Blackspot

Death of Grass

What if society collapsed tomorrow?

In John Christopher's apocalyptic novel The Death of Grass, an agricultural virus wipes out the world's grain. The loss of wheat, rice and barley sets off a chain reaction. Livestock die, mass starvation ensues and civilization collapses. Like most novels in the dystopian genre, Christopher's story follows a tribe of humans as they struggle to survive.

The central conceit of the novel is that the protagonist's brother owns a farm in an easily defensible valley. The farm is a metaphor for eden: an ecological utopia with a surplus of fertile land and a bumper crop of potatoes ready for harvest. Unfortunately, civilization collapses more swiftly than anyone expects and the protagonist and his family must fight their way several hundred miles to get back to the farm. Along the way, others join their party including a gunsmith whose sniper rifle becomes the tribe's main tool of survival.

As the novel progresses, the murderous acts they commit steadily increase. They kill for food, for revenge and, finally, for control of the farm. And in the end, an explicitly patriarchal despotism develops. Tyranny conquers utopia.

The reason to read The Death of Grass today is that invites us to ponder what would happen if society collapsed tomorrow. The answer Christopher offers is that we would fall back upon the same individualist, survival mentality that ushered in collapse. He argues that we would repeat the mistakes of the past, brutally installing a dictatorship and ruthlessly killing others to save ourselves. Christopher does not pretend that goodwill and solidarity will exist the day after catastrophe unless they existed the day before.

The moral of The Death of Grass is that tyranny is the necessary result of ecological catastrophe if collapse comes before a spiritual and moral revolution. This is a message that we ought to take to heart because, like in the novel, the warning signs of environmental collapse haunt us. Although we try to repress our awareness of the looming zero point, the death rattle of nature is growing louder.

In light of the death of nature, I believe that we have only three options.

The first option is to do nothing: ignore the warning signs and continue on the path of reckless consumerism. Under this model, we simply keep living our lives, building our careers and believing that everything will be fine. We place our faith in the corporations and the American way of life.

The second option is largely the same as the first but it appeals to liberal-minded environmentalists. This is the so-called "green capitalism" option whereby we keep consuming but we make ourselves feel better by purchasing "green" products. Ultimately, this path only appeals to the very rich who can afford to shop organic, buy hybrids, use bamboo flooring and follow the latest corporate endorsed trends.

In the end, these two options are basically the same. They refuse to accept the need for a dramatic reduction in First World standards of living. As such, they are not options at all because they merely ensure the extinction of nature. These two options guarantee that when the collapse happens it will bring an ecological dictatorship. Both "green capitalism" and consumerism, in their refusal to endorse a spiritual turn-around, lay the foundations for eco-tyranny.

The third option is to immediately take the threat of ecological collapse seriously and to re-organize society around confronting that threat. This requires a fundamental change in the goals of society: an end to economic development, to the acquisition of things, to the desecration of the earth. And it requires an essential shift in the nature of humanity: a moral and spiritual uprising against the soul poisoning of advertising. This option is the only viable alternative to eco-tyranny. It asks the most of us, but it is also the only way to prevent an authoritarian post-apocalyptic society.

Some believe that averting ecological catastrophe may no longer be possible. Regardless of whether this is true–after all, how could we know?–the best strategy may be to assume that the tipping point has already occurred and that preventative measures are no longer sufficient.

Instead, what is needed now is a frank discussion about what will happen the day after. If all we can imagine is that it will be a terrible dictatorship of violence, then we must immediately begin the process of initiating a spiritual revolution, an inner-insurrection that lays the foundation for an egalitarian post-consumerist society.

Micah White is a contributing editor at Adbusters and an independent activist. He lives in Berkeley and is writing a book about the future of activism. www.micahmwhite.com or micah (at) adbusters.org

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24 comments on the article “Death of Grass”

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NS Ross

When things collapse it's hard to see how "might is right" won't remain the order of the day.
I want to see an alternative.
But even if a spiritual-egalitarian revolution had wide support all it would take is a small band, a cabal not playing by the rules, to re-insert a version of the "power-over" model into local communities.
I want to see an alternative. I think I need help with the vision required to see it.

