Previously this semester, I came across a blog post written by one of my peers surrounding the issue of tyranny. This student had connected Machiavelli’s view on tyrannical power with a recent episode of House M.D., a popular television show that is part of the Fox Network. Being a devoted fan of the House M.D. series, I began thinking about how this particular episode connected to our other readings, specifically Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s piece “Letter From Birmingham Jail”. Based on my observations, I have found that Dr. King would deem Dr. Chase’s actions in this episode unacceptable, because they do not follow his regulations about how to conduct a proper protest.
On this particular episode, Dr. House and his team have the unique opportunity of treating a violent leader of a nation in Africa. During his visit to the United States, he experiences health complications that land him in Princeton Plainsboro Teaching Hospital. The leader’s goal is to return to a healthy state so he can return to his country and execute thousands of innocent minorities that he believes are having a negative impact on his nation. During his treatment, Dr. Chase is involved in an argument with him because the leader tries to convince chase that the execution of these people will be done for the good of the country. After a correct diagnosis is reached, Dr. Chase takes it upon himself to alter a blood test, which leads to the purposeful death of the tyrant.
In “Letter From Birmingham Jail” Dr. King indicates what he believes is the correct way to stage a protest. He designates four stages in the process: collection of facts, negotiation, self-purification, and direct action. Unlike Dr. Chase, Dr. King’s protests are always nonviolent, but that does not stop him from taking what he calls “direct action”. One might interpret this to be similar to what Dr. Chase takes on: substituting beneficial negotiation for a sometimes-violent action on the part of the opposition- but Dr. King’s form of direct action is different. He defines it as “presenting our very bodies as a means of laying our case before the conscience of the local and the national community”. Examples of this would include staging sit-ins, marches, or boycotting certain services. The difference between Chase and King’s version of protests are that Dr. Chase is in no way sacrificing anything himself. Dr. King emphasizes the importance of “presenting our very bodies”, and being vulnerable but ready to accept any consequences that may come of their actions. Dr. Chase on the other hand, plans only to execute and hide, ultimately escaping any punishment he deserves.
Another important difference between these two “protesters” are they’re views on the negotiation component of a proper protest. Dr. King views negotiation as a precursor to action. In his piece, he explains his interaction with members of the economic community in Birmingham, and how their promises soon turned out to be broken. These instances are what push non-violent protestors into action, but only if there is no possible way to effectively communicate their needs to the majority. Dr. Chase, on the other hand, reserves no room for communication or the proper steps preceding direct action. As a result, he takes the wrong path and ultimately commits a crime that he is unwilling to accept the consequences for, and will end his career entirely.
All in all, Dr. King and Dr. Chase vary in the ways in which they chose to take action in a “positive” way. Although Dr. Chase’s intentions may be honorable, we have learned from many past political figures that no one man can take away the rights of another, and that is what Chase does. Ultimately, it comes down to the issue of respect: Dr. King was wise enough to see that a respectful opposition- that is, not infringing on the rights of others- to rules he sees as oppressive is the best course of action. It is as we learned in kindergarten: treat other’s how you want to be treated.
Jr., Dr. Martin Luther King. “Letter From Birmingham Jail.” (1963).