Originally published on my blog.
I want to be very clear: I don't like calling people "racist", "fascist", "white supremacist" etc. I see it all the time and I think it's usually incredibly counter productive. It's basically name-calling and it immediately shuts down debate. If we are to achieve real lasting progress it needs to be as democratic and peaceful as possible. For this, we need to try very hard to have hard conversations respectfully, and try to see each other's point of view.
However, at the same time, we mustn't mince our words. We should be specific and direct and hard hitting with what we see to be the truth. Status quo bias and social pressure can easily deflect us from making important inquiry. This is actually just another way of saying the same thing: ad hominem attacks like "you're racist" can be just that sort of social pressure that shuts down inquiry.
Having said this, I have definitely said people's points are racist in discussions. Partly this might be exactly this sort of failing on my part - I got upset enough that I lashed out and wasn't receptive enough to hearing the other person's point of view. However, when I do it I do try to mean something quite specific by it. And I don't mean it to be a killing blow or general insult.
Two quick definitions:
- Racism is any bias based on a stereotype about race, ethnicity or nationality
- White supremacy is the belief that white people are superior to other races in any way (which is a form of racism about white people)
I believe that the word "racist" shouldn't really carry as much weight as it does, because we are all racist. Which is to say that we are all naturally biased towards people and ideas that are more familiar to us. And we all have a direct incentive to support things which give people like us an advantage.
And so, when discussing good policy or whatever, we should all remain aware that we could well have a tendency to be biased in favour of our own perspective, and we must be on the lookout for it. If I say "that's racist", I'm usually suggesting that you haven't realised a way in which you're letting your innate biases cloud your thinking. I'm still allowing and assuming that you believe in equality and justice for all, just that you're accidentally letting bias creep in.
"That's racist" is different to "you're racist", for me, in that the latter suggests that I think the racism forms a core part of your values system. This is less forgiveable and harder to convince someone out of. I may still have told people "you're racist" in the heat of the moment. Sometimes it might be warranted.
(And often it might not be pure "racism", in the sense of being only about race, but a general bias that perpetuates the sort of privilege that a particular race tends to enjoy).
Also, before I launch into Elon Musk, remember that here I'm not actually debating with Elon. Clearly he's not going to read this. So I don't think I need worry too much about offending him or not giving him the space to air his views. To us mere mortals Elon Musk is more akin to a force of nature that we must choose how to best react to.
OK on to Elon.
When I suggest Elon Musk might be a white supremacist I mean this quite deliberately. It's not just a throw away insult.
I actually have a lot more respect for Elon Musk than many people I know. There's an argument that he doesn't deserve any credit for Tesla or any of his companies because he just bought them, rather than founded them. But I've seen Tesla and SpaceX take big risks and bets under his leadership, and I really believe both are doing overall pretty interesting and good work. And this is largely because Elon is able to see the big picture, and shoot for big goals with confidence and clarity, in ways that elude many people.
This actually gives me more confidence in labeling him a white supremacist, because I don't think he can claim to be poorly informed. It seems unlikely to me that he hasn't considered the wider implications of what he says, since that's kind of what he's all about.
Here's why I think he might be a white supremacist:
"Population collapse due to low birth rates is a much bigger risk to civilization than global warming"
Elon Musk, 26 August 2022
(I've had it suggested that Elon Musk is just an online troll and so he might only say this to cause a reaction without meaning it. But actually he's been very consistent on this, and his "collapse of civilisation" wording couldn't be more serious.)
I'm far from the only person to note how crazy of a position this is. I'm more interested in what it says about Elon Musk than the argument itself, but I will just spend a second to explain why it's stupid.
The global population is set to grow until 2100, to about 10 or 11 billion, before it starts to gradually decline. By that point, the greatest risk of "population collapse" would come from natural disasters due to out of control global warming, not "low birth rates" a century earlier.
