I am so at home in Dublin, more than any other city, that I feel it has always been familiar to me. It took me years to see through its soft charm to its bitter prickly kernel - which I quite like too.


Heaven Can Wait

Tom Inglis

The Good Enough Life, by Daniel Miller, Polity, 280 pp, £17.99, ISBN: 978-1509559657

The world is full of war, fear, anger and hatred. One of the big questions for moral philosophers and anyone else interested in living a good life is why human beings can’t co-exist in peace and harmony. Why can’t they be content to live modest lives without hankering after money and power? More recently, these questions have been linked to the question of how people can live good ecologically sustainable lives.

Imagine, then, if there was a place where people did live such lives, or at least a decent approximation. It wouldn’t have to be some heaven on earth, just an ordinary down-to-earth place where there is a strong sense of bonding and belonging. Where people look out and care for each other. Where there is a greater interest in things of the spirit than getting and spending. Where people flourish through participating in various pastimes, sports and social activities: where they go to cafes, pubs, clubs and community centres to talk, sing, play and dance. Imagine that in this oasis of peace and contentment, there is no religious dogma or enforced state ideology. People are happy to live stress-free lives in which they are attuned to the care, needs and interests of each other; where there is no gainsaying; and nothing much happens other than the quiet unfolding of one day into the next.

In his The Matter with Things, Iain McGilchrist says that the inhabitants of the Greek island of Icaria regularly live to be over 100 years old. The main explanations for this are the habit of rising late (the doctor’s surgery did not open until 11 am), taking at least one good daytime nap, working for a few hours in the open air growing food and drinking two-thirds of a litre of wine a day. Given the climate and the diet, Icaria seems a good enough life to me.

I am not aware of any brochure that lists the best places to live in the world but if there was then it would seem, according to Daniel Miller, that Skerries in North Dublin should be included. In terms of the Census of Population, Skerries is a distinct town of around 11,000 people but in many respects it is so close to Dublin that it can be classified as a suburb. What it offers may not be an idyllic life to the degree of there being no cares, concerns, stresses or strains but, in terms of what is on offer elsewhere, it is a good enough life.

Given the climate, health, housing, migration and cost of living crises that the people of Ireland are facing, it is hard to think that anywhere in Ireland would come anywhere close to being designated as one of the best places to live. And, given what previous anthropologists have had to say about life in Ireland, Miller’s claim is a turn-up for the books.

Two American anthropologists, Conrad Arensberg and Solon Kimball, came to Co Clare in the 1930s. In Family and Community in Ireland (1940), they depicted a strong community based on families bound by tradition. There were unquestioned ways of behaving between men and women, parents and children, and then between people in the wider community. Life was stultifying and unchanging.

John Messenger painted an even bleaker picture. From his study of life on one of the Aran islands (which he referred to as ‘Inis Beag’) in the 1950s and ’60s, he concluded that the Irish were the most puritan and sexually repressed people in the whole of Europe. Twenty years later, Scheper-Hughes (Saints, Scholars and Schizophrenics) studied a village in west Kerry.  Following the results of the psychological tests she carried out on some participants, she agreed with Messenger about the level of asceticism and sexual repression. But she went further and said that the high levels of celibacy, linked to the sexual repression, led to forms of mental illness, especially schizophrenia.

Scheper-Hughes may have exaggerated her findings, and yet there were elements of truth in the picture she painted. What made Catholic Ireland different for most of the twentieth century was the persistence of large families and the development of forms of childrearing that created an emotional distance between mothers and their children. There was also some truth about her findings concerning the level of self-denial and sexual repression. These findings were reflected in the attitudes that emerged during the debates about abortion and divorce in the 1980s and in what happened to women and children, exemplified in the stories of Ann Lovett and Joanne Hayes.

For a long time, Ireland was seen by social scientists as an outlier. It was different from the rest of the West. Having been economically, politically and socially colonised by the English, it then became subject to a form of voluntary religious colonisation under the Catholic church. This led to a particular culture and personality. In 2005, Monica McGoldrick, an American family therapist, insisted that the Irish had definite characteristics: They are ‘good-humoured, charming, hospitable, and gregarious, but often avoid intimacy. They love a good time, which includes teasing, verbal word play, and sparring, yet are drawn to tragedy. Although always joking, they seem to struggle continuously against loneliness.’

