Ronan Farrow’s profile of Elon Musk dropped today, and there’s a lot to chew on. For example, one of recent history’s more intriguing counterfactuals:
Perhaps the most revealing moment in the PayPal saga happened at its outset. In March, 2000, as the merger was under way, Musk was driving his new McLaren, with Thiel in the passenger seat. The two were on Sand Hill Road, an artery that cuts through Silicon Valley. Thiel asked Musk, “So what can this do?” Musk replied, “Watch this,” then floored the gas pedal, hit an embankment, and sent the car airborne and spinning before it slammed back onto the pavement, blowing out its suspension and its windows. “This isn’t insured,” Musk told Thiel. Musk’s critics have used the story to illustrate his reckless showboating, but it also underscores how often Musk has been rewarded for that behavior: he repaired the McLaren, drove it for several more years, then reportedly sold it at a profit. Musk delights in telling the story, lingering on the risk to his life. In one interview, asked whether there were parallels with his approach to building companies, Musk said, “I hope not.” Appearing to consider the idea, he added, “Watch this. Yeah, that could be awkward with a rocket launch.”
Since he already bought a million-dollar car, his mid-life crisis is not only ugly but dangerous given the positions he holds:
Some of Musk’s associates connected his erratic behavior to efforts to self-medicate. Musk, who says he now spends much of his time in a modest house in the wetlands of South Texas, near a SpaceX facility, confessed, in an interview last year, “I feel quite lonely.” He has said that his career consists of “great highs, terrible lows and unrelenting stress.” One close colleague told me, “His life just sucks. It’s so stressful. He’s just so dedicated to these companies. He goes to sleep and wakes up answering e-mails. Ninety-nine per cent of people will never know someone that obsessed, and with that high a tolerance for sacrifice in their personal life.”
In 2018, the Times reported that members of the Tesla board had grown concerned about Musk’s use of the prescription sleep aid Ambien, which can cause hallucinations. The Wall Street Journal reported earlier this year that he uses ketamine, which has gained popularity both as a depression treatment and as a party drug, and several people familiar with his habits have confirmed this. Musk, who smoked pot on Joe Rogan’s podcast, prompting a nasa safety review of SpaceX, has, perhaps understandably, declined to comment on the reporting that he uses ketamine, but he has not disputed it. “Zombifying people with SSRIs for sure happens way too much,” he tweeted, referring to selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors, another category of depression treatment. “From what I’ve seen with friends, ketamine taken occasionally is a better option.” Associates suggested that Musk’s use has escalated in recent years, and that the drug, alongside his isolation and his increasingly embattled relationship with the press, might contribute to his tendency to make chaotic and impulsive statements and decisions. Amit Anand, a leading ketamine researcher, told me that it can contribute to unpredictable behavior. “A little bit of ketamine has an effect similar to alcohol. It can cause disinhibition, where you do and say things you otherwise would not,” he said. “At higher doses, it has another effect, which is dissociation: you feel detached from your body and surroundings.” He added, “You can feel grandiose and like you have special powers or special talents. People do impulsive things, they could do inadvisable things at work. The impact depends on the kind of work. For a librarian, there’s less risk. If you’re a pilot, it can cause big problems.”
In addition, this is the kind of decision-making that winds up with getting you owned by Cat Turd Two.
The most disturbing stuff in the article is about Musk using his satellite communications monopoly to extort Ukraine, but I assume Rob may want to write about that separately.