Why are we so easily offended?

We’ve all been a part of awkward class discussions. Often discussions go really well, with students engaged and excited, but then the professor switches the topic or asks another question and all of a sudden the whole dynamic changes. I’ve certainly experienced this. One day the kneeling protest that occurred at the Toilet Paper game was brought up during discussion and the whole feel of the room instantly changed. The tension in the air was so thick you could cut it. Nobody wanted to talk at all. Finally, the conversation started going, but that just made the tension rise. The whole experience was stressful. I was glad that it didn’t turn uglier, because I knew that sometimes conversations like that could turn into verbal fistfights. Why does this happen? Why do we react so violently to some topics?

David Hume mistakenly believed that morality derives from sentiment opposed to reason. He believed that reason can only observe the facts of a situation: one cannot discover the rightness or wrongness of a situation until one looks inward to discover a positive or negative sentiment toward the deed committed. He compared this to the color red. When you observe an apple, you observe that it is red. The ‘redness’ does not exist on or within the apple. Instead, the ‘redness’ is found within you because it is the brain’s perception that identifies the apple as red. Hume believed that morality functioned the same way. He thought that since reason can only show facts, and morality is not an observable, tangible fact, morality must be discovered through an individual’s sentiment and emotion toward a situation. This is not the case, as morality is rooted in God. However, not everyone believes this.

Unfortunately, much of the culture in America seems to agree with Hume. This is exhibited in the consistent claims of discrimination and bigotry of certain ideas. As a result, those who make these claims create ‘safe spaces’ to protect themselves from those ideas. Granted, there is a lot of injustice and discrimination occurring, and quite a lot that needs fixing in this broken world. However, if someone holds a belief that runs contrary to your own, it does not mean that they are personally attacking you. The real reason people get offended when their beliefs are challenged is because they either consciously or subconsciously ascribe to Hume’s concept of morality. Thus, they conclude that an underlying negative sentiment exists towards the person because their belief is said to be wrong. This is why conversations over certain issues can lead to injured feelings and strong emotions. One example of this is the LGBTQ+ issue.

Many tend to label people who believe that homosexuality is morally wrong as haters or bigots. This occurs because people believe that those who disagree with homosexuality dislike homosexuals. This is simply not true. While there are inevitably people who believe that homosexuality is wrong and do hate the LGBTQ+ community, that does not describe the majority of people against whom lawsuits have been charged for discrimination, hate, and bigotry. One such man is Jack Phillips. He is the owner of a cake shop who refused to make a cake for a same-sex wedding, because promoting homosexual marriage was against his beliefs. Readers can interpret this situation in one of two ways: either Jack demonstrated that he hated gays by refusing business to them and making them leave, or he could demonstrate his love for them by offering any other service or product his shop provided. Jack chose the latter, cordially offering the gay couple any other pre-made cakes in his shop. Nevertheless, the couple filed a lawsuit against Jack that is now on its way to the supreme court. This is a perfect demonstration of Hume’s morality of sentiment in action. The same-sex couple mistakenly identified Jack’s refusal to promote homosexuality by making a wedding cake for them as a hateful attack.

What makes classes explode with emotion or freeze with fear at some topics? The culprit is a subconscious belief in Hume’s morality of sentiment. When Hume is in play, logical arguments become biting accusations and clever rebuttals turn into vicious attacks. Hume can turn a potentially beautiful, productive, and understanding discussion into a war of words. So next time a discussion breaks out, be conscious of one’s assumptions, for Hume can sneak into a conversation faster than you can say “discrimination.”