Elon Musk: He Drives Manual

Culture Ruins Lives

Flowers blossom in the context of a garden, humans develop in the context of a culture. Humans, much like flowers, are influenced by their immediate surroundings. If a neighbouring flower covers the sunlight, the sun deprived flower cannot grow; if another human robs from us the warmth and affectionate glow provided for us by others, our hearts shall shrivel and our smiles will wilt. If the soil has no nutrients, then no flower shall grow: a garden devoid of beauty. If the soul has no higher-order stimulation, such as a good book or film, then no person shall grow: a mind devoid of curiosity. Too little or too much and we become either undeveloped or grossly mutated. Humans, as with flowers, are influenced by the soil which they’re rooted in, the culture where their ideas grow and mature.

As young children, we have a stupendous potential for growth and self-development, to turn ourselves into roses and daffodils. We can develop a vivid and red love for the arts by writing poetry or painting with our fingers. Or, we can develop a vibrant and yellow happiness by helping others and performing pro-social deeds. The potential to become something beautiful and contribute to the overall presentation of the garden is inherent in each and every young flower; we can become culturally important, if fortune so favours us. But not every flower blossoms, and not every child reaches their potential. Your culture has ruined your life.

Biology Has An Impact, But Lets Talk About Culture

A terrible myth predates those who know nothing of biology or evolutionary psychology, namely, that children are born blank slates. Children, from the blank slate view, are empty pieces of paper: infinitely malleable by the environment. They are born with no instincts, nor any human nature. But such a view is just that: a myth. Humans are born with some nature about them.

The evidence for a human nature need not be too rigorous, either. Consider, if we take any human and place them inside the environments in which dolphins live, then, irrespective of the environment, we shall see that the human is nevertheless a human still. No aquatic environment can grant humans the ability to speak the language of a dolphin, understand the social mores of dolphins, nor behave like a dolphin. Our biology is simply designed differently, and that impacts our behaviour and beliefs.

So, children have a human nature, of which influences their development. Human nature introduces some rigidity into our being, a blueprint for us to follow. However, there is likewise variance amongst us. We don’t all turn out the same, and a large part of that is due to culture. Humans are social creatures, after all.

And herein comes the naïveté of children. We use the brains of children as sponges. We want them to be well-equipped and educated enough to handle themselves in the real world, and so we get them to absorb as much information as possible through their developmental stages.

We place children in front of televisions, we place children in front of phones, and we place children in front of books. They are bombarded by the information that we’ve curated for them. But therein resides a problem: we are those naive children as well.

Culture creates a feedback loop known as cultural transmission. Essentially, adults accumulate cultural knowledge throughout their life, such as how to dress if attending a formal event. And that knowledge is passed down to children. Thus, what generation “A” learns will be passed down to generation “B”; and that entails both useless and useful knowledge.

But in the process of knowledge being passed-down, the children lose something; they lose their ability to be spontaneous or curious, to learn for themselves; only because culture puts before them a clear-cut path to follow: the path of least resistance.

Culture Drives Our World

In the west, when we see a red light, we know to stop. We know to stop because we have cultural knowledge which tells us that stopping is the correct thing to do in such a scenario. And that’s wonderful.

But there are also times where cultural knowledge informs us about how to behave, but fails to have our best interest in mind. It is those times where we should not follow culture, except seldom ever reject culture, and there is a reason why.

Humans operate in the world with mental models about how everything works. We expect doors to open when we pull on them, we expect cars to move when we press on the gas, and we expect pens to work when we attempt to write with them. And more often than not, these mental models about various objects and people clearly work. So, it makes perfect sense to follow these models.

An issue with these mental models, however, be that we don’t know how to operate without them sometimes. Or, worse yet, we fail to notice we’re even using them at all. In these cases, we are stuck on a cultural autopilot that we cannot deviate from: we intuitively shake hands at business meetings, we intuitively read left-to-right, and we know to dress formally for certain social events. We are guided in our actions. And as wonderful as the benefit of being able to perform tasks without much conscious effort can be, sometimes we’d prefer not to crash and burn because our autopilot had made a mistake in judgement.

Autopilots Follow Bad Signals

Like a warning system, whenever we seek to deactivate the autopilot, we are bombarded by a wall of noise; we are told to stop. Any pursuit of individual freedom cannot be tolerated. We have to continue to abide by the dictates of the autopilot, even when we seek to free ourselves from its grasp.

And as a result of our inability to ignore the signals of warning, those false sentiments of care and concern, we allow our autopilots to take us off course. We are driven down paths of education that we had no yearning for, we are encouraged to live certain lifestyles that we had no preference for, and we are told how to express our personality, despite our own inklings. We begin the journey with a goal in mind and a route to take, but at some point along the venture our autopilot took us off course, and now we are further from our destination than when we started.

Autopilots can ruin your life; they can squash your individual freedom, take you far off course, and make the achievement of your goal that much harder. Be cautious about the use of autopilots.

Elon Musk Drives Manual

Elon Musk is a perfect example of someone who deviates, endlessly, from cultural conformity; he drives on manual rather than autopilot. Though we all have some degree of conformity, Elon nevertheless has a great degree of non-conformity.

Elon Musk has been told much throughout his career, as he states in many of his public talks, that others have told him to avoid doing certain things. He was told to not build Space-x, he was told to not pursue Tesla, and he was even scolded for smoking weed on the Joe Rogan podcast. Yet, despite all the cultural warning alarms that have been sounding rather loudly inside his ears, he continues to choose his own path. Rather than allow the mediocrity and inability of others to impinge upon his capacity to achieve and enjoy life, to limit the decisions he can make, Elon Musk has maintained autonomy over his vessel. Elon Musk drives manual.

We can all learn something from Elon Musk; that is, we can see how one resists the temptations of cultural autopilots. Elon has a remarkable ability to maintain focus, to keep within view a higher calling or vision, and ignore the distractions which obviate our ability to stay on the path. He likewise has a remarkable ability to recognize when some cultural norm, not just the pressures of society screaming inwardly at us, but the automatic and unconscious behaviours we all feel obliged to engage in, stops and impacts him negatively; upon which he subsequently negates the proclivity. Elon see and follow his own goal, while ignoring and changing culture when necessary, that is something we can all learn and derive great benefit from.

Sometimes the autopilot doesn’t work, so we should know how to drive manual.


Ideasinhat is a business development analyst and longtime reader of academic literature. He writes books and essays on science and philosophy, and posts them to this website. The essays, as with the books, cover topics from psychology, philosophy, and cognitive science to economics, politics, and law.

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