There’s a certain musk in the air, an animal sends us signals—only our noses can help us here. Sweet perfume or offensive measures, skunk or sweetheart? Elon Musk’s latest tweet on the Ukraine war has caused outrage from NPCs—social conformists—so that Musk’s account has been besieged by “the walking dead”. Why is this so? After all—autistically—all Musk did was call for peace in the Ukraine.
The metasemiotic significance is so: the Ukraine—by extension the wider West who supports her—has Russia on the run in recent battles. When you have an opponent on the run you do not sue for peace, you push the advantage until they cry uncle. So for Musk to pop up and talk about a peace deal at this time constitutes a de facto pro-Russian statement—and that is why Medvedev, the former Russian premier, congratulated Musk in a tweet. Musk has been on the Ukraine’s side up to now—along with the entire Western military, political, and commercial elite—and concretely sent Starlink satellite systems to help the Ukraine. So what he has done, in a small way, since we are *technically* at war with Russia, constitutes “treason”; and that is why the Western and Ukrainian loyalists—their morale high after recent victories—have attacked Musk so strongly. In the process, they further helped Russia because their attacks make the West and the Ukraine look like bloodthirsty, irrational fanatics with no interest in peace.
War is primarily psychological, so Musk has struck a significant blow for Russia. In war, you want to unite your side and disrupt the enemy’s unity—Western elites previously looked united over the Ukraine; now a leader has expressed doubts about the war, others will come forward (most people being natural cowards, I’m afraid—myself included). Musk signifies the entire Western techno-industrial sector: in the 1990s, it was Bill Gates and Microsoft; in the 2000s, it was Steve Jobs and Apple; in the 2010s it has been Elon Musk and Tesla—someone has to be the figurehead for a sector, Musk is the figurehead for techno-industry. So what he says, even in a tweet, matters; it signals an elite defection from the consensus—makes the industry, the wider population, doubt the whole war’s wisdom. So, psychologically, a significant blow for Russia.
Musk’s persona is that he is a somewhat *autistic* engineer who puts his foot in it because he does not fully understand the social game—and yet, being an autistic genius, it is his prerogative to do so (“the mad inventor” archetype—tolerated, even under very repressive regimes, because his intellectual brilliance brings home the bacon; hence he may say what others never dare without sanction). Actually, I doubt Musk is fully autistic, he is too socially adroit for that—although he may be, as they say, “on the spectrum”. Now, people who are “fully autistic” can be socially competent because they model other minds and then work back rationally to understand what other people feel and how they will react. Yet Musk’s reactions seem too genuine for that (or does this call for a Turing test?).
Anyway, Musk’s rhetorical strategy with this tweet was to play “agreeable peacemaker”. A true autist might have sat, flatly, “I’ve thought about it and the war should stop now” or “I’ve thought about it and we should not support the Ukraine.” (autistically using the definite article which has been dropped for social pressure reasons). However, Musk is probably an agreeable guy—a likeable friendly guy with his fluffy doge, whom he resembles—and he does not want to present as aggressive or even “weird”; so he is not the ruthless tough disagreeable genius-engineer who pushes on “no matter what you think”. Hence he presents himself in this tweet as “reasonable friendly peacemaker”—not socially unacceptable; really, the people who scream at him that he must back the Ukraine “or else” look like bloodthirsty fanatics. Of course, metasemiotically he made a point that helps Russia—and he knows that really.
Why did he do that when he previously helped the Ukraine? Perhaps he read an article that changed his mind about the conflict, but not so much that he would damage his own interests by overt support for Russia (there would Western regime sanctions against his interests)—or perhaps he just feels more sympathy for the Russian perspective than he did and less certainty the Ukraine is totally correct. The fact that Musk had previously “invested” in the Ukraine with Starlink makes the tweet more damaging because it is akin to an investor in a company suddenly saying, “I think we need pull back the sales forecasts for next year—Hyperlink Systems is too ambitious in EMEA.” This makes investors nervous—frightens the hoes, as we say technically.
Anyway, Musk knows how to pitch himself socially so as not to look like “the asshole”—in fact, the people who swarm attack him look like assholes. This shows advanced social intelligence; he is the lone courageous voice for reason and peace, a positive archetype. Perhaps Musk is not so much the “autistic engineer” as, per Donald Trump, the showman-entrepreneur; perhaps he plays the autistic engineer—the genius inventor persona. Silicon Valley is just like the boy band business—you have to know how to hype (not an autistic engineer skill).
Musk certainly knows how to hype. Indeed, from a personal brand perspective this recent outburst helps him—to say something “outrageous” is “typical Musk”, his supposedly irrational countersignals on Twitter (often involving sacred stock prices) only build “the Musk legend” (there goes Elon again); and so his “outrageous” behaviour contributes to his business success—even when counterintuitively his pronouncements send his stonks wild (not a greedy businessman, just an autistic engineer).
Anyway, you can tell he had a big effect because the Ukraine’s showbiz prez, Zelensky, was right on Twitter with his own counter-poll (effectively, who do you love more—Zelensky or Musk?)—and that shows the Ukrainians are actually very very frightened about any decrease in Western support (as they should be, they are only winning thanks to generous Western military aid). Aside from that, Zelensky the showman is a neurotic narcissist—so Musk’s tweet sent him into anxious conniptions.
Meanwhile, in other musky news, Kanye West decided to mock Black Lives Matter on Instagram and to trail “White Lives Matter” hoodies. If he had done it when the Floyd riots were in progress two years ago, it would have been significant; as it stands, his gesture—as a black man he is slightly insured in this respect—barely registers: the Ukraine War is where it is *at* for regime loyalists today. If West appeared with a hoody range that featured the Russian tricolour and mocked Prez Zelensky on Instagram, we could say he was a brave social non-conformist. However, he waited until it was safe to pop up.
Worse than West is General Petraeus: he announced that the NATO response to a Russian tactical nuke strike in the Ukraine would be to sink the Black Sea fleet and target all Russian assets in the Ukraine. I’m not sure what the objective is behind this statement, since it makes it more likely Russia will use nuclear weapons. By making the West’s response unambiguous the Russians can weigh up whether a nuclear strike is “worth it”—they can make a calculation relative to ground conditions and whether it is worth their while to lose the Black Sea fleet.
If the US kept the response ambiguous, keeping a nuclear response on the table, there would have been a stronger deterrent against a Russian nuclear attack. Ambiguity is power, power deters. There may be a calculated agenda behind this statement; however, given his unsuccessful military career, it is also possible that Petraeus is just incompetent—General “betray-us”, with his COIN strategies—and that he doesn’t realise this statement makes it more likely Russia will use nuclear weapons. As usual, the air is heavy with…musk.