The California nightmare

See update for February 19, 2021, at end of post

There are a few reasons I left California. One was that I hadn’t been able to find a real job since 2001, the year of the dot-com crash, even as I returned to school, finished a B.A., an M.A., and a Ph.D., all to no avail, and my frustration has long since morphed into fury.[1] Whatever it is I’m looking for, and at this point, I honestly don’t even know what that is, I wasn’t finding it in California, where I’d lived for over fifty years.

Another reason is the incredible wildfires that seem to be happening annually now and seem to be the new normal. Some of this can be blamed on Pacific Gas and Electric,[2] and some on a failure to conduct controlled burns.[3] (But spare me Donald Trump’s bullshit about ‘raking.’[4]) Some of it can even be attributed to real estate development encroaching ever further into wild lands.[5]

Some of this recurring inferno is simply about climate change.[6] Drought has been a recurring feature in California during my adult life—it seems like we were in a drought more often than not—and it combines with an unsustainable rate of water usage.[7] But however we attribute the cause, the effect is apocalyptic. The last fire I was in California for was the Camp Fire, 100 to 150 miles away from where I was living and working, and even at that distance, the smoke was still so intense I could often see barely a block or two ahead.

But a third reason was that I could see how high tech[8] and the money that follows it and the arrogance that follows both[9] was taking over the state, especially the coastal region where I lived. It’s all about numbers now, especially money, a quantitative approach that suits neoliberalism well,[10] that is at odds with who I am as a human scientist, focusing on qualitative inquiry, a rich understanding of our social world, rather than the superficial one of statistical aggregates.[11]

In short, my state was no longer my state. Even as I was approaching my 60th birthday, I had no hope there of living in my own apartment. I occupied a couple rooms in my mother’s house. Forces far beyond my control had taken my state away from me, taken my city, San Francisco, where I mostly grew up, away from me. And I’m white.

San Francisco’s new poet laureate, Tongo Eisen-Martin, hails from a revolutionary Black past, a movement that has never had a place within what they call the “Overton Window,” the range of acceptable political discourse, and in an interview I highly recommend, clearly understands the relationship of capitalism and racism in oppression. It bears noting that I find this interview not in a San Francisco paper, but in the Los Angeles Times’ “Essential California” newsletter by Julia Wick.[12] If I could, I’d quote the entire interview, but here’s a snippet on The City’s Mission District:

Do you still recognize the place that the Mission has become?

No. The Mission was turned into what’s really like a corporate campus. … It’s really just a playground for these kind of transient soldiers of the bourgeoisie. We were ripped out of San Francisco. Though this kind of war against nonwhite communities in San Francisco is actually decades old. This attrition comes with grandmothers being forcibly removed from homes by police or sheriffs, it comes with gang injunctions. … It comes with hyper-policing. It’s not just that we lost some kind of economic gain, or we didn’t play our cards right. It was an aggressive liquidation of nonwhite communities.[13]

If, especially, you go across the San Francisco-Oakland Bay Bridge, you see that this liquidation is not just of nonwhite communities but of poor communities. These people often haven’t gone anywhere; they occupy encampments, sometimes the size of small villages, all around the Bay Area, even in Sacramento. In Mountain View, one can see them in the not-so-recreational vehicles lining the streets. The rent is simply too damn high,[14] especially in California, where the rich imagine themselves productive, as having “earned” their loot, but who are in fact parasites on an often unhoused underclass that waits their tables in high-end restaurants and cleans their houses, even drives them to their Silicon Valley jobs whether in buses or as rideshare drivers, generally doing the menial work that they can’t be bothered with.

This exclusion is not just economic and of the unhoused. It becomes educational, of people who were never properly educated, in part because, even as kids, they were scrambling to survive under many pervasive forms of oppression that our system of social organization protects.[15] It leads to a quality of thinking on the level of conspiracy theories[16] that permeates through communities that aren’t rich, and are often of color, and animates, for example, the San Francisco Board of Education’s unfathomably ironic decision to rename schools relying on historically false information.[17] The excluded lie at the opposite extreme from a largely white and wealthy high tech sector and both miss important truths.

But it isn’t just that they miss those truths. It’s that they don’t want to hear them. Which is a reason I can’t find work, even with a Ph.D.

Update, February 19, 2021: For an example of high tech arrogance surrounding artificial idiocy, see my blog post entitled, “Having already fucked up in ousting an ethics researcher, Google doubles down.”

  1. [1]David Benfell, “About my job hunt,” Not Housebroken, n.d.,
  2. [2]David Benfell, “Sorry, PG&E, but sorry is not enough,” Not Housebroken, December 4, 2019,
  3. [3]David Wallace-Wells, “California Can’t Afford to Wait for Climate Action,” New York, September 11, 2020,
  4. [4]Patrick Kingsley, “Trump Says California Can Learn From Finland on Fires. Is He Right?” New York Times, November 18, 2018,
  5. [5]Annie Lowrey, “California Is Becoming Unlivable,” Atlantic, October 30, 2019,
  6. [6]Kurtis Alexander, “Scientists see fingerprints of climate change all over California’s wildfires,” San Francisco Chronicle, August 3, 2018,
  7. [7]Bonnie Berkowitz and Adrian Blanco, “Mapping the strain on our water,” Washington Post, August 6, 2019,
  8. [8]David Benfell, “The consciousness of Elon Musk,” Not Housebroken, April 30, 2019,; David Benfell, “Our new Satan: artificial idiocy and big data mining,” Not Housebroken, January 13, 2020,
  9. [9]David Benfell, “Farewell, California, I’ll miss you and I won’t miss you,” Not Housebroken, April 9, 2019,
  10. [10]David Benfell, “A piper needs paying,” Not Housebroken, January 29, 2021,
  11. [11]David Benfell, “Human Science: The mother of the social sciences,” Not Housebroken, n.d.,
  12. [12]Julia Wick, “Talking San Francisco with the city’s new poet laureate,” Los Angeles Times, February 12, 2021,
  13. [13]Julia Wick, “Talking San Francisco with the city’s new poet laureate,” Los Angeles Times, February 12, 2021,
  14. [14]Kate Gibson, “Minimum wage doesn’t cover the rent anywhere in the U.S.,” CBS News, June 14, 2018,
  15. [15]David Benfell, “We ‘need to know how it works,’” Not Housebroken, March 19, 2012,
  16. [16]David Benfell, “The media and the Left,” Not Housebroken, February 1, 2021,
  17. [17]David Benfell, “It’s fine to highlight other people. But don’t cite historical falsehoods when you do,” Not Housebroken, February 6, 2021,

One thought on “The California nightmare

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.