Elon Musk’s quest to repopulate the Earth
More kids, more Twitter spats, and more free speech questions
Elon Musk’s pinned tweet is from May. It’s a chart from The Wall Street Journal showing that the US fertility rate has been below the “replacement level” since the 1970s. “USA birth rate has been below min sustainable levels for ~50 years,” was Musk’s contribution to the tweet. He’s been talking about population decline for years, actually. He’s even talked about it as one of the greatest issues facing humanity, and his solution is simple: have more kids, everybody!
Say this for Musk: dude practices what he preaches. Insider reported this week that Musk had twins last November with Shivon Zilis, a star in the AI world, a longtime colleague of Musk’s at OpenAI and Tesla, and a current executive at Neuralink. The twins came to be in the news this week because of an April filing in Texas to change their last name to Musk. They were born in late November, a few weeks before Musk and Grimes had their second kid. (In case you’re counting, that’s now nine known kids in the Musk clan.)
Musk hasn’t technically confirmed the story, but… he kinda confirmed the story? “Doing my best to help the underpopulation crisis,” he tweeted on Thursday morning. “A collapsing birth rate is the biggest danger civilization faces by far.” He also tweeted about wanting to build “a highly configurable Robovan for people & cargo,” and now I have a lot of questions and theories about what a self-driving Tesla minivan might be like. But we’ll save those for another day.
There’s been a lot of talk about the Musk family over the last couple of weeks. Musk’s daughter Vivian changed her last name to Wilson earlier this year, saying “I no longer live with or wish to be related to my biological father in any way, shape or form.” The publication of that change — and the reason for it — coincided with a rare quiet period from Musk on Twitter. (To be clear, there’s no evidence those two things are related, but the timing is definitely notable.)
There’s obviously nothing wrong with having lots of kids, and we’re not here to litigate Musk’s romantic arrangements. But you just can’t hear about all this without also thinking about Musk’s other conduct within his companies — which goes beyond just secretly having kids with one of your employees. We’ve covered this extensively here at This Week in Elon, but there are the allegations that SpaceX paid $250,000 to prevent a flight attendant from speaking up after Musk exposed himself and propositioned her for sex (which he has loudly denied). And there are also the long-standing reports of cultures of sexual harassment within both SpaceX and Tesla. These are not isolated incidents or simple misunderstandings. This is just how Musk operates — and how his companies operate by extension.
In an open letter to SpaceX leadership last month, a group of employees asked for, among other things, “safe avenues for reporting” and to “uphold clear repercussions for all unacceptable behavior, whether from the CEO or an employee starting their first day.” The message from inside Musk’s companies has been both loud and clear: there need to be rules, and those rules need to be enforced equally and forcefully no matter your job title. There’s still exactly zero evidence that Musk plays by the rules, acknowledges those rules, or even allows rules to exist in the first place. Musk does as Musk wants — all the time, everywhere. And if you speak out? You get fired, as a number of the letter writers did.
Anyway, in other news… Musk spent the week talking about his love for socks, stealing memes about the Fourth of July and 7-Eleven, taking a few of his kids to see the pope and marking the moment with a photo that looks like everyone was photoshopped into, and making the case that getting to Mars could be a uniting force in the same way that getting to the Moon once was. He’s even back to pumping Dogecoin, though it turns out not even Musk can save the crashing prices of crypto.
The Washington Post reported that Musk’s Twitter acquisition may be falling apart but didn’t provide any reason why other than “Elon is still mad about bots.” Meanwhile, Twitter continues to go out of its way to say it does not have a bot problem. As ever, you should assume the deal is still happening until proven otherwise and that Musk is going to try everything he can to get a lower price.
We also got a couple of small hints this week about how a Musk-owned Twitter might work. When Alex Berenson announced he’d been reinstated to Twitter, Musk asked what Berenson meant by the phrase “the pressures that the government may have placed on Twitter to suspend my account.” He also responded to a year-old Glenn Greenwald thread about social media censorship and free speech by calling it “troubling …” Musk has made himself out to be something of a free speech absolutist and takes issue with the idea of social platforms stifling anyone’s voices.
Which makes it weird, really, that he seemed to have no thoughts about what happened in India this week. The Indian government has been tightening its rules for online speech and demanded Twitter remove certain accounts and posts for violating its new laws. Twitter complied just before the government-imposed deadline but also sued the Indian government in the hopes of getting judicial protection from such orders in the future.
We’ve been saying for a while that Musk’s whole “I love free speech no matter what but also follow the rules of governments” thing was never going to actually work in the real world. He doesn’t even own Twitter yet, and here we are! While he’s commiserating with people who feel canceled over their bad tweets, free speech and government oversight are coming into direct conflict in one of the world’s largest countries, and Musk says nothing. Which is roughly what we’ve come to expect when it comes to these hard decisions.
The thing with Musk is that, in his mind, the ends always justify the means. Always. He has these big goals — make gas cars obsolete, get to Mars, fix traffic, understand the human brain, on and on — and has proven he doesn’t particularly care what it takes to accomplish them. Sometimes that means telling your employees to be okay with grueling stints at work; sometimes it means yelling at them to come back to the office or quit; and sometimes it means forcing them to tolerate a sexist, discriminatory work culture in the name of getting the job done faster. He runs his companies seemingly by the seat of his pants because he just doesn’t care about it — only the end results matter.
And, as ever, the one thing Musk seems to know for sure is that he can always just tweet through the short-term stuff. With every scandal, it becomes a little more obvious why he sees Twitter as so valuable: it’s an unparalleled narrative-control machine with which he can tell 100 million people at a time that everything’s a lie or a joke or not as big a deal as you think or irrelevant because all we should care about is Mars. Twitter is, to borrow a phrase from Apple, Musk’s reality distortion field. And for that, $44 billion is a bargain.