Is Elon Musk An Elitist Jerk?

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Normally, Elon Musk takes the high road. He is man with a dream, a visionary, someone who sees further into the future than mere mortals. He is adored by his fans, who accord him rock star status everywhere he goes and swoon whenever he deigns to speak. But there is another side to Elon Musk, one that stays carefully hidden most of the time. His alter ego can make him seem like an elitist jerk.

Boring Company and Elon Musk

The not-so-friendly Elon popped up unexpectedly at a Neural Information Processing Systems conference in early December. When a member of the audience asked Musk his opinion of public transportation and urban sprawl, Wired reports he blurted out these candid — and rather inflammatory — remarks.

“I think public transport is painful. It sucks. Why do you want to get on something with a lot of other people, that doesn’t leave where you want it to leave, doesn’t start where you want it to start, doesn’t end where you want it to end? And it doesn’t go all the time. It’s a pain in the ass. That’s why everyone doesn’t like it. And there’s like a bunch of random strangers, one of who might be a serial killer, OK, great. And so that’s why people like individualized transport, that goes where you want, when you want.”

The questioner persisted, asking the great man about the highly efficient public transportation systems in Japan. “What, where they cram people in the subway? That doesn’t sound great,” Musk shot back. After the Wired report came out, city planners and transportation engineers had nothing but boos and brickbats for the exalted one.

A spokesperson for The Boring Company attempted to smooth things over, telling Wired that The Boss wasn’t talking about the super efficient, user-friendly public transportation systems of the future where people will go where they want to go when they want to go in individual pods, but about the sorry state of public transportation systems as they exist today. Fortune reports that Musk termed the Wired report “misleading and misanthropic,” claiming his comments were overblown and were merely a “brief digression.”

Musk’s colleagues are used to such brief digressions. It’s not unusual for him to let a few tidbits that are not part of the script drop during conference calls. You can almost see his colleagues wondering what words will pop out when he takes the microphone after the formal part of an event is over. Jarrett Walker, a noted transportation authority, took Musk to task on Twitter.

Elon couldn’t help himself. He responded to Walker with a Tweet of  his own. “You’re an idiot!” it read. Shortly thereafter, Musk issued a one word apology for his digital outburst. “Sorry,” he tweeted. Before adding:

Walker retorted, “the company of ‘random strangers’ is what a city is.” One disgruntled advocate for public transportation even sold his shares in Tesla, telling Elon in a Tweet, “Hey, @elonmusk, your recent comments about public transit are too repulsive and your reply to @humantransit too infantile for me to keep supporting you financially. I just sold my shares of @Tesla & will deploy $ to visionary transit companies.”

The takeaway from all this is that Musk may want to sell you an electric car, but he really doesn’t want to ride with you on the way to the airport.

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Steve Hanley

Steve writes about the interface between technology and sustainability from his home in Florida or anywhere else The Force may lead him. He is proud to be "woke" and doesn't really give a damn why the glass broke. He believes passionately in what Socrates said 3000 years ago: "The secret to change is to focus all of your energy not on fighting the old but on building the new." You can follow him on Substack and LinkedIn but not on Fakebook or any social media platforms controlled by narcissistic yahoos.

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