The Path Ahead Humbles All Hopes
I had a strange dream. It was a long, involved dream, but at some point I was sitting at a supper table with some strangers. A man — a rough-hewn, preacherly “head-of-the-household” reactionary type — was giving the table a stern lecture in the necessity of the Protestant ethic. As he was browbeating the assembly with his moral lecturing my attention was attracted to a train that was passing outside. On the railcars of the train was written what appeared to be the rail company’s commercial slogan, in quite flamboyant large script: “The Path Ahead Humbles All Hopes”.
It was at that point that I woke up, but in a very lethargic mood. The distastefulness of the patriarch’s moral hectoring combined with the dreadful message on the side of the passing train was completely enervating. It affected my mood for the rest of the day.
I don’t know what the dream was attempting to say. “The Path Ahead Humbles All Hopes” isn’t something I would have concluded in my waking hours. It’s Dante’s slogan that appears over the gates of Hell — “Abandon Hope All Ye Who Enter” (“Look upon me and despair!”. And yet Dante himself entered and survived it. ). And images of trains I usually associate with the (very Nietzschean-themed) movie Runaway Train. No happy endings.
Whose hopes? The Preacher-Man’s hopes? The final frustration of his moral worldview? It seems likely because the passing train wasn’t in my own line of sight. It was in his direct line of sight as he delivered his sermon on the Protestant ethic. In my dream, I had to crane my neck to the left to see what was in his line of sight. It seems, then, that it was intended for his vision moreso than mine. although he apparently did not see it because his attention was focussed on those seated at the table, consuming what was a pretty Spartan meal of ground beef and onion.
“The Path Ahead Humbles All Hopes” has that ambivalent character typical of the Oracle at Delphi — the same dream-like ambivalent quality that is fairly characteristic of the mythical consciousness — almost maddening in its ambivalence. Was it intended for me or for the sermoniser? Perhaps it was meant for both of us.
Hopes are expectations. And perhaps the dream wanted to say that the “chaotic transition” we appear to be going through will humble our expectations about the outcome. (Surprise! This is not what anyone expected!) Perhaps it’s not such a dreadful thing if so — that the hopes of the reactionary and the hopes of the revolutionary will both be humbled. All specific hopes will be humbled, says the slogan on the train, but not necessarily hopefulness itself.
At least, so I tell myself.