Image courtesy of The Community Voice.
I was listening to Start The Week tonight. (Well, it beats watching Prime Time, obviously.)
Epidemiologist Richard Wilkinson was on explaining how come a disease researcher like him ended up penning a book about why societies need to be more equal.
His book is top of my 'must buy and read' list already. But if I got him right, basically he was researching illness caused by lifestyle (stress, obesity and so on) and found it more prevalent in the most unequal societies, even if they were overall very affluent.
By contrast, more equal societies like Sweden have much lower levels of all these social and personal ills, despite having less disposable income overall.
Then he looked into things like violence, and found again that deeply unequal societies have the worst violence. What was really interesting was that he discovered that the very rich elites in these societies suffer too. Their wealth merely takes the edge off the risks.
He made the very good point that in such unequal societies - America, Britain, us, but also places like Singapore and Portugal, as well as the obvious African despotocracies - everyone suffers from status anxiety.
In other words, having the big car is no comfort because someone richer has a bigger car. And meanwhile, everyone works harder to earn the money which they then squander on such status symbols instead of using it usefully to develop their lives and society in a genuinely positive way.
Any of this sound familiar?
This goes to the core of the Celtic Tiger lie. The rising tide may well have lifted many of the boats (although you'll always meet plenty of people who it completely passed by.) But it didn't improve Irish society or make our lives more fulfilling and happier.
Instead it made us work harder to live in worse conditions (boxy apartments in dormitory estates miles from anywhere) in order to support the ostentatious consumption that was thrust forth as the be all and end all of our human existence.
Now that the Irish people are finally waking up from the nightmare, we can come to acknowledge that the squandering of the wealth we created wasn't just the fault of bankers, politicians and a golden circle, culpable though they all are.
We're all collectively responsible, and that can be seen in the fruits of our labour. The Celtic Tiger disease is best expressed by what we wasted our money on.
The rise of vacuous celebrity magazines, trumpeting the values of vapidity like the Beckhams or Jade Goody is possibly the most defining symptom of our collective disease.
So was the proliferation of bling, the pointless plumage of the self-obsessed. As were the overt penis-extensions like the big cars, the McMansions and the endless foreign holidays where people went to ever more exotic locales with the sole intent of boasting of it afterwards.
There is a cure for both this emptiness and for the deep social inequality that caused it. But that cure is currently a dirty word. Don't believe me? Listen to the shills scaremongering.
Let's start with a personal favourite, the Sunday Independent, mouthpiece of 'Sir' Tony O'Reilly, the man who got our gas and oil for nothing who now resides as a tax exile in Barbados and who closed Waterford Crystal, such is his commitment to our economy.
Here's his trustworthy senior journalist Jody Corcoran, a hack who previously excelled himself by accusing the late Liam Lawler of being with a prostitute when he died in a Moscow car crash (the poor woman was his interpreter.)
According to Jody, there is a battle for the hearts and minds of Ireland, and our Jody fears - gulp - that the battle may already be lost. Apparently the future of Ireland is socialism.
Yup, the S word. The word that the neo-cons successfully, and utterly inaccurately, linked so directly to Soviet gulags and Stalinist purges, to Mao's mayhem and famine and death, that even socialists themselves rapidly felt the need to rebrand as social democrats all over the world.
The word that Bertie Ahern once risibly sought to claim.
Socialism, the big boogyman, the dangerous ideology that would destroy our society.
How did we not see this 'reds under the bed' nonsense for what it is the SECOND time they played us with it? The truth is that it was the exact opposite of socialism, the inane, greed-driven inequity at the heart of neo-conservatism that destroyed what was good about Ireland.
I hope Corcoran is right (that's possibly a first for me.) I hope the future of Ireland IS socialism and for one very simple reason - we already tried the alternative he and his ex-pat billionaire employer espouse, and it's brought us to the brink of destruction.
We've destroyed our social cohesion, squandered our wealth and bankrupted our nation, while simultaneously abandoning the sickest in society to the vicissitudes of Harney's marketplace, and beggaring our young families on lifetime long mortgages for piss-poor accommodation.
Don't let the very people who beggared you, who stole your healthcare and social services, who sold you on extreme debt to fund crap you don't need that enriched only their already obscene bank balances - don't let them scare you any more.
The only way out of our current crisis is to recognise it for what it is, and wake up from the nightmare we sleepwalked into. The way out is to build a more equal society. The way out is to adopt the one political vision that this country has never tried in its entire history.
The disease, as Dr Wilkinson rightly diagnoses, is that we replaced a slightly unequal society with a desperately acutely unequal one.
The cure for that inequality is socialism.