[This post is in response to Me-Ism Is Undoing The Left, Joshua Dabelstein, New Matilda, December 4, 2018 (‘A feelpinion has no place in a contest of ideas, writes Joshua Dabelstein’).]
In responding to Joshua Dabelstein’s article it’s a bit difficult to know where to start, or even to know whether doing so is at all useful. Probably not, but I’ve decided to anyways (I never learn).
As I understand it, the author’s basic argument is this:
There are two generations of leftist, old(er) and new(er). The new(er) generation is Bad because it’s characterised by moralism, confused thinking (lack of conceptual clarity) and the elevation of emotion over reason. It may also be termed the ‘soft-left’ (as opposed to the ‘hard-left’), “[a]nd of all the arguments that the left has with itself, it is the soft-left’s immature replacement of political philosophy with moralism that has caused a rift the likes of which people like Jordan Peterson have been belched from”. Peterson, in other words, is popular because he directly attacks the moralism of the ‘soft-left’. The author also complains about the swiftness with which members of the ‘soft-left’ experience ‘offence’, and how easily it’s manipulated by these mushy-brained folks in order to avert rational discussion of their (flawed) political positions. Hyper-individualism is to blame for this predicament, according to the author, and this hyper-individualism is in turn a product of our neo-liberal age: “the left I fell for argued about praxis, not about whether or not dreadlocks are racist”.
What I reckon:
The article reads more like a complaint than an analysis, and the underlying thrust of the message it sends to “say, a young any-gendered feminist reactionary” could be neatly summarised as: ‘harden the f*ck up’. In fairness to the author, wanting to tell someone else to HTFU is almost certainly a sentiment everyone’s felt about someone at some point or other, but in this context, at least, it seems unlikely to generate much interest in discussion or debate. (Then again, I am writing this reply, so maybe it’s not a bad move after all.)
Beyond that, I don’t reckon the employment of a generational divide is useful. Certainly, I’m wary of its use in many contexts, but to the extent that the attitudes, beliefs and behaviours that the author identifies as being problematic are worth analysing, I suspect you’d find them distributed among all ages and generations. In which case, maybe it would be better to counter moralism, poor argumentation and emotional immaturity by explicit reference to these faults, rather than to the ages of those allegedly guilty of committing them?
Secondly, of course people generally finds others’ moral posturing objectionable; and yes, humility is generally preferable to hubris. But if, for the sake of argument, there is indeed a plague of “feminist reactionary” yoof who, for example, use Identity Politics in order to avoid taking responsibility for their thoughts and actions — especially if, as a result, they make the left look bad — it would be sensible to name such individuals, or at least to identify the political projects with which such individuals are associated. Who, exactly, populates the “swathe of self-important self-proclaimed ‘left-wing’ ninnies giving the rest of us a bad name”? The closest the author comes to answering this question is by way of reference to an imaginary conversation with “a young any-gendered feminist reactionary”, a fictitious entity who (correctly) bemoans patriarchy but then (wrongly) uses its existence as a poor excuse for failing to understand Berlin’s 1958 essay on ‘Two Concepts of Liberty’ — and who compounds the offence by resisting attempts by a man in their imaginary study group to explain the distinction by simply categorising him as a ‘mansplainer’.
Now, if an event such as this did take place, it wouldn’t be too difficult to become irritated at this fictitious person’s attempt to dodge responsibility for their incomprehension, and to baulk at their enlisting patriarchy in their defence. By the same token, while the existence of patronising men is indeed a thing, the example is relatively trivial, and it would be incorrect to assume that feminist critiques of patriarchy can be reduced to, say, micro-policing of speech. Further, to do so is to risk dismissing a very substantial, theoretically-sophisticated, and politically-relevant body of work. I’d suggest that engaging with this critique in good faith is both more urgent and requires a bit more effort.
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.
Do we live in an age where (merely) feeling offended is empowering? I dunno. I ask myself: ‘Am I empowered when I feel offended?’ (Or do I merely feel empowered when I feel offended?!) For what it’s worth, it seems to me that claiming ‘power proceeds from feeling offended’ is to have things in reverse order; that is, it could also be reasonably claimed that it’s those in or with power who are most able to express their feelings of offence. And the biggest, best-paid whiners aren’t to be found in a University tutorial, but rather occupying prominent positions in the culture and media industries.
But maybe this argument could be rendered differently. After all, how does some person (or community, or collectivity, or class), both assert their disempowered status while also reclaiming power? And if there are other ways of reclaiming power, what makes this one so “easy and often great”?
I suppose one could argue that ‘assertions of disempowerment’ could also be protestations at disempowerment; ones which, through their historical unfolding, make the powerless powerful. Legend has it that the process by which this occurs lies at the centre of left theory and practice — well, it did, before the identity politicians went and mucked it all up with their liberalism. In which context, the breezy dismissal of ‘identity politics’ – or rather, its invocation as something understood to be inherently objectionable from a left perspective – is I think unfair. Granted, many online discussions of the topic are dreadful, but there exists other possibilities. One is that, for the left, identity and politics is not a straightforward relationship, and it’s the politics of identity, rather than ‘identity politics’, that matter, and it’s the ways in which these identities are shaped — typically, in the interests of some dominant group — that those on the left seek (or at least claim to want) to transform in the interests of the oppressed. 
