By Julie Collins
I started a “Why I Left San Francisco” Twitter page. It’s an archive of articles and quips about why it’s a good idea to leave San Francisco, and for that matter, maybe just leave California altogether.
I grew up in the Bay Area, and one of the last things my father told me before he died was how he regretted not staying in the Bay Area, because the house my parents bought would have been worth 100 times its original value. The access to the Pacific Ocean and the mountains and all the beauty and grandeur that California has to offer was something he missed since leaving it all behind. I didn’t have the heart to tell him (after all he was on his death bed), that it’s not as easy and idyllic as you might think, not unless you’re really really, and I mean, really wealthy.
Even still, though. One can access some pretty stunning natural habitats for free. But, I left San Francisco anyway. Well, we left it. My husband and I, that is.
We left not for the obvious reasons, but the covert, less obvious reasons: the reasons that keep you up at night, those reasons that leave you second guessing yourself. To live in a constant state of imposition and flux, questioning your own reality based on the world around you, is no life.
Maybe I’m being too nuanced. Maybe I should just start calling it as it is. But when you do that in San Francisco, and especially when you use social media to tell people the truth about something, they attack you for telling it, instead of actually listening to the truth itself. Most people go on the attack when they are faced with the truth of things. After all, nobody wants to hear that it’s years and years of systemic abuses in our government, which ultimately behaves like the mob, that has caused the great chasm of wealth disparity and poverty and despair in our country. It’s easier to just shut your eyes and ears and blame Russia or blame voters who didn’t choose Hillary Clinton, for installing a narcissistic reality tv star as President of the United States.
For instance, the time I accidentally told the truth about the non-profit homeless industrial complex that exists in San Francisco. I was attacked maliciously through the court system and nearly jailed for telling the truth about these organizations that exist to pad paychecks, but actually do nothing to tackle the real systemic rise of the unhoused.
When my apartment was stolen from me, and I found myself unlawfully locked out of my own premises, I went to the San Francisco Rent Board, the San Francisco Tenants Union, and the Homeless Advocacy Project. These are all organizations that make claims to help people exactly in my situation. I did everything by the book, documenting what took place. But, these are really the organizations that make up the Homeless Industrial Complex in San Francisco. They have lawyers on staff, well paid “advocates”, and administrative staff. And yet, especially in front of the Homeless Advocacy Project, you will see rows and rows of the unhoused living in tents right outside their front door. It’s glaringly obvious. So much so that national media picked it up and exposed its fraud. I can guarantee the person who went to the national media to expose it didn’t face jail time for exposing it, like I faced.
Another example, my husband recently made the mistake of going on the most toxic site in existence, Facebook, responding to a 48Hills article about a Precita Park incident. I lived in Precita Park for 7 years, and in fact the apartment that was unlawfully taken from me was in Precita Park. He made a comment about Precita Park being one of the least desirable places (although picturesque, but then even the slums in San Francisco are picturesque), to live and rather than focus on what he was saying, and learning the truth about the neighborhood, he was attacked for telling the truth.
This is the average go-to behavior in San Francisco even if in this case it was social media. It’s still infantile and childish and represents a scary disdain for respect for an individual’s offerings and a resistance to adulthood.
In my new city, where my husband and I bought a nearly 100 year old house with cash, by the way, there is no homeless problem. In my new city, we recently met the landlord of the apartment building across the street from our house. He mentioned one of the tenants is behind on his rent, so he moved him downstairs to a smaller, more affordable unit. The next day, we talked to our neighbors that own the home next to the apartment building and this is what our neighbors said, “We’re going to ask Jack (landlord) to go easy on Mark (tenant). Give Mark a chance to catch up on rent. Mark’s a good guy. He’s quiet and respectful. He’s been out of work because of an injury, but he’s back at it and he’ll catch up on his rent.” I’m not saying this is exactly why there are very few, if any, unhoused in my new city but if this is the general attitude, to work with people and help people while they’re going through a tough time, then it must factor into it somewhere.
Pierre-Joseph Proudhon, French politician and founder of the mutualist philosophy, tells us that property is theft. What he means by that is that if you own property and you exploit human beings to make a profit off your property, then that is immoral, practically illegal and ultimately, theft. So, the landlord/tenant relationship is one of theft and exploitation. To own personal property for the self, and to work out of your own property and live and thrive on your own within your own walls, is not immoral. This is you working to create a better life and maintain stability and safety for yourself. This is beneficial for yourself and society.
Most of San Francisco is made up of renters. I heard a statistic that blew my mind: 90% of the people living in San Francisco are renters. After all, I’d always been a renter and never thought twice about it. Most of the people I know are renters. This means that 90% of the people living in San Francisco are victims of theft. A standard one bedroom apartment in San Francisco goes for nearly $4,000.00 per month. Yes, the price is high. But even if it were a fraction of that, it would still be theft. To hand over your hard earned money to a landlord and have no ownership of the property which you pay for seems like self inflicted victimization and frankly a little illogical.
It wasn’t until I learned that the goal of the state (not the State of California, I’m talking about the government), in the long run, is to put everyone on a rental grid, paying for tight quarters with no possibility of ownership of those quarters that I finally realized being a renter wasn’t in my best interest even in one of the most beautiful cities in the world.
Financial and banking legislation has been passed and we saw evidence of it in the 2008 Great Recession which caused the number of unhoused in our nation to explode. This was a time when Wall Street and the mortgage industry committed waste, fraud and abuse making things up as they went along and convincing people who made minimum wage to sign up for mortgages. In other countries, when this happened, those who committed the fraud went to jail. In this country, the fraudsters were all given bonuses and the victims of the fraud were blamed.
After this, it left massive amounts of properties vacant, in which landlords could take advantage of zero banking regulation and a future tenants market. It’s why you see so many vacant commercial spaces and vacant properties in San Francisco and New York. Large corporations have bought out the smalltime landlord, and it’s more beneficial to these corporations to keep the buildings empty or charge such high rents that mortgages can be paid off quickly or leveraged to swallow up more properties.
This is another reason why I left San Francisco. I didn’t want to be on that rental slave grid plantation with no possible end in sight. But to talk this way in San Francisco is foreign. I try to talk to people about the dangers of being a renter, how its exploitive and immoral, and I’m met with a lifeless empty gaze. “But I’m on rent control.” (I used that excuse myself for many years). Many renters in San Francisco describe themselves as being shackled with golden handcuffs or living in a gilded cage. Living in servitude, even if it is living on that gleaming shining city on a hill to just pay your rent, is still servitude. Arrogantly, I had the gall to say I’m no one’s servant.
What happens to a society when it refuses to diagnose itself? It becomes brainwashed, or sociopathic or lives in deep denial of itself. If you’re an empath, like me, this can eat you alive. As I said, I grew up in the Bay Area, and had been living in San Francisco, paying rent as an adult from age 23 to 48. In the 25 years I lived in San Francisco, I was attacked, robbed, lied about, set up as a scapegoat, stalked, preyed upon, exploited at work then discarded. I had friends steal my jewelry. I had strangers steal my scooters. I had a boyfriend steal my Pomeranian. I had a roommate steal my bedroom and all its belongings inside of it. I was always the victim of some manner of abuse, whether it was from a boyfriend on the anti social spectrum, a so- called friend, or even the SFPD.
Despite the personal hell that I experienced, it wasn’t until I realized that our former mayor, Ed Lee, was probably poisoned to death that I jolted out of my own denial and announced to my husband, “I think we should leave.” Ironically, I didn’t even like the mayor all that much. I went to an event where he spoke in front of a crowd of people and he looked grey. His skin was slack and shiny, and he looked uncomfortable and he seemed nervous. I even mentioned this to my husband as the mayor was speaking. That same night my husband had the worst case of food poisoning he’s ever had. A day or two later, it was announced that Ed Lee had died. I remember walking around the City and everyone had a look of shock and disbelief on their confused faces. The trauma was palpable, and I wondered if the City was starting to wake up to itself.
When Chris Hedges, Pulitzer Prize winner and former war correspondent for the New York Times, visited San Francisco to do research for his latest book, “America The Farewell Tour,” he described the City as the embodiment of our nation’s future. A City of anomie. Having lived there, I agree. Underneath the massive amounts of CIA-backed and state-backed money that is gushing into social media and tech industries, which is a cover for mass surveillance and machine learning technology (that’s a fancy way of saying yes, the robots are learning our jobs), there is an underbelly of depravity.
The BDSM culture and porn industry in San Francisco, for example, is pervasive and widespread, so much so that this masochism is normalized. What once was an old historic armory in San Francisco is now home to Kink.com where some of the most horrific pornographic acts of abuse against women are filmed and sold for profit. When driving into San Francisco from the highway, you are greeted with gyrating holograms of women dancing atop the Salesforce building. Benioff, the owner of Salesforce, embodies the worst version of hypocrisy as he grandstands about working with local law makers to make housing affordable, just after he finished building out a tower that literally looks like a giant platinum penis with women gyrating on top of it. His big announcement to the world that he is screwing us all.
In some twisted, upside down world of mixed up morals, this denigration of women is sold as “empowering” and “feminism.” In San Francisco, there is always talk of legalizing prostitution because that will make it safer for women in the sex trade. Yet, marginalized women are shuttled in from other countries and suffer constant abuse, then ultimately lost to their homes and families in the underground sex trade in San Francisco. This is a City in decay and lays the blueprint for a nation in decay to follow suit. Greed, arrogance, lust, lack of empathy, blaming the victim, and an adamant refusal to diagnose its own anomie and depravity are reason enough to leave it.
This behavior ushers in a disdain for fellow human beings. The unhoused in San Francisco are not simply individuals who have fallen on hard times and are living in tents around the corner from your apartment, or pushing shopping carts around filled with all of their earthly possessions. This is what you imagine when you hear the word “homeless” or “unhoused.” In San Francisco, it’s exactly that, and then far more sinister and a galling grievous indictment of every individual who allows for these unhoused to be so forgotten and invisible.
They are in exile in the middle of the street. They are not seen by the individualistic sociopaths that live comfortably in their pampered, well funded existences. They live in solitary confinement in the parks, and tent city sidewalks. When this denial of a human being takes place, and a human’s existence is ignored, something happens to that forgotten individual. They no longer behave like a human. In San Francisco, the forgotten and unhoused have morphed into animalistic creatures that wallow in their own feces, scream gibberish-ey obscenities in the street or lie half dead in the middle of the sidewalk. Their addictions have changed them, and their humanity is no longer recognizable. They wander in rags with no purpose, no concept of what they once were or what they could have become. And it’s not their fault. It’s the fault of a system that preys upon itself, feeding its own hubris and justifying it all the while.
This is an obvious representation of a sinister agenda. But, what is coming out of San Francisco right now is a nuanced, calculated and an unseen sinister agenda for the entire world. It’s called surveillance capitalism and it uses something called a behavioral futures market to make profit off of human beings. I often describe it as mining the individual. Back when the country was founded, miners would mine the earth for gold or silver or any mineral that they could sell and trade for profit.
What a behavioral futures market does is the same thing that the miners did back in the day. First, it forces all human beings onto a surveillance grid through social media. This is your plantation. Second, it mines each individual for those little nuggets of gold inside of us. This “gold” within you are your ideas, your posts on Facebook, your tweets, your likes, your check-ins, your data, your heartbeat, your sleeping patterns, the food you eat, when your child cries, when you’re angry, when you’re happy, what you do for a living, what you said a year ago, or yesterday. It takes all that information and makes a profit off it by selling it to markets that might profit off it. This is slavery. Yet, it doesn’t feel like slavery because you are willingly sharing everything.
This is what makes the process so insidious. Slaves, who toiled on the land and built our country up hundreds of years ago, were forced into a life of thankless exploitive service to their masters who owned them. This new, modern form of slavery, this digital slavery, has created algorithms and processes which make us addicted to it. If we were consciously aware that we were slaves on a digital plantation, we would break the system. But we are not consciously aware of it because there are digital algorithms in place that give off the same type of dopamine hits and responses that one gets after doing a bump of cocaine. In other words, every time someone likes your Facebook post, or retweets your tweet, it’s the equivalent of doing addictive drugs. Your body has the same pleasure response mechanism, and that is much harder to fight.
And all of this is being funded heavily in San Francisco. The obscenely wealthy people that walk around that City looking down on the rest of the country are the slave owners and we are their slaves for profit on their exploitive digital plantation. We are being mined to oblivion, losing our sense of self worth without even realizing it, losing our sense of precious privacy. Like Shoshana Zuboff says, “If you say you have nothing to hide, then you are nothing.” What this means is that the things that makes all of us uniquely human, is our innermost secretive selves. It’s a quietness about us that helps shape our decisions in life, where we will go next, what we will do, what we will say. It’s the thing inside of us that says “Pause. Don’t speak.” We are losing that in droves because San Francisco and its surveillance and behavioral futures market is mining it out of us.
In San Francisco itself, it feels as if that privateness is already lost. I often found myself being spoken at instead of to or with. It’s a good enough reason to leave. No one wants to be spoken at day in and day out. At one point, my husband and I couldn’t even go to a party without basically being chided and attacked for our anti-state (anti-government) position.
I hesitated writing this and then hesitated even longer publishing it.
I tried to explain the reasons why I left San Francisco were much deeper than the low hanging fruit reasons (the rent is too high, it’s too expensive, Peter Pan complexes) because those reasons were actually not why I left San Francisco. I left because it is bereft of understanding itself, unwilling to face its own anomie, and a scary depiction of ego and void of the soul, privileged hubris meets justification of exploit, explaining away the immolation of morality, and deep disconnect with foundational truths ranging from how our country is actually run to how the City itself uses its citizens for profit and sells this idealized capitalism to the world.