Wednesday, November 23, 2022

Should we cut Elon Musk some slack because he is autistic?

I regularly write about Elon Musk in these pages, usually (well, always) in a disparaging manner. He is still the richest man in the world despite the slide in Tesla stock prices and an ill-advised foray into social media companies. But he is a lousy manager ("a case study in what not to do") and an all-round odd-ball. 

How do I feel, then, to find out - belatedly, to be sure - that Mr. Musk is in fact autistic, or at least somewhere on the autism scale (which can mean more or less anything these days)?

Well, not much different, to be honest. One could try to  use autism excuse his strange sense of humour and his almost complete lack of empathy for other humans (e.g. employees). But I'm pretty sure that Musk would be the last person to claim accommodations for his "neurodivergencies". 

He is clearly what used to be called "high-functioning autistic" (it is almost certainly not called that any more - I am not up on my politically-correct autism terminology). Musk himself claims to have Aspergers Syndrome, (claimed it very publicly on Saturday Night Live, no less), although that apparently is no longer an official label and has been superseded by a diagnosis of Autism spectrum Disorder (ASD) Level 1 (meaning "requires some support", but not "more support" or '"substantial support").

Now, some on the autism spectrum may see Musk's announcement as validation and proof that autistic people can indeed succeed. Others, such as those who require much more support to live a reasonable life, may find him unbearably smug and doing the rest of the autism community a grave disservice.

I don't really see any reason to treat him differently than any one else, though. What worries me is that, now this is out in the open, Musk may use it to excuse some of his less excusable behaviours. In that Saturday Night Live segment, for example, he quipped, "Look, I know I sometimes say or post strange things, but that's just how my brain works". Hmm. Further: "To anyone who's been offended, I just want to say I reinvented electric cars, and I'm sending people to Mars on a rocket ship. Did you also think I was going to be a chill, normal dude?". Hmmmmmmm.

Anyone with that kind of a chip on their shoulder, and that kind of self-confidence, surely deserves anything that's coming to them.

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