To Lepore, Musk’s ideology seems to flow from these outlandish — and outmoded — views. In Lepore’s words, his ambition is an “extravagant, extreme” even “extraterrestrial capitalism, driven by fantasies that come from science fiction”.
In a new podcast series, The Evening Rocket, produced by Pushkin Industries in collaboration with the BBC that launches today in the US, Lepore offers her theory that Musk is a creature of the science fiction that he devoured in his youth, much of which reflected his grandfather’s technocratic philosophy. That gave him his storytelling gift. When investors buy shares in Tesla, they are buying a narrative, not a stream of future cash flows. That narrative sounds a lot like midcentury science fiction.
What Lepore finds disturbing is that Musk appears to have misinterpreted the science fiction he was reading, something she believes should worry us all. “A lot of what he seems to be inspired by as though it was utopian,” she said in an interview, “was in fact dystopian.”
Much science fiction in the middle of the century was meant as a warning of how science could come to dominate our lives. But young Elon Musk, Lepore says, instead found the dystopian future exciting. That is what inspires his company SpaceX and its mission to colonise Mars.
Lepore argues that the current popularity of Musk and his ideas, from colonising space through to cryptocurrency, could be a symptom of a damaged society.
The rush to buy meme stocks such as GameStop and AMC earlier this year was seen by its participants as a blow for equality and against the elites. Calling themselves “apes”, the young traders who tried to force short-selling hedge funds out of business acted like a flash mob. Many of them have subsequently lost money.
Cryptocurrencies, which have enriched many already-wealthy people, are also viewed by their supporters as a great economic leveler. Bitcoin, its backers hope, will not only emancipate us from the hold of banks over the financial system, but also break the grip of governments — even if they were democratically elected.