It’s an unpleasant thing to say, but it’s true: This world is divided into those who do and those who watch. Which is not to say that most of us don’t wind up falling into both of those categories depending on the situation: even Presidents have favorite television shows, and Gore Vidal apparently laid off the criticism long enough to clean his house from time to time. In general, however, it is usually possible to judge someone’s credibility, legitimacy, and even character by how much time they spend doing as opposed to watching.
Elon Musk spends most of his time doing. A simple list of his favorite side gigs make you wonder where he finds the time: flamethrowers, massive underground tunnels, a breathtakingly viable private space program with VTOL rockets. And then there’s the matter of his day job, which involves nothing more than the creation of the first viable large-scale independent American automobile company since, oh, the Second World War or thereabouts. You can call him a Bond villain, which is the proverbial praising with a faint damn, or you can call him a megalomaniac, which is the typical bomb lobbed at the confidently successful by the socially-awkward unaccomplished. But you cannot deny that he is out there Doing. Big. Things.
A hundred years ago, or even fifty years ago, Elon’s innovations and ideas would have spawned a flood of strong-willed competitors; look how many American men took Henry Ford’s success as both a personal insult and a spur to attempt great things of their own. In this modern, sickly, navel-gazing age, however, what’s happened instead is that a million mewling nonentities have re-imagined their pathetic lives as wriggling suckerfish clinging to the Great White Musk Shark, hungrily scarfing up bits of waste and detritus as they congratulate themselves for adding parasitic drag to the whole enterprise.
The cottage industry of Tesla critics labors mightily and occasionally produces a mouse. More often, however, they just produce “thinkpieces” and “hot takes” and Twitter snark, a bunch of sound and fury signifying absolutely nada. You can safely ignore everything they say. Unfortunately, the sheer volume of their idiocy is such that legitimate criticisms of Tesla and its product are often rendered inaudible by contrast.
Over the past week, Musk has indulged himself in a bit of a rant regarding the media, its role with regards to Tesla, and the general lack of esteem in which the American public holds the press nowadays. I don’t blame him. It can’t be easy to have created an electric-car company from scratch and developed the only internationally-viable American luxury automotive brand only to have a bunch of liberal-arts graduates babbling night and day about his supposed transgressions. I can imagine him staring at an RSS feed’s worth of vitriol and asking himself: “If what I’m doing is so bad, so fraudulent, so incompetent, why doesn’t anybody else do any better?” I’m reminded of Linus Torvalds, the creator of Linux, who once responded to a particularly angry critic with something along the lines of, “If you don’t like what I’m doing, you’re free to create your own completely free operating system; every time I’ve done that, it has worked for me.”
Unfortunately for Mr. Musk, his attempts to engage with the Twitterati have worked out more or less along the same lines as the proverbial wrestling with a pig: you both get muddy, and only the pig enjoys it. We used to think that an infinite number of monkeys on keyboards would produce the works of Shakespeare, but thanks to Twitter we know that we only get the blurst of times. Just as a dozen hyenas can kill a lion, even a certified genius will eventually find himself inadequate to fight off an endless number of part-time service-industry employees who spend the rest of their lives yammering about the flaws of other people.
Elon, and Tesla, should not be exempt from criticism. But the noise is drowning out the signal. So I’ve made a personal choice. I’m no longer paying any attention to any Tesla-related media that doesn’t contain measured analysis from qualified personnel. If you want to show me the documented flaws in a wiring harness, or discuss the measured reduction of a battery pack’s capacity, I’ll listen. If you have expertise in factory safety and you can show what Tesla could do better, I’m all ears. If you are a trained, competition-experienced driver who wants to comment on the Model 3’s dynamic flaws, I’ll watch your YouTube video when I have time to do so.
On the other hand, if you’ve never worked in the auto business and you’ve never run a factory and you’ve never done so much as program an Arduino to make an LED blink, I’m going to mute you and your ignorance when it comes to Tesla. I’ll put my faith in Elon instead. He built a car; you can’t get through 140 characters without a misspelling. He made a rocket land on a barge; you haven’t cleaned your room this year. He dates supermodels; you’re parroting feminist doctrine in your Bumble profile. This is not a difficult choice to make.
Many years ago, Teddy Roosevelt gave a speech to the Europeans which we primarily remember for a single paragraph. It has been misquoted and misused and even unequally yoked to a embarrassing advertising campaign for some subpar luxury cars, but I’m going to reproduce it in full because I think it applies more to Elon Musk than it does to almost anybody else. Godspeed, Sir, and good luck.
It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat.