Tenet, temporal geopolitics, and Elon Musk’s East-West gambit

Who is Elon Musk? Iron Man? No, too boring. The new Steve Jobs? No, too interesting. The new Christopher Nolan? More like it. Let me explain.

East meets West: Elon Musk and Ye (The Artist Formerly Known As Kanye West).

In Christopher Nolan’s Tenet, admired by engineers in Elon Musk’s line of work, a war rages between the present and the future over who is responsible for climate change. The answer? Well, there isn’t one, but that doesn’t stop an intergenerational, time-inversion confrontation over the question. Elon Musk wants to save the planet by privatising everything and stopping China while supplying Russia with high tech (thereby stopping China through a Russo-American alliance). So far, so mixed. What’s the gambit?

Some people think Musk wants to own the world. Some people thinks he wants to save it. But he wants to do both. He thinks himself a Caesar, but he knows his limitations. He is cautious about the Twitter purchase, and is willing to fight the State Department over Russian ties in order to ‘kill the deal’. This man is not slowing down. Once concerned with the content of the online public sphere, the businessman-philanthropist to succeed Donald Trump and Kanye West is now turning his eyes to the form or structure of political communication. Like a oil magnate, Musk knows well that who controls the liquid flow of power controls the source. In liquid modernity, all it takes is a big enough container.

But Musk cannot be contained. As Kanye made clear, Biden cannot avoid meeting with Musk. So Biden will try to destroy him, of course — following the general rule of the western establishment these days: If Kanye tells you to do something, don’t do it. The button ‘listen to Kanye’ must never be pressed. Amen.

But what if it were? What if we did change the story of Tenet to reflect the Revenge of the Sith storyline that inspired Kanye in his early years, before he ‘flipped sides like Anakin’ after My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy (which Spotify lists as the last ‘old Kanye’ album — but which must surely come under the first ‘new Kanye’ playlist too, when the streaming Behemoth gets round to it)? What if we did consider the other side of his Manichean struggle of good versus evil, and consider the ‘Anti’ side of things, to echo Rihanna’s fulfilment of Kanye’s prophecy in her own 2016 R&B album.

Musk is no stranger to music and movies. He is a certainly esoteric kind of artist, painting in some strange admixture of Van Gogh’s accuracy and Hans Holbein’s precision, if not quite reaching Rembrandt’s immanence or Raphael’s transcendence. But what if he did? What if Musk gave up on the fully Smithian dream of privatising everything he could get his hands on, and actually embraced the public sphere as a public sphere? If Musk is a billionaire, must he serve his class?

Kanye is no servant to his class, but his wealth is too new to make a clear judgement there. Musk’s wealth has grown over many years, and there are billionaires and then there are billionaires (of which Musk is definitely the latter, and ye the former). But what if time could be inverted, and the future and past of wealth under late capitalism could meet in the present political chaos?

Well, I guess they already have. But what struggle does this represent, and what fruits might it bear? There is technique and there is artistry. Music fuses the two extremes in an Aristotelian ‘golden mean’. West has fused these extremes in music. Musk has not fused these extremes in his ventures, since the technical foundations of space exploration take so long to lay. But once they are laid, the sky is no limit. Biden knows that. That’s why, to America, capitalists like Musk and West are as dangerous as the wind from the East: China. For both, although Kantian liberals like Biden could never acknowledge this without revealing their Hobbesian heritage, are Schumpeterisn gales of creative destruction. China, capitalism, and climate change are the Behemoth-type cataclysms which erode the authority of the Leviathan of the modern state.

To shore up this hegemony, the pretenders must be confronted and defeated — or else, accepted and brought on to the hegemonic project. But that is almost as unlikely as the unthinkable scenario — that the old hegemony may be replaced, or at least recalibrated, by the new powers that the market has kicked up to challenge a fragile state system. Will the old rise to meet the challenge of the new? Time will tell — and it will tell the truth. Only question is: Will you?

Disclaimer: Any similarity between names mentioned and actual individuals is purely accidental and largely theoretical. These are fun ideas to entertain but, as always, I may be mistaken. After all, what do I know?

One thought on “Tenet, temporal geopolitics, and Elon Musk’s East-West gambit

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