Justin Vacula is busily whining that CFI’s policy on hostile conduct protects its conference attendees freedom to associate with each other without having that associaion disrupted by hostile elements. That’s par for the course. Normally, I wouldn’t bother to draw your attention to it (or even read it; I have plenty of evidence that Vacula understands neither the point of conferences nor the point of such policies).
However, someone pointed out to me that the lie machine is in action on this one. See this comment by Damion Reinhardt.:
First off, I’d like to state for the record that “Blonde In Tokyo” is not to reply to me or contact me in any way, as I will construe any counterarguments or words from her as attempted harassment and report her to the site mods.
Secondly, I’d like to point out that the previous paragraph is an example of a preemptive silencing tactic, designed to prevent the free flow of ideas upon which all genuine freethought is ultimately founded. Tails I win, heads, you SHUT UP AND CHECK YOUR PRIVILEGE!!!
Finally, I’d like to point out for the record that Hensley and Zvan solicited harassment complaints on Twitter in hopes of a preemptive ban. This has been their game plan all along.
The myopia is strong with this one. My “game plan” for Women in Secularism 2 is to say interesting things on one panel, ask interesting questions on another, meet a bunch of incredible people I currently only know online, catch up with others I only see at conferences, and conduct a little business for Minnesota Atheists and Atheists Talk. To assume that, as a speaker and a board member of a regional atheist group, my agenda would be shaped by some half-competent gadfly is to completely elide the fact that I’m a successful and active member of the secular movement who will be attending a much-anticipated conference with other successful and active members of the secular movement. That, however, is also par for the course.
This bit about soliciting harassment complaints, however, is flat-out, ahistorical nonsense.
Let’s cast our minds (and links) back to January, when Reinhardt came up with the idea to send Vacula to Women in Secularism. (Yes, this was his idea.) People who were speaking at the conference were upset. People who wanted the conference to be a success were upset. People who were considering paying a not-insubstantial sum of money to attend the conference for reasons entirely unrelated to it being one more space where they would have to defend their feminism were upset.
Into that atmosphere came Melody Hensley with some reassurances:
Hi, this is Melody, the organizer of Women in Secularism. I can assure you that Women in Secularism is a safe place for everyone and I promise that every speaker and attendee will be taken care of. Comfort and safety is one of my biggest concerns.
As some of you might know, I have been the victim of cyberstalking and online harassment and it has affected me greatly so I take this matter very seriously. However, I do not have the authority to decide who does or does not attend to the conference. I do have other ways of making sure that everyone enjoys the conference and feels safe.
If you have concerns that are beyond my control, please contact my president and CEO, Ronald Lindsay at rlindsayATcenterforinquiry.net.
To the best of my recollection, she tweeted something similar. I may have retweeted it. I may have pointed some people who were upset to Melody’s comment in order to reassure them that the conference would still be everything it had promised to be. I did the same thing in the footnotes on this post. What I didn’t do was “solicit harassment complaints”. I didn’t have to. I already had plenty.
On January 22, I sent a four-and-a-half-page letter to Ron Lindsay. Four pages of that letter (plus an additional 11 pdfs) documented the parts of the policy on hostile conduct that Vacula had already declared open contempt for, both with respect to speakers at the conference, potential attendees, the conference itself, and secular conferences in general. Unlike Reinhardt, I’m perfectly comfortable putting my own name on my work.
Also contrary to the story Reinhardt is telling, I didn’t ask for Vacula to be banned. Here’s the last half page of my letter:
That is what I think you need to know about Justin Vacula potentially attending one of your conferences. What am I asking you to do with this information? I’m not asking for any particular action. Among other reasons, there is no upside for me in this situation. Once Vacula decided he wanted to attend this conference, all my options were bad. If CFI decides he should not attend based on the information I’ve provided, I will be blamed for excluding him from the free exchange of ideas. You will be accused of cowardice in caving to my demands, but the responsibility assigned by Vacula and the others who “criticize” me will be mine.
On the other hand, if he attends, I will have a much less productive conference. Everything I do or say will be observed and reported on by a hostile party. Sarcasm and even obvious jokes will be off the table. So will unguarded exchanges about challenges, which was one of the most productive parts of last year’s conference. Additionally, there is a not insubstantial chance that I will have to engage in the reporting process for hostile behavior, resulting in a loss of productive time for me (as this letter has).
Still, if that is the case, you will have this documentation as a starting point. So I leave you with this information and the unenviable task of deciding how you wish to resolve the situation.
Thank you for taking the time to consider this fully.
I didn’t ask for a ban. A ban wouldn’t do me any favors. Of course, as it turns out, I didn’t have to ask. Reinhardt has assigned me that blame for asking even though I didn’t. Hooray, consequences without actions!
As I told Ron, there is no upside for me in this. All I can do is keep working to make the conference as good and as welcoming as I can with the limited resources I have. To that end, let me just note that all of Vacula’s hand-wringing about people trying to get him kicked out of the conference is pointless dramatics. I received a response to the letter I sent Ron. I won’t share the text because I haven’t asked for permission, but long story short: Vacula was communicated with about appropriate behavior at the conference shortly after I sent that letter. He knew how he would have to behave before he finished raising funds to attend Women in Secularism. This should be no surprise to him.
If he has concerns now, he doesn’t have to blog about them for all the impotent world to weigh in on. He can go directly to whomever at CFI has already talked to him about the policy with any questions he has. He can get all the clarification he needs to make sure he gets as much out of the conference as it was designed to provide.
Just as I did with other attendees and potential attendees back in January, I urge Vacula to make use of that contact if he has any questions or concerns about his conference-going experience. And I urge Reinhardt to develop a closer relationship with the truth and to take some responsibility for his actions in this movement.
Update: Vacula has posted an “I know you are but what am I?” accusation that I’m lying about trying to get him banned from Women in Secularism. I left a comment congratulating him on maintaining an argument from incredulity while linking to his answers. I also added myself to the list of people who have told him to leave them alone at Women in Secularism.
Update #2: Reinhardt has posted this “solicitation”. Apparently one solicits attendees to complain by mentioning to two non-attendees and the conference organizer in a side conversation most people will never see that if speakers and attendees had concerns that it would be better they be made before Vacula raised a bunch of money and bought his ticket. One does not broadcast said solicitation to, say, people in an actual position to make a complaint.