Elon Musk is an Anarchist?



Recently, the CEO of Tesla Motors–Elon Musk– sat down with Wait But Why‘s Tim Urban for an interview in which Musk made a statement that piqued my interest:

“I don’t know what a business is. All a company is is a bunch of people together to create a product or service. There’s no such thing as a business, just pursuit of a goal — a group of people pursuing a goal.”

Most people that salivate over anything that Elon Musk says (I am not in their number) were completely confused by what he was saying, as it flies in the face of the established notions that make up Silicon Valley, and even entrepreneurship culture as a whole. What could Musk possibly mean by saying he doesn’t know what a business is?

Certainly one could make an easy case that Elon Musk is actually horrible at business (Tesla Motors wouldn’t even still be afloat if it wasn’t rescued by government intervention multiple times), so maybe that’s why he doesn’t know what business is because he’s so terrible at it? Well, whether I agree with that sentiment or not, I think there’s a much deeper meaning here, and with it he has inadvertently touched on a powerful concept: An alternative to “society” as we understand it.

What is this alternative to “society”? The 19th century egoist anarchist–Max Stirner–called this a “union of egoists”, and it is dramatically different from any concept that people think they banner under today. Musk’s statement, “There’s no such thing as a business, just pursuit of a goal–a group of people pursuing a goal”, describes the union of egoists perfectly.

A union of egoists–as I’ve come to understand it–is a relation between individuals which is continually renewed by all involved individuals’ support through an act of will. The union requires that all parties participate out of a conscious personal desire. If one party silently finds themselves to be suffering, but puts up and keeps the appearance, the union has degenerated into something else. The union of egoists (or “union of individuals”) is not seen as an authority above a person’s own will.

Put simply, it’s a group of people sharing a goal, just like Elon Musk described his “non-businesses” as.

I suppose you’re asking, “How is this a non-business or non-society”? Well, some would define a society as a collective morality or culture that you choose to uphold whether you agree with it completely or not. Some would also define business as an organization that has a collective vision and ethic that you are paid/told to uphold whether you agree with it completely or not. So a union of egoists stands in contrast to these defined ideas in that it does not uphold any morality or ethic–collective or otherwise–but is only concerned with individuals sharing a goal.

Of course, what Elon Musk doesn’t realize (or at least, he didn’t state such) is that this “shared goal” cooperation he described is true across the board when it comes to the human condition. There is no “state” or “government”, there is no “marriage” or some other formal “binding”, there is no “company” or “corporation”…there can only really ever be–if you want actual freedom in your life–a union of egoists, which is the concept of interacting with others through similar goals and desires. There is only an individual’s desire to congregate with others in mutuality, and the freedom for those same individuals to walk away the instant they no longer desire the same goals. And Elon Musk–of all ironies–proves that it doesn’t take an anarchist (he’s certainly not one) to realize that fact (whether he takes it all the way or not).

Tesla Motors is certainly a company that is on the bleeding edge of innovation, which is no easy feat in today’s high-tech world. And one has to wonder, does all of that innovation spring from Musk’s goal-oriented ideology? Interestingly, Musk is also known for hiring people based upon desire and raw talent, not based upon “degrees”, titles, and other conventional veneration that people strive for to get recognition today. Does Tesla Motors’ innovation come from that? There’s certainly historical precedent that would say so.

Take for example another company that was at the bleeding edge of innovation decades ago. In fact, without this company, there would likely be no Apple, no Microsoft, perhaps no “PC Revolution” at all. That company was Atari. And Atari founder Nolan Bushnell has publicly stated:

“Some of the best projects to ever come out of Atari or Chuck E. Cheese’s were from high school dropouts, college dropouts. One guy had been in jail.”

I think the message is clear from Elon Musk and computer god Nolan Bushnell: The key to innovation and advancement is not from paying attention and fealty to societal mores, creations, titles, and business concepts…but by interacting with people that have the same goals and passion, and enriching each others lives in the process.

A union of egoists.

A combination of needs, desires, and self-education…what a concept! Imagine if all of our social interactions were based around these things, instead of revolving around corporatism, coercion, or the archaic notion of social reinforcement. How far could you grow and advance if you only did things out of desire to achieve your own goals and meet your own needs, instead of out of some “common belief” that what you need to do is what others claim you’re supposed to do?

The union of egoists is a simple idea (and one that I espouse often on my science and tech podcast: Sovryn Tech), and as more and more technologies come to fruition that empower individuals (and more importantly, individualism), I think many people will come to realize that it is the best way for humans to gather that is mutually beneficial and conducive to the life of the individual.

And as Max Stirner said: “The individual is the measure of all things.”

Carpe lucem!