Hurting People for a Living

I don’t like him. He hurts people for a living. Only people who’ve hurt others, or who haven’t kept a promise.

~ Spenser explains Hawk’s code of ethics to his inamorata, Susan Silverman

For neither the first nor last time I find myself lamenting the fact that those employed by government typically aren’t as moral as Hawk, the fearsome muscle-and-gun specialist created by novelist Robert Parker (and memorably brought to life on screen by Avery Brooks).

Singularly capable when it came to inflicting injury on other people, Hawk employed that gift for commendably narrow purposes: If you hurt others for whom he was responsible, or attempted to, he would hurt you; if you reneged on a loan made by someone who employed him, Hawk would inflict the necessary duress until the debt had been satisfied.

While he was honest and — in the estimation of those who knew him — honorable, Hawk wasn’t entirely laudatory, particularly in his choice of employers. But he wasn’t a predator; he didn’t target the weak or helpless.

Hawk was a violent man, but he exercised violence only to deter or punish aggression and fraud.

If you chose not to get involved with the kind of people who employed him, Hawk — for all his tightly coiled ferocity and potential for lethal violence — was no threat at all. Think of the principle symbolized by the snake found on the Gadsen Flag given life in the form of an ber-slick urban enforcer so palpably deadly he’d make Shaft soil his underoos, and you’ve got Hawk.

Although he was frequently employed by unsavory people, Hawk was immeasurably more moral than those who presume to rule us, and the government they operate at our expense on their behalf. This is why he displayed nothing but wary contempt toward the government, especially those given the task of enforcing its laws.

Government, we are told, exists to protect us against anarchic violence that threatens life, liberty and property.

As Papa Hemingway might reply: Isn’t it pretty to think so?

In practice the government ruling us is always and everywhere the single largest source of lethal violence and most acute threat of the same.

In order to find one’s self on the receiving end of the kind of violence Hawk embodied, one has to make a specific set of bad choices involving contracts — beginning with the inexcusably foolish choice to enter into such agreements with the kind of people who would hire Hawk as a debt collector. To an extent, then, Hawk’s victims were volunteers.

However, any of us can experience state-inflicted violence at any time as a punishment for doing literally nothing, or by refusing to be bound by “contracts” arranged by other people in transactions to which he was not a party.

A perfectly infuriating illustration of the former — an innocent person being assaulted by state-employed agents of violence as punishment for doing nothing — took place at the Jets-Chargers game on January 17.