Can you make up for the bad by doing good?

Elon Musk is controversial, to say the least. There are the extremes: People who absolutely love him and think he’s saving humanity single-handedly, and then there’s people who hate him with all their heart and think the’s the devil himself.

Then, there’s the middle view. It’s possible to take an objective look at what Musk has done that had positive effects and what he has done that had negative effects. For example, it’s probably a good thing that he bet a lot of money to make electric cars more compelling. After all, electric cars cause less carbon emissions than gasoline cars. But at the same time, he has a vested interest that more people buy cars, and that cities stay car-centric rather than shift towards a more walkable or public transport infrastructure. Of course, fewer cars - whether electric or gasoline - are even better for the environment than just replacing all gasoline cars with electric cars. And pedestrian-friendly cities have more benefits than that, too.

It’s pretty clear by now that his hyperloop shenanigans were a plot to dissuade city planners and the public from investing more in public transport and long-distance trains. So, that’s a bad thing he did.

Furthermore, there are a lot of reports about sexism, racism and other issues at his companies. He doesn’t seem to treat his employees well, in general. After buying Twitter, he allowed back a lot of far-right accounts and introduced more lax moderation rules. This gives a bigger megaphone to evil people. Not great.

With SpaceX, he has made launching payload into orbit and space easier and cheaper. His satellite-based telecommuncations network, Starlink, can potentially provide internet to rural areas that didn’t have great options before. It apparently helped Ukraine during the war, but he also turned off Starlink access for certain areas in Ukraine after he felt that Ukraine attacking Russia in this specific instance might escalate the war to a nuclear one.

These are just a few examples.

One might add up the positive, add up the negative, and then subtract the sum of the negative from the positive. Some people might say that Musk’s net effect is positive, and others might say that it’s negative.

But life is not simple arithmetics. You shouldn’t be able to hurt people but then be absolved from your sins by making space access cheaper. We should not look at the net effect of people like Musk. While we should acknowledge their genuine achievements, we should also scrutinize them for the chaos they have sowed on the way there. We should be able to demand from them to do better.

I think the end almost never justifies the means. And certainly not in the case of one psycho billionaire, who acts like he cares about humans and the earth, but in the end just cares about his own power and money.