(Update: Enough about Elon Musk. I'd now read about these unsung heroes of the Thai cave rescue.) 

Last week, people were criticizing Elon Musk for quickly building a "mini-submarine" to try to help the Wild Boars soccer team rescue in Thailand. 

The sub wasn't needed in the end, of course, but it was crazy for people to attack him over it. And I was quick to defend him. 

Today, however, it's Musk who's blatantly, flagrantly in the wrong. I have the same advice for him: Take a long, hard look at your life.

Here's what happened. 

"Sorry pedo guy"

Vernon Unsworth, a British man living in Thailand who was part of the rescue effort and is credited with convincing the Thai and British governments to send three of the world's best cave divers to the rescue scene, joined in the criticism of Musk.

In a CNN interview, he called the mini-sub a "PR stunt" that had "absolutely no chance of working," and said Musk could "stick his submarine where it hurts."

Musk hit back hard, reportedly at first arguing about the merits of his kid-sized submarine, but quickly turning ad hominem.

"We will make one of the mini-sub/pod going all the way to Cave 5 no problemo. Sorry pedo guy, you really did ask for it," Musk reportedly tweeted. (The entire exchange has now been deleted.)

Other Twitter users pushed him to back up his charge, to which Mush tweeted: "Bet ya a signed dollar it's true."

What's the upside?

How is this wrong? Let me count the ways.

It's wrong because obviously you don't go around calling people pedophiles (or "pedos") without proof. Even then, I'd probably do it sparingly.

And it's also wrong because there is literally no upside here.

The universe of people who were paying attention to this kerfuffle was shrinking by the minute. And Musk had already won the argument when he released emails he'd had with Dick Stanton, one of the two civilian divers who'd led the tactical rescue effort.

I truly don't understand why he'd bother to engage. This isn't like five years ago, if you recall, when the New York Times gave a bad review to the Model S, and Musk responded to it point by point

I mean, if Elon Musk were hit by a bus tomorrow, he'd leave behind a truly great legacy of entrepreneurship. Unsworth, for all his involvement in the Thailand rescue, is still pretty much unknown. 

Or at least he was until Musk decided to engage and make a totally baseless accusation.

Are you Steve Jobs or Henry Ford?

I don't know why Musk seems to have such a thin skin and such a need for attention. I suppose it's likely entwined with all the things that make him successful.

But at 47 years old, he needs to decide to take control of his ego and display a little bit of emotional intelligence.

I think he needs to decide whether he wants to be the Steve Jobs or the Henry Ford of his generation. Both men were visionaries--both hard-driving, bend-the-universe leaders.

Jobs is remembered now as a brilliant innovator and leader, but frankly kind of a jerk--somebody who could be brutal or even cruel to the people he worked with, but who did so in furtherance of futuristic goals. He's largely held up as a positive example.

Ford, on the other hand, is remembered as an industrial age genius--but he's also highly controversial for some of his way-out-there beliefs and actions. 

We can start with the kind of virulent anti-Semitism he displayed, which led Adolf Hitler to praise him before World War II, and leaves him now unable to even get his name placed on a memorial bridge in a small Florida town.

Nobody's accusing Musk of anything like that now. He's a fascinating figure with world-class ambition, drive, and success.

But stunts like this "pedo" tweet display a dark side and impetuousness that can be really troubling. And that's a problem worth engineering a solution for.

Published on: Jul 16, 2018