“No Problem Is Beyond Solving”

Joseph Jefferson as Dr Pangloss, by John Singer Sargent (1890)
Joseph Jefferson as Dr Pangloss, by John Singer Sargent (1890)

In the past few weeks I’ve been having debates with good people whom I respect deeply about the limits of freedom of expression. When Britian First were banned by Facebook I suggested that the extremists in our society might be moderated and rehabilitated through dialogue.

When I have made this point, my friends have criticised me for being naiive. The bigots are irredeemable (they say) and the best strategy is therefore to cauterise their movement by silencing it wherever we can.

This is a persuasive argument. It seems highly improbable that Paul Golding or Jayda Fransen will change their minds about anything.

However, I am not so pessimistic about the wider group of people who might currently have some sympathy with the Britian First message. Perhaps over time, and through engagement, their supporters can be turned away from the politics of racism and division.

The same approach can and should be applied to followers of Islamic extremists too.

Writing on Twitter, RightsInfo founder Adam Wagner writes that “I believe – fundamentally – that no problem is beyond solving, particularly where both sides contain good people who want things to be better not worse”. He was writing about Jeremy Corbyn’s relationship with the British Jewish Community, and I wonder whether he is as optimistic about the power of dialogue to solve other kinds of racism.

Either way, the Tweet above is worth bookmarking as an example of the optimism that feels instinctively right to me.


The image above is a represenation of Dr Pangloss, the character from Voltaire’s Candide that imagines we are living in ‘The Best of All Possible Worlds’. The term ‘panglossian’ has come to mean something akin to ‘naiive optimist’ and is usually deployed disparagingly.

As my post above should make clear, I share the belief that difficult problems can be solved, so perhaps a Dr Pangloss illustration is not quite appropriate for the content of the post. I confess I have not spent much time thinking about how to illustrate the idea of a pragmatic optimist. Any number of real-life activists who made peace with their political opponents, I suppose. Nelson Mandela?

One Reply to ““No Problem Is Beyond Solving””

  1. Totally agree but not sure about the painting of Dr Pangloss unless its an illustration of how those who believe Adam Wagner is naive view him.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *