War in Heaven: Elon Musk, Jeff Bezos, and Our Boring Billionaires
The American oligarchy is sad and tasteless, but sometimes Elon Musk is funny.
When a Washington Post reporter came digitally knocking looking for comment at Tesla CEO and sometimes-world’s-richest-man Elon Musk’s door, he did the only right thing you can. He blew them off.
There are exceptions, of course, and I hope you would consider giving me an interview if I ever asked nicely for one, but in general you should never talk to the press. Tell your local paper about your small business, sure. But when it comes to the national media establishment, there are rarely enough upsides to justify the many potential downsides in giving them a chance. Using words as a weapon is the media’s full-time job. Don’t give them ammunition.
But Musk is a billionaire, and already a bad boy by press standards. So, he doesn’t have to just ignore a request for comment; he can amuse himself, too. “Give my regards to your puppet master,” the SpaceX founder said.
War in heaven. The puppet master is, of course, a reference to the other very rich space nerd, Jeff Bezos, who owns the Washington Post and rival rocket company Blue Origin—and is a little bit wealthier than Musk. Bezos and Musk have both made clear at various points that their driving dream is to conquer the stars, and has been for years. Often, as I’ve written for the New Atlantis journal, they rationalize that dream in various materialist ways:
We tell ourselves that in exploring other spheres we will learn more of geology and the origins of life, or will derive new techniques and technologies. We say there are minerals to mine, or new means of energy production to harness. Elon Musk, SpaceX’s middle-aged boy wonder, gives reason of a slightly higher order when he says Mars must be colonized for the survival of the human race — that it will be a citadel in which the torch of our civilization may be kept alight whatever calamities may come here below, in order to, like Hari Seldon in Asimov’s Foundation, shorten future dark ages. Musk’s rival space-bound billionaire, Amazon’s Jeff Bezos, believes that, by moving human industry away from here, the colonization of space will save the Earth from its depredations.
This is sad. The only justifiable reason to build rockets, or to be a billionaire at all, is because it’s fun and cool.
But this is typical of our super-wealthy oligarchic class. The ones that aren’t open to taking rides with Jeff Epstein or “spirit cooking” with the Clinton Foundation crew (but I repeat myself) are usually pretty boring. Their sins are as sordid as those of the poor. Their good works are few. Where are the cloned dinosaurs? Where are the vigilante crime fighters? Where the pirate lords of corporate island nations? Or, looking back to past examples, one might also ask: Where are the magnificent museums, the beautiful cathedrals, or the grand free hospitals? I’m sorry, but Bill Gates making bug burgers and poop water doesn’t count.
There is a lack of spirit on the part of our rich, so much so that Musk’s occasional bouts of juvenile self-amusement come as a relief. In 420 jokes and Joe Rogan appearances, in market-moving tweets and cars shot into orbit and in having six children, and now in a verbal bitten thumb at the only real rival he has, we catch a glimpse of a missing vitality, an alternate history where all our age’s material abundance goes not towards our further immiseration but to making the world a more delightful place.