Persecution is one of those words for which almost everyone who hears it needs little effort to define. It’s not so much that there is a strict convergence on what constitutes the strict definition of persecution, it’s that (in a broad sense) the greater implications of what it means to be persecuted, are readily understood to imply a level of harassment, subversion, and oppression of an individual or group, at the hands of a more powerful entity. To most of us, the more obvious cases of persecution are often blatantly clear: Ethnic, sexual, and religious/irreligious minorities being imprisoned and killed at the behest of the state, are all clear cases of persecution; likewise, being legally barred (in the sense that there is an actual law in place prohibiting the act) from partaking in educational, professional, or social practices and pursuits on account of your race, gender, or sexual orientation is a form of persecution in my book (as well as the book of most other people I have met).
If you live in a first world country (which normally carries some legal protection for its citizenry’s right to free speech and expression), publicly voicing your opposition to persecution is not a controversial or daring thing to do (especially if your doing it thousands of miles away from the scene of the grievances), and the desire to empathize with fellow members of our species who are being denied the right to exist or speak their minds, is something that I think we can all relate to on some basic level. However, there is a problem I see arising when many of us (and by us, I mean relatively comfortable people, speaking their minds freely on any subject they see fit with little fear of organized, legal repercussion being brought against their persons) seem to develop this nagging sense of persecution-envy, and start identifying any social grievances we have in our lives as acts of systemic oppression against us.
As a general rule, people ignoring what you have to say is not persecution, because those indifferent to your viewpoint are generally the least likely to call for you to be silenced. People mocking your opinions is also not a form of persecution (as long as mocking is all that they’re doing), since satire and ridicule are protected rights under any sensible freedom of speech laws (ironically, if you called for their silence on your behalf, it would be closer to persecution than the other way around). I’m willing to entertain the idea that those who aren’t taking you seriously are possibly doing so at their own peril for missing out on your immense genius and superb social insights, however, to view it as anything other than people choosing not to hold your opinions in high-esteem–and equating it to an actual act of oppression against you–conveys a failure to consider anything beyond one’s own desire to be acclaimed not by virtue of any intellectual merit, but by the amount of pity that can be garnered for oneself over wholly inconsequential personal inconvenience.
For instance, take conspiracy theorists like Alex Jones as an example. The man’s eponymous radio show, his books, documentaries, and speaking engagements, all carry the underlying tone of being in bold defiance against the overt power structure seeking to silence him. The problem is that he’s been speaking rather freely (and making money doing it) for a solid two decades now, with virtually no attempts being made on the part of the power structure (whose oppressive ways he’s claiming to be challenging) to remove him from his media outlets (and if there is, then this power structure cannot be quite as powerful and omnipresent as Jones claims, since they can’t even silence one radio DJ in Texas). My point here is that the truly persecuted don’t have podiums from which to shout their grievances from in their own names, with no harmful consequences coming their way. Because if they did, they wouldn’t be considered persecuted individuals or groups. If you can stand on the street corner, passing out pamphlets calling out the decadency of the powers which govern over you, and still go back to your house undisturbed and live your life in relative freedom, you are not being oppressed in any sensible use of the word. That doesn’t mean that all the concerns you hold have no merit on their own terms, but it does mean that the dire implications you wish to attribute to your viewpoint are hyperbolic, to say the least.
It is my contention that people (all of us, myself included) have a natural disposition for developing a martyr complex. The notion that people either ignoring us or dismissing our opinions as kooky is a form of oppression, is (in my opinion) nurtured by a deeper layer of wanting to occupy the role of the victimized hero, standing gallantly against an onslaught of abuse and debasement for the sake of a greater purpose that others are just too dense to see. And perhaps they are; however to make the claim that a ready dismissal of your opinions–without any attempts being made to cause you bodily harm, or interfere with your daily life, or remove you from your medium of communication–constitutes an organized attempt to subvert you, is more a reflection of your inflated sense of self-importance than any shortcomings of society.
What really appears to be sought by those suffering under this sort of persecution is a masochistic desire to reach a higher order of respect and notoriety by appealing to people’s natural inclination to empathize with those who have been unjustly wronged in society. On its own, this is simply an annoyance to be around, but nothing worth arguing over. Yet, such things do not tend to exist in a vacuum, and if allowed to go unabated and uncontested, will serve to render the impact of these very powerful words–vital for fostering human expression and solidarity–meaningless. Thereby, having the unfortunate affect of desensitizing us to the frequent cries of false oppression, so that when the inevitable actual case of persecution is happening somewhere (the sort usually accompanied with social ostracizing, guns, blood, and wide-scale imprisonments and executions) we run the risk of either being distracted by trivial non-issues, or falsely ignoring the whole thing as another symptom of the hypochondriacs worrying over imagined illnesses.