Elon Musk would really like to be able to rate the truth. Yesterday, the billionaire engineer, businessman, and flamethrower enthusiast announced his newest planned venture: A website in which the public could rate journalists by grading them on a credibility scale. He Tweeted:
Going to create a site where the public can rate the core truth of any article & track the credibility score over time of each journalist, editor & publication. Thinking of calling it Pravda …— Elon Musk (@elonmusk) May 23, 2018
‘Pravda’ is Russian for truth. It is also the name of the Soviet Union Communist Party’s official newspaper.
At a generous reading, Musk’s idea may not seem all that bad at first. We are living in a time of informational crisis. Social media is rife with distortions and fake news; and the mainstream media—the original pioneers of the form—continue to serve up establishment-friendly propaganda and Overton-window shifting, fascist-enabling ‘both-siderism’. Public trust in traditional institutions has been eroded by decades of lies, and that combined with the rising tide of disinformation swirling around on the web has led to a brazenly open racist, former reality TV star becoming President of the United States of America. These are extraordinary times, and people are starved of veracity. Any move towards some restoration of credibility, then, might seem a good idea. Anyone taking proactive steps towards achieving that goal should surely be applauded.
Elon Musk’s idea is not a good one.
He is not a man to be applauded.
There are glaringly obvious potential pitfalls of such a scheme as Musk proposes. Both from the inevitable gaming that would hound the scoring system—from all sides of the spectrum, tilting the scale one way and the other so much so as to render it meaningless—to what happens whenever the public at large get to have a say like this, especially through the internet where some people are more active than others. Lest we forget that for every Arctic research vessel that the public wanted to name Boaty McBoatface, there was a new Mountain Dew flavour that they decided should be called ‘Hitler Did Nothing Wrong.’
But these are just side issues. More importantly one must ask: What is the motive here? Why is Elon Musk launching this crusade? Why now? Why has he chosen this moment to take up the sword against falsehood? Has the man whose company has previously been accused of unsafe working conditions and anti-union activity in reality always been one of the good guys?
Okay, never mind that. But maybe he’s developed into a good guy now? After seeing what kind of a mess the world has become?
But it’s likely that the answer is much simpler than that.
In recent weeks there has been a fair amount of negative coverage of Musk and his companies, specifically regarding Tesla missing production goals, losing a number of high-level executives, as well as its clash with the US government over some autopilot crash investigations. There was also the case of Reveal, a news organisation that published a quite damming report into safety conditions at Tesla factories. All of this has added up to raise Musk’s ire. He bemoaned the ‘substantial’ increase in negative headlines that have been plaguing Tesla recently. He Tweeted:
The holier-than-thou hypocrisy of big media companies who lay claim to the truth, but publish only enough to sugarcoat the lie, is why the public no longer respects them https://t.co/Ay2DwCOMkr— Elon Musk (@elonmusk) May 23, 2018
The funny thing is that what Musk is saying there is true. There is nothing that’s outright wrong about that Tweet. But it’s the intent in which lies the rub. The timing. Musk isn’t planning to create a system for ranking journalists because they swallowed the US government’s lies in agitating for an invasion of Iraq. He’s not doing it because they gifted Donald Trump billions of dollars of free airtime during the Presidential Election. He’s doing it because his ego is bruised. He and his company have been criticised. His ego is bruised and now he wants payback.
Now, the funny thing about egos is that the bigger they get, the easier they bruise.
The funnier thing about egos is that they only get as big as we let them.
And the funniest thing about egos is that we only really let the male ones get all that big.
Men get told they’re geniuses. Women get told to know their place.
Our society is an odd one. It has strange, warped priorities, and it loves elevating a certain type of person above all others. At the crossroads of hyper-individualist capitalism, white supremacist patriarchy, and the cult of personality, there stands the figure of the White Male Auteur.
He stands there proud. Admired. He’s good at something. He might be good at two things. He’s been told he’s good. That’s he’s great. For his greatness, he’s been showered with attention and rewards. Both materially and mentally, he has been removed further and further from the masses, from normality. And little by little, that’s driven him mad. Not in the conventional, cartoonish sense. He’s not frothing at the mouth and claiming to be Napoleon. But in swallowing all the accolades he has become disconnected from reality. Un-moored from empathy, the bedrock of humanity, he starts to prize achievements above people, and on his journey to further greatness, other people become acceptable collateral damage. Often, because the power divide in our world is so starkly split along the axis of gender, it is women who suffer most from this, with the system being set up so as to encourage even ordinary men to see women as less than people. The further up the ‘genius’ ladder the man is lifted, the worse this effect becomes.
Harvey Weinstein, serial abuser of women, was protected and allowed to hurt so many so as long as he continued to generate profits. We were told he was a genius producer. He was told he was a genius producer.
Jeffrey Tambor, veteran actor, behaves aggressively and abusively to the women he works with. He is protected and his behaviour is excused by his male co-stars, even as he reduces Jessica Walter to tears. We’re told that this is all part of the process. Some men are just ‘difficult’. That’s a fair price to pay for being able to enjoy the fruits of their genius.
Jordan Peterson, obscure psychologist from Canada, starts to gain media attention for delivering inflammatory rhetoric that seems to feed directly into a rising tide of ‘alt-rightism’ and murderous ‘incel’ ideology. For ‘daring’ to speak up so, and for preaching to men revolutionary bits of advice about the virtues of standing up straight and wearing deodorant, he is branded a genius.
Observing it all you could be be fooled into thinking that the world has a pathological need for white male saviours. That we crave these singular geniuses to guide us through the travails of life. But this is all imposed on us. Gigantic structures exist to put across this myth. Whole systems are in place to ensure that if you look a certain way, you will get rewarded disproportionately for your merits while getting easily absolved of your sins. If you are a white male who happens to be quite good at something, the machine will welcome you. Whether you are a good businessman, a clever engineer, or a talented actor, musician, or author, you will be branded a ‘genius’, you will come to believe it, and from there the sky’s the limit. Your achievements will be trumpeted; your ego inflated; your transgressions downplayed. Abuse anyone, say anything, destroy it all. You’re a genius, it’s okay.
(Photos courtesy of Getty Images)