposts” are most visible. The Verge reported: “After Musk threatened to fire his remaining engineers, they built a system designed to ensure that Musk — and Musk alone — benefits from previously unheard-of promotion of his tweets to the entire user base.”

We’ve learned that there are many ways to censor or control the discourse that don’t require removing people from a platform outright, such as lowering their engagement or “shadow banning” them. Musk responded to Lemon’s concerns over censorship on Twitter/X by noting that he had made X’s recommendation algorithm “open source.” However, as Brandi Guerkink wrote in Wired, “Twitter’s so-called ‘open sourcing’ is a clever red herring to distract from its recent moves away from transparency.” Guerkink then explores this in depth: Apparently, this occurred weeks after Twitter / X “shut down the free version of its API,” which was “a tool that researchers around the world have relied on for years to conduct research into harmful content, disinformation, public health, election monitoring, political behavior, and more.”

To the ever-lengthening list of crazy problems we have as a society right now, we must add, as Scott Galloway put it, “a malignant narcissist who is abusing a dissociative narcotic” in control of one of the most important social media platforms, promoting Right Wing extremism at a time of ecological and geopolitical meltdown. Who knew prophetic times would be this fun?

A version of this piece was originally published in Daniel Pinchbeck’s Newsletter. 


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