Dear Mr. Musk, Will Your Boring Tunnel Be Available to Every Economic Class?

boring tunnel

Dear Mr. Musk,

How are you? I’ve been a big fan of yours ever since I became aware of your plan to help “expedite the move from a mine-and-burn hydrocarbon economy.” I know we need systemic assistance to reroute our everyday life habits which contribute to anthropogenic climate change.  Your vision of all-electric cars, roofs that convert solar energy into electricity, and a sustainable energy system that can allow people to self-power their homes and even go off grid is really breathtaking. I’ve been totally in awe of your capacity to envision change for a long time.

So, when I learned that you were to be a featured speaker at TED 2017: The Future You conference in Vancouver, I was excited. I wondered what you would discuss in order to connect to the conference’s promise to “explore the most pressing questions of our time and to imagine what our shared future might look like.”

boring tunnel

Photo: Courtesy of TED

Chris Anderson, the Head Curator for TED, started off your dialogue together by asking you, “Why are you so boring?” You responded to him by saying:

“We’re trying to dig a hole under LA, and this is to create the beginning of what will hopefully be a 3D network of tunnels to alleviate congestion. So right now, one of the most soul-destroying things is traffic. It affects people in every part of the world. It takes away so much of your life. It’s horrible.” — Elon Musk, TED 2017

Your idea for a boring tunnel has been in the news since December, 2016, when you tweeted that you were “going to build a tunnel boring machine and just start digging.” At TED 2017, you described the key elements of a 3D tunnel network: integrating the entrance and exit of the tunnel seamlessly into the fabric of the city, having an elevator that is like a car skate, and operating at high speeds, which, in the case of your boring tunnel, may be 200 kilometers/ 130 miles an hour. It’s a fascinating feat of design and would be revolutionary if executed.

Mr. Musk, um, I must also admit that I’m a bit concerned here that your boring tunnel may fail to meld with the greater social good. I do appreciate how you included the visualization as part of your TED presentation so we could begin to make the cognitive leap from idea to conceptual implementation.

As closely as I can tell, the world depicted in the visualization both above and below ground was filled with Teslas. A Tesla Model S basic model costs $69,500, and a Tesla Model X SUV entry-level model is $82,500. Clearly, these are the two models you mentioned in your Master Plan Deux that would meet economies of scale and allow Tesla to later manufacture “an affordable, high volume car.” And the new Tesla Model 3, which has a mass audience and is definitely a step in the right direction of making electric vehicles ubiquitous, has a starting price of around $35,000. However, I just have to say it: the Model 3 is out of economic range for most working class people, with the costs of required Tesla service thrown in. I must admit it.

Paolo Freire, the great Brazilian social justice activist, said that we must engage in “reflection and action upon the world in order to transform it.” I’m trying, sir, but I just can’t see how the boring tunnels will give hope to people who are disenfranchised, powerless, or voiceless in our society and help them to transform their social circumstances for the better. I’d like to think of the boring tunnels as a commitment to the democratic values of equality, justice, and respect for marginalized populations, and I’m having a hard time making the boring tunnels’ connection to social justice.

Might you help by offering a bit more explanation?

Adam Howard argues, “The United States is the most highly stratified society in the industrialized world. Class distinctions operate in virtually all aspects of American life.” Yet these class distinctions are invisible and unknown to many people in the U.S. so that, as Howard notes, “we, as a nation, remarkably hold onto illusions about living in an egalitarian society.” Will the boring tunnels be one more cog in our capitalistic machinery that exacerbates socioeconomic divides in the U.S.?

Moderator Anderson alluded to our “future cities with these rich, 3D networks of tunnels underneath.” Will the boring tunnels be a transportation option to people across economic levels in our society? Anderson implied that the boring tunnels would be available “like on a sort of toll road-type basis.” I remember the feeling that the Chunnel from London to Paris was a bit pricey for me in grad school. Will your boring tunnel transit be higher, comparable, or will it be more affordable across economic groups so that business leaders, mid-level managers, students, and minimum wage workers alike can utilize them?

I see that there is a transporter in one scene that is filled with passengers of different heights and, presumably, ages (0:47/ 1:09). Will this larger vehicle be available for mass transit? If so, will it be affordable in a way that today’s bus, subway, and commuter rail systems in some of our larger U.S. cities are affordable across a wide spectrum of economic groups? Instead of how Freire describes the unfortunate state in the western world of money as “the measure of all things, and profit the primary goal,” will these tunnels have an “as you are able” cost for use? That would truly be a democratic idea enacted in a contemporary capitalist society.

Photo: Courtesy Tesla

I can’t help but be reminded of Rebecca Solnit’s comment that few of us “recognize what a radically transformed world we live in, one that has been transformed not only by such nightmares as global warming and global capital, but by dreams of freedom and of justice.” You, Mr. Musk, have such an enormous reach across multiple global, social, and economic groups. You really do have the capacity to use these boring tunnels as a way to provide a dignified, productive, and creative life beyond economics for people who do not experience privilege.

May I ask you, politely and with great hope: Will you use your wherewithal to develop these boring tunnels with a moral philosophy that requires courage, temperance, and prudence to help other individuals to develop fully their human potentials through economic justice? You would foster harmony as you work alongside others for the common good.

Sources: Freire, Pedagogy of the Oppressed, 1968, p. 36, 44; Howard, Learning Privilege:  Lessons of Power and Identity in Affluent Schooling, 2007, p. 15; Solnit, Hope in the Dark, 2004, p. 2.

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