In a recent video on Warren Redlich’s YouTube channel, he had a long conversation with Jason Torchinsky from Jalopnik. The conversation is a followup to Jason’s article covering Redlich’s “conspiracy theory” that all other robotaxi companies are secretly using remote drivers.
You can watch the whole thing below, or, if you don’t have a couple of spare hours, scroll further for my commentary.
Willingness To Talk Is Important
I think the first thing that’s important here is that these guys approach the topic from very different angles, but they’re talking. That matters because we’ve seen a lot of the opposite lately. People on the Tesla side and on the critic side have been doing a lot of blocking on social media. I’ve even had people on the “Tesla stan” side question whether I’m working for the other automakers because I’m still talking to people from the other automakers.
When we all start blocking each other, we create echo chambers that aren’t good for maintaining a grasp on truth and reality. To keep ourselves honest, we need people to point out where we are making logical, factual, and philosophical mistakes. That can be tough emotionally, but without that, we lose our anchor on reality and can’t grow as a community.
For that reason, I support efforts like this one, even when they’re not productive. We have to keep trying.
“Stan”ning for Tesla and/or Elon Musk
One of the issues that came up in the beginning was what a Tesla “stan” is. In short, it’s a portmanteau of “stalker” and “fan,” according to Bustle. It also has its roots in the Eminem song Stan:
While this obviously has some very dark undertones (Stan commits a murder/suicide when Eminem doesn’t reply to his letters), it’s not used that darkly on the internet in most cases. People jokingly say they “stan” something or somebody, but they aren’t really obsessive stalkers the way Eminem’s Stan character was. Even when used to refer to real superfans, it almost never is used to say that they’re dangerous or actual stalkers. It’s usually just a cute way to say superfan.
Jason Torchinsky says that he sees many fans who take criticism of Tesla very personally, and Warren Redlich says he isn’t like that — but goes on to say that he’s the guy who is taking proverbial bullets for Elon Musk when there’s criticism, and even uses the word “faithful” to describe fans who don’t criticize Tesla, but points out that he isn’t really religious about it any more than the followers of the Pope of Muskanity really are.
Torchinsky didn’t know what TSLAQ was, but said people had called him that. Redlich explained what it was, and they tried to decide together whether Torchinsky is TSLAQ or not. Torchinsky was able to say a lot of good things about the company, and said he writes both good and bad about the company.
Big plus here: they’re getting their feelings about each other out. That’s good. It’s at least a start.
The Level 2 Attention Issue, & The Conversation Derails
They go on about this one for a few. Torchinsky relies on studies showing Level 2 systems lead to inattentive drivers, leaving the system potentially with no backup. Redlich relies on Lex Fridman. This seems to be something they can’t find common ground on because they’re relying on different authorities. In particular, Redlich isn’t willing to hear out anything about the other studies, and wants to compare Torchinsky himself to Fridman.
They also disagree about whether Tesla’s overall crash statistics can be used to say Autopilot is inherently safe, but that’s where the conversation begins to really derail.
Before that last topic can be discussed in any detail, the subject quickly flips to the Tesla crash near Houston, Autopilot abuse, and other subjects in rapid succession. Combined with yelling over the top of Torchinsky, it was pretty apparent that the conversation was getting difficult for a debate opponent to really continue to engage in any meaningful way.
In other words, communication broke down, and they never really got to the question of the Waymo conspiracy theory that they set out to discuss in the beginning.
Did I Just Waste Almost Two Hours Of My Life?
Well, not entirely, because I’m writing this article and I’m going to get something for it. (I’m mostly kidding here.)
In all seriousness, there are things we can learn from this that are useful. Most importantly, the conversation happened. That’s a very positive first step for all involved, and we need to see more of this. It could have been done better, though.
First off, the value of a moderator is pretty apparent here. When you have one person involved who has a very strong and overbearing personality (I know some very good people who are like this, so I’m not trying to be mean), that person does need to be kept from driving the conversation around with no clear goal. Lots of things got discussed in the conversation, but there wasn’t really a lot of overall substance.
Subjects were constantly being changed, Warren was constantly talking and even yelling over Torchinsky, and obscure facts most people don’t memorize were used as conversational bludgeons instead of as evidence. A good moderator (preferably with control over microphones) would have kept this conversation on track and made it a lot more productive.
Even without a moderator, an outline or other plan for the conversation would have been better. There were apparently subjects they wanted to cover (most importantly the Waymo conspiracy theory) that just didn’t get talked about much at all.
Finally, I’d encourage readers to make sure they don’t only follow fellow Tesla fans on the internet. Some of the critics do have valuable things to contribute. We can’t just scream “Elon’s smarter than you!” or “Read Lex Fridman!” when other people bring up other information sources. That’s not a good way toward credibility with anyone but the most devoted Tesla stans.
I really hope that the future sees more of these conversations, but they need to be conducted a lot more productively. We really need to be bridging these gaps, but I think this was a great first attempt.
Featured image: screenshot from the Zoom conversation that was shared on YouTube.