It is, then, a major turnaround for Miller to come over to Ireland and, on the basis of his study of Cuan − despite his plea for maintaining anonymity it was quickly outed as Skerries − and conclude that, if one is to generalise from the particular, the Irish are probably among the happiest people in the Western world. On publication of the book, the sense of national euphoria was such that it led to an editorial in The Irish Times which noted that Miller paints a picture of ‘a friendly, unpretentious place where social bonds are strong and community pride is high’.

While Skerries has thrived many, other seaside resorts in Ireland and the UK have gone into decline. Blackpool, for example, used to be a favourite of the British holidaymaker. Before World War II it had over 10 million annual visitors. But this apparently once enchanting, magical place, ithas become sick and dysfunctional. The long-term illness rate is 17 per cent higher than the national average. It has the lowest life expectancy in England. It has the highest number of children in care and the highest rate of deaths from drugs misuse. It is, then, probably right and fitting that an outsider like Miller, who prior to his arrival had little or no connection with Ireland or Skerries, came with a fresh pair of eyes to look at what has been happening in the Irish town.

Miller comes with strong credentials. He is a renowned anthropologist who has done ethnographic research all over the world, mainly in Trinidad, India and England. He specialises in everyday life, focusing on things like shopping and caring relationships. He is a Londoner, a dedicated Labour and Arsenal supporter.  He came to Ireland to undertake a study, with Pauline Garvey of Maynooth University, which was published as Ageing with Smartphones in Ireland (2021). She looked at an area in Dublin; he looked at Skerries. It would seem that he was quietly overwhelmed by what he found was happening there. The task of any good anthropologist is to shine a light on that which is taken for granted, the webs of meaning in which people are suspended.

Miller focuses on retirees. Many of these had grown up in the era of repression but, Miller argues, the conditions of their existence have changed dramatically. Not only are they far better off than their parents in terms of the health and social services they can access but in relation to incomes, welfare and pensions, they are better off than their UK equivalents.

They are now free. They are free from the Catholic church. Religion plays a role for a small minority and, even for these, it is peripheral to their everyday lives. They are also free from work, not just in terms of its constraints, but in terms of how they are not seen and related to in terms of their occupation. They are free from family in that, while they are close to family members, they are free to choose how they fulfil their roles as parents and grandparents. There is a freedom from age, of seeing themselves as being elderly. They are free to create their own lives. And, finally, they are free from national and international political concerns. If there is a political dimension to the lives it is at the level of identity: people are free to change, to move beyond inherited social identities. This is seen in the way in which gender is performed. While there are still gender divides in family and community life, the ways in which women and men perform their gender identities have changed. Similarly, there are now numerous ways of being Irish. There is no need or desire to play out the roles that McGoldrick argued were characteristic of being Irish.

For Miller, the most remarkable characteristic of this freedom is the commitment to making Skerries a great place to live. He was amazed at the level of voluntarism that ranged from engaging in the Tidy Towns competition to contributing to a wide range of community education, health, social welfare and sporting services. Miller claims that what makes this voluntarism different from anywhere else he has studied is that it has nothing to do with self-aggrandisement. Being virtuous by looking after the common good is an end in itself.

It might well be claimed that Miller paints a rosy picture of Skerries because he wore rose-tinted glasses. He might have seen things differently if he had focused on forms, class and status differences and how they are reproduced. And yet, while it is impossible for the researcher to be objective and detached, there is a sense that Miller went in with his eyes wide open. He was not theoretically blinkered. He had not intended to look at Skerries in terms of how it operated as a mature, democratic civil society – he had gone there to study the influence of smartphones on the lives of the elderly – but he was so struck by the quality of everyday life in the town, that he felt he had to try and capture and explain what was going on.

This raises questions about the role of theory. If you or I were to visit or live in Skerries, it might be difficult to describe and analyse what it is going on. We need some structure or net to use to reveal the important clues, to guide us as to what to look for. Theory and concepts help focus our attention. Without theory, a visit to Skerries might suggest that it was like any town in Ireland or any other country.

Miller does not announce it here, but his approach comes within the range of what is called material culture studies, which is generally informed by what might be called a latterday Frankfurt School perspective. But he does not see consumer capitalism as necessarily alienating. In one of his previous books, A Theory of Shopping, he used theories of love and sacrifice to explain what goes on behind the ostensibly alienating practice of consumption.