NS Ross

When things collapse it's hard to see how "might is right" won't remain the order of the day.
I want to see an alternative.
But even if a spiritual-egalitarian revolution had wide support all it would take is a small band, a cabal not playing by the rules, to re-insert a version of the "power-over" model into local communities.
I want to see an alternative. I think I need help with the vision required to see it.

Anonymous

I don't agree.What we need is complete anarchy.But in the forum of people that want to help the environment.Also I think there is still time left to save everything from the people who don't understand existence.I understand it its the best thing ever.

Anonymous

I don't agree.What we need is complete anarchy.But in the forum of people that want to help the environment.Also I think there is still time left to save everything from the people who don't understand existence.I understand it its the best thing ever.

Insomniac

There is no simple answer to this general question. The question is complex. Humanity and the world we live in is complex. To say for example "Anarchy leads to tyranny," is to not really say anything at all. I am curious what said Anonymous speaker believes is the current state of tyranny in the world. And as for the comment about the Spanish Revolution, it is true there is something to be learned about the ability of people to organize themselves from that example, but it did of course fail under the influence and dominance of existing state powers. The reply that what is needed then is "total anarchy" I think is more accurate but the point is relevant, comment of NS Ross, that those not "playing by the rules" could be disruptive to that order.

However, the point of the article was the need for a social transformation, a spiritual awakening. What can we learn from the past? Take an example that it was only a couple of centuries ago that the ability to own a black person as property was part of the social norm in the USA. While racism is by no means a thing of the past, it IS generally shunned upon to be racist in our culture. One could easily lose a job or destroy a career by dropping a racial slur. This is not just a matter of law, it is a shift in cultural beliefs. The minority of property owners and ruling elites were the driving force to create such exploitive laws to serve themselves, and further extended propaganda that plays on people's differences and needs within a system of wealth disparity. It is the general good nature and desire for freedom amongst everyday people that becomes the driving force to challenge such a system.

Many people tend to accept the current environment as natural simply because it has been indoctrinated since birth. Those of us that find reason to question the morality of the system we're born into have an obligation to push culture's progress. What is considered natural at the moment CAN be changed. Imagine if you grew up in a society where there is no wealth and people see that concept as archaic or equivalent to raping a child. There may be people that still deviate from that norm, as people aren't perfect and can become broken, but our general mentality would not flow toward wealth as it is seen as immoral, and we would have developed social technologies to aid in the prevention.

At any time in history, there are plenty of people to say there is no way a new way is possible. Those are not the people that brought change. It takes your courage. It takes your belief. It takes your action.

Insomniac

There is no simple answer to this general question. The question is complex. Humanity and the world we live in is complex. To say for example "Anarchy leads to tyranny," is to not really say anything at all. I am curious what said Anonymous speaker believes is the current state of tyranny in the world. And as for the comment about the Spanish Revolution, it is true there is something to be learned about the ability of people to organize themselves from that example, but it did of course fail under the influence and dominance of existing state powers. The reply that what is needed then is "total anarchy" I think is more accurate but the point is relevant, comment of NS Ross, that those not "playing by the rules" could be disruptive to that order.

However, the point of the article was the need for a social transformation, a spiritual awakening. What can we learn from the past? Take an example that it was only a couple of centuries ago that the ability to own a black person as property was part of the social norm in the USA. While racism is by no means a thing of the past, it IS generally shunned upon to be racist in our culture. One could easily lose a job or destroy a career by dropping a racial slur. This is not just a matter of law, it is a shift in cultural beliefs. The minority of property owners and ruling elites were the driving force to create such exploitive laws to serve themselves, and further extended propaganda that plays on people's differences and needs within a system of wealth disparity. It is the general good nature and desire for freedom amongst everyday people that becomes the driving force to challenge such a system.

Many people tend to accept the current environment as natural simply because it has been indoctrinated since birth. Those of us that find reason to question the morality of the system we're born into have an obligation to push culture's progress. What is considered natural at the moment CAN be changed. Imagine if you grew up in a society where there is no wealth and people see that concept as archaic or equivalent to raping a child. There may be people that still deviate from that norm, as people aren't perfect and can become broken, but our general mentality would not flow toward wealth as it is seen as immoral, and we would have developed social technologies to aid in the prevention.

At any time in history, there are plenty of people to say there is no way a new way is possible. Those are not the people that brought change. It takes your courage. It takes your belief. It takes your action.

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