October 27, 2023

The Root of All Evil

By: Martin Hackworth

Each Friday morning, I meet my friend, Mark Balzer, at my favorite coffee shop, Gate City Coffee in Pocatello, ID, and talk about current events for an hour or so. Mark and I could not be much more different in terms of our roots in politics and temperament. Mark’s background is a politically conservative Navy veteran drawn to faith and social order; mine is a politically left-of-center college faculty member drawn to pushing boundaries. Mark was a major player in local Republican politics for many years and was also a fellow columnist for the Idaho State Journal. I frequently used my column in the Journal to argue against his positions.

But Mark and I have always shared the bond of being persuadable by virtue of a cogent argument. Because of that and because we’ve known each other since the 1990s, both of us have moved more toward the center of the political and social spectrum. We used to agree on about 30% of whatever we discussed. Now we agree on about 90%.

Neither of us would claim that this was entirely or even mostly due to each other; indeed, it was the world changing around us that was mostly responsible, but we’d each acknowledge that we listened to each other as the landscapes around us changed. For my part, Mark has helped me to understand a lot, which I did not before.

Many of the discussions that Mark and I have (along with Bill Kelvie, owner of Gate City) find their way into this column. It’s an inside joke that my columns write themselves in the morning over coffee. This week’s first column, The lesser of two evils, is still evil, had its roots at a table in Gate City from Friday a few weeks ago.

There are two things that Mark and I agree on completely: The first is that evil is real and entirely discernible from good; the second is that there’s a simple reason why we can send humans to the moon and back and build quantum computers but cannot even slow down many societal problems—it would ruin someone’s business model.

You show me an intransigent social issue, and I’ll show you a viable solution. They are out there. Humans are a marvelously inventive species, especially when their backs are against a wall. It’s not impossible for us to address crime, border security, climate change, reproductive rights, gun rights, mental and physical health, or any other of a broad range of issues that vex us.

It’s a choice not to.

There is a simple reason that thousands of migrants a month cross the sieve at the bottom of a rain barrel known as our southern border: if a reasonable, easy-to-implement compromise were to be struck between the Democrats and Republicans that would fix the problem, and there are many proposals along these lines floating around out there, neither side could continue to raise money over anger about the situation. The worst actors at each end of the political spectrum, the bomb throwers, would watch their coffers run dry. That won’t do.

Its the same with abortion. This is a hot-button, absolutist issue for extremists on both sides of the political spectrum, which almost everyone else wishes would just get fixed via compromise. But extremists are the people who, along with their lobbyists, shove money into political campaigns like coal into a raging furnace. I think that most people in this country would be satisfied, if not thrilled, by a ban on most abortions after the first trimester. But if such a policy were to become the law of the land, the money spigots that fund base politics would dry up. Again, we can’t have that.

Crime is another issue that we could address far more effectively than we are at the moment. its just a matter of the will to do so. While human nature suggests that crime may never be solved entirely, there’s no excuse for it to be a problem of the magnitude that it currently is, given the resources in our wealthy society.

Our system of criminal justice is failing from top to bottom. From overcrowded and corrupt prisons to jaded and egotistical judges who couldn’t be bothered to lose any sleep over the consequences of their actions to DA’s who are much more creatures of politics than advocates for justice to attorneys who are more akin to vultures than eagles to criminals who bathe in misery, the entire enterprise stinks.

But man, oh man, is there ever money to be made from it all. Hell, you can make a lot more money by exploiting criminal justice than by being even a wildly successful criminal.

I can go on and on, but you get the point.



Human misery, as it turns out, is quite a profitable enterprise for a lot of people. And when there are piles of money to be had, the Golden Rule need not bother to show up.

We have lousy healthcare in the United States because it makes a fortune for a lot of people. I hate to be the one to break it to you, but profit is much more important than good healthcare outcomes when it comes to accountants and sometimes even health care providers themselves. Show me the money.

The legal system in this country is knackered because it generates barge loads of money for attorneys. It’s no surprise that the legal profession is generally overrepresented in politics. Short of Armageddon, lawyers may never see the end of the gravy train.

Don’t even get me going on the money changers.

So, there you go. As I get older, I’m simply getting less tolerant of those who exploit trouble for profit, whose business model is keeping the gravy train rolling by ensuring that the root of the problem isn’t addressed.

Time to go kick over a few tables in the temple. Coming soon to a Substack near you.

Associated Press and Idaho Press Club-winning columnist Martin Hackworth of Pocatello is a physicist, writer, and retired Idaho State University faculty member who now spends his time with family, riding bicycles and motorcycles, and arranging and playing music. Follow him on Twitter @MartinHackworth.

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