Lies, Damned Lies, and Infographics

A few days ago I wrote I was worried that my country would throw our future into chaos based on a fantasy of Greater Britain. And now my worst fears are coming to pass. The vote has gone to Brexit and the fantasy is dissolving before our eyes. The pound’s value has dropped like a stone, and Scotland is demanding to leave the Union. Welcome to Greater Britain.

My emotions over the past few days have been cycling through shock, anger, depression, disgust, and abject terror. Looking at the reaction and the voting statistics, what especially appals me is the number of Leave voters who clearly didn’t really know what they were voting for and/or didn’t really think Leave would win, and hence cast a protest vote against the political establishment, without thinking through the consequences. Ironically, in many cases it seems the people who will probably be hurt most by Brexit are those most likely to have voted for it.

I’ve seen quite a few people complain bitterly about the Leave voters, in many cases calling them ignorant bigots or worse. This is an understandable reaction – but not a helpful one. There’s a grossly misleading infographic doing the rounds which appears to show that Leave voters hate everything from feminism to environmentalism to the Internet. Studying it more closely, I saw that it actually shows the inverse – ie, that those who hate these things were more likely to vote Leave. But it annoyingly doesn’t give the true numbers behind those headline stats.

Intrigued, I found the raw data online and trawled through the massive pdf document to find the truth. And it was quite revealing. For example, one of the most eye-catching figures in the original infographic is the apparent revelation that 71% of Leave voters hate the Internet. Actually that’s a false (if easy) conclusion to draw – it actually shows that 71% of Internet-haters voted Leave. But how many Internet haters were there to start with? Answer: about 600 people, of over 12,000 surveyed, so a mere ~5% of the total. And that 71% of them who voted Leave – that’s only 430 people, or 3.5% of the total.

In fact, as I dug further into the data, I found that the picture this survey of attitudes shows is far more encouraging than you might think. And so I’ve made my own infographic, showing how British people view various aspects of the modern world.

Look, I made my very own infographic!

Click to embiggen

The key points I take away from this are:

  • Immigration is the only issue where more people considered it a force for ill than considered it a force for good. This isn’t unduly surprising considering the scaremongering about immigration in much of the press. But even here, 60% of British people consider immigration either good or a mixed blessing.
  • The ‘Mixed blessing’ category accounts for at least 20% for each issue, and in some cases over 30%. I find this entirely reasonable given that all these things are complex issues with varied and wide-ranging consequences, and yet this category was completely ignored by the misleading ‘info’graphic.
  • Capitalism and Globalisation are the issues with the highest ‘mixed’ ratings, and the most even split in views overall. This sounds about right to me given their joint potential for both creation and destruction on a massive scale, and the political need to manage that impact carefully – a need which is not currently being met.
  • The Internet is clearly awesome.
  • Feminism and the Green movement are both considered to be Good Things by a clear majority of people, while Social Liberalism and Multi-Culturalism are considered Good Things by very large minorities. And in each case, there’s a substantial minority who think it’s a Mixed Blessing, and only 30% or less who consider it a Bad Thing.

On this basis, enraged saddened and disgusted though I am with the referendum result, I’m not giving up hope on my fellow travellers just yet.


Footnote: for what it’s worth, my own personal views are that all of these are on balance Good Things, with the exception of Globalisation and Capitalism, which are Mixed Blessings. I seem to be fairly in line with the rest of the population in these views, which I find heartening.

The Fantasy of Greater Britain

Or, a fantasy writer’s view of the referendum.

This Thursday is the referendum on the UK’s membership of the European Union, and frankly, I’m worried about it.
I’m worried that my country’s future is going to be thrown into at best uncertainty and at worst utter chaos by a Leave vote.

The Remain campaign seems to have most of the facts on its side – the certainties of trade agreements and science funding and freedom of travel and workers’ regulations and all that stuff. It has the support of major political parties and most public figures for whom I have any respect.

But the Leave campaign has something intangible – something whose power I can’t deny. A fantasy. Now I spend pretty much my whole life either weaving fantasies of my own or losing myself in those created by others, so I know how powerful fantasies are, how they tug at the emotions and pull on the power of dreams. To a certain extent, fantasies are necessary – we all want a dream to chase, an ideal to aspire to.

Fantasies become dangerous when they turn into a substitute for rationality. And that’s what this referendum campaign feels like – when it doesn’t feel like a lot of low-grade squabbling with a big dollop of racism. A fantasy of Greater Britain, an idea of us as a shining isle, splendid in our isolation, with a God-given right to rule the waves. A concept that Brits should be able to live and work and boss people around wherever in the world they like, but that we should be able to stop foreigners coming here. A dream of the sun never setting. The idea that, split apart from the rest of the continent, we’d somehow recapture our rightful place at the head table of world politics.

Oh, it’s an attractive fantasy, there’s no doubt about that. All the best fantasies are. What avid fantasy reader doesn’t dream of going to Hogwarts, of visiting Middle Earth or Narnia? Unfortunately, it doesn’t bear more than a tangential relationship with reality. We don’t have an empire any more. We’re not the Big Bad Boss of the world. We’re a modern, multi-cultural nation, deeply intertwined with the other nations of Europe (and elsewhere) in myriad ways – culturally, legally, politically, financially. Attempts to extricate ourselves from these bonds would be drawn out and painful, and what would be left at the end of it? A country magically transformed into a greater version of its former self? It doesn’t seem likely to me. It seems far more likely that such a process would only leave us diminished in search of a dream.

Fantasies are great. I can hardly claim otherwise. But not when they intrude into reality and consume common sense.

New New Year’s Resolutions

Back in January, I laid out my New Year’s Resolutions for 2016. We’re now nearly half-way through the year, so I thought it was time to re-visit those resolutions and do a progress report.

My first resolution was to finally finish my novel The Silvergreen Sea. Status: Confident green tick. It’s all done and out on submission as I write these words.
Second resolution, to finish the rough draft of my new novel The Tide of Fire. Status: Slightly more wobbly tick, probably in blue ink. It’s done – albeit only to a given value of ‘done’. It’s still nowhere near ready to be sent out on submission and I’m putting it aside for now, to be re-visited later.
Third resolution, to read at least 50 books. Status: Firm tick. I have successfully consumed 50 books in various forms – 29 paperbacks, 11 audio books, 5 hardbacks, 4 electronic books, and a graphic novel.

All my resolutions are already done, and it’s not even the end of June. I’ve officially won at New Year’s Resolutions. So what comes next – shall I just put my feet up and watch Netflix for the next six months? It’s certainly tempting – the new season of Orange is the New Black has just come out, so that’ll keep me occupied for a few days at least.

Some of my reading material for the second half of the year

Some of my reading material for the second half of the year

But after that, perhaps it’s time for some New New Year’s Resolutions. 2016 Part Two, if you will. What’s up next? Well, I’ve started writing a new book, The Only Thing That Never Burns In Hell, so I want to finish that in rough draft. I also want to read 50 more books, to get me up to a nice round hundred for the year. And as part of that I’ve got a mini-resolution, to read all the books which have been nominated for the British Fantasy Society’s Best Fantasy Novel and Best Horror Novel Awards, before they’re given out in September at the convention in Scarborough. I’ve made a start on the winning novels from last year as well – Cuckoo Song by Frances Hardinge, and No One Gets Out Alive by Adam Nevill. The only problem is that they’re both kind of freaking me out. Oh well, New Year’s Resolutions can’t be too easy, can they?