The purchase of Twitter by Elon Musk should be a cause for concern for all of us. We have seen what the ownership by one person of Facebook, another social media platform, does to the flavor of presentation to its customers. When just one person owns such a platform, he is much less accountable to both the workers and the customers than he would be if he was one of a group of people, which probably wouldn’t allow him to have such absolute control over the company. One person ownership of a social media platform can be potentially used for an increase of anti-democratic communication. With the vacuumized backdrop of the computer and its two-dimensional screen, the most explosive controversial expressions are made more easily absorbable, the most heretical outrageous statements are made more acceptable as people are numbed by the smooth passage of these ideas to their brains where they break away from the vacuumized messaging and become fiery violent weapons that are then used against trumped-up (pun intended) enemies. And in this way people can pull themselves out of their numbness, if only for intermittent moments.
Musk says he wants to open up Twitter and make it truly democratic. Translated that means people like Trump – the populist authoritarians – can use it as a bully pulpit to express all their sick conspiratorial ideas. The Republicans, in general, are delighted with Musk’s takeover of Twitter. Freedom to them means freedom to express falsehoods that support their philosophy. Ideas like vaccines and masks are unnecessary to protect people. Climate change is a myth. And let’s not forget the notion that the last presidential election in the United States was stolen by the Democrats. This in the face of all the recounts that showed no evidence of election tampering.
To Musk, this is real freedom. All the extremists will love him. Of course, Musk himself will be able to say whatever he wants to in order to support whatever questionable actions he wants to engage in. Musk will fill the experiential vacuum in which he lives with all the outrageous abrasive stimulation that his brain generates. And many people will love his thinking so much, because it is so abrasive. They will merge with his thinking just like they merge with Trump. Although in the case of Musk, he is offering a potential whole platform filled with many different abrasive thinkers apart from himself. Under his watchful eye, all the scum in the universe will be able to express itself. All the white nationalists, all the anti-science people, all the people who will use democracy in order to tear down and destroy democracy.
The great irony, of course, is that all the backward-thinking people will flock to a more free and open Twitter under the ownership of a man whose two previous outstanding companies represent the forward edge of scientific research. Tesla is a company that focuses on the application of clean renewable energy to various areas of life. The primary area of focus is that of electric cars.
Then there is SpaceX, a company which is dedicated to interplanetary exploration and settlement. We recently witnessed a trip that carried astronauts to and from the International Space Station at a time when the American government itself has not been making such trips.
What could be more forward-looking than applications of clean energy and space travel? And yet all the anti-science conservatives are applauding Musk’s takeover of Twitter, because he is going to transform it into a platform where there will be no restrictions on what is said on it. Twitter will become a true vacuum and tension-pocket environment fully reflective of the vacuum and tension-pocket environment in which people live today. People will be able to hurl whatever outrageous verbal zingers they want to without facing any social consequences for the harm they may cause different individuals and groups of people. Be prepared for the equivalent of many false shout-outs of “Fire!” in crowded movie theaters.
So anyway, how is it that Musk can create businesses based on forward-looking scientific ideas and, at the same time, take over a social media platform that will draw many people out of their dormancy so that they can express their anti-scientific ideas. What is the one entity that enters into the daily lives of most of us and transcends contradictions? I’m talking about God. Isn’t it true that in sporting competitions, each competitor thinks that God is on his side? And in wars, isn’t it true that each side thinks that God is with them? So, taking over Twitter gives the world’s wealthiest man the opportunity to embrace all sides in a conflict and play God. The opportunity to fill the empty experiential vacuum in which we all live with a certain vacuumized presentation of himself as God. Maybe it’s not such a bad deal: forty four billion dollars for the opportunity to become God. One could do much worse.
© 2022 Laurence Mesirow