Miller, then, was skilled at using a light theoretical framework to look for clues as to what was going on. He suggests that he is a disciple of the French sociologist Pierre Bourdieu, but if he had adapted a Bourdieu’s perspective, he would have looked for signs of domination and how power was reproduced. Instead, he saw signs of peace and harmony.  A picture began to emerge of a well-ordered, polite, civil society.

This is where Miller makes a decisive and creative turn. Instead of using sociological or anthropological theories and concepts to explain what is going on, he turns to philosophy. This is a brave and innovative move. Philosophers are not renowned for empirical research and there are few anthropologists or sociologists who would employ a philosophical tool box to examine life in Skerries. Miller is not a philosopher by trade, but given his knowledge of the field, he could easily be taken for one.

The key concept for Miller is freedom. We don’t know when and how Miller began to see everyday life in Skerries in terms of freedom. Was it a eureka moment or was it a slow realisation that emerged as he immersed himself in the town? To understand freedom, he delves into the works of Sartre, Berlin, Nussbaum and Sen.

They have all written about freedom, but from quite different viewpoints. It turns out that in explaining life in Skerries, some of the theories of these philosophers are more useful than others.  Sartre may be renowned as the king of existential freedom, but Miller thinks that the retirees of Skerries are far from the type of purposeless and desocialised wandering individuals that Sartre describes. He also thinks that Berlin is not that useful. His notion of positive freedom and the struggle to avoid totalitarianism is too abstract and general to help explain the creative ways that the people of Skerries flourish in their everyday lives. Nussbaum and Sen’s concept of freedom is far more positive. Recognising historical and structural limitations, they focus on the freedom of people to create and achieve goals.

So what does the good enough life in Skerries look like? What do people, particularly the retirees, do? The impression is that they have a similar set of values that revolve around hanging around and helping each other out. There is a good community spirit and a collective joie de vivre.  Residents may have different interests, identities, commitments and hobbies, but there seems to be mutual recognition and respect for these differences. Nobody seems to get above their station. There a few who seek status and power, but they are the exception. A symbolic representation of all this is the prevalence of blue jeans among men. There seems to be a moral code. You consume to live; you don’t live to consume. Conspicuous consumption is frowned upon, particularly if it is unecological. If there is one dominant value, it is anti-consumerism and sustainability and, in the spirit of thinking globally but acting locally, there is a strong collective belief in Skerries and this is represented by a determination to keep it as a well-ordered, clean and healthy town.

It was yet another reason to be constantly in awe of the good citizens of Skerries and make them subject to a book of praise. There is no contradiction in observing the degree to which environmentalism now dominates social status and its genuine moral necessity at a time when climate change is the single most urgent problem for contemporary humanity. Indeed, this alignment may be no bad thing. I am happy to cede status to those who work harder to secure the future of the planet than I do, acknowledging their moral superiority, if that makes me want to emulate them.

The question, then, is how this sense of bonding and belonging is maintained. The main form is through coming together for meetings, engaging in sport, participating in reading, musical groups or some other hobby and, for men, being a member of the local shed. There are two other ingredients that get special attention from Miller. It would seem that for many of the retirees, their lives revolve around each other, their families and their dogs. And, it would seem that as much as people are attached to their dogs, they are also attached to their smartphones. It has become a crucial link to maintaining connection with other local people, particularly through WhatsApp groups, and to the outside world. The smartphone, like the dog, has become an extension of the self. People would be lost without either.

So, given that the people of Skerries are necessarily part and parcel of the world capitalist system and that their ideas and lifestyles are structured by its practices and ideologies, Miller wonders if philosophers, particularly those of a Marxist orientation, can help shine a light on what’s happening. To what extent could it be said that the people of Skerries are shaped by the notion of the culture industry put forward by Adorno and Horkheimer in their Dialectic of Enlightenment. But he rejects their perspective because it does not capture the freedom that the people to create a vibrant community.

But if, like the theories of Sartre and Berlin, the theories of the Frankfurt School are not useful why refer to them at all? Why not rummage about in the conceptual toolbox of philosophy and take out those who are good at explaining what is going on. One prime candidate, often linked to the Frankfurt School, would have been Habermas. If we are to understand what is happening in Skerries, or elsewhere in the world, we have to understand how being reasonable is central to freedom from tyranny and hatred. It seems to me that the use of Habermas’s theory to explore how the dialectic between the institutional system of state, church, market and media and the lifeworld of Skerries is worked out on the streets, in the neighbourhoods, in cafes, pubs and clubs might have been more revealing.

