Celebrated venture capitalist Vinod Khosla has penned a more than usually narcissistic piece of Silicon Valley navel-gazing. Under the title “Is majoring in liberal arts a mistake for students?” he outlines the potentially awful consequences of making that mistake – including, of course, the risk of not being as rich and successful as Vinod Khosla. It’s worth reading in full for such gems as “if subjects like history and literature are focused on too early, it is easy for someone not to learn to think for themselves.” That’s not quite the history I learned at Cambridge, but then I guess Khosla has been too busy elsewhere to check. But in particular, he claims that, “though Jane Austen and Shakespeare might be important, they are far less important than many other things that are more relevant to make an intelligent, continuously learning citizen, and a more adaptable human being in our increasingly more complex, diverse and dynamic world.”
I’m happy and relieved to report that even in tech circles, Khosla’s dictum hasn’t exactly won much praise or support. The Register, as geeky as it gets, laments that “Khosla joins list of people it’s really not worth listening to.” Note that Khosla trained in engineering, a discipline that supplies a far higher share of terrorists and fanatics than many others, including the humanities. That hardly argues much for the critical thinking skills that Khosla attributes to the “liberal sciences.” But Khosla’s comments sound like they come from the Valley “bubble of tone-deaf arrogance” that obviously hasn’t been popped since 2013, when local VCs dismissed the Valley’s homeless as “trash.”
Of course, it isn’t the first time that an American plutocrat has deemed that his bucks have earned him the right to tell the world what he thinks about just about anything. Look at Donald Trump. But let’s stick to the kind of argument that Khosla appears to understand – money. As of 2015, Khosla’s net worth is estimated at $1.69 billion. Now, according to Celebrity Net Worth, George Lucas, the world’s richest celeb, has a net worth of $5.1 billion. Steven Spielberg is worth $3.5 billion. Oprah Winfrey is worth $3.2 billion. And Jami Gertz, a lowly actress who after all may have appeared in Shakespeare, is worth $2 billion. I’ll take a wild guess here and conjecture that none of them got their bucks by learning coding.
So maybe Khosla should knock the VC act on the head and taking up the arts, if he wants to be richer and better loved (or less despised). After all, Lucas, Oprah, and their ilk influence more lives, and even earn more money than he does into the bargain. Oh, and they’re neither terrorists nor tone-deaf greed merchants.
And definitely one consequence of a numerically-based approach like Khosla advocates is the eternal problem of knowing the price of everything and the value of nothing. He could have saved his words. Rather than dissing literature for 5000 of them, why not just write: “Greed is good”? That’s what it boils down to.