Elon Musk and Mark Zuckerberg, two laptop geeks value greater than $300 billion put collectively, are posturing to struggle one another in a mixed-martial-arts cage match. The dumb backstory: Fb, which was Zuckerberg’s follow-up to a girl-rating web site began in his Harvard dorm room, has been constructing a competitor to Twitter, an internet site for yelling at folks on-line that Musk, who as soon as made his tunnel-digging firm manufacture flamethrower-like units, purchased for $44 billion in a match of pique final 12 months. Then a senior Meta govt implied that Musk’s management of Twitter was, effectively, not sane, and Musk was like “😅” (or whew, lol in emoji), after which some tweep warned him that Zuck does jiu-jitsu now, and Musk went, “I’m up for a cage match,” after which Zuck agreed, or a minimum of posted that he did on the web.
What to make of this? Turning sports activities competitors right into a proxy for company triumph is nothing new; simply consider the Oracle founder Larry Ellison’s obsession with yacht racing. However to invoke hand-to-hand fight, and infliction of precise bodily violence, as a jostle for computer-app supremacy does ring new bells. Over the previous three a long time, due to the huge income of the tech business and its magnates, psychological energy appeared to overhaul bodily burl on the trail to success, and as a cultural worth. However nope, it positive didn’t.
A long time in the past, when devices have been new however muscle groups weren’t, the 2 have been cleaved. Their archetypal representatives in class, nerds and jocks, have been at all times at odds, in each actual life and popular culture. Their squabble had raged for a few years—the square-jawed soccer participant with the blond cheerleader on his arm bullying the thick-rimmed-glasses- and pocket-protector-wearing math geek—however the battle reached a brand new peak within the mid-Nineteen Eighties, when computer systems (and lasers, and area journey, and different domains of geeky delight) impressed a recent number of nerd. Movies corresponding to Revenge of the Nerds (1984) and Actual Genius (1985) staged the quarrel in trendy phrases, whereas The Breakfast Membership (1985) and Again to the Future (1985) linked it to the mid-century prototype. The theme: Individuals with smarts however lacking brawn can use expertise (amongst different means) to win out, David-and-Goliath-style, over the bodily adept however mentally poor. The nerds have been underdogs, and their fictional victories charmed us as a result of they appeared unlikely.
Then the nerds started to win, for actual. Expertise grew from a pastime for weirdos right into a world-changing power that generated unfathomable riches. Invoice Gates, Steve Wozniak, John Carmack, Jerry Yang, Sergey Brin, and others proved that nerdom supplied a fast path to wealth and energy. Pc science joined finance as a supply of cash and the alternatives it unlocked. Being a nerd wasn’t a situation to be overcome, however embraced. Pc life grew to become normalized, overtaking earlier methods of being. Aggressive video video games obtained recast as eSports, and nerds chipped away on the glory and spectacle of athletics. Situations historically related to the nerd archetype, corresponding to social anxiousness and autism, grew to become extra extensively understood and accepted. As soon as an outcast, the quiet, unusual geek grew to become hegemonic.
However energy is energy, and the type gained from algorithmic acrobatics solely amplifies the will to wield extra of it. Even a billionaire lives inside a human physique, and people our bodies decay into inevitable demise. That terror, together with the wealth and independence to dictate one’s personal time, gave rise to a brand new, ripped tech management. Swole Jeff Bezos grew to become a meme when the Amazon founder began bulking up. Peter Thiel’s injections of the blood of the youth supply one other instance, together with the enterprise capitalist Bryan Johnson’s $2 million-a-year assault on growing older. Zuck’s pursuit of maximum health, together with his obsession with martial arts, falls into this camp as effectively. And Musk: Although hardly chiseled, he’s bodily imposing, and he has claimed to quick and take Wegovy to keep up a match and wholesome look. The nerd-CEO’s mighty physique has turn out to be an equipment for securing and increasing his energy. Why accept psychological dominance when you possibly can have energy, intercourse attraction, and bodily conquest too? In that pursuit, the nerd flips into being a jock.
Within the motion pictures, jocks and nerds typically struggle for intercourse. Musk and Zuckerberg aren’t combating over a woman, however they could as effectively be. Social media hosts sexual politics and energy: Zuck’s unique hot-or-not-alike Facemash; the revenge fantasies of incel communities; the traditional attractiveness widespread to the influencer economic system. A struggle for social-media supremacy is at all times additionally a struggle for the situations of companionship.
Within the mid-Nineteenth century, when guidelines and organizations for a lot of sports activities first formalized, the British athletics advocate John Hulley borrowed an offhand line from the Roman poet Juvenal to outline the early ideas of Olympism: mens sana in corpore sano, “a sound thoughts in a sound physique.” The thought was that youth ought to obtain each an mental schooling and a bodily one. There was a catch, nonetheless: The youth in query have been typically boarding-school college students, and due to this fact rich and principally male—the sons of those that ran society, and their inevitable successors.
Over the next century, the spirit of mens sana in corpore sano unfold, however few outdoors the elite had the chance to place it into observe. As an alternative they honed one facet or the opposite, cementing a cut up that might evolve into high-school cliques and their related stereotypes. Irrespective of what number of instances public faculties would possibly emblazon Hulley’s slogan or its lookalikes on a gymnasium wall, it couldn’t overcome the pesky drawback at its core. One of the simplest ways to have a sound thoughts and physique has at all times been the identical: Simply be wealthy.
Musk and Zuckerberg’s spat amuses as a result of it’s infantile—and due to this fact brings these figures right down to Earth. It additionally feels genuine: You and I get into dumb dustups on social media, and these mega-billionaires aren’t any completely different, in a approach. It’d even make them appear extra embodied and due to this fact extra actual—two wealthy guys keen, a minimum of in principle, to duke it out for social-media mastery. However the feud additionally disappoints, as a result of it reveals how poorly our tradition has reconciled the dualism of psychological and bodily capability, even in its most outstanding successes. Nerds are nonetheless caught inside their heads, wishing they might categorical themselves as our bodies, and jocks are nonetheless inclined to return out swinging. Who wants both of these jerks? The battle between the nerds and jocks was at all times sort of faux. On the highest ranges of society, nerds and jocks can’t be distinguished. Largely, they’re bullies to the remainder of us.