What is different and admirable about Miller is that he turns the debate about consumerism around to himself. To what extent, he wonders, is he a pawn in the system. Like many academics and intellectuals, he wonders if his collections of books are objects of emotional investment and meaning or just commodities to give him status and respect. Of course, it’s not either/or. And yet, it is the way that objects such as books and artworks have meaning and, at the same time, operate as forms of cultural capital that is central to status differentiation.

So what is it that binds people together? In the not so recent past, one might have assumed that it was because almost everyone was Catholic, shared the same beliefs and values, went to Mass and sent their children to Catholic schools. It would seem, however, that all that was once Catholic about Skerries has melted into air. Instead there is a collective belief in being physically, mentally and spiritually fit. There are many different ways of doing this. It could be swimming, walking, reading, dancing, singing, karate, sailing or, as it is for most families, playing rugby, soccer, cricket or football. There is a wealth of choice. The good enough revolves around being active and sporty and the attending banter, talk, debate and discussion. It is as if these sporting groups and clubs act as small congregations. Most people are members of one or more. But although they may play different sports and belong to different teams, they all share the same simple faith about what it is live a good life.

If there is an over-arching belief that holds Skerries together it is pride of place. It is as if the residents believe that if they keep talking the town up, if they keep believing in it, and announcing the belief to each other, this belief will have consequences. And it works. People put the belief into practice. This is best represented by the level of involvement in community activities and events. And as in most families that have remained strong and united, there is a strong collective memory. Townspeople still talk of the time the local drama group put on Guys and Dolls. It was a mammoth production with a cast of over one hundred. It brought people together, especially introducing blow-ins to the more established locals. It was the catalyst for initially raising funds, and then building and now operating the Community Centre.

If communities such as Skerries are to thrive, there is a need for people to be recognised and appreciated when they make a contribution and fulfil their roles. However, people can sometimes get above their station and become too big for their boots. When this happens, they need to be taken down a peg. In Ireland, there is a long history of teasing, cajoling and taking the piss. Miller draws attention to this informal mechanism of social control and how important it is in Skerries (he points out, however, that it is nowhere near as vicious as what he encountered in Trinidad). Teasing and banter are intertwined with humour. Although Miller shines little light on it, one suspects that the residents share a sense of humour. They know intuitively what can be laughed about and how to do it. There is a cultural skill in being able to get people to laugh at something that they may be taking too seriously. Miller suggests that because of these informal social control mechanisms, within the good society of the town, particularly among the retirees, there is little or no hierarchy.

But one wonders to what extent this holds. Miller makes the case that, for example, in the men’s shed, the occupational status the men had during their employment years has little to do with the status now. There is no attempt to gain status through taking on leadership roles. There is little attempt to gain status through conspicuous consumption. If status is linked to consumption, it is more in terms of buying organic produce and environmentally friendly goods. Similarly, one attains status not by buying an expensive designer pup but rather by rescuing a dog from being put down. People are careful not to put themselves forward, to be seen to be dominating. In the book club to which he belonged, he says that there was no status to be derived from erudition or greater knowledge. All this is held together by a collective belief in what it is to be a good person and live a virtuous life.

It is not just that keeping fit helps to keep you alive; it has a very explicit connotation of virtue and also status. One of the most referenced groups in Cuan are the sea-swimmers, who go out without a wetsuit right through the winter. Failure to keep to the good path of physical activities has consequences. People who put on weight, other than for reasons of ill-health, are viewed as couch potatoes and are generally regarded as morally inferior. The ‘fallen woman’ today is not the one who is indulgent in her sexual promiscuity but rather the one who sits alone in her own home after work, or in retirement, and takes daily comfort in three large glasses of wine.

There is obviously something different happening in Skerries. There is a social order but it is not achieved by church or state. As an example of this, Miller refers to the civil policing that took place during Covid. During the outbreak, he says, thanks to their positive identification with civil society, the retirees even outdid the gardaí in monitoring compliance to restrictions ‘They believed that it was only through the rigorous, collective, and consensual application of law that they could become free – in this case from Covid.’ The question is how this law was applied, by whom, when and where. Why was it dependent on state law? Could the same forces be mobilised for the climate emergency?

There seems to a sense that the concern about what happens when one dies has been replaced by a concern for the death of the human species. It is safe to assume that for generations, people who lived in Skerrries were concerned that when they died that should go to heaven or purgatory, but not hell. It would seem that, now, while funerals are big events, there is little interest in what happens when you die. If there is such an interest it is not something that is discussed. Miller speculates that people may be more worried about dementia than death. Is this what makes Skerries different? People are not afraid of death, they just want to live life to the fullest.

It would seem that the best philosophers to turn to, not just in terms of explaining what is going on in Skerries, but as a guide to how to live a good life, would be the Greeks, particularly Socrates and Plato. Socrates seems to have seen a correspondence between winning a wrestling match with grace and beauty and winning an argument. Although he was interested in the nature of the world, how we know it, and what is right and wrong, he did not become obsessed with these headbanging issues; he did not withdraw from the world. Instead, like the people in their clubs, pubs and cafes, Socrates was happy to hang out in gymnasiums, keeping fit and healthy and taking pleasure in talking and company. He was, Miller argues, ‘a philosopher who fully understood the principle of good craic, which is fundamental to Irish sociality, life purpose, and indeed sport’.

Towards the end, Miller, using Hegel, tries to put Skerries and all that is local and personal, into a universal perspective. The inhabitants have attained freedom and realised themselves as individuals not as a personal pursuit, but through participation in a wide variety of activities that include education, sports, volunteering, the arts, travel, cooking, gardening and so forth. Freedom only comes through relationships and while Skerries may not be the ideal society, it is a mature, reasonable, democratic, civil society which is probably good enough.

There is, then, no ideology or formal hierarchical structure. And yet there seems to be consensus. But what is this collective consciousness and how does it lead to a collective consciousness about what is right and wrong. It would seem that this consensus about what constitutes the good life permeates the numerous different status groups within the community, from the swimmers to the singers to the gardeners. It would seem that Skerries could be considered as one large status group in which members strive for recognition, respect and honour and avoid embarrassment, shame and humiliation. There are many sociological theorists such as Goffman, for whom Miller claims to have an affinity, that would help shine an explanatory light on this.  I’m not convinced that Kant, Hegel and the other philosophers are the best ones to help explain what is going on here.

So is Skerries unique? Is it possible to replicate what has happened there? Miller does not explore this but he does suggest that there is a unique relationship between the established Skerries people, who now only account for about one-fifth of the population, and the blow-ins who began to settle in the town from the 1970s. There have been numerous ethnographic studies of the relationship between established and blow-ins in Ireland and the UK. What seems to have happened in Skerries, because of its historical associations as a seaside resort, is that it attracted well-educated people with energy, vision and a knowledge of how to get people together and make things happen. Central to this was a willingness of the established to let go their vision of the town. There seems to have been no resentment, no negative energy.

Miller does not refer to petty crime, rowdyism, vandalism or shoplifting. One gets the impression that if there are incidents, these are within accepted limits. It is as if there is an unwritten moral code as to how much petty crime is tolerable.  What creates and sustains a town like Skerries is that it is a moral community without the enforcement of strict rules and regulations, let alone policing.  It is based on a sense of the recognition of rights, the acceptance of difference and an overall sense of what is good and just.

For Miller, Skerries has this in abundance. There is then no need for a debate about what is a good society. The moral majority of Skerries seems to know intuitively what it is and that they have it. There is no need to change the social structure or existing social policy, no need for tax reform, but there is a willingness to reach out to those who need help or are making attempts to reform themselves. This can be seen as, what Bourdieu terms the taken-for-granted, unquestioned habitus of the mainstream or what may be termed the ‘good’ society of Skerries. The problem, however, is that social inequality in the town is most likely reproduced in and through families. Those from ‘good’ families have a distinct advantage, but it would seem that there is no need to recognise, let alone discuss this. Is this good enough? Part of living a good life is the struggle to tell the truth about oneself and the society in which one lives.

To what extent, then, can Skerries be seen as a just and fair society? To answer this, Miller goes back into his philosophical tool bag to see what theories would help achieve this. He relies on Rawls’s notion of a theory of justice which suggests that it’s fine for the well-off in Skerries to prosper as long as they strive to improve the conditions of those who are marginalised.

Miller suggests that this can be looked at in two ways. Within families in Skerries there has been a move towards increasing equality. It used to be that the eldest boy was favoured. This is no longer the case. The youngest is treated as fairly as the eldest. And, at the same time, there is little or no discrimination between girls and boys. So within families there is evidence of fairness.

