Every time I try (read: am encouraged by my editor) to think about Elon Musk, the folds in my brain yank themselves taunt until my gray matter is as smooth and featureless as one of the precious gems Musk’s family pulled from their private emerald mine. This is, after all, a man who inherited enough unimaginable wealth and privilege that he could finally strike out on his own and parlay that into…well, even more unimaginable wealth and privilege, I guess.
Musk is one of the wealthiest people in the history of the human race, but this is in spite of the fact that he is, in no small part, a huge failure. His beep-boop cars keep exploding. His rockets also keep exploding; his grand scheme to solve America’s transportation problem is to dig a shitty tunnel under coastal Florida. And yet, somehow, Musk is one of the most powerful, influential people alive today. He is Schrodinger’s failson: at once a massive success and an absolute schmo.
It’s with that ridiculous tension in mind that I am not entirely surprised that Musk would be the sort of cartoonishly emo doofus who would conflate any criticism of a billionaire’s dick-measuring contest — specifically, a competition to see which billionaire would be the first to measure their dick in low-Earth orbit — with an attack on the entire concept of outer space.
Is someone attacking space? Are the inky depths of the universe somehow in danger? Have we declared war on the void between worlds?! Of course not. Plenty of folks are, however, not exactly thrilled with the idea that commercial space travel has been monopolized by the sickeningly wealthy — especially when those trips are being subsidized in no small part by ordinary people who don’t have the ungodly reserves of both money and ego to blast themselves a few miles above the Earth’s surface and then call a press conference about it. How many New Mexicans whose $220 million in taxes went toward building Richard Branson’s “Spaceport America” will also be able to shell out a quarter of a million bucks to buy a onetime ticket for a quick jaunt to the edge of the upper atmosphere?
For Musk, simply raising the point that, hey, maybe space shouldn’t just be for the ultra-rich, is akin to attacking space itself. Left unsaid — but heavily implied — in his oddly clipped tweet is the insinuation that to attack space is to attack him, Elon Musk, visionary billionaire sui generis. But he’s got it all backwards — it’s exactly because space represents something hopeful in the “Star Trek optimistic socialist utopia” sense that people would prefer the space not to be a playground for the rich but a promise of something new and exciting for everyone.
I’m sure Musk himself would argue that the two are one and the same — that before the unwashed masses and hoi polloi can enjoy the thrill of slipping the surly bonds of Earth, it’s up to those adventurous innovators and entrepreneurs (read: people with more money than some countries) to clear a path for them first. Maybe, I guess, in a perfect world? But in this one, it’s just Elon and his billionaire frenemies burning an alchemic combination of ego and cash as fuel for their vanity flights above the clouds. That doesn’t represent “hope.” That’s just a waste of space.