'Spargs', said the breathless cadet in answer to the Unit Senior CUO who was waiting at the end of the confidence course, 'it was the best 30 minutes of my life'. A notable comment about one of thousands of shared experiences built on the multiple talents, teams, competition and cooperation of boys. So much inter-relatedness. Every week a thousand boys interact in more ways than the Speech Night Annual Report could detail. Beyond school one can feel the difference. 'I really miss morning assembly,' said one student studying at Monash, 'everybody does their own thing, nothing holds you together'.
'Bowling Alone' was a paper written by Robert Putnam of Harvard University. He puzzles over what he calls 'the strange disappearance of social capital and civic engagement'. 'By "social capital", he says, I mean features of social life-networks, norms, and trust-that enable participants to act together more effectively to pursue shared objectives.'
Putnam clearly identifies education as one of the things which enhances the social capital of a community. We should expect Scotch to have levels of inter-relatedness higher than the community at large. Indeed at Scotch the 'social capital' is particularly cultivated through 'Old Scotch'. However, we are part of a wider community. Are 'networks, norms and trust' declining in Australia as Putnam alleges they are in the US? Are we becoming 'a less neighbourly, less connected society'?
Mission Beach to Cardwell in north Queensland is a rural area slowly being depleted of community resources. Banks, Post Offices, Community Health Centres have been rationalised. 'We were losing more and more through cost effectiveness' lamented Ian Reid, whom the Council has appointed Youth Development Officer. In his appointment, and in working through selected strategies to develop links between community groups, Cardwell Shire Council has embarked on a specific project to rebuild dwindling social capital.
But you don't have to go to far north Queensland, or even the Western District. Richard Neville went to the Casino. He felt like a refugee in 'the camp of the victor' (Good Weekend, August 23). Although it described itself as 'A World Like No Other', he found it pretty much like the rest of the corporate world 'so fake, so manipulated by hidden hands'. A world where 'self worth equals net worth'.
While Putnam is cautious about causes of social disconnection, Neville, like Ian Reid sees rampant economic rationalism as a key factor. The combined revenue of the world's 10 top firms is greater than the combined GNP of the world's 100 smallest countries. He draws on the views of David Korten, who alleges 'These institutions are so big, so distant, so beholden to special interests and so costly to maintain that they are simply unable to respond in any useful way to the broader human interest'. The richest 358 people have as much as the poorest 2.3 billion people. Neville suggests we need a 'global ethic to tame the rampant global casino'?
Nothing is sacred. Everything has become a commodity. Everything is marketable. When we possess 'something of real value - doors unlocked at night, laughter in the playground - we are asked to name its price, otherwise it can't be audited' says Neville. All eyes are on the bottom line.
Commodore John Dickson, Reviewing Officer at the Cadet Tattoo said to the boys 'It is the quality of people rather than material or circumstantial matters which determine the worth of the community. Quality people with good values, good will and a strong sense of duty to their fellow citizens will collectively work out the answer to difficult problems'. May our Constitutional Convention so build on our 'common-wealth' that it gives shape to an Australia whose future is rich in civic trust.
Such 'goodwill among people' Christians regard as a gift from God. An outcome of His Christmas giving. It is a birthright, to be treasured and nurtured. But it can be squandered and converted to ash. God give us civic and corporate leaders who seek common wealth before personal wealth; who see beyond the bottom line.
Scotch College: ABN 86 852 826 445 ACN 005 650 395 CRICOS 00624A (Commonwealth Register of Institutions and Courses for Overseas Students)