Here on the Epicurus Blog, we deviate from Epicurean orthodoxy insofar as we see an interest in politics as not necessarily inadvisable. Provided you don’t become consumed by politics, to the detriment of your social life and cultured activities, politics can be an innocent interest- a bit like physics. Epicurus saw politics as a source of grief and despair, which is true. But it can also be a lot of fun, in moderation, of course.
However, new research from Queen Mary, University of London, shows that the Epicurean aversion to political participation may have more merit than we’ve previously assumed. The report is a polls of members of Britain’s major political parties. (You can read it here http://www.qmul.ac.uk/media/qmul/media/publications/Grassroots,-Britain’s-Party-Members.pdf.) The results show that the party members are totally unrepresentative of the wider public. They are older, whiter, more middle or upper class, and more male. They are far more likely to have degrees. More importantly, they identify themselves are being more ideologically extreme than both the party leadership and the general public. In terms of policies, party members overwhelmingly take one position on almost every issue, so there isn’t much room for dissent if you take a minority view.
All of this matters because the demographics and politics of British political party members are totally un-Epicurean. The Garden was meant to host people from all different backgrounds. It was a place of mild discussion, where people could disagree amicably, unlike political parties where diverging views (particularly on Brexit) are seen as treacherous and intolerable. Epicureans like diversity, or at least the liberal values that make it possible. Britain’s political parties couldn’t be a greater contrast to this ideal.
The other noteworthy finding of party members is how different Conservative members are to everyone else. Conservatives overwhelmingly support leaving the Single Market and Customs Union (so no hope of a future pro-EU Conservative leader), cutting government spending, and a much tougher stance on law and order. By slimmer margins they support the death penalty and are sceptical of the cultural benefits of immigration. The other parties are all very consistently and overwhelmingly left wing- even the Liberal Democrats, who often misleadingly describe themselves as ‘centrist.’
Overall, if you hold very consistently left wing or right wing views, and are willing to lead a less happy life for the sake of promoting your views, then join a political party. But for those of us who hold far more ambiguous, and at times inconsistent views, we’re far better off keeping a good distance from anything resembling party membership. Life is too short and precious to waste it campaigning with totally like-minded and out of touch people.