Never challenge anyone to a fight. Not even if you think you would win. Especially not if you think you would win. To break this commandment is to invite the wrath of all universal karma down upon your head. It is to engage in the folly of hubris, to break the prohibition against violence, and to set oneself up as a poster child for “getting what’s coming to you”. As a general rule, the people who forge ahead in defiance of this wisdom do so only because they are spoiled, confidence-poisoned children who can only learn things the hard way.
Having $200bn only makes all of these poisonous characteristics more potent. But unlike most things, money cannot protect you from the consequences of this particular mistake.
Elon Musk, who publicly challenged his fellow tech billionaire Mark Zuckerberg to a cage match earlier this summer and has spent the time since doing everything except actually fighting, is a man who possesses every pitiful trait necessary to prompt him to humiliate himself. Ensconced in a bubble of fabulous wealth, he has grown overly intoxicated with his own genius, and makes the error of assuming that his success in business will carry over into success in a physical showdown.
Those who are used to seeing their net worth grow by billions without lifting a finger are susceptible to believing, wrongly, that winning a fight will require little effort as well. At the same time, Musk – like many rich men – has a natural yearning to prove his worth in a way that no one can claim is due only to his money. It may be nice to have life handed to you on a silver platter, but it tends to erode the sense of genuine accomplishment that we all crave deep down.
Indeed, Musk is just a wealthier (and softer) version of a familiar type: the White-Collar Brawler, who stumbles into a fight gym in a quest to Become a Real Man. But while the average stockbroker who trains for an amateur boxing match after work can, at least, walk the honest path towards humility that comes with all the black eyes, busted lips, and slow dawning of the knowledge that you’re not as good at something as you imagined you would be, Musk will reap none of those moral benefits.
He has sought instead to wallow in the shallow end of the pseudo-macho pool: Popping off with big talk about a fight, hollering at top volume about how he has big plans to win, and never, ever, bathing in the painful and humbling sweat that is required to actually do so. He is the insecure kid taunting an angry dog from the safe side of a fence. In his desperation for attention, he never considers what might happen if the gate is opened.
Fights can reveal a person’s character. That would be Musk’s worst fear. As frivolous as all of this jawing has been, it is very much in keeping with a lifetime of acting like a selfish brat and getting away with it. This is a man who is a certified illegal union buster despite having more money than almost anyone on earth. This is also a man who bought Twitter for $30bn more than it was worth and then proceeded to use the company only to display how easily he can be duped into falling for conspiracy theories and unfunny memes. Neither statesman nor business genius, Musk is graceless enough to covet public approval of his manhood but too craven to deserve it. Scientists could not design a man more likely to get whipped in a fair fight.
That, of course, is why Musk will never allow himself to be in a fair fight. This was obvious from the very beginning. His opponent of choice, blank-eyed Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg, is another type familiar in gyms: the inhumanly driven data nerd, the type of person who tracks workouts in spreadsheets and pursues physical training with the same unblinking devotion as writing code. It’s possible to gripe about the disturbing joylessness of this type of person, but the relevant point here is that the robotic Zuckerberg would be guaranteed to absolutely dominate a squealing, petulant Musk in the cage.
While Zuckerberg sought to get the fight legitimately scheduled and sanctioned, Musk swanned around saying what a grand show it should be, and then suggested just doing it in a back yard. This stuff – talking loud about tangential issues, clamoring for impossible ground rules, showing up at places where you know your opponent won’t be – is the familiar behavior of someone who doesn’t want to show anyone that he is terrified of getting punched in the face.
It doesn’t matter how long this embarrassing cycle of internet bragging goes on. Musk will never win a real fight. He does not have to fight for anything in his own life, and consequently he doesn’t understand what a real fight is. He thinks that it is all about standing in front of a big crowd and drinking in glory. He thinks that it is a path to masculine validation.
He is too warped by wealth and stunted by immaturity to grasp that a fight is not about winning, but about doing something hard. Something for which there is no shortcut. The willingness to suffer, to lose, is what gives it its value. Ironically, if Musk could experience the cleansing ego-death that fighting can deliver, he would lose his infatuation with the spectacle of it all.
Sadly for all of us, the richest man in America is not built like that. It’s too bad. If he was, he might use all his money and power to do some good. Instead, he just uses it to debase himself in novel ways. His entire personality is a demonstration of the fact that, sometimes, it can do a person a lot of good to get his ass kicked.
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