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Elon Musk is everywhere.
Let’s start with his company Neuralink and its pending human cybernetic implantation that has the potential of restoring full body movement to a paralyzed person.
We all have watched Space X launch thousands of Starlink satellites and provide America’s most powerful rockets. His “Occupy Mars” tee shirt says it all.
And we see Teslas on the road, everywhere.
His takeover of Twitter and its conversion to “X” is a new and powerful entry into the social media marketplace.
It’s no surprise that he owns an AI company, xAI.
A bit more surprising is his ownership of an underground tunnel construction company, “The Boring Company.” Evolutions from Hyperloop proposals for high-speed underground transportation seem to have occurred.
Two more recent developments regarding Mr. Musk are potentially intriguing. The first is the Justice Department investigation of him and the potential of criminal charges regarding the alleged use of Tesla resources for a house for him, as reported in the Wall Street Journal last Wednesday. As political intrigue goes, in light of his relatively recent revelation that he is a Republican, this story may be worth following over the course of the forthcoming political season of 2024.
The second Musk-related development is even more potentially intriguing to me and has AI, free speech, religious and international political implications. I write of the recent meeting at a Tesla plant in California between Israel Prime Minister Netanyahu and Mr. Musk. On one level the meeting had to do with accusations against Mr. Musk concerning permitting antisemitism on Musk’s “X” platform. The underlying tone of the coverage in separate articles last Monday in The Washington Post and The New York Times was that Musk “sidestepped” Netanyahu’s call for Musk to denounce antisemitism. Interestingly, in The Washington Post article, Netanyahu was quoted as asking Musk, ‘I hope you can find within the confines of the First Amendment the ability to stop… [antisemitism].’ That article further noted that, “Musk told Netanyahu that, while he’s personally against antisemitism, ‘free speech does at times mean that someone you don’t like is saying something you don’t like. If you don’t have that, then it’s not free speech.”
Wow! Both the balance in Netanyahu’s question, and the forceful defense of the First Amendment in Musk’s reply, are powerful lessons for those who seem incapable of recognizing that one can be both balanced, and also forceful, in one’s convictions.
I point as a prime example the pending fight in Congress over funding for Ukraine in its war with Russia. There seems a forceful, yet balanced, possible way forward.
As Ukraine’s President Zelensky was quoted in the most recent “The Economist” as saying, “I have to be ready, my team has to be ready for the long war, and emotionally I am ready.” That is essentially the question for us as well. Do we have the intestinal fortitude as both individuals and as a country to stay the course?
Yet, do we also recognize that our country has fought several wars for longer than we should have — Vietnam and Afghanistan being prime examples. Do we also have the wisdom to recognize that a zealous freedom fighter with impressive public presence has captivated a country where the vast majority of its citizens are generations away from having to literally fight with guns for their freedom? I applaud Zelensky as an international hero but recognize the need for caution.
On the “applaud” side, I see Ukraine as a national test for us as both a world power and as a country and a people willing to sacrifice. Previous generations not only claimed to be free, but they also fought for it, especially in World War II.
Even if the war in Ukraine was only about Ukrainian freedom and stopping Putin’s Russia and his territorial ambitions, and NATO’s solidity was not in question, it would be worthwhile. However, it’s way more than that. Taiwan is nervous. Dictator XI awaits. As the Director of the International Security Program at the Center for Strategic and International Studies wrote in the Wall Street Journal on September 16th, “A long-term commitment that weakens Russia and helps Ukraine stand up to tyranny will strengthen deterrence in Asia and reassure Japan, South Korea and Australia that America is still a dominant world power and a trusted partner.”
On the “cautious” side, I see the need for extensive oversight and accountability. While Ukraine needs to have the military equipment it requires, and have it sooner rather than later, we cannot write a blank check and keep writing them forever.
To me the key is frequent and stringent accountability to our Administration and Congress in secret sessions, while providing Ukraine what it needs to win.
That’s like seeking the Netanyahu/Musk repartee, supporting free speech while avoiding hate. Said another, familiar, way: “Trust, but verify!”
Contact Larry Little at firstname.lastname@example.org.
This article originally appeared on Kitsap Sun: How Elon Musk's interests are loaded with social implications