The Persecution Fallacy

Seems everyone wants to claim persecution of some sort as a way of bolstering their case. We’ve arrived at a point where we know enough about our recent history to see people – artists, scientists, political activists – that were persecuted in their time, but were right, and have now been vindicated. So we want to represent ourselves as being like those people: just as determined, just as persecuted, and just as right.

We’ll do it to gain sympathy for our cause, even when the persecution itself is completely made up.

I’ve seen Protestant Christians in the US adopt this tactic several times. They make themselves out to be the lone voices in the wilderness, when in reality over 80% of Americans believe in God, it mentions God on our money, and the Presidential Oath of Office is usually taken on a Bible. Not exactly a tigers-in-the-colosseum level of persecution.

I see anti-GMO activists take this stance when talking about Monsanto and other big corporations. These corporations are big, and mean, and use their lawyers to push people around, so obviously GMOs must be bad. Unfortunately, it doesn’t work that way. There’s no scientific evidence that GMOs cause health issues. And really, if we had to give up GMOs, we’d have to drop most of our diet, seeing as domestication itself – of wheat, of cattle, of even friggin apple trees – is a way of modifying an organism’s genetic makeup. Being the little guy in this case doesn’t make them right. It just makes them little.

Finally, I see people that want better treatment for women in the workplace, or to increase the number of women in the sciences, that point to the vitriol from their opponents as support for their position. It’s as if they say, “Look at how mad we make people. We couldn’t make people that mad without being right, could we?”

Well, yes, you can. That’s not to say that I don’t agree with most of these people: I think women should be able to choose their career freely, without fear of harassment or hazing or running into a glass ceiling. But it’s not the anger that that stance can generate that makes it right. It’s right because respect is right, because we respect human beings and give them certain rights as part of that respect, and because women, as human beings, deserve that respect and those rights.

In the end, the Persecution Fallacy is another form of the ad hominem fallacy. It just operates in reverse: these people think badly of me and try to shut me up, therefore I must be a persecuted genius, therefore I’m right.

Unfortunately, while persecution is real and suppression of speech is real (and wrong), it doesn’t make the position of the person being persecuted correct. It just makes it harder to judge it impartially.