Me-Ism Is Undoing The Left


A feelpinion has no place in a contest of ideas, writes Joshua Dabelstein.

Old school lefties are feeling disenfranchised by the left’s new face. Identity politics, professional victimhood, and moralistic white-knighting, have become the young left’s M.O. The corruption of its own conceptions of liberty and solidarity are testament to the left having been co-opted by a misguided conflation of liberalism and leftism.

This conflation has resulted in a swathe of self-important self-proclaimed ‘left-wing’ ninnies giving the rest of us a bad name by, well, taking their own feelings way too seriously, and confusing their feelings with having a real political philosophy.

We live in an age where feeling offended is empowering. The assertion of disempowerment is an easy and often great way to reclaim power. But if we aren’t careful of how, when, why and with whom we are doing this, we run the risk of becoming a complete laughing stock.

It is impossible to converse with someone who has a firmly held belief that his or her political philosophy stems from a more moral place. In reality, we all retroactively fit what we want to how we feel. As a recovering alcoholic, I couldn’t empathise more with how easy it is to trick myself that what feels good and what is good are one and the same thing. Often our feelings and the way we articulate them in conversation are tailored by a pre-existing fixation.

Here is an example of how this plays out in the mind of, say, a young any-gendered feminist reactionary.

“Women have always been second-class citizens (true). The subjugation of women by men is rife, constant, and everywhere (true). Men who think they are part of the solution are actually more often than not part of the problem (true). When that man I am doing a group assignment with just explained to me that I had misunderstood Isiah Berlin’s Two Concepts of Liberty he was mansplaining because he is a man, and the patriarchy or something, and how dare people treat me like that just because I am a woman.”

There is a very real and subconsciously manipulative impetus to asserting a moral high-ground and victimhood. And of all the arguments that the left has with itself, it is the soft-left’s immature replacement of political philosophy with moralisms that has caused a rift the likes of which people like Jordan Peterson have been belched from.

There is however nothing more moral about being more offended. There is nothing righteous about self-righteousness. It took me twenty-seven years to learn that one.

Love him or hate him, Jordan Peterson will be in Australia soon. One of the biggest reasons he is popular is that he takes this Me-ism, or snowflake syndrome, to task. Despite the fact that I fundamentally disagree with most of what he says, I absolutely love watching him make the soft-left squirm.

If the only way that you can squash someone’s opinion is by advertising how offended you are by it, then one of two things are going on: either the opinion is actually pretty gross but you lack the faculties necessary to engage with it beyond how it makes you feel, OR, the opinion is not problematic at all but you still lack the faculties necessary to engage with it beyond how it makes you feel.

Now where would this piece be without a demonstration of the gross irony behind this entire problem. This problem stems from ME-ism; the fetishisation of self-importance; at its core, the mistaken degree of relevance placed on who I am and how I feel.

The neoliberal fetishisation of the individual has been appropriated by a ‘left’ eager to have it both ways. Identity politics is the new Che Guevara beach towel. We are hearing the words ‘liberal’ and ‘left’ used interchangeably. What more evidence could we need that the young left has done a lot more yelling than reading? And no, reading tweets or algorithmically collated information does not count.

The day after Labor’s landslide victory in Victoria a friend joked, “There’s nothing like a victory to tear the left apart”. This is funny, and definitely true, but the left I fell for argued about praxis, not about whether or not dreadlocks are racist.

I spent my undergraduate (never-graduate) years enthralled by lecturers and students engaging with each other’s politics tooth and nail with a mutual acknowledgement that personal moralisms are weapons best left at the door. The advent of identity politics was still considered a neoliberal pest; a hallmark of cultural capitalism, and a testament to the infectious ME-ism.

Perhaps I was blessed with great company. Perhaps I got to university just before being an undergraduate constituted joining a same-haircut toting colourful tattoo brigade of people who genuinely believe that the way they feel is important in a debate.

The right are right to call us snowflakes if we carry on this way. The politics of how I feel is a testament to the degradation of the left wing, and it must be squashed by those of us who know better.

Joshua Dabelstein is a writer's writer and a sporadic New Matilda contributor.