But for Skerries to be fair and just, there needs to be a sense of everyone belonging to the same family or community. So, to what extent is there a sense of, and commitment to, improving the conditions of those people in Skerries who are marginalised? Miller says that, although his fieldwork has finished, there are quite a few people hosting families and individuals that have fled to Skerries from Ukraine.

Miller argues that the way autistic people are recognised, respected and cared for is exemplary. It is one of the things that makes Skerries different, if not unique. The level of volunteering for people with autism and special needs has been such that it has led to ‘the establishment of an exemplary institutional response that subsequently became part of the national infrastructure funded by the state’.

The response to those who lived on the estate who have had to deal with unemployment, poverty, addiction, depression and loneliness has been more nuanced. There is a sense among some in good society that there exist victims of an unequal and unfair society, but this is mixed with a feeling that the unfortunates are responsible for the situation in which they find themselves.

It would be wrong, however, to think that Skerries operates as a fair and just society. There are those who are part of the settled, generally well-to-do, community and there are those who are marginalised and excluded from what may be termed ‘good’ society. They belong to a different class. They live in different houses in different housing estates. They have different mindsets, tastes and lifestyles. For example, those who are marginalised play bingo while those who belong to the good society play bridge, golf or go sailing.

To describe the more marginalised, Miller focuses on a working class housing estate made up of around 300 homes. This is where he lived while he was doing his research. It was originally a local authority development, but half the houses have been bought out. Within the estate there are those who live close to the poverty line. There are some migrants in the estate and there are some misfits. There was a history of alcoholism, but Miller says this has waned. There is a slight issue with drugs, mostly marijuana and cocaine. In comparison with the rest of the town, estate residents would seem to be more prone to depression and loneliness.

What is intriguing, however, is the extent to which residents in this estate are not recognised by the members of mainstream Skerries society. It is as if they are there, they are part and parcel of everyday life, but they are not seen. This was best exemplified by the story of one of the founding fathers of the Skerries community passing by a funeral in the town and being astonished himself that he could not identify any of the residents from the estate. The question, then, is to what extent, besides bingo, do residents socialise differently, go to different stores, shops, cafes and pubs.

There is always a problem in some kind of outside expert telling the residents of a town like Skerries, what is really happening in their lives. It is as if they do not have the knowledge to see through the structures and processes that have led them to become as they are. At the same time, it is sometimes difficult for people to accept the explanation the expert offers.

For example, many of the people in Cloghane (imperfectly disguised as ‘Ballybran’) felt not just betrayed but discredited and humiliated by Scheper-Hughes’s description of them. When she returned in 1994, in a spirit of reconciliation and to try to justify and explain her findings, such was the animosity in the village that the planned meeting was cancelled at the last moment. It would seem that such a fate is unlikely to befall Miller unless the world and his mother descend to live in Skerries. I wonder if there has been, or will be, a town hall meeting to discuss his findings. The prophet returning to tell the good people of Skerries that they are living in the promised land.

What is missing in Miller’s book is some long-term historical perspective and structural analysis as to how Skerries and, more generally life in Ireland, has come to be the way it is. He doesn’t pay much attention to what has been found out by previous researchers. There is a plethora of good anthropological and sociological research that he seems to think is irrelevant. I am thinking of Adrian Peace’s study (A World of Fine Difference) of Ballycotton, another seaside town, and Mary Corcoran, Jane Grey and Michel Peillon’s study (Suburban Affiliations) of social relations in the Greater Dublin area. These studies, and those that give an insight into the evolvement of Irish culture and society, might have enabled him to put his findings in perspective. Nevertheless, this is a fresh, innovative, and provocative study.

Maybe the message from Skerries is that there is no point in withdrawing into a room and a pile of books and trying to figure out the nature of life and what it is to live a good life. The best thing is to go out and live it. The examined life, so to speak, is not worth living. And yet it is only though continually reflecting about power and how it operates in everyday life in Skerries that domination can be avoided. The virtuous life involves trying to tell the truth about oneself and the society in which one lives. One wonders if the collective conscience in Skerries is strong enough to filter out and distil those who thrive on fear and hate, the dogmatists, those who hanker after power? It would seem that there is an informal consensus about the good enough life, it is a form of cosmopolitanism that is known as much by intuition as by reason. People believe in it without it having to be stated. It is taken for granted, like the air we breathe.


Tom Inglis is professor emeritus of sociology in UCD. His most recent book was To Love a Dog: The Story of One Man, One Dog and a Lifetime of Love and Mystery.



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