The Bozo Bit

Deep in The Jargon file I remember (apparently incorrectly1) there being a section about the bozo bit, and as an impressionable teenager when I read this it seemed like a good idea. The idea as I remember it is this: if there’s a person who frequently says something so incredibly stupid, it’s probably not worth you paying attention to what they say ever again - to switch the “Bozo” flag from 0 to 1.

This is, of course, madness.

The primary reason to never flip the bozo bit is that I’m wrong some (large) percentage of the time. False positives won’t help me better understand the world, they just increase echo-chamber effects.

Sometimes we’re both right and and merely have different perspectives, sometimes even though I think they’ve said something ridiculous, the chain of reasons goes back quite reasonably to some slightly incorrect premise. (something I was frustrated at when I posted On Ridicule).

Even when they’re actually and objectively wrong, people can teach me something - sometimes that’s how to better explain things to people who have different world views, sometimes it’s just being aware of how different people think (which is really useful as a UI designer).

Everyone says and believes some stupid things. I was reading through this list of fallacies today2 and I know that I see many of those fallacies in my own thinking even though I’ve been trained by computers to have a sound grasp of formal logic and what makes a valid argument/program. Yet I commit the fallacy fallacy so often I should have it tattooed on my other arm.3

I still flip the bozo bit an unreasonable amount - I hide at least a quarter of my facebook friends4, I dismiss out-of-hand everything Mark Driscoll says, and it’s all I can do not to put my head through a wall when I’m listening to the occasional theology podcast’s panelists. I need to seek good ideas and truths everywhere they can be found and not just where I expect to find it.

I’ve only started to realise that I am quite arrogant when it comes to dealing with ideas and people I disagree with, and I mean to do that less.

What’s your strategy for dealing with people who you find are all-too easy to ignore?

  1. Try as I might, I can’t find this again said in a positive light, which means I may have misunderstood, or misattributed, or simply fail at googling. What I did find: Set The Bozo Bit, Don’t Flip the Bozo Bit, and a Wikipedia stub

  2. yes - I find the strangest things entertaining 

  3. Not actually. 

  4. posting too many cats or Upworthy links is a good way to get hid.