The Best Thing We’ve Had Since Thomas Edison

By Tomiwa Adeyemo, Staff Writer

You may have heard of him before. An astrophysicist, author and “science communicator”, Neil deGrasse Tyson is the public face of American science and arguably one of the smartest men alive. He has also been credited for inspiring and encouraging a generation of children and teenagers to be interested in science. In his new book Accessory to War, Tyson and co-author Avis Lang, “explore the centuries-old relationship between science and military power, and examine how the methods and tools of astrophysics have been enlisted in the service of war.” Neil deGrasse Tyson’s reputation speaks for itself and he is not a man known for exaggerations. Therefore, it is for that reason that when he calls someone “the best thing we’ve had since Thomas Edison”, I believe its important we pay attention to such high praise, at the very least to evaluate and see if it is warranted. And the lucky individual to earn this praise? None other than the one and only, eccentric billionaire Elon Musk.

Courtesy of CNBC.com

Musk has been in the news a lot lately and not for positive reasons. On August 7, Musk tweeted about taking his electric car company, Tesla, private, stating that he had secured funding for the plan. His tweet sparked speculation on Wall Street, a rise in the stock price and an investigation by the SEC (Securities Exchange Commission). That investigation recently concluded that the statement Musk had made in his tweet had been both false and misleading, two things against the SEC rules which prohibit making a false material statement or not giving enough context. Musk and the SEC came to an agreement where he was required to step-down as Tesla chairman and pay a $20M fine, a slap on the wrist to a man who’s worth a billion dollars twenty times over.  In an even more confusing and boneheaded move, Musk then tweeted about the SEC, attacking the agency he had just reached a settlement with by calling them the “Short seller Enrichment Commission.”

Those of us who admire Musk and believe in what he hopes to accomplish, groaned and scratched our heads at this sequence of actions. While I can’t speak to his exact state of mind during them (there have been reports Musk barely sleeps and relies on Ambien to keep himself awake), I believe I may be able to explain his frustrations. You see, Musk is, among other things, a visionary entrepreneur, and this inherently means his marriage to Wall Street was bound to be uneasy from the start. This is because visionaries tend to think in the long term, in contrast with the financial analysts on Wall Street who are generally more focused on the short term in order to make investors money as quickly as possible. Looking at Musk’s actions through this lens could help explain why he has dismissed the questions of respected Wall Street analysts as “boring”, and repeatedly tweets things that send Tesla’s stock bouncing like a yo-yo. Yet another example is the ill-advised and defamatory tweet calling the British diver that played a key role in the Thailand cave rescue a pedophile.

Musk takes a puff on the JRE podcast. Courtesy of NY Mag

Some may be quick to point out that my defense of Musk is simply an excuse, and that’s true to an extent. No one should be immune from the consequences of their actions, and Musk definitely should be held accountable for his. My point so far is just that there is an arguably valid explanation for Musk’s behavior, and I believe that’s a non-controversial statement to make. Wall Street analysts routinely bend the will of companies toward short term-oriented decision making, irrespective of those companies’ visions or long term goals. It’s the price paid for the ability to raise capital, and Musk resents having to play be these unspoken rules.

But this article isn’t just about providing a potential explanation of Musk’s recent behaviors. It’s also about touting the genius of the man himself. The simple, inalienable fact of the matter is that there are very few people (if any) like Musk on the planet. This is a man who taught himself rocket science by reading, wants to colonize mars, aims to accelerate the world’s transition to sustainable energy, and aims to offer eco-friendly electric cars at affordable prices to the average consumer. Elon Musk is a true genius, and a man who has the potential to revolutionize the 21st century through SpaceX, SolarCity and Tesla. And here comes the controversy: Musk is, in my opinion, already more revolutionary than Mark Zuckerberg, who created the largest social media platform that harvests an alarming amount of data from users. And he could be more revolutionary than Steve Jobs, who gave us a pocket-sized computer that we’re constantly and hopelessly glued to. He could be more revolutionary than Bill Gates, who redefined home computing through Microsoft. He inspired the way Robert Downey Jr. played Tony Stark for God’s sake. He is the real-life Iron Man without a suit. Musk could change the world. Hell, Musk will change the world.  He really is the best thing we’ve had since Thomas Edison so if he wants, let the man get high.

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