Elon Musk is a spoiled teenager trapped in the body of a billionaire

Not all of Elon Musk’s ideas are bad. But he cannot accept that some of them are.

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Elon Musk unrelentingly entered our news cycle last week, in what felt like personal battle to see how severely he could humiliate himself.

It all began when Musk inserted himself into the Thai cave rescue mission, after a random Twitter user asked him if he was going to aid the divers. In response, he invented an entirely useless miniature submarine, which he was explicitly told by the Thai rescue team would be of no help. Then, despite their request not to get involved, Musk decided to turn up in Thailand and leave his submarine at the cave, in case it “may be useful”. And when it seemed this embarrassing saga would finally end, since the divers had rescued all of the boys and their coach, Musk angrily tweeted that one of the Thai boys’ rescuers was a “pedo”, in response to the diver calling Musk’s submarine a “PR stunt”. The rescuer has indicated he will sue for libel

This week for Musk was, from start to finish, a colossal, avoidable, train wreck. But for anyone who's been following Musk’s career, it’s been a long time coming. From Musk’s ex-wife’s story about him in Marie Claire in 2010 (where she claimed he compared her to a “bad employee”) to the criticism he faced this year after his proposal to create a site where he personally ranked big media companies, the entrepreneur's narcissism has been begging to be brought into the mainstream.

When it comes to Musk’s Thai caves intervention, much of the public focus is, and has been, on his embarrassingly bad submarine. But the problem with Elon Musk is rarely his inventions; the problem with Elon Musk is his unhinged, entitled, teenager personality.

It’s only fair to point out that, although he’s had plenty of blindingly dreadful ones, Musk has come up with, or participated in, some pretty good ideas. These include widely-used services like PayPal and one of the highest-capacity rockets ever built (the Falcon Heavy). Even brainstorming can be smart, like his commitment just last week to bring water filters to Flint, Michigan, which could be a viable solution for a city that has been in crisis over lack of clean water since 2014. More importantly, it’s a solution to a problem that’s not really being addressed. All inventors have good ideas and bad ideas; having bad ones doesn’t take away that their good ones were good.

But in the case with the Thai cave rescue mission (and the, again, to reiterate, entirely useless submarine), having a bad idea isn’t what got the attention of the divers: Musk’s ostensible inability to back down from his bad idea did. Despite persistently being told no, Musk could not let go of his obsession with being a part of this story – to the point of taking his own personal time to literally go to Thailand and risk distracting the rescue team from the ongoing mission.

And this was all bad enough before brashly, and unfoundedly, calling the boys’ rescuer a paedophile. Celebrities may snap at colleagues, subordinates, and the public, but Musk is a narcissist of the highest order, who cannot accept the word no (his ex-wife also recounted how, after she turned him down for a date, he appeared at her door with two ice creams). Rather than take it on the chin, Musk lashed out in a manner beyond juvenile, pulling the nearest venomous term out of his ass and slapping it on a literal hero, without a single thought of the consequences.

The last thing we need as a society is encouraging billionaires' entitlement (which, as Musk has shown, improves nothing and can actively cause harm). But what makes matters worse, in the case of Musk, is that he is constantly inundated with unwavering internet adoration. Nearly everything he tweets attracts hundreds of replies from undying fans; praising him for his progressive ways of thinking and repeatedly thanking him for his commitment to “making the world a better place.” (A quick sample: “humanity doesn’t deserve people like @elonmusk who have a vision to shape the world into a better place”, “Good work Elon. Making the world a better place while keyboard warriors have nothing valuable to add to the world other than their jealousy and hate on twitter”, and “@elonmusk is constantly contributing to and changing the world for the better! ... now everyone has a negative things to say about him. Shame on you all. Thank you Elon for being awesome!”)

And while many of these replies are in response to tweets about solving actual crises, things that could arguably be seen as morally righteous, he is often applauded for the most mundane and irrelevant of tweets. These responses show up under posts about everything from internal business meetings, to YouTube music video links, to posts about Tesla pickup truck’s “vicious torque”. If Musk had an ego when he began setting up tech businesses, it’s not helped by the Musk mob perpetually begging him to “keep doing what you’re doing”.

Musk’s tweets calling the rescue diver a “pedo” have, unsurprisingly, been deleted. However, despite the negative media attention he’s since received, it seems unlikely that this will be the last we see of his entitled teenager behaviour. Because if there’s one thing we know about spoiled children, it’s that they lack the self-awareness and the self-discipline to remember to toe the line.

Sarah Manavis is the New Statesman's tech and digital culture writer.