‘Stop falling for weird s—’: Four takeaways from Walter Isaacson’s biography of Elon Musk

“You’ll never be successful,” Errol Musk told his 17-year-old son Elon as he prepared to fly from South Africa to Canada in search of relatives and a college education in 1989.

That’s one of the scenes depicted in Walter Isaacson’s 670-page biography of Elon Musk, the world’s richest person. The biography provides readers with new insights into the private life of the entrepreneur who popularized electric vehicles for the general public and landed rocket boosters hurtling back to Earth to be reused.

However, Musk’s public statements and actions have become increasingly erratic, threatening and filing lawsuits against nonprofits that fight hate speech and allowing some of the internet’s worst actors to reclaim their platforms.

Musk is portrayed by Isaacson as a restless genius with a turbulent upbringing on the verge of launching a new AI company alongside his five other businesses.

Musk allowed Isaacson to follow him around for two years but had no say in the book’s content, according to the author.

Here are four key points to remember.

Musk’s upbringing and father haunt him

Much of Musk’s drive, according to Isaacson’s book, stems from his upbringing. He describes his father’s emotional scars on Musk, which caused him to become “a tough yet vulnerable man-child with an exceedingly high tolerance for risk, a craving for drama, an epic sense of mission, and a maniacal intensity that was callous and at times destructive.”

From the age of ten to seventeen, Musk chose to live with his father, enduring what Musk and others describe as “occasional but consistent verbal taunts and abuse.” Tosca Musk, Musk’s sister, claimed Errol would lecture his children for hours on end, “calling you worthless, pathetic, making scarring and evil comments, not allowing you to leave.”

Elon Musk became estranged from his father, though he has occasionally provided financial support to his father. Errol Musk wrote to Elon Musk on Father’s Day 2022, saying he was freezing and without electricity and asking for money.

Errol made racist remarks about Black leaders in South Africa in the letter. “With no Whites here, the Blacks will go back to the trees,” he wrote.

Elon Musk has stated that he opposes racism and discrimination, but the Anti-Defamation League reports that hate speech has flourished on X, formerly known as Twitter, since he purchased it 11 months ago. Last week, Musk threatened to sue the ADL for defamation, claiming that the nonprofit’s statements had cost his company significant advertising revenue.

According to Isaacson, Errol denounced Covid in other emails as “a lie” and attacked Dr. Anthony Fauci, the United States’ former top infectious disease expert who played a key role in the government’s fight against the pandemic.

Similarly, Elon Musk has criticized Fauci and raised numerous concerns about public health policy during the pandemic. But he has stated that he supports vaccination, even if he does not believe it should be mandatory.

Musk’s erratic family and population obsession

Musk’s girlfriends, ex-wives, ex-girlfriends, and significant others are constantly changing, and he has many children with multiple women. According to Isaacson’s book, Musk had a third child (Techno Mechanicus) with musician Grimes in 2022, which Musk confirmed on Sunday.

Musk has repeatedly stated that humans must be a multiplanetary species, warning that space exploration will ensure humanity’s future. He has also stated numerous times that people should have more children.

“Population collapse due to low birth rates is a much bigger risk to civilization than global warming,” Musk stated last year.

Musk has explained his unusual family situation by citing his desire to increase global population.

According to the book, Musk encouraged employees like Shivon Zilis, a top operations officer at his Neuralink company, to have a large family. “He feared that declining birthrates were a threat to the long-term survival of human consciousness,” Isaacson writes.

Grimes criticizes Elon Musk’s co-parenting but confirms third child with him

Despite the fact that the book portrays their relationship as a platonic workplace friendship, Musk volunteered to donate sperm to Zilis. She agreed and had twins in 2021 through in vitro fertilization; she did not reveal the identity of the biological father.

According to the book, Zilis and Grimes were friendly, but Musk did not tell Grimes about the twins.

Musk asked Zilis if her twins wanted to take his surname. According to Isaacson, Grimes was upset in 2022 when she learned that Musk had fathered children with Zilis.

“Doing my best to help the underpopulation crisis,” Musk tweeted at the time, attempting to calm the situation. “By far the greatest threat to civilization is a falling birth rate.”

Jenna, one of Musk’s children, frequently criticized her father’s wealth in particular and capitalism in general. She disowned her father in 2022, which Isaacson reports saddened Musk.

According to Isaacson, Musk’s fractured relationship with Jenna, who is transgender, contributed to Musk’s rightward turn toward libertarianism and questioning what he calls the “woke-mind-virus, which is fundamentally antiscience, antimerit, and antihuman.”

Musk has questioned the use of alternative gender pronouns and made a number of anti-trans statements, according to some critics.

“I absolutely support trans, but all these pronouns are an esthetic nightmare,” Musk wrote in 2020.

However, in December 2020, he also tweeted, which has since been deleted, “when you put he/him in your bio” alongside a drawing of an 18th century soldier rubbing blood on his face in front of a pile of dead bodies and wearing a cap that read “I love to oppress.”

He tweeted late last year, “My pronouns are Prosecute/Fauci.”

X, formerly Twitter, is a huge risk

According to Isaacson, Musk’s other companies and projects have suffered as a result of his purchase of his favorite social media platform, gutting the staff, and tinkering with policies and branding.

“I’ve got a bad habit of biting off more than I can chew,” Musk admitted to Isaacson.

Musk said he regained his enthusiasm for taking over Twitter after a protracted legal battle over his decision to purchase the company when he realized he wanted to prevent a world where people silo off into their own echo chambers and would prefer a world of civil discourse.

However, according to Isaacson, “he would end up undermining that important mission with statements and tweets that ended up chasing off progressives and mainstream media types to other social networks.”

According to the book, Musk team members such as his business manager Jared Birchall, his lawyer Alex Spiro, and his brother Kimbal sometimes try to restrain Musk from sending text messages or tweets that could put him in legal or economic jeopardy. On one occasion, Musk was persuaded by friends to leave his phone in a hotel safe overnight before summoning hotel security to open the safe for him.

Kimbal warned Elon about how quickly he was making enemies during Christmas 2022 with his brother. “It’s like high school, when you kept getting beaten up,” he remarked. Kimbal no longer follows Elon on Twitter in response to his brother’s tweets about Fauci and other conspiracies. “Stop falling for weird s—.”

Are robocars, an AI company and a robot called Optimus on tap?

Musk is still working on new engineering projects. Musk has been working on Optimus, a “humanoid” robot that walks on two legs rather than four legs like other labs’ robots, since 2021. In September 2022, he unveiled an early prototype of the Optimus robot. Humanoid robots will “uncork the economy to quasi-infinite levels,” according to Isaacson, by doing jobs that humans find dangerous or repetitive.

Some of Musk’s top engineers are also working on a “robotaxi,” a self-driving vehicle similar to an Uber. This summer, he spent hours each week in Texas preparing new factory designs to produce the next-generation Tesla cars that would resemble Tesla’s cybertruck.

Musk is also launching his own AI company, X.AI, which he told Isaacson will compete with Google, Microsoft, and other companies that have accelerated their public AI projects in the last year. Musk co-founded OpenAi with Sam Altman in 2015 and gave the non-profit $100 million. He became enraged when Altman turned the project into a for-profit venture. Musk also severed ties with Larry Page after the two disagreed on AI. According to the book, Musk believes he has a better vision for AI and humanity and believes that the data he owns from Tesla and Twitter will be useful in his future AI plans.

“Could you get the rockets into orbit or the transition to electric vehicles without accepting all aspects of him, hinged and unhinged?” In the final chapter, Isaacson inquires.

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