Monday, August 19, 2013

The Hyperloop is Elon Musk's Ticket to Olympus

    Okay, so, full disclosure: I really, really wish I was Elon Musk. I wish I was Elon Musk because the thing I spend the most time wondering about, out of all the things I spend time wondering about, is what the mass of ordinary human beings must look like to a person who is operating on a greater-than-global scale. I wonder about the kinds of questions you start asking yourself when you no longer have to ask "how am I going to pay all these bills?" I wonder what qualities a person has to possess to get to that rarefied zone. When Elon Musk crawls out of his diamond pit in the morning and hops aboard his private robo-pegasus to glide to work, do the blurry little dots scurrying along the streets below him look like people?

    Why am I asking these questions? Because Elon Musk just issued a challenge to the entire State of California, and I'm trying to fathom the endgame.


    California has been working up the gumption to build itself a bullet train for about five years now. It will cost tens of billions of dollars, and will be finished no sooner than 2028. A week ago, Musk proposed a solution that is not only cheaper than the proposed bullet train, but better in pretty much every conceivable way. His plan, in really stupidly simple terms, is to build a gigantic closed-circuit blowgun. Yeah, it sounds totally ridiculous, but that's mainly because I described it in a ridiculous way. The plan itself actually makes a lot of sense.

    Here's the actually puzzling part, at least to me. Musk went ahead and proposed this wild thing, even wrote up a 52-page technical document about it, but he's got no intention of lifting a finger to actually build it. Yes, people are constantly coming up with ways for the government to run itself better. But generally those people aren't silicone-valley billionares who bleed money and wipe their ass with gold-plated space shuttles. What I mean is, this guy has demonstrated, repeatedly, that he can come up with huge, ridiculous, world-changing ideas, and then get people to fund them for him. And he's just putting this one out there.

    What's puzzling to me is not that he's doing this. What's puzzling is trying to figure out what the outcome will be. The political inertia in California - in any state or country, actually - is staggering. They're not going to stop this rail project overnight. And if Elon Musk - the guy who decided on a whim that he was going to start making better rocket ships than anyone who has ever made rocketships - isn't going to make it happen, then who is? Which I think is exactly the issue.

    If civilization survives another two thousand years, Elon Musk will persist as one of our era's gods, alongside Bill Gates and Michael Jackson and George Washington. Whenever a reporter starts off a story about him, one of the first things they mention is that at age 12 he sold a computer game for 500 dollars. And Mozart was giving concerts at ten, and George Washington chopped down a cherry tree around that age, and we all know about the Jackson 5. What I'm saying is, one of the requirements we have for tacking this kind of story onto a person is that they demonstrate how goddamn precocious they are from day one. Mythology is filled with examples of heroes who emerge from the womb fully-formed and ready to stomp ass. Once that piece of the story is established, we can start to put our new hero on a pedestal, and then it just snowballs.


    Elon Musk sold his first video game because he was clever. He sold PayPal for the same reason. But he got SpaceX and Tesla because he is Elon Musk. I'm not saying he isn't still clever. I'm just saying that his ideas at this point are crazy enough that the only person who could get funding for them is a person renowned for his crazy-assed ideas. He's a smart guy, obviously, but his main asset is the force of his personality. The force of his mythology.
 
    So now he's come up with another of his trademark utopian schemes, but he's playing it a little differently this time. Instead of persuading a bunch of rich folks to give him money for it, he's just putting it out there and seeing what happens. If this works - if someone picks up this idea and makes it happen - it'll signal a new stage in the deification of Elon Musk. It will mean that he has surpassed not only the need for money, not only the need for direct effort, but the need to even interact directly with humans in order to accomplish his plans. It's not impossible that he might achieve this. We do live, after all, in the age of Daedalus.

Cory O'Brien is a writer of many things, including mythology. His other blog is here, and you can buy his book here

[Take a Trip with us... Mythos Media.]

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