Ethics Dunce: Elon Musk

I’ve never seen this before: the Ethics Alarms Ethics Hero of the Year making an Ethics Dunce of himself the same month I awarded him the honor. Depressing. Not entirely surprising in Elon Musk’s case, but depressing.

In the catalyzing development, Kanje West (or “Ye”) has set out to also make Ethics Alarms look foolish by awarding Donald Trump its 2022 “Asshole of the Year” award. West, who is disqualified from that distinction because he is clearly mentally ill, decided to visit Alex Jones and babble on about how much he liked Hitler, who had done some “good things.” Being roundly condemned for this revolting opinion wasn’t enough for the allegedly genius rapper: he then posted the design above on his recently restored Twitter account, a Nazi swastika entwined with the Star of Israel.

Quick like a bunny, Musk tweeted,

“I tried my best. Despite that, he again violated our rule against incitement to violence. Account will be suspended.”

I assume that Musk’s reaction was impulsive, because he constantly is impulsive. However, he had stated that he is a free-speech absolutist within reasonable parameters, and condemned the arbitrary, left-biased moderation policies of the previous Twitter regime. He did not “try his best”; Musk’s principles broke down the first time they were seriously challenged. West did not violate the rule against incitement to violence; in fact, I would not be surprised if he posted the ambiguous symbol to see if Musk could control himself.What violence was Ye inciting? Who seriously thinks that anything Kanye West says will cause anyone not in a strait jacket to do anything? Donald Trump lost his account because he was, sorta is still, a national leader, and his statements could conceivably spark violence. What does the Twitter policy even mean? The most likely violence West’s tweet might incite is violence against West. Does that count? It shouldn’t count. President Biden’s speech calling MAGA supporters fascists was more likely to incite violence than West’s provocative symbol.

With this single act, Elon Musk rendered his 40 billion dollar free speech mission incoherent. Does he comprehend the term integrity? Suspending West for his tweet contradicts everything he has been arguing. At this moment, there is no Twitter standard for acceptable speech; it’s just whatever Big Brother Elon chooses to tolerate. This is no different from the Jack Dorsey “standard.”

Musk also does not have a clear understanding of responsibility. His effort to reform Twitter is important to our democracy, politics and culture. He can’t afford to make arbitrary decisions just because he can. He’s permitted a mistake or two, but Musk has failed his first major test. More ominous still, he has shown that he doesn’t comprehend the basic ethical principles that have to guide him if he is to have any chance of succeeding.

Footnote 1: It is also notable that I had to track down what it was that West posted at the Times of Israel. I couldn’t find the graphic on any major news source. In Musk’s defense, the mainstream media is as ethically muddled as he is. More.

Footnote 2: If I tried to link this post on Facebook, Ethics Alarms would be banned again, like it was when I defended Fred Astaire’s use of blackface make-up in “Top Hat.” Who knows what would happen if I posted it on Twitter?

12 thoughts on “Ethics Dunce: Elon Musk

  1. On numerous occasions I have stated here and elsewhere that by ignoring these narcissistic crackpots they will fade into oblivion.
    By elevating their antics into to public discourse we unwittingly give them the energy and attention necessary for the continuation of their behavioral antics.
    Musk should have just let it go but instead he advanced the meme by drawing attention to it. Learn from Skokie people or will grow a new crop of nut jobs seeking attention

  2. I don’t trust Musk at all. First, let’s not forget he’s a fan of transhumanism and apparently is starting testing on humans soon for his brain chip “technology.”

    The other thing is he seems incredibly unstable and erratic. His most recent decisions regarding Trump and West demonstrate that.

    Those on the right are fooling themselves if they think Musk is some hero bucking against leftist censorship. He’s just a dude with more money than sense and he will not save us. I say get the heck off Twitter and save your self.

  3. … West … decided to visit Alex Jones and babble on about how much he liked Hitler, who had done some “good things.” Being roundly condemned for this revolting opinion …

    There is nothing to condemn in the opinion as expressed above (which happens to be factually correct, irrelevant though it is to other aspects of Hitler). Condemn the worst of the life work of Hitler by all means, on its merits, but give the devil his due and do not deny his range and variety because of your overall assessment. That way condemning “hate” lies, and all that flows from that. In short, once you mark that as “revolting” you open the door to all that Musk fell into.

    • Courageous point to make, as politically incorrect as can be. West, however, doesn’t have the education or sophistication to make that point safely or accurately, or with sufficient context. So he said, “I don’t like the word ‘evil’ next to Nazis”…”CNN says white people are evil Nazis. I like Hitler. I love Jewish people, but I also love Nazis,” and, “I see good things about Hitler,” then claimed he invented highways. (The Autobahn was built on his watch—Good thing!—but he didn’t invent highways.) And a context that praises Hitler’s good things that concludes with “I like Hitler” and “I love Nazis” is revolting, just as, “Sure he killed 6 million human beings and started a World War, but he pulled Germany out of depression and restored national pride!” just doesn’t pass the “yecchhh” test.

      • … So he said, “I don’t like the word ‘evil’ next to Nazis”…”CNN says white people are evil Nazis. I like Hitler. I love Jewish people, but I also love Nazis,” and, “I see good things about Hitler,” then claimed he invented highways. (The Autobahn was built on his watch—Good thing!—but he didn’t invent highways.) And a context that praises Hitler’s good things that concludes with “I like Hitler” and “I love Nazis” is revolting, just as, “Sure he killed 6 million human beings and started a World War, but he pulled Germany out of depression and restored national pride!” just doesn’t pass the “yecchhh” test.

        I have just seen the limited excerpt of that interview that was shown on Australian TV. Without context, I cannot say whether his whole conversation was or was not, shall we say, triggering, but I can tell you that none of that triggers me in isolation, and nor does your final example; it is not, as you may suppose, at all definitive about that.

        Those remarks of Kanye’s would make complete sense if echoing Christian teaching. They are incompatible with Jewish teaching, though, as that traditionally continues to abominate Haman and the Amalekites before him, blaming him on them (talk about blood guilt!) on a regular basis*. If this is what Kanye was getting at, as best he could, it would make sense as “love the sinner, not the sin”.

        Your final example is not wrong in and of itself (or how could you even have used it in an attempt at illustration?). If used as part of an attempt at a general extenuation of Hitler, that attempt would qualify as wrong, but not that part of its support. However, that example could also be used constructively, as part of exploring what happened and how, the better to understand the history and draw warnings from it for the future; there would be absolutely nothing wrong in that. With that, you might well follow it up with something like “and that shows that we have to be very careful about framing our criteria about what is or is not good policy”. Would that left wing policy advocates had approached their calling with the due humility that they could have learned from those who came before them. Instead, they tune out the connection the Nazis had to anything else.

        You might want to revisit your views on “ick factor” as part of judging ethics. It does have a bearing on that.

        * The Cochin Jews bypassed the Babylonian Captivity, so they did not pass down this tradition.

  4. I sent a tweet to Elon regarding offensive speech by quoting Voltair; paraphrasing “I disapprove of what you say, but will fight to the death to defend your right to say it.”
    I have no idea what Kanye West said to get him put in Twitter jail, but I haven’t heard anything close to incitement. Mr West is mentally ill and had refused treatment which may have contributed to his antisemitic tweets, but since Musk took them down, I may never know.
    Antisemitism is bad, as is any racism. Unless Mr West is advocating violence, and I can’t find anyone making a claim that his tweets advocated violence. I don’t think Twitter jail is a good move for the company.
    It might be the best thing that Mr Musk could do for Mr West, but there are other platforms that will host him; his appearance on Infowars was both absurd and sad. He didn’t ask for violence, but as cited by Mr Marshall, he engaged in antisemitism and praise for Hitler.
    Musk’s banning of Mr West was just more of the same, this time the subjectivity is from a new censor.

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