Musk's myopic centrism

Despite the meme, I have proof that Elon Musk does not play “4D chess.” That 4th D is supposed to be the time dimension, but despite being described as some forward thinking genius, Musk ultimately possesses a miniscule and static worldview.

My proof is this seemingly innocuous meme that he posted a few months ago.

Meme from Elon Musk depicting progresives moving farther left while he stays put on a worldview axis. Described more fully in the following paragraph.

This meme is meant to portray an insight into how the woke progressives have moved into the realm of the extreme while the pragmatic centrists have remained steadfastly true to their origin. In the meme we see Musk (depicted as “me”) and a conservative staying put in the same location on a political spectrum line from 2008 to 2021, while the liberal moves farther and farther to left. The result of this is that in the year 2021, Elon looks more right wing even though the progressive liberal was close to him 10 years prior. The subtext of the meme is that Elon didn’t change, and the progressive got too “woke.”

Many pundits have pointed out that this idea doesn’t actually represent the facts of American political polarizations, but, nevertheless, the sentiment of the meme resonates with many many people who think they can see “the big picture.””

But ultimately the meme and the thinking behind it, reveal the stalest and most unimaginative mindset imaginable.

The moral arc of history

About a decade ago, I considered myself aligned with the “independent, pragmatic centrist” moniker. I believed that the centrist approach offered an objectivity that allowed me to see beyond the petty back and forth of the political tug-of-war. But slowly over the past decade as I contemplated it more and scratched the facade on my own worldview, I saw how naive and myopic that mindset actually is.

The problem with centrism is that it tacitly accepts that the center established during my youth is somehow objectively correct. Yet this entirely neglects humanity’s deep history of accepting norms that we ultimately recognize as fundamentally wrong.

To illustrate my meaning, I expanded Musks’s meme to stretch back another 200 years.

Expansion of Musk's timeline meme to include political spectrum lines dating back to the 19th century, each line further to the right as time goes backwards. On each line there is someone on the right end saying something that is obviously backwards and morally repugnant but was acceptable at that time. On the left, there is someone walking leftward saying 'We can do better.' For 1990, the right-wing person is saying 'gays shouldn't marry.' 1950='blacks can't live here' 1910='women don't count', 1850='slavery is moral'

Here we see the same meme, with the addition of a few ancestors of the current political divide. However, when we look backwards, we can see the person on the right end of the spectrum holding on to a soon-to-be-outdated ideal, while those on the left end are constantly attempting to move toward the better end of the spectrum.

When we do this, it becomes completely obvious what’s really going on. There has been a march of progress that has always looked like people “moving to the left” in today’s parlance while others staunchly try to remain true to the “centrism” of backwards-looking ideals. Some people work to make the world better, updating their ideals to reflect an improved morality. But other people manage to convince themselves that they just happened to be born in a time where the default mindset was already perfectly justifiable.

When put in this perspective, it’s easy to recognize just how silly it is for Elon to not shift his beliefs at all for a decade. That anyone could think of that epistemological hubris as a good thing is almost baffling.

What 4D chess really looks like

I’ve realized that Elon Musk isn’t as smart as I used to think, but I want to make it clear that he is not dumb. He’s just normal. Normal people see the world around them and react to it. They want to win the games that have been put in place for them (fast cars, rocketships), rather than defining their own.

True imaginative genius (like the kind attributed to Musk) doesn’t just mean operating intelligently to execute on a worldview that exists in one’s own time. It requires acting based on the worldview that will exist decades or centuries after you are gone. We’d all admit that the change from slavery and genocide to modern notions of equality are obvious improvements in our moral understanding of the universe. And if progress was possible in the past, it’s most reasonable to assume that we are not yet living in the time when ethics and epistemology have already been solved.

4D Chess means operating in a framework that transcends your own instantaneous existence and looks at the state of the universe as if everything is happening at once. It isn’t easy to optimize your decision-making over a probabalistic space of potential moral frameworks that might be discovered in the future. But to me, it seems obvious that aligning with neo-Nazis and banning journalists would exist in a low probability space for things that will be considered acceptable 200 years from now. Not to mention the long lists of racist and generally messed up things he’s done publicly.

The most interesting thing about Elon Musk is that he has the clout to actually effect this kind of world-altering change. He could redirect the discourse of millions of people off of the backwards-looking track they are stuck on. I personally hope that he is playing a kind of 4D moral chess that will allow him to sway minds in the direction of progress. Sadly, the evidence thus far suggests he doesn’t yet understand his place in any dimension.

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