But Muskism has earlier origins, too, including in Mr. Musk’s own biography. Much of Muskism is descended from the technocracy movement that flourished in North America in the 1930s and that had as a leader Mr. Musk’s grandfather Joshua N. Haldeman, an ardent anti-communist. Like Muskism, technocracy took its inspiration from science fiction and rested on the conviction that technology and engineering can solve all political, social and economic problems. Technocrats, as they called themselves, didn’t trust democracy or politicians, capitalism or currency. Also, they objected to personal names: one technocrat was introduced at a rally as “1x1809x56.” Elon Musk’s youngest son is named X Æ A-12.
Mr. Musk’s grandfather, an adventurer, moved his family from Canada to South Africa in 1950, two years after the start of the apartheid regime. In the 1960s, South Africa recruited immigrants by billing itself as a lavish, sun-soaked, custom-made, whites-only paradise. Elon Musk was born in Pretoria in 1971. (To be clear, Elon Musk was a child of apartheid, not an author of it. He also left South Africa at 17 to avoid being conscripted into the military that enforced it.)
As a teenager, he read Douglas Adams’s “The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy”; he plans to name the first SpaceX rocket to Mars after the crucial spaceship in the story, the Heart of Gold. “Hitchhiker’s Guide” doesn’t have a metaverse, but it does have a planet called Magrathea, whose inhabitants build an enormous computer to ask it a question about “life, the universe and everything.” After millions of years, it answers, “Forty-two.” Mr. Musk says that the book taught him that “if you can properly phrase the question, then the answer is the easy part.” But that is not the only lesson of “Hitchhiker’s Guide,” which also didn’t start out as a book. Adams wrote it for BBC Radio 4, and, starting in 1978, it was broadcast all over the world — including to Pretoria.
“Far back in the mists of ancient time, in the great and glorious days of the former galactic empire, life was wild, rich and, on the whole, tax-free,” the narrator intones at the beginning of an early episode. “Many men, of course, became extremely rich, but this was perfectly natural and nothing to be ashamed of because no one was really poor, at least, no one worth speaking of.” “Hitchhiker’s Guide,” in other words, is an extended and very, very funny indictment of economic inequality, a science-fiction tradition that stretches all the way back to the dystopias of H.G. Wells, a socialist.
Early science fiction emerged during an era of imperialism: Stories about traveling to other worlds were generally stories about the British Empire. As Cecil Rhodes himself said, “I would annex the planets if I could.” The best early science fiction offered a critique of imperialism. Wells began his 1898 novel, “War of the Worlds,” in which Martians invade Earth, by remarking on British colonial expansion into Tasmania, writing that the Tasmanians, “in spite of their human likeness, were entirely swept out of existence in a war of extermination waged by European immigrants, in the space of 50 years. Are we such apostles of mercy as to complain if the Martians warred in the same spirit?” Wells wasn’t justifying Martians; he was indicting the British.
Douglas Adams was to South Africa what H.G. Wells was to the British Empire. The U.N. General Assembly denounced apartheid as violating international law in 1973. Three years later, police officers opened fire on thousands of Black schoolchildren during a protest in Soweto, an atrocity extensively reported on by the BBC.
Adams wrote “Hitchhiker’s Guide” for the BBC in 1977. It takes particular aim at the mega-rich, with their privately owned rockets, establishing colonies on other planets. “For these extremely rich merchants, life eventually became rather dull, and it seemed that none of the worlds they settled on was entirely satisfactory,” the narrator says. “Either the climate wasn’t quite right in the later part of the afternoon or the day was half an hour too long or the sea was just the wrong shade of pink. And thus were created the conditions for a staggering new form of industry: custom-made, luxury planet building.”