Elon Musk, Twitter and the tyranny of the self

The impact of technologies on individual and collective psychology, beyond its economic and political effects, seems to keep analysts from various disciplines awake these days, from pedagogy to philosophy. Explicitly, the Frenchman Eric Sadin develops it as the main point of his new book (The era of the tyrant individual. The end of a common world), after having tackled with more cunning than sharpness what he himself described as the “siliconization of the world”.

Eric Sadin, author of “The Age of the Tyrant Guy”

The fleeting journey begins with John Locke, who lays the foundational foundations of individualism, but then Sadin brings us flying to the Nike effect (“just do it”) from the 1980s to land in the 21st century of social networks, the politics of the click and the “vanity of techno-compromise”. The French philosopher delves into the idea of ​​individual totalitarianism and voices that demand freedom of expression not only to dissent but also to refute truths. With a divergent gaze but prowling the same issue, the Catalan Marina Garcés had already proposed, years ago, recovering individual promises as a way out towards a new idea of ​​the common: a “new radical illustration” as a contemporary response to old dilemmas.

Monica Garces, author of "A radical new illustration"
Monica Garcés, author of “A new radical illustration”

Although he prefers to fly over centuries and themes, Sadin makes stops on networks such as Facebook, Instagram and Twitter. The recent episode around the decision of Elon Musk, the richest man on earth in these years, for offering to “privatize” Twitter by buying 100% of the shares at a price much higher than their current value, after having accumulated daily shares of even becoming its largest shareholder, enhances some of those prospects. After being tempted to participate in the board of directors -last Friday- and then decide -on Sunday- not to take over, the value of the company’s shares had a record rise explained only by Musk’s magnetic aura, and after several interdicts he surprised with a purchase intent: not only is he today the most conspicuous of his users, he is also a magnet for the prospect of future business that he now seeks to concentrate in person. His views on extreme freedom of expression – much less restrictive than the current network filter policy – are added to his executive skills (he is the creator of long-term companies, with ambitious goals and lavish valuations) but above all to his ability of influence: a tweet (280 characters, an image-meme, a short thread…) is enough to shake quotes. His calling card is his high public profile and his sounding board is expressed through his at least 80 million followers.

Many experts, still surprised by the rapid escalation of the matter, agree that Musk’s decision to buy and completely control the least successful social network among the leaders (Facebook, Instagram and even more platforms such as Tiktok or YouTube) is in line with its vocation to expand freedom of expression and also to put it at the service of the promised decentralization of the web3. Money, concentration of power, decentralization, unrestricted freedom of expression: values ​​that seem to be redrawn from the collective and individual perspective. Paradoxes aside, some show him as a tyrant, others as a libertarian. Perhaps, following Sadin, with fewer contradictions than the apparent ones.

Although the French philosopher stops before, the issue of the psychological effect of technologies reaches the ubiquitous investments in cryptocurrencies.

Digital artist Mike Winkelmann - aka Beeple - published his illustration on Thursday dedicated to the tumultuous week between Elon Musk and the possible acquisition of Twitter
Digital artist Mike Winkelmann – aka Beeple – published his illustration on Thursday dedicated to the tumultuous week between Elon Musk and the possible acquisition of Twitter

This week, a university in the United States published a report in which it described the most fanatical of digital currencies with an unpopular psychological picture in the United States: the dark tetrad that combines narcissism, Machiavellianism, psychopathy and sadism. Turned into the new ogres and also stereotyped as members of a masculine redoubt, the crypto-bros they appear characterized as creatures, in line with Sadin, self-absorbed and with little record of the others. It is true, however, that it is difficult for the French to transcend the idea of ​​“the public” to understand the community and collective vocation preached by the acolytes of the economy based on the block chain. Days ago, The New York Times expert on the subject for almost a decade, published a guide for newcomers to the subject that is growing in public interest but chose to define himself, beyond certain skepticism, as a “crypto-moderate”.

But will they have crypto-bros more extreme, something to learn from the psychology of yuppies and “wolves of Wall Street”, their ancestors before the internet, the smartphone and networks?

Raised under the artificial light in which extreme stock volatility, maps without political division of digital deterritorialization and that same rebellious desire (an individual gesture) are combined, they have become the new object of analysis: they rant against the financial system established with provocative desire and propose to replace the state by a community and decentralized governance. If social networks obsess us with likes and followers, now the price of cryptocurrencies is followed with instant relish. To make matters worse, since there are no banking or stock exchange hours, the “day” never closes. For the new financial punks, there is no here, there is no now. The motto “everything, at all times” already from science fiction is resized in light of the recent premiere in the United States of the oriental film that combines multiverses and kung-fu, precisely entitled “Everything everywhere, All at once”.

A scene from the movie Everything everywhere all at once
A scene from the movie Everything everywhere all at once

Recall that moment of Pat Bateman’s vain exchange of cards in American Psycho, the novel by Bret Easton Ellis. Or let’s think of the adrenaline rush of manipulating information to buy and sell at the right time of Leonardo Di Caprio’s character in The wolf of Wall Street, by Scorsese. Psychological aspects such as trust or persuasion –with the global and massive scale that current technology allows– are at the heart of the Musk case and also in the crypto philosophy, as well as the relationship between the individual and the collective. Who do we believe more? Yet board professionalized or a millionaire who abruptly decides to buy the company to direct it where he prefers? A century-old public central bank or a set of anonymous programmers designing a protocol to record operations and decentralize support throughout the community? The last question, of course, beyond philosophy, has less validity in a country with projected inflation of 70% per year.

The Bitcoin Conference in Miami drew a crowd
The Bitcoin Conference in Miami drew a crowd

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Elon Musk, Twitter and the tyranny of the self