Elon Musk: Visionary Entrepreneur and the Race to Mars

Future Mars colonists playing with children on Mars, a place they call home.

The philosophers have only interpreted the world in various ways; the point, however, is to change it. – Karl Marx

As Elad Gil tells it Visionary Entrepreneurs “are people with a singular vision for what they want to accomplish.  They view their product or company as the vehicle by which they can fulfill a messianic mission to change the world.” I would remove the term messianic from that sentence. This isn’t some religious or social vision to shape the future to our desire, rather its a pragmatic and realist estimation of what needs to be done through both scientific and human intelligence of the various forces at play in the world today.

The problem of intelligence

I was reading an interview with Robin Makay at CCCBLAB about the so called Left accelerationism, which seems to me a dead project that lacks little focus nor addresses an actual path forward but is rather a political vision leading into a dead zone. Yet, Makay presents us with a particular dilemma about the future of humanity:

If what we want to do is to tap into future intelligence, bringing it to bear on the present, by opening up epistemic, technological and social paths to change… is this intelligence the blind autosophistication of capital, which only seeks to intensify, and has no regard for the human as such? Or does a collective intelligence come forth through a collective practice of rationality (as in Reza Negarestani’s very boldly rationalist text in the book, ‘The Labor of the Inhuman’)? Or is the future a twisted, constantly churning abyss of possibility that we can voluntarily participate in by throwing off dogmatic constraints on our thinking, but can never bring under control for the purposes of a political programme? That’s accelerationism, the political question of futurality, intelligence and politics. And intelligence is not necessarily ‘our’ friend.

This notion of two paths toward the future and intelligence are at the heart of the ongoing battle or struggle within both politics and the cultural projects of current scientific and philosophical debates. Personally I think both paths are spurious. Why? Because from his description above what is left out of the equation is our affective relations, our desires, our emotions and those elements we like to hide under the rug of thought as irrationalism. This notion of impersonal rationality as driven by the neoliberal regimes as ‘rational choice’ or ‘instrumental rationality’ (Adorno) is to me one sided and lacks the full density of our political and social relations, much less the forces that drive men to dream and envision projects that might actually change our lives and futures for the better. The other path of the Left of the General Intelligence leading to Collective or Social Intelligence of workers united in some vast project of change toward a utopian future also seems like a rationalist dream that leaves out the actual and real affective relations that always break out and disturb the rational. Why do we continually forget the darker aspects of the human body, brain, and mind that do not conveniently fit into these systems of thought?

In this sense I’m a Spinozist and Deleuzean following Deleuze and Guattari when in Memories of a Spinozist, II they tell us there is a specificity in affective relations “composing, decomposing, or modifying an individual” with “corresponding intensities that affect it, augmenting or diminishing its power to act; the intensities come from external parts or from the individual’s own parts. Affects are becomings.”1 The point being as they conclude “we know nothing about a body until we know what it can do, in other words, what its affects are, how they can or cannot enter into composition with other affects, with the affects of another body, either to destroy that body or be destroyed by it, either to exchange actions and passions with it or to join with it in composing a more powerful body” (p. 257). Do they speak of intelligence? Do they speak of rationality? No. This is about the real relations of our world, which as they stipulate is the “plane of composition, the plane of Nature, is precisely for participations of this kind, and continually makes and unmakes their assemblages, employing every artifice” (p. 258). So that the notion of a very different kind of acceleration not of intelligence but of the affective relations of bodies and power come into play: “This is not an analogy, or a product of the imagination, but a composition of speeds and affects on the plane of consistency (Nature): a plan(e), a program, or rather a diagram, a problem, a question-machine” (p. 258).

This sense of composition or plan, program and anti-representational diagram or problem: a question-machine, is at the heart of such men’s vision as Elon Musk that is driving a new entrepreneurial vision of affective relations that seek to accelerate the affective powers upon the plane of consistency (Nature) through creativity and innovation to solve problems that are uniquely confronting humanity today. Most on the Left, and those of the Monopolist Globalists on the Right, have no clue that such relations of ‘speeds and affects’ even exist, much less have the vision to do anything about it. While academics debate the future of intelligence and rationality there are those around us who are constructing it pragmatically another vision of affective relations of power and composition on the plane of Nature as part of a visionary entrepreneurial and even anarchic form that challenges both the Left and the Monopolist visions of the Capitalist Establishment and its entrenchment. This pitting of the General Intellect or Collective or Social Intelligence against the bad old boys of AI Intelligence and scientific instrumentality is a Manichean vision of Good vs. Evil and just doesn’t add up against the truth of our lives in the world. It’s another fall back to religious visions under the guise of atheism, which to me is looking more like a religion without god day by day. So where to go from here? Why not just follow those who are actually doing something, acting on the little knowledge we’ve accumulated over the past two thousand years and working with it? One such player that sits outside both camps of the expected picture of the Left and Right is Elon Musk.

Elon Musk and the pragmatics of composition

Musk born in South Africa and became a multimillionaire in his late twenties when he sold his start-up company, Zip2, to a division of Compaq Computers. He went on to more early success launching PayPal via a 2000 merger, Space Exploration Technologies Corp. (SpaceX) in 2002, and Tesla Motors in 2003. Musk made headlines in May 2012 when SpaceX launched a rocket that would send the first commercial vehicle to the International Space Station. As one biographer in an interview reported him saying:

“If I’m trying to solve a problem, and I think I’ve got some elements of it kind of close to being figured out, I’ll pace for hours trying to think it through.”

As Musk said in a recent review of his framework of thought:

I do think there is a good framework for thinking. It is physics – you know the sort of first principles reasoning. … What I mean by that is boil things down to their fundamental truths and reason up from there as opposed to reasoning by analogy.

Though most of our life we get through it by reasoning through analogy, which essentially means copying what other people do with slight variations. And you have to do that, otherwise mentally you wouldn’t be able to get through the day. But when you want to do something new you have to apply the physics approach. Physics has really figured out how to discover new things that are counter-intuitive, like quantum mechanics … so I think that’s an important thing to do. And then also really pay attention to negative feedback and solicit it, particularly from friends. This may sound like simple advice but hardly anyone does that and it’s incredibly helpful.

This Socrates of the visionary marketplace is driven by both desire and intelligence, not some abstract political agenda. His most recent idea in “Hyperloop“. In August 2013, he released a concept for a new form of transportation called the “Hyperloop.” The new invention is intended travel at speeds greater than 700 miles per hour to commute between major cities while severely cutting the time of travel. As opposed to using railroads, the Hyperloop would use tubes for transportation, creating travel options between Los Angeles and San Francisco—the original proposed location—that would take a shorter amount of time than a flight. Musk says that the Hyperloop could take from seven to 10 years to be built and ready for use. More later…

As New York Mag relates it lost in the debate about the Hyperloop’s feasibility, or lack thereof, is the fact that Musk’s plan — which he’s admitted may never materialize — is not primarily a technical proposal directed at consumers, but a political statement aimed squarely at the Establishment. By proposing a new way to provide mass transportation that is both cheaper and faster than anything approved by state authorities, Musk is taking aim at the government’s monopoly on large public works projects. He’s saying to policymakers in Washington and Sacramento alike: I can do your job better than you. They go on to say:

To understand Hyperloop properly, you have to know that Elon Musk is the pack leader of a group of tech-world elites who are committed to solving major societal problems — the bigger the better. Transportation. Medicine. Education. All of these high-minded thought realms, and more, have been swarmed by Musk manqués trying to be the Tesla of tuberculosis, the SpaceX of middle school. These do-gooders see their roles not as hackers of computers, but hackers of processes. After all: Silicon Valley makes better and faster hardware every day. Why can’t it also make a better government?

This spirit of defiance against the establishment, the gall to actually stand up and fight the monopolists and their minions in government is to me worth all the frekking paper being wasted by academics on philosophy. I’ve been reading intellectuals for over forty years but have yet to see much come out of it that amounted to anything at all. But in our time (yes I’m on a soapbox) we need action not speeches or more books on the bad old boys of the neoliberal monopolists. It’s time to get up off our arses and do something about changing things for the better not just sitting down in anti-capitalist communes that are more glitter and show than action. Time to get to work. So if a visionary entrepreneur and a capitalist to boot is doing what everyone else just blathers about then I’m finally going to move over and join such men and women out there that are doing it. The hell with all the blather about change, let’s do it.

Colonizing the future: Mars and the solar economy

As Terry Dawes recently said of Elon Musk the South Africa-born American is the CEO of three companies that would be attracting attention even if each company was helmed by a different person. That he alone is leading all three (Tesla, Solar City, SpaceX) and also proposing a new form of ultra-high speed travel referred to only as the “Hyperloop” puts him into a new category of CEO. … So the dynamic of many articles about Musk tend to mention his mating habits as well as his accomplishments and ambitions. However, even the most negative articles that present a laundry list of petty annoyances typically finish, “What America needs right now are visionaries, and this guy is a visionary.”

Yet, as Dawes continues developing and selling “PayPal to eBay for $1.5 billion in 2002 would seem as great an exit as one could reasonably hope for. But Musk immediately began pondering another magnitude of exit: to Mars.” That’s when my ears perked up because I’d read another post about a Tweet on Nick Land’s site on Musk’s future plans on Mars.

Tim Urban has a post How (and Why) SpaceX Will Colonize Mars that will open your eyes to this vision. As he says in the article Elon Musk has a handful of life goals. Unlike the rest of us, one of those life goals is to put 1,000,000 people on Mars. Fiction? Fantasy? Are just a man doing something while the rest of the planet sits back bewailing its fate, complaining about the bad old neoliberals? Sure there’s a lot to love and hate in this guy, but this is a man right out of a science fiction novel doing things others have for years said could not be done. As Dawes said of Tesla, Musk’s electric car: “After achieving a 99/100 score from Consumer Reports for the Tesla Model S, Musk pointed out at Tesla’s most recent shareholder meeting that not only was Tesla the best selling electric car in the United States in Q1 2013, but sales were more than all other electric cars combined.”

The guy’s doing something right. Dawes continues in the interview relating that Musk plans on a supercharger that will offer free access to long distance travel:

“We always want it to be the case that the supercharger is free once you’ve bought the car. So we don’t want to have this kind of pay every time you arrive thing. I think it’s just so much easier for you to just build it into the cost and you arrive and you just never have to deal with anything. So as long as other manufacturers are willing to take that same approach, at Tesla we’re more than happy to share the network. I’ve seen some articles like, ‘Is it Tesla’s intention to create a walled garden or something like that?’ And that is not at all the case. This is not some nefarious marketing ploy. It is simply that we need to have high-speed charging in order to have convenient long-distance travel. And if we were to wait around for everyone to agree on the right approach, it would never happen. So we have to just go out there and do it, and then other manufacturers can join us, or they can copy us, or they can maybe think of something better.” He shrugs, as if to suggest that whether other auto manufacturers do or don’t go along with his plan makes no difference to him, and takes the next question.

But coming back to Musk’s vision of putting people on Mars. I know. I know. Most think it’s a crazy idea. A dream right out of Heinlein or Asimov, etc. But, hey, I’ve always felt that the resources we’re going to need to exist in the near future are sitting out there in our Solar System. We can either sit here and implode, bewail our fate and cry about capitalism or do something. Musk is doing something. Am I a technologist for technology’s sake? No. That’s like the old Art for art’s sake of the moderns. I’m a creature who sees that we have few choices left on earth, either we clean up our act and build a future together. Come up with innovative technologies to help us fix the mess we’ve created on earth. Oust the monopolists. Gain a foothold in Space. Or we will implode and enter a new Dark Ages. Must has a vision. He’s only one man but he’s invested his money and vision into clean vehicles, solar energy, and space exploration. Do you see anyone else out there doing what he’s done toward creating both clean energy technologies and a chance for adventure and a future worth having?

He has a three-step plan that’s been ongoing and phase one was completed a few years back:

SpaceX Business Plan

Read Tim Urban’s post How (and Why) SpaceX Will Colonize Mars:

Part 1: The Story of Humans and Space

Part 2: Musk’s Mission

Part 3: How to Colonize Mars
→ Phase 1: Figure out how to put things into space
→ Phase 2: Revolutionize the cost of space travel
→ Phase 3: Colonize Mars

A SpaceX Future

  1. A Thousand Plateaus. Gilles Deleuze and Felix Guattari. ( University of Minnesota Press, 2011)

10 thoughts on “Elon Musk: Visionary Entrepreneur and the Race to Mars

  1. We’re adding 2 billion people to the planet in the next 35 years… My guess is that the Mars mission will morph into an asteroid capture mission soon enough. Imagine parking a big rock filled with heavy metals into earth orbit, then blowing off chunks to drop onto Antarctica for retrieval.

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    • Yea, we’ve got follow the resources outside rather than wallow in our piss. Time to follow the young entrepreneurs who are actually doing not sitting back spouting their philosophies. I like Musk, he’s a real shaker and mover, a man of action out of the old school. Defiant and anti-establishment, constructing a future we once actually believed possible.

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      • I agree. I’m a big musk fan myself. I just think it serves to remember that those eyes peering toward the horizon will always go, “Squirrell!” when they glimpse money. Tech requires ‘rare earth metals,’ which is just another way of saying ‘space metals’! 😉

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      • Of course, isn’t that the whole point? To me as I stated in the essay, we’ve closed ourselves in, hemmed in our options through a command and control economy held by monopolist capitalism that strangles visionary entrepreneurs until they actually show their hand and produce something viable for the monopolists. Then suddenly the monopolists will do what they’ve always done: step in buy the entrepreneur out and then expand the markets outward again using these new ideas and technologies. This is the history of capitalism so far. So why would it change? If profit drives our world, and that is what appears to be the case then stopping it or decelerating it as many on the Left wish to do will only do one thing: plunge us into a Dark Age from which we may not again rise for hundreds of years. So in this sense I’m looking around me and realizing, yes, people are being hurt, but people are also being salvaged. But who to go with? The monopolists or the visionary entrepreneur? Is this even a choice? People like Musk are leading the way, so what if his ideas are out there… we need “out there” … 🙂

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      • This captures the dilemma pretty well for me. We all have cookie crumbs on our collar–maybe the time to impeach the Baker (no relation) has come to an end. Perhaps we should concentrate on helping the Musks make the most of their transformations.

        I just don’t know. There’s just so many things that *shame* me, you know? Like the fact that the Ebola outbreak, for completely arbitrary reasons, doubled my (meagre) retirement savings.

        I fear the system has transformed so radically that fairly all our (largely paleolithic) social moral intuitions have been heuristically short-circuited in ways large and small, that we are entirely in Crash Space, watching it be methodically rewoven into Cheat Space by Musks of a different stripe.

        Liked by 1 person

      • Well as I pointed out about the Trans Pacific agreement that seeks to begin a massive Trade War with India, China and lock us into a deep spiral here in the U.S.A. by allowing greater imports from other nations at the expense of jobs and exports we’re seeing once again the rise of corportacracy as soft fascism. It’s like we never learn from the past. It’s sheer farce. So, yea, I don’t trust my government a bit. I’d rather go with the street fighters of the likes of Musk than anything else I see out there…

        As you say it may be too late, but got to try!

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  2. S.C;

    Thanks for the post on Musk. I’ve always been impressed by the guy. I remember as a kid getting all excited when JFK said we’d have a man on the moon by the’ end of the decade’. Even more excited when I saw Armstrong and Aldrin hopping around on the lunar surface. Just think if we’d devoted our efforts to space instead of wasting all those dollars and lives with the Iraq invasion… As you say, ‘instead of wallowing away in our piss’ why not push forward with space exploration and future colonization of Mars? Give humanity something to look forward to…

    Liked by 1 person

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