Deliberately increasing the birth rate now is actually incredibly dangerous. While, unlike some, I actually believe we shouldn't have much trouble feeding and looking after 10 billion people on this planet within the next century of technological progress, the strain on the environment is much more of a concern.
The fact that more developed nations with better education for women and healthcare have a natural tendency to have lower birth rates is basically our only hope. As a consequence of this, most of the new births will be in counties with much lower emissions per person, which is also very helpful.
Through technological and social progress we can slow and stop population growth, which, coupled with radical societal changes to develop more sustainable societies, gives us a chance to reach a sustainable future existence without mass extinction events.
Which leads inescapably to the question: Why on earth would Elon Musk, global thinker who owns a ground breaking car company as a solution to global warming, think increasing birth rates is a good idea?
Well, he's clearly not talking about all birth rates. He's talking about countries where birth rates are below the replacement rate of 2.1 births per woman, which are the mostly white rich developed nations. And China. But let's be clear, he means the USA, with a current birth rate of 1.7 births per woman.
Faced with the existing global challenges and resource constraints, and a growing global population, it should be quite clear to an engineering mind that the solution to a shortage of people in one specific country or continent is just to move people from other countries. And this is really no problem at all. The USA is a country of immigrants. Integrating new and diverse groups is deep in the country's DNA. And there's obviously no shortage of young, fit, healthy and skilled workers eager to move to America.
So why isn't this obvious to Elon?
Ok I did find one possible not-quite-so-racist explanation. Apparently Elon has said "societies will end up with 'more grandparents than grandchildren'". Of course, this only applies, for the foreseeable future, to rich developed nations. It seems fanciful, bordering on delusional, to think that this fact alone will lead to "the collapse of civilization", but it is just possible that he believes it. He does, after all, come from a long line of family men.
However, if this were true then it would suggest Musk's decision making is driven much more by primal instincts than rational thought. Which makes it even more concerning that he's got such a central role in the technological underpinnings of society. So let's give him the benefit of the doubt and say that this is not, in fact, the main reason.
Literally the only other conclusion I can possibly reach is that he believes that immigrants are the wrong sort of people. That for some reason the world desperately needs a lot more native-born Americans (and Europeans).
I got into an argument in the replies to Elon's tweet which basically confirmed this for me. Although many of the tweets are deleted now, so I can't go back and check, my memory of the points that were made to me was this:
- US hegemony is the foundation for world peace, so destabilise the USA at your peril; and
- Rich white nations generate economic growth and therefore progress, the implication being that only they can do this
Of course I don't know if Elon would identify with these arguments specifically, but given that I can't see any better ones for his position, let's assume he does.
I will concede, and did concede, that mass immigration may well be destabilising. I don't think it inevitably has to be, I think good focused government policy can really help, but it's reasonable to assume that it will cause tensions. And I also agree that it's hard to predict what consequences will come from the gradual collapse of the US empire.
(As an aside, the idea that US hegemony is a foundation for peace feels very ... Umm ... Let's say "Western centric")
But mass immigration is coming. This is unavoidable. If you fill up Western nations with white babies, all you're going to do is cause greater resource conflict within those nations. This will not stabilise anything.
Which basically puts all the weight of justifying this whole, hugely costly and dangerous idea of having more Western babies, on the second point. That only American magnates can generate growth and therefore we need more of their babies.
I'm not gonna bother trying to explain how growth and inequality are also huge threats to climate change here. The core point is that this idea that for some reason native-born Americans or Europeans are central to the planet's economic health is about as clearly white supremacist as anything I can think of.
So it seems to me that the almost inescapable conclusion here is that Elon is terribly panicked about the coming "brownification" of society, and he desperately wants more white babies to fight back, no matter what the cost to human society at large.
It's important to point out that this migration in no way puts existing white people in peril. Many white people - and especially the Musks - will continue to have comfortable existences in the upper echelons of society. This is about future generations.
In other words, Elon Musk believes there's something special about white people that means they must remain dominant in rich countries for "civilisation" to continue.
How would you describe that belief?