For as long as I can remember, I never felt comfortable with either of the two pseudo-philosophies of Optimism or Pessimism. Whatever the circumstance, pessimism seemed arbitrarily fatalistic, but so did optimism. Both, I think, are forms of intellectual laziness. In a world of increasing chaos and confusion, predicting a rosy result seems ever more tenuous. But predicting a priori doom would imply that there is nothing we can do about dire circumstances. More fatalism. Only by engaging Reality without such foolish biases can Hope be sustained. And without Hope, what can we do?
While it is possible that we have allowed things to “go too far” to save ourselves from the consequences of our own past and present foolishness—let me count the ways…later—only one path can determine whether or not that is true. The path that leads to truth is the path of action. But action must be predicated on a careful reading of reality if it is to be effective. Contemplation helps, but only observation and action can build real hope. That is why I am The Hopeful Realist. From the perspective of Hopeful Realism, one can much more readily see the social illusions that seem to drive much of contemporary life and respond effectively.
In my upcoming book, and in my blog, I explore the various social illusions and distorted estimates of reality that seem to be driving so many events in all sorts of wacky ways these days. Exposing social illusions may be critical in determining the future of our lives. Escape the chains of optimism and pessimism and become a Hopeful Realist!
Robert MacNeil Christie has written for most of his life. Urged by his father to take a supermarket manager job after his bachelor’s degree, he chose graduate school. His high school English teacher had drilled into him the nuances of grammar, sentence structure, and exposition. He only realized his full appreciation of that drudgery when frequently required to write term papers at the University of California, Santa Barbara. The prospect of continuing to explore the intellectual boundaries of sociology, philosophy, history, statistics, and direct observation of human behavior rendered employment far less interesting than graduate school.
The challenge of a PhD program in sociology was to read impossible quantities of the writings of the great thinkers from the ancients, renaissance scholars, and Scottish moral philosophers to modern researchers, and to write meaningful essays on their place in intellectual history and their relevance for contemporary society. He never looked back.
While at the Institute for Community Studies in Kansas City, he investigated urban poverty and the imperfect federal programs attempting to alleviate it. Upon earning his PhD, he took a faculty position with California State University, Dominguez Hills, just south of the reputedly most dangerous neighborhoods in the nation – the infamous “South Central L.A.,” Watts, and Compton. In an era when university jobs far outnumbered new PhD’s, he chose the Dominguez Hills campus because of its inherent standing as a “laboratory” for research in urban sociology.
Dr. Christie discovered that his students had a great deal to teach him. Many were “returning adults” trying to improve their employment prospects or get a raise by obtaining that “piece of paper,” the bachelors or master’s degree. Most were terrible writers. Unlike many colleagues who avoided the remedial burden, Dr. Christie required all of his students to write. Tragic cases of very bright students whose elementary and high schools had failed them motivated his efforts. He will never forget the early example of an intellectually superior young Black undergraduate with whom he had exceptionally interesting conversations. That very bright student wanted to become an attorney, but despite his obvious intelligence, he was unable to write a coherent sentence. The system that should have helped develop his talent had stifled it.
Dr. Christie created a rigorous special course on writing for sociology students and engaged them in daily exercises that markedly improved their writing. His students expressed their genuine engagement by their applause at the end of the final class meeting. He worked closely with graduate students on their theses. His greatest reward came from the few who fully engaged, refined their research and writing, had their theses approved, and began careers that would not have otherwise happened. He became, by practice, a very experienced editor.
As faculty in a primarily teaching university, Dr. Christie published the occasional book review and numerous community research reports. He attended and presented papers at professional sociology meetings. However, his focus was his students and their needs to experience directly the skills of research and writing. He was instrumental in forming and operating a “student run” research center on campus in the early years of his career.
Then, when the opportunity availed itself in the late 1990s, he founded the Urban Community Research Center and directed it until his retirement in 2005. During those years, he conducted a variety of community research projects, teaching his students the practice of empirical research. They learned to conduct interviews, gather demographic data, analyze information, and write reports. Students engaged in the direct work on those projects.
On a large community research project, he suspected a misappropriation of funds upon reviewing disbursements and questionable research data. His most trusted graduate students worked with him to document the larceny. Ignoring ‘personnel procedures’ in order to protect the integrity of the community research project, he summarily fired the culprit with the support of his graduate students, who by then had gotten a taste of an unexpected element of project management.
With lifelong interests ranging from social psychology to global problems of economy and empire, upon retirement from the university Dr. Christie escalated both his reading and writing. He began expressing his analyses of societal problems in a personal blog, TheHopefulRealist.com. That blog became the primary venue for exploring social issues and the ideas that were to become the fodder for writing the book, At the Edge of Illusion.
Dr. Christie is a member of the American Sociological Association, the Society for the Study of Social Problems, and the National Social Science Association. He attends meetings of these professional organizations and presents papers on topics related to his continuing research. He volunteers his expertise in service to environmental and social causes, mostly in the Santa Fe, NM, area where he has been living for several years.
Links to some online publications: