Gary Horton | Honor, Uphold the Intended Purposes

Gary Horton

Sidewalks are for walking. 

Streets are for driving. 

Parks are for playing and recreation. 

Libraries are for books and reading. 

Schools are for educating kids. 

Colleges and universities are for advanced learning. 

What I’m talking about is function and order in society. Specifically, using our public and private infrastructure for the purpose for which it is designed and paid for – either through taxes or privately. 

I don’t know what’s so hard about this, that our society today struggles with discipline in some our most basic functions. Maybe I’ve gotten old and crotchety. Impatient. Frustrated. Some say that young liberals later become old conservatives. But that’s not the case for me. This is truly a non-denominational issue. 

We’ve all grown beyond weary of the degradation of our sidewalks, streets and parks due to the governmentally tolerated explosion of homelessness through our nation’s cities – especially so in California. We’ve spent billions and billions on half-hatched plans to solve this vexing problem, yet it grows on, by the day. So much money has been spent in so many diffuse and inefficient ways we’ve got federal and state audits trying to find where all the money went.  

Tent cities pop up, some removed only to pop back up around the corner or down the street. Businesses are impacted and shuttered. Public safety is dearly compromised. Yet, our courts and politicians don’t have the will to do what’s needed. In too many instances, we’ve surrendered what used to be productive, functional public space to … squalor and human degradation. I can’t think of any other rich country that would tolerate such wasting of valued public infrastructure as America, and California particularly, tolerates. 

It’s not about our compassion. It’s about our lack of guts in the prudent protection of a functioning civil society. Our will to effectively intercede to protect the 99% of us who follow the rules. Yes, of course compassion is needed, and social services must be provided. Yet as we do this, we must protect the safety and quality of life so many of us have worked so hard to build for ourselves and our communities. So far, we’ve done an admirable job in Santa Clarita. 

Yet as we suffer the degradation in our larger cities, we risk further breakdown of more of our civil society. When laws are openly flouted, further misdeeds and crime are incrementally normalized. 

You don’t find this kind of public facility wasting in modern Asian countries. Singapore, Japan and others wouldn’t tolerate it. There would be too much shame. Rather, families and public entities intercede from a sense of collaboration and cultural obligation.  

Far less so in America. It is true our nation is founded and built on individual freedom and personal liberty. Yet, we live together, don’t we? We share our common spaces. Beyond our valued personal freedoms, we also have obligations to one another. Society also has rights. The use of our infrastructure for intended purposes is one big one. 

Today, demonstrations and sit-ins and tent cities have risen on many of our public and private campuses. Students are “protesting” the Gazan war, horrifically started by Hamas months ago, and violently responded to by the Israel Defense Forces. The entire affair is tragic, horrible, might have been avoidable, and yet, all that is beside the point. 

Universities and colleges are built for learning. A tiny, tiny sliver of student population is allowed to so disrupt college functions, have created such menace, that some colleges have suspended in-person classes in favor of remote. Some have suspended graduation ceremonies. Some have capitulated to demonstrators, flat out. 

In America, we have the right of free speech, the right of protest. Heaven knows, protests led to the eventual end of the ill-conceived Vietnam War. And yet, we nearly tore the country apart in the process. Peaceful protest and disruptive, violent protest are two different things. 

Three years back, thousands of MAGA types thought their “freedom of speech” and right to protest included breaking down doors, busting windows, beating up police, and delaying a session of Congress. Later, MAGA apologists called this riot/insurrection a “tourist visit.” Except the People’s House was assaulted.  

These examples and more highlight our growing disregard for civil order and our acceptance of civil disobedience. Today’s laws through most of our land aren’t overly burdensome. We are not under an authoritarian’s thumb, struggling to break free – yet. We’re reasonable. 

But we’re going in the wrong direction when we allow busted RVs to litter miles of roadways. Parks and streets to be overtaken by tent cities filled with folks who’ve either checked out for drugs or truly need a helping hand up. Or, when we suffer colleges to be shut down by tiny activist groups, privileged to attend these elite institutions – or when we tolerate an entire political party that’s gone literally violently radicalized in a strange personality cult. 

These things are all linked. We’re not honoring our commitments to one another. We’re not upholding our social order as we should. We’re allowing slivers of our population to disrupt the wellbeing of a vast, vast majority. The “tear things down” crowd too often gets its way. And the resulting chaos begets more chaos. 

It’s high time to honor and protect what we’ve built. Both civil structures and civil laws. It sounds like I’ve gone all “law and order” – but shouldn’t all of us already be law and order as Americans anyway? The place to change laws, change norms, change what’s legal and not is in the ballot box and in our courts, not ruining city streets, educational institutions, and the Capitol itself! 

Abusing and wasting public infrastructure is just that – abuse. Flouting laws is abuse. And no one, progressive, liberal, conservative, middle of the road – should tolerate abuse. 

Gary Horton’s “Full Speed to Port!” has appeared in The Signal since 2006. The opinions expressed in his column do not necessarily reflect the opinions of The Signal or its editorial board.

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