When Hero Worship Is Taken Seriously

Hero worship.

It’s a mental illness, and it’s come knocking on Elon Musk’s door.

There are online groups numbering in the tens of thousands dedicated solely to posting Musk material: what he’s wearing, saying, where and when he’s defecating.

There have been others before him that have gathered worshipers. He’s just one in a long line.

Consider the following from an article about the “Muskateers”:

“Those who religiously follow Elon Musk have to have a certain element of madness and craziness in [their] personality,” she said. “Sometimes I’ve even said, ‘I don’t even care even if I die on impact!’ The things that he aspires to, his core values, and his missions make you want to do these crazy things. Fear never comes into us. You feel so alive. It’s like a dopamine effect.”

That, my friends, is NOT healthy.

Psychologists have found that hero worship, which is actually more about the worshiper than the worshipped, can also have a feedback loop, affecting the person worshipped. This is important, and I’ll come back to this in a minute.

Emulating a hero or a person that’s achieved great things should not be confused with worship.

The former is a positive psychological development, and the latter a distinctly dangerous one as it typically involves those fawning over the target feeling incapable of doing the hard work of self actualisation themselves. This is why they take the shortcut of “basking in the glow” of the presence of the target.

Muskateers, as they call themselves, would “die for a selfie” with their hero, but this is simply today’s version of kissing the hem of the king’s cloak.

It’s parasitic behaviour and the same reason celebrities have to watch out for stalkers and even get restraining orders against some wannabe hem kissers.

What is happening is that the worshipers unconsciously believe that they’ll find fulfillment by being a small part of what their idol has going on. This concept applies to a metaphysical deity just as powerfully as it applies to an idol.

Elvis fans wetting themselves — fanatical believers

What’s more interesting (at least for this article) is the effect hero worship can have on the target — in this case, Elon Musk.

You see, fans latch on to their idol, worship him, and what they ask in return is that he be perfect at all times. Research into this phenomenon shows us that people create a vision in their heads of their idol and project that onto the chosen target. All too often the standard set is impossible to live up to.  

The problem here is twofold:

  1. If the target isn’t careful he or she can become a prisoner to expectations. Expectations which are increasingly impossible to achieve.
  2. The target sometimes actually buys into what is being said about him or her. When this happens, what may have been an otherwise grounded, sane person literally loses the plot. When the target accepts their godlike role, rather than resisting it, their behaviour and thoughts become extremely limited. It is no longer ok to acknowledge shortcomings, and no longer are mistakes acceptable, and this places extreme pressure on the person. Furthermore the target is expected to do, say and achieve unusual and grandiose things. When they do, a positive feedback loop ensues whereby nothing is considered too outrageous.

Observing Musk’s behaviour, we can see indictions of this sort of behaviour.

Behaviour associated with a target that has accepted godlike or superhuman status typically involves covering up shortcomings and lashing out at anyone questioning them or their actions, distracting and averting attention from failures, and is often accompanied by an inability to maintain relationships.

Increasingly, the target is forced to make a decision.

Acknowledge they’re not superhuman, which will inevitably invoke the wrath of the mentally disturbed fan crowd. The saying goes “hell hath no fury like a woman scorned,” which may well be true, but we could probably say “hell hath no fury like a fanatic who wakes to find his god isn’t real”.

We know that when fanatical people find their god doesn’t exist, they feel a deep sense of betrayal — as if they’ve been defrauded and their vehemence can be truly vicious.

So to summarise, the behaviours exhibited by anyone unfortunate enough to accept godlike status are:

  1. An inability to acknowledge shortcomings and subsequent inability to tell the truth.
  2. Lashing out at those challenging their status.
  3. Distracting and averting attention from failures.
  4. Dysfunctional relationships and an inability to maintain relationships.

Success, the Saying Goes, Breeds Success


Other times, it breeds something worse…

In the four behaviours mentioned above I think both 1 and 2 have been adequately exhibited in the most recent Tesla earnings call where Musk not only refused to answer questions about production deadlines, which would have amounted to his admitting failures, but he lashed out at analysts.

In fact, he’s a long history of lying as well as attacking short sellers.

