Seeing Horizons in the Clotheslines


Automatic tumble dryers notwithstanding, most people in the world (women, most often than not) hang the wash on clotheslines made of metal, hemp rope, or wood. Tree branches can also be used as clotheslines. The technique for hanging the wash varies from one country to another, but there are certain general rules. The clothes need to be spread wide to ensure maximum exposure to sun and wind; their weight must be calibrated to the sturdiness of the clothesline; clothespins or something similar should be used to hold the clothes, lest the line collapses as a result of turbulence. Hanging the wash on a clothesline is a thorough job, and in order to do it successfully, close attention needs to be paid to both the clothes and the clothesline. But anyone accustomed to hanging clothes on a clothesline to dry knows that, aside from looking straight at what’s in front of you, you also have to take into consideration the time of year, meteorological conditions, the incidence of the sun’s rays, the wind’s strength and direction, air pollution, and even the degree of safety of the washing line, lest the clothes get stolen.

Every democrat in the world, especially those who wear their hearts doubly on the left-hand side (physically and politically); those who feel insulted by the exorbitant enrichment of some and the unfair impoverishment of others; those who are outraged by the uncontrolled arms build-up and all other aspects of war, be they embargoes, economic sanctions, or drug, human and organ trafficking, the assassination of civic and political leaders, or femicide; those who are scared of the possibility of ecological collapse, as a result of increasing global warming, deforestation, water contamination and the blindness of politicians with regard to these issues; those who are alarmed by the resurgence of the far right and its reactionary, nationalist, hyper-conservative ideologies; in a word, all those who will not give up fighting for a society that is more fair, more decent, and more dignified should learn from the women of this world and their art of hanging the wash on the clotheslines.

We are at this juncture where the small, detailed horizon of hanging our clothes to dry needs to be articulated with the broader horizon of the social, economic, political, and cultural meteorology of our time. The articulation effort is more difficult for the political forces of the left than for those of the right. Given that we have been living for centuries in capitalist, colonialist, and patriarchal societies, and that the injustices and discriminations generated by such societies have changed shape but not in their intensity and lethality, the political forces of the left have been training just to exist and to brave the current and channel their energies into paving the way for the society of the future. To put it differently, they have concerned themselves not so much with hanging the clothes to dry as with the weather conditions. Every time they tried to articulate the two concerns, they did so from within the same political horizon, seeking to scan it, now with near-vision glasses (tactics), now with distance-vision glasses (strategy). This articulation worked for a long time, even if in most cases part of the left became accustomed to seeing with near-vision glasses only, while the other became accustomed to seeing with distance-vision glasses only. Had it happened to women and their washing line, we might be walking around naked today.

However, 40 years of neoliberalism have rendered this political habit no longer viable. The political horizon has shrunk to such stifling proportions that the optico-political market has been forced to specialize in near-vision lenses. Those who insist on wearing distance-vision glasses have to resort to old lenses, thus running the risk of being labeled as either myopic or lunatic. Democrats whose political heart is on the left-hand side have been slow to notice how much the times and the weather have changed, and until they do, they will be putting not only their clothes but also our own at great risk. But there is great urgency in the endeavor, which is why I come forward to suggest where our efforts should concentrate next.

What used to be two scales of the same political horizon are now two separate worlds, which is why, in order to adequately see them within a political framework, we now need a lot more than two pairs of glasses. In fact, a whole new political culture vision is now required. A consequence of the fall of the Berlin Wall and all it symbolized, combined with the soaring concentration of wealth and the deepening of the ecological crisis, was that the hope and the struggle for a better society had to be thought out and carried out with two very different horizons in sight: the political horizon and the civilizing horizon. The former is the conventional horizon of the political struggle. It is still divided into tactics and strategies, but its scale has shrunk since the moment the civilizing horizon became a subject of discussion in society. When that happened, the difference between tactics and strategy became negligible. The political horizon became the horizon of hanging the clothes on the clothesline, political agenda being but the name we give to the clothesline.

The civilizing horizon is a set of themes that go beyond the political horizon, but which, in the eyes of a growing number of people, especially young people, will determine the future of humankind: new models of consumption, democratic coexistence, and friendly relations between humans and between humans and nature. There is no other way to prevent ecological collapse, the emergence of new dictatorships, and the mushrooming of irregular wars with their preferred victims—innocent civilians. The civilizing horizon comprises two political anxieties, the one negative, the other positive. Negative anxiety is the feeling that all the clothes on the clothesline belong to one single body, one style, one past history. Positive anxiety consists in the fact that, even if the civilizing themes cannot, at least for now, be processed by the political system, they are more and more present in the discussions and everyday life of citizens: in the way in which consumer habits change, in the feelings of outrage over public policies that negate or minimize the relevance of the civilizing themes, in the discomfort in the face of the magnitude of what is at stake in the civilizing horizon as opposed to the smallness of the debates that fill the political clothesline. In view of all this, many men and women end up drifting away from conventional politics, which the clothesline politicians mistake for depoliticization, but in fact is nothing but an intense yearning for alternative policies.

This disconnect between the political and the civilizing horizon is a new thing, and the drama of our time is that it requires that a new and fundamental distinction be made between left and right, a distinction, moreover, for which politicians lack preparation. For all their stating the opposite, the civilizing horizon is the sole concern of the political forces of the right, who despise those who would question it. After all, the world as it stands has largely been wrought by those forces, and they are the main beneficiaries of the status quo. They do not care for the civilizing horizon, because, they say, that is long-term, and in the long-term we’ll all be dead. Conversely, the forces of the left will not be viable in the future unless they are capable of articulating the two horizons. Should they fail to do it, they are the ones who will be dead in the long-term. Hence their vital interest in bringing the civilizing horizon into the discussion. But that will not be possible in the short-term, nor even within election time frames. The solution, therefore, can only be as follows. The forces of the left must learn to operate both within and outside the political horizon. Within it, their goal should be to reshape it so as to broaden its democratic nature (toward more colorful and ever more diverse clothes on the clothesline). They know that the political horizon will be under increasing pressure from the outside, by those citizens who are primarily interested in the civilizing horizon, and that, as a consequence, the forces of the right will respond with repression and do everything in their power, including sacrificing democracy, to maintain the status quo. That is why the defense of democracy must be the new center of the political horizon for the forces of the left and their sole reason for participating in it.

But they must also operate outside it, at the level of the civilizing horizon. The political tools at this level are the following: popular education aimed at intercultural, eco-socialist democracy, personal and collective example as life testimony, and new forms of organization. As regards education: it is imperative to promote the global democratization of life, the intercultural diversity of post- capitalist, post-colonialist, and post-patriarchal possibilities, and the rights of nature. This entails turning the party-sponsored summer universities and training schools inside out: it is up to citizens to teach politicians about the civilizing horizon. As regards life testimony: the politicians of the left must bear personal witness to the civilizing concerns and live in closer proximity to the poor, discriminated-against urban peripheries, learn anew how to speak to the classes that historically were their raison d’être, and go live among them whenever possible. As regards the form of organization: the left has to be at once party and movement, because neither one by itself will be able to survive the deterioration of democracy caused by the forces of the right. By articulating their efforts, the forces of the left can begin to look at the political and civilizing horizons as part of the same equation and transform the former in accordance with the latter. With that they will be securing their future, their promising, pressing future.