‘Feelpinions’, ‘identity politics’, ‘professional victimhood’, ‘moralistic white-knighting’, ‘mansplaining’, ‘snowflakes’: all terms familiar to anyone who’s read a complaint like this and, for what it’s worth, elements that typically constitute the muck out of which the AltRight, in particular, claim this strawperson is being created. Aside from generating derision, such terms and concepts also perform another political function: obscuring the legitimate grievances of marginalised groups and rendering them fit only for contempt and dismissal. From a ‘left’ perspective, this is hardly an ideal situation, and I’d suggest it’s one that calls for some more thorough — and critical — examination. Further, the characterisation of ‘identity politics’ as being merely a “neoliberal pest; a hallmark of cultural capitalism, and a testament to … infectious ME-ism” is inadequate (to put it mildly).
I may be reading into it, but I think there’s a certain anxiety present in the text, and almost certainly a kind of anger and frustration, one presumably related to the relative failure of the left – or, moreover, the ‘hard’ left – to praxis their way into power. This is understandable. In 2018, the species as a whole is on the verge of complete catastrophe, and only a radical transformation in human relations — and the relations of humanity with non-human nature — will provide the necessary and, hopefully, sufficient conditions to make it possible to avert total disaster. To put it another way: ‘socialism or barbarism’ — now more than ever. 
I understand (or think I do), some of the justifiable objections to narcissism, of the too-easy avoidance of difficult questions – for example, those which require and may even prompt serious reconsideration of previously-held positions – and the countless other faults we all encounter and embody to a greater or lesser extent. But while the proposition that capitalist social relations profoundly affect contemporary culture and society; individual and group psychology; social expectations, norms and customs, and do so in a way that (re)produces the human being as a calculating, self-interested and autonomous agent let loose in a world of labour and commodities may be sound, it’s not the fault of that annoying person in your tutorial if it is. And neither is the left’s failure to dismantle this world and to build a new and better one in its place.
And of all the arguments that the left has with itself, it is the soft-left’s immature replacement of political philosophy with moralism that has caused a rift the likes of which people like Jordan Peterson have been belched from.
I’m not sure I understand this passage. If it’s a fact that the ‘soft-left’ has replaced political philosophy with moralism — and this in turn has caused a ‘rift’ out of which Jordan Peterson has emerged — how is this fact an example of an argument that the left has with itself? That doesn’t make sense. (As I understand it, an example of an argument that ‘the left has with itself’ might be ‘Reform or revolution?’, or ‘Who should the left vote for?’.) Maybe what the author is trying to say is that the moralism of the ‘soft-left’ produced Jordan Peterson, and until the soft left grows up and begins practicing political philosophy, rather than engaging in moral condemnation, the left as a whole will continue to be cursed by the Jordan Petersons of this world. This line of argument contains more than a trace of similar claims made by Angela Nagle in Kill All Normies, a slight text which has had an over-sized impact upon these sorts of discussions (and whose author has since gone on to write another contentious text making The Left Case Against Open Borders — see also Brianna Rennix & Nathan J. Robinson’s response — and to score an appearance on Tucker Carlson).
For what it’s worth, while ‘snowflakes’ presumably took ‘offence’ at his performances, there were to my knowledge no protests during the course of Peterson’s tour Down Under earlier this year. At about the same time, however, some solid critiques of his work were being published (see, for example: Houman Barekat; Nathan J Robinson; Pankaj Mishra). Suffice it to say that Peterson, nothing if not a moralist, blames ‘Marxism’ for producing ‘identity politics’, and in doing so demonstrates little understanding of either.
To conclude, it’s certainly true that moralism is no substitute for political critique, overly-earnest students can be annoying, and the left cannot be reduced to liberalism. But it’s also the case that, whatever cultural shifts may (or may not) be occurring on Australian campuses and among students in particular, complaints about their annoying habits aren’t sufficient to explain the success or failure of the left as a whole, to understand the relationship between historical and contemporary left movements, or to explain the role of that dastardly beast ‘identity politics’ in their numerous interactions.
See also : Digital Archive: What Is Identity Politics? (A collection of essays, 1986–2016) | Fortunes of Feminism: From State-Managed Capitalism to Neoliberal Crisis, Nancy Fraser, Verso (2013) | ‘Identity Politics and the Left’, Eric Hobsawm, Institute of Education, London (May 2, 1996).
 Note that ‘the left’ and ‘the oppressed’ are not coterminous or equivalent terms; also that like, say, liberalism and leftism, some people can and do confuse one for the other. As to who or what is most responsible for this confusion, I’d argue that this lies at the feet of dominant social institutions, not impressionable University students.
 Whether or not the left, or the left of the left, is actually capable of undertaking such a task is an open question, and the news on that front may be Good or it may be Bad. As it stands, I’m unconvinced … but then the left can and does refer to a multiplicity of political projects to which I’m more-or-less inclined. If I choose a political identity it’s usually ‘anarchist’, and the relationship of anarchism (and anarchists) to the left as a whole is pretty mixed (to say the least). But there are self-identified communists, socialists, Marxists, social democrats and leftists from a variety of other tendencies whose lives and work I’ve found insightful, inspiring and yes, moving. That fact doesn’t really alter my basic political perspective very much (or my own situatedness).