I’d rather not go into Musk’s multiple failed personal relationships but I will present to you his abject inability to maintain any sort of management team at Tesla.

As CEO these are THE most important relationships he has in running the company.

The list below is courtesy of Jim Chanos, who has listed management departures and noted that the only other companies where he’s seen this many management departures are Valeant and Enron:

And lastly but arguably THE most important of all because it is literally the glue that holds this ball of yarn together is…


…which is more powerful than standing armies.

Toddlers are embarrassingly easy to distract. Ten-year-olds not so much. Teenagers even less so. And adults the least of all.

Be warned, that doesn’t mean adults can’t be easily distracted. Just less so than a toddler, which is fine only if we’re OK being compared to a creature that still shits its pants.

And it’s adults that have been a doozy for Musk to distract.

The problem is that the human brain is wired to pay attention to what is directly in front of us, often discarding what may be more important but not immediately and evidently so.

The bigger and grander the distraction, even if not serious, the higher the probability that we not only discard other thoughts but forget entirely to bring critical thinking to the distraction itself to see if it’s even worthy of our bloody attention. It’s one reason the Kardashians get more attention than they should (the correct amount being zero).

At its core it’s a survival instinct.

Consider our ancestors. Paying attention to a sabre-toothed tiger lurking outside the cave was probably worth doing. Even though venturing out to go hunting was critical for survival, the latter was infinitely more difficult with your leg torn off… and so that tiger was worth paying attention to.

Musk has used this technique repeatedly and with success. Remember the acquisition of Solar City?

Well, shareholders seem to have already forgotten what a colossal fustercluck that one was. Let’s check in, shall we?

Thanks to @TeslaCharts for reminding us.

And who could forget the Tesla Semi? And the Tesla Roadster. Grand, spectacular, godlike… and unlikely to ever see daylight.

[clickToTweet tweet=”The Tesla Semi and the Tesla Roadster are both grand, spectacular, godlike… and unlikely to ever see daylight.” quote=”The Tesla Semi and the Tesla Roadster are both grand, spectacular, godlike… and unlikely to ever see daylight.”]

And since that we’ve had the Hyperloop, a futuristic and wonderful sounding transport network completely devoid of detail, and one which has experts in both tunnelling and engineering from every stretch of this ball of dirt scratching their heads.

And as the pressures mount now we have a brick company and even a confectionary company. The question I ask is this:

But hell, maybe I’m completely wrong and not only will Tesla prove me wrong, a decade hence LA will be littered with hundreds of elevators taking cars deep into the earth and jettisoning them at 150mph across town to arrive at buildings constructed by Elon bricks and roofed with SolarCity roof tiles.

It could happen. But then again, Harvey Weinstein could be a fine fellow.

Timing is everything and right now it’s clearly damn expensive to short Tesla as borrow costs are super high and volatility on puts has sent them flying. So please don’t take this as an indication you should pile in. If you must know, I think it’s worth a big donut but there are waaay better risk/reward opportunities out there.

The truth is when I first decided to dip my pinky toe into a short position buying a smattering of put options way back in 2013, I was not only swiftly punished for doing so but, quite honestly, at the time I simply thought the valuation made no sense while at the same time Tesla’s accounting could only be described as financial spaghetti.

Clearly not the zenith of market timing.

I made two mistakes:

  1. I was waaay too early and underestimated Musk’s ability to incinerate money at an accelerating pace while shareholders applauded the losses by bidding the stock higher.
  2. I didn’t think Tesla was actually a fraud so much as a poorly executed overvalued hype stock in a low margin, extremely competitive industry.

Today I’m convinced it’s a fraud and I’m glad I lost a tiny fraction of money back in 2013, because it meant I kept my beady eye on Tesla and repositioned as it topped out last year.

Thankfully it was tough at the time to find a Tesla bear and the cost of entry was appropriately priced.

Today that’s obviously not the case. But even though it’s now the most shorted stock in the US (which means it can quite easily have a face-ripping short-covering rally), the probabilities favour it ultimately doing what Muskateers fear most of their idol: disappointing fans.

– Chris

“If you get up in the morning and think the future is going to be better, it is a bright day. Otherwise, it’s not.” — Elon Musk


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