Pavan Vangipuram's article, "Complaints lead to downtown bench relocations," spurred me to ponder a very philosophical question: What is the function of a bench?
According to Columbia police and local business owners, benches are used improperly when homeless people use them and properly only when consumers sit on them. Thus, it is not the actual use of the benches that determines their proper function but who uses them.
Beneath the question of the proper use of a bench lies a more fundamental question: What is the function of a person? For police and local business owners, the function of a person is to consume. This is the law of the new Columbia, emblazoned in commandments on banners all throughout the "District": Eat. Drink. Shop. Live.
Homeless people consume, of course, but it is the wrong kind of consumption. To the extent that they are not participating in the uninterrupted flow of consumption from car to parking garage to local business, homeless people use themselves improperly. And benches become the site of this improper use of oneself.
Now we can understand more clearly not just why benches must be removed, but also why the smoking ban continues to be used as an indiscriminately applied instrument of harassment downtown. The law must eliminate people's improper use of themselves. Tarrying, sitting and pondering can no longer be tolerated in the new Columbia. And the public space which allowed for this tarrying, sitting and pondering is slowly eroded away, as parking garages rise to the sky and benches are removed to the margins.
In the new Columbia, the law offers residents, as well as benches, only a single nonchoice: consume, use yourself properly or disappear.
Landis Duffett is a Columbia resident.