Farewell, California, I’ll miss you and I won’t miss you

“He has three fewer children and one million [dollars] less. Do you,” my young male passenger asked his female companion, “still want him to call you?” He was, I assume, joking, but even as I kept my mouth firmly shut, I wasn’t laughing.

That attitude, that prosperity and romance go hand in hand and that they are for the young is driving me away from California, a place of incredible beauty that I will miss a great deal. That beauty, of course, is what makes this a desirable place to live. It is one reason high technology has located here, exacerbating an already high cost of living to such a degree that even the high tech companies are now expanding elsewhere.[1]

The hell of it is, I don’t really even know why I can’t find a job here. Age discrimination is an obvious possible factor that I obviously can’t prove. The fact that I haven’t held a real job in eighteen years is another. That neither me nor my Ph.D. (the culmination of an education I returned to in that interim) pigeonhole neatly into a job description surely doesn’t help. But not receiving any meaningful feedback (I’m lucky to receive a letter saying they found someone they think is a “better fit”), I really don’t know.

Whatever the reason, I know that local resources aren’t helping. The Sonoma County Job Link program offers the same strategy that has failed me for eighteen years straight. And that’s all anyone tells me to do. “Keep applying,” they say. “It doesn’t work until it does.” Or, “Something will come through.” Or, “I’m sure there’s a niche for you somewhere.”

They’ve been saying that for eighteen years. I will be sixty at the end of this month. I was forty-two when I was laid off (with a warning even then that my age might be a problem). The years that should have gone to building up a nest egg for retirement have been spent in futility instead. A futile job search. A futile Ph.D.

Don’t even dare to ask me what I think of this society that so gleefully leaves me on the side of the road with the trash. And spare me those platitudes.

Moving to western Massachusetts, where I’ll have to come up with rent, where I’ll have to deal with real winters, is far from a certain solution. But it is, apparently, a place where education and civic participation are valued.[2]

In California, what I see is a high technology arrogance that “big data” (mining even for spurious correlations) and “artificial intelligence” (idiocy, actually, heavily reliant on those spurious correlations) can solve all problems. In this view, universities aren’t really for education, no matter what professors might think, but for networking; one should attend only until one finds people to start the next great tech company (which, if not great, will be bought out).

And if you’re forty-two or sixty, you’re just too old. You’re feeble-minded. You’re tired.

Elon Musk thinks you need to work eighty hours a week to change the world.[3] He’s wrong,[4] but folks around here carry on like he’s right—insanely long hours are a notorious part of start-up culture. Even if such hours don’t actually lead to better productivity,[5] around here, “disruptive” “start-ups” are the closest thing you’ll find to a deity.

After the dot-com crash, from which I have not recovered even after eighteen years, I’ve had quite enough disruption. I know that the deification of “start-ups” does not mean they actually have business plans. I know that their capitalist libertarian ideology in fact externalizes a lot of costs, including to accommodate ever worsening traffic, that they deny responsibility for. And having been a computer programmer in my own young adulthood—and now a human scientist—I know their epistemology, they way they “know” what they claim to know, is fucked.

It’s all beyond challenge here. And none of it is doing me any good. Just like the job search strategy that has failed me miserably for eighteen years straight.

My mother won’t live forever. But more than that, there’s no self-respect in living with one’s mother, to the admission that I am not self-supporting, especially at my age. I have to go.

I hope I’m going someplace better.

  1. [1]Economist, “The new geography of innovation: Why startups are leaving Silicon Valley,” August 30, 2018, https://www.economist.com/leaders/2018/08/30/why-startups-are-leaving-silicon-valley
  2. [2]Colin Woodard, American Nations: A History of the Eleven Rival Regional Cultures of North America (New York: Penguin, 2011).
  3. [3]Nathan Crooks, “Elon Musk Says You Can Change the World Working 80 Hours a Week,” Bloomberg, November 26, 2018, https://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2018-11-26/elon-musk-says-you-can-change-the-world-working-80-hours-a-week
  4. [4]Geoffrey James, “Elon Musk Is Wrong. You Can Definitely Change the World on 40 Hours a Week,” Inc., November 29, 2018, https://www.inc.com/geoffrey-james/elon-musk-is-wrong-you-can-definitely-change-world-on-40-hours-a-week.html
  5. [5]Geoffrey James, “Elon Musk Is Wrong. You Can Definitely Change the World on 40 Hours a Week,” Inc., November 29, 2018, https://www.inc.com/geoffrey-james/elon-musk-is-wrong-you-can-definitely-change-world-on-40-hours-a-week.html

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