The deep roots of Elon Musk's 'strict father' morality politics

An analysis of Walter Isaacson's new biography of 'authoritarian' Tesla and Twitter CEO

The deep roots of Elon Musk's 'strict father' morality politics

Dear FrameLab readers: I just finished reading Walter Isaacson’s new biography of Elon Musk.

In the nearly 700-page book, I came across many important details that help explain Musk’s emergence as a leading voice for retrograde Republican politics. More than once, Issacson and others use the word “authoritarian” to describe Musk’s behavior. And he describes Musk’s strict father upbringing in crystal clear terms that make it easy to trace the origins of his retrograde authoritarian politics.

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Below are my notes on the book and what they reveal about the underlying moral structure that defines Musk’s politics.  More to come…

Walter Isaacson's Elon Musk book exposes the deep roots of Musk’s right-wing politics. Here are the basic elements:

1.     A cruel dominating father (who Musk both hates and emulates)

2.     A pronounced lack of empathy (he considers empathy a weakness)

3.     A strict hierarchical worldview amplified by a messiah complex (Musk truly believes he is the savior of humanity)

Some people think Musk used to be liberal but suddenly pivoted. Nope. He sucked up to Democrats because they had power/money that he needed. It was self-interest. Once he had enough power and money, his true self emerged.

Here is some preliminary analysis of the ingredients of Musk’s strict father morality:

Strict Father Morality: As George Lakoff explains, conservative politics are rooted in the family metaphor of a strict father. Musk had a literal strict father who bullied and belittled his sons and taught them that force and power are more important than anything else.

In anecdote after anecdote, Isaacson shows how Elon reviles his father but also resembles him. The way he treats his employees, partners and anyone else who does not obey his authority ... He even uses the same cruel and degrading phrases his father used against him.

In a strict father family, the father has all the power and decides what is right and wrong. The job of everyone else is to obey his orders or face punishment. The definition of what is right or moral is whatever strict father says it is. It's personal and political patriarchy.

The strict father metaphor is deeply ingrained in Musk, and so naturally his true tendency is toward authoritarianism. Isaacson uses the word "authoritarian" to describe how Musk runs his businesses. That is not an accident. And that is how Musk would like to run the world(s).

Lack of Empathy: Musk sees empathy as a weakness. His friends and family almost uniformly say he lacks it. Studies show lower levels of empathy correlate to conservative political leanings. So Musk's empathy void suggests he may be hard-wired for Republican/authoritarian politics.

The Republican Party is overtly anti-empathy in both its policies and rhetoric. As Dr. Lakoff says, empathy is necessary for democracy because citizens care about other citizens and make decisions for a common good.

Hint: Musk's Mars colony won't be a democracy. (Not that he will ever get there)

Speaking of Mars ... why does a guy with a self-professed lack of empathy supposedly care so much about "saving humanity”? If you don't care about how other people feel, why is it your job to save all humanity from doom by making humans "interplanetary"?

Answer: Messiah Complex. Musk literally believes the fate of our species depends on him. He sees himself as the savior of humanity. Humans will only survive if he spirits a handful of people to Mars as the planet dies due to climate change/nuclear war/plague. He truly believes this and says it out loud.

Of course, this would mean Musk is the most important person on Earth — or in history. Which brings us to the next key component of authoritarianism: Hierarchy.

Musk is richest person in the world. He's also white, male, straight — the very top of traditional social hierarchy.

Imagine being all of those things, and also seeing yourself as the sole savior of humanity. You might start thinking that everything you do is right, and that no one has a right to question you or stand in your way. The authoritarianism inherent in this worldview is obvious.

This helps explain why Elon inserts himself into everything. The Thai cave rescue, the border crisis, Taiwan/China, Russia/Ukraine (remember his offer to fight Putin to decide the war?) He has no grasp of his own incompetence on the majority of subjects. He feels godlike.

While we are on the topic of insertion: The messiah/savior complex perhaps explains why he appears to be trying to inseminate as many women as possible with his sacred messiah seed. Note: Musk's kids seem lovely and brilliant. And they generally seem not to like him very much.

So you have a strict father would-be messiah, devoid of empathy, trying to singlehandedly both control and populate the world (and future world) while denouncing any "inferiors" who stand in his way.

You don't need a PhD in political science to see why Musk is a Republican.

More to come as I fully digest Isaacson’s book and analyze what it says about the world’s richest man, who seems hellbent on controlling the political discourse on this planet … as well as other planets.

Gil Duran is co-author of the FrameLab Newsletter.

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