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Opinion

Will Elon Musk's Tony Stark Syndrome Ever End?

After a harrowing 18 days, all 12 members of the Wild Boars soccer team and their coach have been rescued from a flooded cave in Thailand. A medic and three Thailand Navy SEALS who stayed with the team throughout the terrifying ordeal also emerged safely, ending a dangerous rescue mission that left one experienced volunteer diver dead. And as the world watched the rescue efforts over a three-week period, one self-serving billionaire attempted to insert himself into the narrative.

On July 9, Elon Musk took to Twitter to share footage of a “kid-sized” submarine, writing, “Mini-sub is ready if needed. It is made of rocket parts & named Wild Boar after kids’ soccer team. Leaving here in case it may be useful in the future. Thailand is so beautiful.” On July 7, he tweeted he was receiving “good feedback from cave experts” and claimed he was “iterating with them on an escape pod design that might be safe enough to try.” He then followed his tweet with a series of videos highlighting his miniature sub, including the submarine going through narrow passages and undergoing a series of underwater tests in a Los Angeles pool.

But Narongsak Osatanakorn, rescue mission chief, said that although Musk’s technology is “good and sophisticated,” it wasn’t practical for the rescue mission. And after visiting the rescue site, according to The New York Post, Musk was “politely told the mini-submarine wouldn’t be of any use.”

This is where the story should end. However, it’s impossible to ignore the pattern Musk is guilty of perpetuating—one that has him inserting himself into an arguably tumultuous news cycle under the guise of “helper,” only to fall back on his empty promises or be of little-to-no actual use. Whether he’s putting his name behind flamethrowers (really?) or claiming his company can rebuild the power grid in Puerto Rico after it was ravaged by Hurricane Maria, attempting to remain relevant by any means necessary seems to be Musk’s ultimate M.O. His need to remain significant supersedes his supposed altruism.
It’s impossible to ignore the pattern Musk is guilty of perpetuating. His need to remain significant supersedes his supposed altruism.
Perhaps his intentions, on some level, are genuine. Musk did, in fact, send powerwall batteries and other Tesla solar power equipment to Puerto Rico. The company’s official Twitter account tweeted on Oct 24, 2017, “Hospital del Nino is the first of many solar+solar projects going live,” and, according to NPR, the company’s Instagram post of the solar array in the hospital’s parking lot was liked more than 84,000 times. But six months after Hurricane Maria, an estimated 150,000 homes and businesses were still waiting for electricity. Now Puerto Rican residents are preparing for hurricane season again, and with a reported 11,000 customers still without power. While it’s certainly not Musk’s responsibility to power the entire island, the constant grandstanding via social media makes his efforts seem self-serving. The bar by which we judge success is lowered because he simply offered to help, and what is, or more importantly, what isn’t, done pales in comparison to Musk and Tesla appearing to be self-sacrificing.

In fact, on Oct 6, 2017, Musk tweeted, “Tesla Semi unveil now Nov 16. Diverting resources to fix Model 3 bottlenecks & increase battery production for Puerto Rico & other affected areas,” followed by an admission that, due to his “humanitarian efforts,” he was deep in “production hell.” His efforts and the cost of them are always on full display… for all to marvel at and sympathize with.

If Musk truly wanted to help in disaster situations like the one Puerto Rico is still struggling to recover from, he would acknowledge that citizens in need—whether they’re victims of a massive hurricane or children huddled in a cave in Thailand—need better support via the government and sustainable social programs that can be consistently relied on. Puerto Rico didn’t need Musk to be its white savior, it needed the United States government to offer as much aid to Puerto Ricans as it did to the Texans impacted by Hurricane Harvey. The 12 members of the Wild Boars soccer team didn’t need Musk tweeting videos of his miniature submarine, they needed what they received: a rescue mission led and executed by professionals without the help of a billionaire outsider.

We, as a society that will often face challenging, devastating, and otherwise less-than-ideal circumstances, don’t need so-called tech gods—wannabe Tony Starks—tweeting from their billion dollar thrones. We need an increase in federal funding to social programs that help those in need every single day, a government willing to provide resources to marginalized people, and an expansion of humanitarian aid to countries that need it most.

Unless Musk is willing to tirelessly advocate for the aforementioned, and with as much verve and conviction as he touts his own benevolence, it’s time he put his Twitter proclamations to bed.

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