Let’s play a game of “Who Said It?”
In this episode, we’ll guess whether the speaker is the world’s erstwhile richest man, Elon Musk, or the clinical psychologist, turned self-help guru for angry men, turned Intellectual Dark Web right-wing culture war commentator Jordan Peterson.
1. “Many battles remain, but, yes, the tide is starting to turn on the mortal threat to civilization that is the woke mind virus.”
2. “It is far easier to destroy than to build. And the woke continue their destructive rampage.”
3. “We are displacing ourselves by allowing charlatans to wreck the intellectual standards of the Western world."
4. “Humor relies on an intuitive & often awkward truth being recognized by the audience, but wokism is a lie, which is why nobody laughs.”
5. “Dr. Fauci should spend Christmas alone. Encased in styrofoam and bubble wrap.”
6. “My pronouns are Prosecute/Fauci.”
The striking similarities in haughty pomposity and hysterical catastrophism make it tough to discern which man is the alpha-male-brain genius behind these pearls of wisdom. But if you’re keeping score at home, Musk said 1, 4, and 6, while Peterson said 2, 3, and 5.
The New York Times this past weekend published an analysis of Musk’s politics, playing the “it’s not so simple” card by noting (as Musk does often), that his politics are unconventional, that he voted for Biden, and that he’s “more spiritedly anti-left than ideologically pro-right.”
I understand the Times’ confusion, but the culture war isn’t about conventional politics (e.g. Republicans are the “party of business” and Democrats are the “party of labor”). In the culture war, partisans throw such loyalties (and often—as Republicans did during the Trump administration—the political principles they once claimed to hold) out the window.
Nothing matters so much as eviscerating the enemy (after all, “civilization” is at stake here).
Jordan Peterson has long claimed (without evidence) to be somewhere in between a liberal and a conservative. Last summer, he was suspended from Twitter after a meltdown that included him calling doctors who perform gender-affirming surgeries “criminals” and likening them to Nazis. Musk, after buying Twitter, freed Peterson from his exile.
Like Peterson, Musk is a right-wing culture warrior. Which is to say he is less interested in policy debates and cross-partisan outreach than he is in whipping up outrage and scoring online dunk points—all while disingenuously positioning himself as a “rational centrist” or somehow above all the partisan rancor.
After asking his followers last month, “What do you think of the culture war?”, Musk tweeted, “I am neither conventionally right nor left…The woke mind virus has thoroughly penetrated entertainment and is pushing civilization towards suicide. There needs to be a counter-narrative.”
When you believe one side of the culture war is “pushing civilization towards suicide,” does it really matter where you “conventionally” fit on a political scale? When you’re sharing conspiracy theories from a fake news website about the attack on Nancy Pelosi’s husband, who really cares how many times you’ve voted Democrat in the past? And when you’re making common cause and exchanging in friendly banter with notorious far-right trolls, what does that make you?
Musk has built a brand engaging substantively on issues like energy, climate, and space exploration. But for all his bluster about “civilization” at risk, he hasn’t shown an interest in coming up with better, “non-woke” solutions to social problems like racism or income inequality or rapidly-evolving gender identity norms. There’s no nuance, empathy for opponents, or fact-based inquiry—it’s just warlike rhetoric. And in war, the enemy must be dehumanized as irredeemably evil, no quarter can be given, and no dissent within the ranks may be brooked.
No war but culture war.
Musk has long been a troll (remember when he called a diver who participated in a rescue operation of stranded Thai kids kids a “pedo guy?”), but there’s no ironic detachment to what he’s been up to lately. He’s not engaged in the “reasoned debate” for which he claims to be providing a platform, and, contrary to his claims that he’s an equal opportunity offender, other than keeping Alex Jones banned and suspending Kanye West for embarrassing him with his swastika tweet, he’s done nothing to antagonize the right.
Let’s take his “Prosecute/Fauci” tweet. This one does double duty in mocking the convention of listing one’s pronouns (apparently a harbinger of the end of Western civilization) and virtue-signaling to the right that he believes Dr. Anthony Fauci literally murdered millions of people.
COVID health policies—from lockdowns to school closings to mask and vaccine mandates—should absolutely be scrutinized. There’s no question mistakes were made, just as we also know some decisions were made to appease political special interests.
A healthy society would encourage an honest examination of the uncertain, dangerous early days of the pandemic, and learn from the past to avoid making unnecessarily destructive decisions in the future. And yes, a good portion of the left and “mainstream media” have no interest in revisiting how or why authority figures made their decisions—lest a “blame game” be played. That’s both cowardly and an exercise in willful ignorance.
And yet, culture warriors like Musk are a major reason we’re not likely to have this post-COVID policy reckoning. He and his ilk insist on treating the whole thing like the Nuremberg Trials—while saying absolutely nothing about the far more draconian (and continuing) COVID lockdown policies in China (where Musk has many business interests requiring the approval of the Chinese Communist Party).
If you want to convince “the center” that Fauci must be brought to justice, is acting like a heavy-breathing psycho really the most persuasive way to do it?
But that’s the thing about having $44 billion—you can afford to live in your own fantasy land. Musk apparently does so, judging by his comments after he was lustily booed by a crowd that paid to see comedian Dave Chappelle, who’s become an anti-woke folk hero for standup rants that critics call transphobic.
“Technically, it was 90% cheers & 10% boos (except during quiet periods)... It’s almost as if I’ve offended SF’s unhinged leftists … but nahhh,” Musk said in a tweet (which, in a rare occurrence, he has since deleted).
Yes, the “own the libs” billionaire troll is his own Smithers—telling Mr. Burns that the booing crowd was actually cheering, “Boo-urns!”
Musk’s hard-right culture warrior turn is the apotheosis of the entire Intellectual Dark Web’s faux-centrist schtick, which for many of that movement translates roughly as: “I voted Democrat but the left got too woke, so now I giggle at fascists’ jokes, ramp up moral panics, and call for the imprisonment of my political enemies.”
Musk may mock the idea of self-identifying through preferred pronouns, but he’s free to label himself politically however he chooses.
That doesn’t mean we have to play along. He’s a culture warrior—and he’s chosen a side.