Elon Musk’s Twitter-acquisition saga saw new developments last week as Musk reaffirmed his original offer to buy the company for $54.20 per share, a price that puts the company’s value at a whopping $44 billion. After the original deal was settled in April, Musk tried to back out in July, alleging Twitter was misrepresenting the number of bots on its platform. Twitter sued Musk to force him to go through with the purchase, and the two sides were set to go to trial on October 17.
That trial now won’t be necessary, it seems, as Musk is basically giving Twitter the price he had pledged. Twitter’s share price spiked 22 percent on the news, and many now have a renewed optimism (or fear) that Musk will in fact go through with the purchase and eventually bring less restrictive content-moderation policies to the platform.
The Laid-Back Billionaire
The $54.20 figure is notable for two reasons. First, it’s a fair bit higher than what Twitter stock was trading for at the time of the original offer (about $40/share). Second, in a classic Musk move, it seems to be a 4/20 reference.
Though Musk hasn’t confirmed the reference to my knowledge, it’s hard to believe he just happened to land on that kind of number by accident.
Aside from being funny, there’s almost a sense of mockery in this move. By inserting this kind of number into official documents—and, by extension, major headlines—it’s like he’s poking fun at the clown world Twitter has become. His message to the Twitter executives is not “pretty please sell me your company.” The message is more like “this whole thing is a joke to me, lol.”
This isn’t the first time Musk has brought his playful, irreverent, meme-culture spirit to the market. A few years ago he launched his car into space because he thought it would be amusing, and some of his companies now accept Dogecoin as payment.
Musk in general seems rather fun, relatable, and laid back. He doesn’t take himself too seriously, and that’s probably a big part of why people like him.
Another reason he’s so likable is that he doesn’t mind poking fun at politicians, executives, and other “blue-check” elites. To the contrary, he seems to enjoy it.
Examples of Musk mocking the elites abound.
— Elon Musk (@elonmusk) August 7, 2020
Stop hitting on me, I’m really shy ☺️
— Elon Musk (@elonmusk) April 29, 2022
— Elon Musk (@elonmusk) July 11, 2022
Seriousness and Censorship
Musk’s low-key, informal demeanor stands out in part because it’s so unexpected for someone of such high status. In a sense, Musk is almost a foil to the typical elites. His blatant informality highlights the rigid seriousness that often characterizes the rich and powerful.
Elites tend to fancy themselves as the guardians of professionalism and decorum, etiquette and political correctness. They can have fun, to an extent, but memes and potentially-offensive jokes are beneath them. Even simply fooling around is frowned upon.
As a personal matter this standard doesn’t present much of a problem, but it is a rare elite who considers this a merely personal matter. In the eyes of most elites, everyone should abide by high standards of political correctness or else be forced to leave the conversation.
This is the foundation of the censorship problem we are seeing on social media and in the broader culture. Superficially it’s about free speech vs. content moderation. But at its core it’s a battle between those who take the establishment and its morals seriously and those who don’t. There are the elites who insist we be “respectful” toward others, and there are the Elon Musk’s who are fine to just let things be.
Comedians have been especially hard hit by this “high-minded” censorship, and it’s no wonder why. Think about what comedians do. They mock people. Sometimes, they even offend people. They say what everyone’s thinking but no one is allowed to say. They intentionally flirt with the line of political correctness, because that’s what makes them funny.
“There has to be a spontaneity and a daring,” says Jordan Peterson, “so they’re always testing the limits of what’s acceptable in speech, and they’re almost always doing it in a way that points to uncomfortable truths of one form or another. Things that people won’t admit. Things that we keep hidden in the dark. The foibles of our leaders. Anything that’s there but makes people too uncomfortable to talk about, that’s exactly what a comedian hones in on.”
“That’s part of what’s worrisome about the state of discourse in the free West,” Peterson says in a different conversation. “Comedians won’t go to university campuses. You don’t get to be funny. And if you can’t be funny then you’re not free. The jester in the king’s court is the only person who gets to tell the truth. And if the king is such a tyrant that he kills his jester then you know that the evil king is in charge. And so when we can’t tolerate our comedians it’s like well there you go. They’re the canaries in the coal mine as far as I’m concerned.”
How to Undermine the Elites
The question then becomes, how do we combat the insistence on political correctness? How do we push back when moral busybodies insert themselves in matters that are none of their business?
At first, it’s tempting to meet them on their own terms, to politely and logically state our case and request that they leave us alone. And sometimes that can be the right move. But often, a much more effective approach is to do what Elon Musk is doing: become the fool.
Rather than taking the elites seriously, the fool uses wit, humor, and satire to highlight how ridiculous the elites have become. He employs clever mockery and a tactful mischievousness to call the authority of the elites into question. When done well, this approach can be brilliantly effective. There’s a reason joking about politicians was banned in the Soviet Union.
They're worried that their ideas will be exposed and laughed at.
— Brian Nichols (@BNicholsLiberty) April 30, 2022
The story of the Weasley twins and Professor Umbridge in Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix is one of my favorite examples of how mischievousness and mockery can be used to expose and embarrass those who take things too seriously. As you probably know, Umbridge was committed to formality and order, and she imposed stringent limits on fun and games. Now, the Weasley twins—the jesters of Hogwarts, as it were—could have responded with vitriol. They could have written angry letters, signed a petition, and gone through all the proper channels to get her removed. But instead, they threw a party in the middle of exams, making a complete mockery of her seriousness. They gave her the one thing she couldn’t stand: fun. And wasn’t that way more powerful?
If I had to guess, Musk’s plebeian sense of humor is probably a big part of why the establishment can’t stand him. They don’t mind someone who challenges them through the proper channels and in a respectful manner—that’s actually playing into their hand, because it concedes they are deserving of respect in the first place. What they can’t stand is being taken lightly, being teased and ridiculed and ultimately ignored.
Why can’t they stand that? Because our reverence for the elites is actually the source of their power. They win as long as we take them seriously. They lose the moment we don’t.
This article was adapted from an issue of the FEE Daily email newsletter and is republished courtesy of Foundation for Economic Education.
Image credit: Flickr-Steve Jurvetson, CC BY 2.0.