Elon Musk Has Gone Off The Rails. Will He Take Tesla & SpaceX With Him?

This is a story I hoped I would never have to write. Elon Musk and Tesla have been very popular topics on CleanTechnica. Readers and writers have enjoyed exploring the tech, growth, and innovation of Tesla, and Musk’s role in that. Over the years, we have written hundreds of articles about him and his company, and it must be said — we are in the click business. The number of “hits” we get on the stories we write determines how much money comes in the door, and putting “Musk” or “Tesla” in the title guarantees a story will get a fair number of them. So, what follows may be going against our own best interests, but at some point, someone has to point out that the emperor really is walking about while wearing no clothes. [Editor’s note: Different writers on our team have had different views on Elon Musk (and Tesla products) over the years. In the interest of allowing different opinions to be expressed from people with the same overall mission (advancing cleantech), we have published op-eds across the spectrum on this topic — and plenty of others. Clearly, not everyone on the team will align with every article. Steve Hanley is a Tesla owner who has long appreciated Tesla’s role in the industry, but like many Tesla owners, his relationship with the company has become complicated. The comments under this article show that as well as the article itself. To pretend or assume the Tesla community only includes people who 100% support everything Elon Musk does and says at this point would be misrepresenting the Tesla community — massively.]

Here’s the truth. Elon is now a danger to himself, his companies, and the hundreds of thousands of supporters who have made him the wealthiest person in human history. In the past few weeks, he has become more and more unhinged. It all began to unravel when Elon the Magnificent decided he and he alone should be the sole arbiter of what people could and could not say on social media.

Free Speech, Elon huffed! Well, here’s how the great man will handle free speech once he gets his hooks into Twitter. This week, a group of dissatisfied SpaceX employees penned an open letter to Musk begging him to stick to his knitting and stop making asinine comments in public, comments they said that brought the company into disrepute. The Verge has seen that letter, which reads in part:

“Elon’s behavior in the public sphere is a frequent source of distraction and embarrassment for us, particularly in recent weeks. As our CEO and most prominent spokesperson, Elon is seen as the face of SpaceX — every Tweet that Elon sends is a de facto public statement by the company. It is critical to make clear to our teams and to our potential talent pool that his messaging does not reflect our work, our mission, or our values.”

The letter argues that the company is not living up to its oft-stated “No Asshole” policy and its zero-tolerance sexual harassment policy. The document goes on to suggest three different “action items” to address the situation

  • SpaceX should “publicly address and condemn Elon’s harmful Twitter behavior”
  • SpaceX should “hold all leadership equally accountable” for bad behavior
  • SpaceX needs to “clearly define what exactly is intended by SpaceX’s ‘no-asshole’ and ‘zero tolerance’ policies and enforce them consistently.”

One might think such a letter would be celebrated as an example of free speech in action. Nope. 5 of the people who signed the letter have been summarily fired. In an email to employees Thursday reviewed by the Washington Post, SpaceX president Gwynne Shotwell said the letter “made employees feel uncomfortable, intimidated and bullied,” and pressured into signing a document that did not reflect their views.

Shotwell told employees that the concerns raised in the letter threatened to derail SpaceX’s focus on several key tasks. “We have 3 launches within 37 hours for critical satellites this weekend, we have to support the astronauts we delivered to the [International Space Station] and get cargo Dragon back to flight-ready, and after receiving environmental approval early this week, we are on the cusp of the first orbital launch attempt of Starship.

“We have too much critical work to accomplish and no need for this kind of overreaching activism — our current leadership team is more dedicated to ensuring we have a great and ever-improving work environment than any I have seen in my 35-year career.” She added that “blanketing thousands of people across the company” with requests to sign onto the letter “does not show the strong judgment needed to work in this very challenging space transportation sector.”

Musk’s Pump & Dump Scheme

In another development, cryptocurrency investor Keith Johnson has filed suit in federal court in Manhattan accusing the exalted Mr. Musk and others of racketeering for touting Dogecoin and driving up its price, only to then let the price tumble. The practice is known in investing circles as a “pump and dump” scheme.

“Defendants were aware since 2019 that Dogecoin had no value yet promoted Dogecoin to profit from its trading. Musk used his pedestal as world’s richest man to operate and manipulate the Dogecoin Pyramid Scheme for profit, exposure and amusement.”

In the complaint, Johnson argues that Dogecoin’s selloff began around the time Musk hosted the NBC show Saturday Night Live, during which he called Dogecoin “a hustle” while playing a fictitious financial expert on the show’s “Weekend Update.”

Johnson is seeking $86 billion in damages, representing the decline in Dogecoin’s market value since May 2021. Under federal racketeering law, the court can award triple damages, which could bring the total to approximately Elon’s entire net worth. He also seeks to block Musk and his companies from promoting Dogecoin and for the court to declare that trading Dogecoin is gambling under federal and New York law.

Sexual Harassment

Also this week, Tesla shareholder Solomon Chau has filed suit in federal court in Texas against Musk. Tesla and the company’s board of directors, alleging they have neglected to tackle complaints about workplace discrimination and harassment while creating a “toxic workplace culture.” The state of California also filed a similar suit earlier this year, claiming the company has allowed a culture of rampant racism to thrive at its factory in Fremont.

“Tesla has created a toxic workplace culture grounded in racist and sexist abuse and discrimination against its own employees,” the lawsuit states. “This toxic work environment has gestated internally for years, and only recently has the truth about Tesla’s culture emerged. Tesla’s toxic workplace culture has caused financial harm and irreparable damage to the company’s reputation.”

The lawsuit accuses the defendants — Musk, 11 Tesla board members, and the company — of having breached their fiduciary duty by failing to address and remedy the red flags concerning internal reports of discrimination and harassment. This caused Tesla to lose high-quality employees and incur costs for defending cases and settling fines for violations, the lawsuit claims.

Free Speech For Some

Musk’s cavalier attitude about free speech is revealed by how he has responded to two similar situations, one in the US and one in China. When public health officials in Alameda County, California, sought to impose workplace restrictions on the Fremont factory during the early stages of the Covid-19 pandemic, Musk became apoplectic. In retaliation, he decided to move Tesla headquarters to Texas.

When officials in Shanghai, China, recently shut down all manufacturing for nearly a month, the great and powerful Musk had nothing to say. In fact, he has nothing to say about the way China has crushed democracy in Hong Kong or subjected an entire ethnic minority to being virtual slaves.

Musk has no overarching principles. He only acts on what he sees as in his own selfish interest. He looks cowardly and small in comparison to Elie Wiesel, who famously said, “There may be times when we are powerless to prevent injustice, but we must never fail to protest.”

Musk is also given to what are popularly known as “dick jokes.” He is obsessed with his own sexual prowess as he sires an ever expanding brood of children by a succession of women, none of whom he is married to. He has belittled Bill Gates by suggesting his visage would cause erectile dysfunction and ridiculed Jeff Bezos for building a rocket that looks for all the world like a phallus. (OK, maybe that one is justified.) And, of course, there was the unfortunate and cruel reference to a man helping rescue boys from a flooded cave as “pedo guy.”

The Takeaway

The only conclusion one can draw from all this is that Musk is a nut — a very rich nut, but a loose cannon nonetheless. Actions have consequences. A former NASA official tells the Washington Post that people within the agency “are truly worried” about the direction the company is going in. NASA has crawled into bed with SpaceX, which is the only game in town for all intents and purposes, but Musk’s mercurial behavior has a lot of people concerned for his mental stability.

This is the guy, after all, who wants to create trillions of happy digital humans living inside computers and gladly working until 3:00 am to further glorify their leader, a strutting peacock of a man who lacks the capacity to exhibit compassion for others. Perhaps this passage from Macbeth is pertinent here and might offer some valuable guidance to the mercurial Elon Musk.

Tomorrow, and tomorrow, and tomorrow
Creeps in this petty pace from day to day
To the last syllable of recorded time.

And all our yesterdays have lighted fools
The way to dusty death. Out, out, brief candle.
Life’s but a walking shadow, a poor player
That struts and frets his hour upon the stage,
And then is heard no more.

It is a tale
Told by an idiot, full of sound and fury,
Signifying nothing.

Et tu, Elon?


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