by Jason Gibbs
“Oh, people can come up with statistics to prove anything, Kent. Forty percent of all people know that.” – Homer Simpson
“Good morning Mr Jones, please take a seat.”
“Why am I here?”
John Jones was nervous. He’d been about to get into his car to drive home when the police arrived, and brought him to the station.
“All in good time Mr Jones, we need to establish a few things first.”
John sat down. He was a bit taller than average, with grey green eyes and strawberry blond hair. He shuffled his feet and stared down at his somewhat unfashionable patent leather brown shoes.
The police officer asked him to confirm his name and his address, which he did, and then he asked again what they wanted.
“I am Inspector Smith of the Deviation Analysis Squad.”
“The Deviation Analysis Squad. We look for people who are stepping outside the norm, by at least one deviation. For example, did you know that fewer than 10% of people a year have a formal interaction with a member of the police force?”
John stared and then said slowly, “I’m here because I have deviated from the norm by being here. That’s… Kafkaesque.”
“Indeed, and yet of the people who cite a reference to describe this situation, fewer than 7% choose Kafka, the vast majority prefer Orwell.”
Smith made a note on his paper. To John it looked like a cross next to the first item on a long list. He felt a sinking feeling in his stomach.
“Right, your name, Jones, Quite common I believe. Welsh in origin?”
“But not in fact your birth name.”
“No, I was…”
“Your birth name was… let me see here… Kalinsky. A rare name.”
“Did you know that fewer than 1% of men change their name in their life time?”
“I didn’t… but you see.”
“Would you like some water?”
“Ah, what, no, I mean, yes actually please.”
“Excellent response…” said the Inspector as he stood up, and went to the door and whispered something to the officer standing outside. He then sat down and made a cross and a tick on his list.
“Now let us continue, and please be clear, I am only after facts. Reasons are not within my remit.”
John stared at him, wondering how he could have ended up here.
“May I ask why you have selected a moustache?”
“Um, as, I mean, compared to what?”
“A full beard. Or no beard.”
“I guess I just like it.”
“And yet two decades ago you had a full beard,” the Inspector sounded a little stern.
“How did you know?”
“We have ways,” said the Inspector showing a humourless smile.
John said nothing, and the Inspector’s smiled grew and he said, “It was on your SocialBook page… which we will come back to. Now please, the facial hair question, this is important.”
“I guess I just liked it.”
“Just liked it, indeed. As of the last survey only 3% of men had just a moustache. And twenty years ago it was a similar percentage who had a full beard, and yet now it’s up to over 20%.”
The Inspector rubbed his clean shaven and rather square chin and looked at John, before nodding, and noting down three more crosses on his list. John was wondering what the third cross represented when the Inspector looked up suddenly.
John started, “Yes?”
“Do you use it?”
“Um, well I’m on it.”
“Yes yes, but how often do you use it?”
“Honestly, I can’t remember the last time I logged in. Does that put me in a minority again?” John couldn’t help letting a little fear enter his voice.
The Inspector laughed drily.
“Oh no, perfectly average, right in the centre of the curve in fact. Always good to check, we get some pretty severe Deviations in the social media world. Right, now, this says you are religious.”
“Ah yes, I believe in God.”
“Indeed. And you go to church how often?”
“Every Sunday. But you see…”
“Do you know how many people go to church every Sunday?”
“Well the congregation has been shrinking, but…”
“Six percent. Six. And of your age group, less than one percent. You are heading right into the tail there my friend.”
He marked a large cross, and John decided he needed to say something, “But you see I only go because I promised my mother…”
“Keeping a promise to a parent. Let me see…. no that’s neutral. Lucky for you. I’d suggest you consider answering only the questions I ask Mr Jones, I am after all trying to do you a favour here.”
John felt that this was the opposite of the case, but realising that discretion was the better part of valour he held his tongue. The Inspector gave one of his hard smiles again, and ticked another box. He then leant back in his chair.
“Hmmm, so it says here that you like classical music,” he pointed vaguely at a file on the table which he hadn’t opened at any point.
“Not really, I mean it doesn’t offend me, but I don’t listen to it very often.”
“I see. So who do you listen to?”
“Well at the moment I’m listening to the Eagles a lot, mixed in with a bit of Queen.”
“Classical music indeed. You know that neither of those bands have been mainstream popular for some time…”
“But the Eagles best of…”
And another cross. John was feeling more and more disoriented and worried.
There was a knock on the door and it was opened by a policeman who walked in and gave John the drink of water he’d asked for earlier. He took a sip and tried to gather his thoughts.
“Look, I really don’t understand…”
The Inspector sighed and looked at him.
“Mr Jones, do you know what the problem with modern society is? No don’t answer, it was a rhetorical question. We believe that there are no major problems with the core of society. The problems are in the deviations. The barbarians inside the walls as it were.”
“Yes, a kind of fifth column, well slightly more or less if you count the Deviations…”
The Inspector looked at John as if expecting a response, but seeing nothing just shook his head and muttered something like “non-statisticians” under his breath.
Then he looked at his watch and said, “Mr Jones, please no more interruptions, I only have a few more questions and then we should be able to make a decision, please just bear with me.”
A tick this time.
“Right Mr Jones, can I see your tattoo?”
“I don’t have a tattoo.”
“A real individual aren’t you.”
John felt on more solid ground on this one, he’d had an argument with Philips from Procurement about this only last week.
“Only 25% of 18-40 year-olds have tattoos. So not having one is not really being an individual.”
“Did you just quote a statistic at me Mr Jones?” The air of menace in the room was palpable.
“Perhaps you don’t realise how much trouble you are in! But if I were you, I wouldn’t try and be aggressive again, because at this point I’m your only hope.”
“OK, um, sorry?” John tried to look penitent, but he was so confused it was hard.
“Indeed. Well you are in fact correct about the overall percentage. But what it hides is that within your social strata, educational class and regional variation, having a tattoo is now prevalent across 51% of males.”
John wasn’t sure if it was an accusation or a celebration so he just nodded.
“However, it is not a defining marker for Deviation, so we will mark that as neutral. No more statistics though…” he looked severe.
John nodded meekly.
“Final question for today. Are you a vegan?”
“No. But I have been considering it… I mean not soon, but at some point.”
“Hmmm, well well, now that is interesting. Last year that would have put you into a Deviation category, but the latest updates seem to show… yes, you are now in the majority. Excellent.”
He made another tick. Tapped at the paper, then wrote a number at the bottom.
“Do you have anything else to say for yourself Mr Jones?”
“Ah no, I just…”
“No time for justice here. I am making a summary judgement. You are found guilty of Deviation, but given the balance of information I believe you have a chance of redemption. Sentence suspended for two years pending confirmation of conformation. Do you understand?”
“Um, not really.”
“I’m saving your life Mr Jones, I’m letting you join the majority. You may remain out of prison for the moment.”