Mike Davis, California’s ‘prophet of doom’, on activism in a dying world: ‘Despair is useless’

Lois Beckett in San Diego

What keeps us going, ultimately, is our love for each other, and our refusal to bow our heads, to accept the verdict

For decades, the southern California writer Mike Davis has obsessively documented the dark side of the Golden state – its wildfires, earthquakes, megalomaniac real estate developers and violent police departments. In essays like The Case for Letting Malibu Burn, Davis has argued that California’s natural disasters are not really natural at all, but the result of greed, racism, and lack of foresight from the region’s power brokers. In City of Quartz – published in 1990, two years before the Rodney King uprising – he depicted Los Angeles as a white supremacist police state that had successfully marketed itself as paradise.

He was branded “the prophet of doom” and some called him too critical, a delusional lefty. But in recent years, Davis’s warnings of ecological and social destruction have begun to sound increasingly prophetic. As California struggles with soaring wealth inequality and homelessness, new protests over police violence erupt, and the mansions of Malibu burn again and again, his writing has only become more relevant.

All this comes as Mike Davis is dying. This summer, the 76-year-old stopped treatment for esophageal cancer and began palliative care, giving him an estimated six to nine months to live….


Book review: Late Victorian Holocausts – the famines that fed the empire