The one way we lost in the battle for the SCA

We pointed out Justin Vacula’s feet of clay, and nearly a thousand signatures were collected on the petition demanding that SCA either address his misdeeds by forcing him out or stand by those misdeeds. Vacula has stepped down from his position after this controversy didn’t go away.

Which naturally means “the terrorists” and “bullies” have won. (According to the real bullies, the anti-feminist and anti-woman contingents of our movement.)

I was really hoping this post would be “thank you Justin Vacula, your second chance begins now” but there’s absolutely no acknowledgement that the charges against him in the petition were evidenced. They are, instead, characterized as a whisper campaign by people with a vested interest in pushing him out of dialog. Among other choice salt-the-earth lines, he says the following:

My detractors did not only brand me as an ‘enemy of the people’ in a similar fashion to the eponymous play written by Henrik Ibsen, but also attacked the Secular Coalition for America – an organization with with women as staff members including the organization’s executive director – claiming it “dislike[s] feminist secular activists in Pennsylvania,” is responsible for “alienating women,” and “is woefully out of sync with the atheist movement” to just mention three items. Those who demand respect and object to disrespect — as should be apparent — offer no or little respect to others, thus not modeling the behavior they wish to see.

I can’t even begin to express my sadness that Vacula has learned absolutely nothing and has gained absolutely no measure of introspection from this. Instead, he’s slurring and mischaracterizing and eliding the arguments against him and the reasons people might sign the petition. That’s hardly the optimal outcome — that being, that Vacula realizes his missteps and apologizes for them so we can move on. Of course, he claims that he’s made mistakes, but never specifies what he’s done that he perceives now as having been a mistake, and continues mischaracterizing the arguments against him notwithstanding.

We’ve won big on this, owing to the numbers in our community who agree with the assessment of the evidence. We won in that we’ve refused to accept a bully and witch-hunter as a leader, and the SCA has hopefully learned a lesson from this, that you have to look deeper into the beliefs and actions of people you choose to represent you in leadership positions. They did precious little to vet him because they have hardly any volunteers, and are by all appearances pursuing an all-fifty-states initiatives. But that hardly matters. What matters is that they learned that one can’t just presume they know everything about someone because one person vouched for them.

FtB learned that lesson when PZ vouched for Thunderf00t, and continued to vouch for him during the first few weeks of him going slash-and-burn on everyone who blogs here both privately and publicly. Resolving the issue required messiness, and we had no idea the depth of the damage to which Thunderf00t was capable. Now SCA has learned that some people aren’t followed by controversy, but instead generate it themselves through their actions.

But we took losses in winning this battle, including the slurs and lies and elisions that are peeling away names I recognize and names that should support our goals, and the fact that Vacula had to slam the door behind him to knock as much china off the walls as possible is the saddest loss of all. I guess we just have to take solace in the fact that the folks who would rather inculcate the chilly climate and entrench sexism and bigotry in our community (whether knowingly or because they think feminists are just too shrill and hysterical) are truly a minority.

Vacula, the moment you recognize your misdeeds and make an effort to reach out to us, I’ll personally forgive you and give you another chance. Not a chance for leadership, but a chance to work together to be atheist activists without rending our communities over gender politics. I know this means little, coming from the guy who still thinks your argumentation is vacuous and your tactics often trollish. But it’s a sincere wish that you’d have a moment of introspection and actually consider that the people who find your actions offensive might have good reasons, rather than imagined fascistic ones.

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The one way we lost in the battle for the SCA

71 thoughts on “The one way we lost in the battle for the SCA

  1. 51

    @rowanvt

    When I do something wrong, when I make a mistake, when I have been mean to an individual without merit, I go and actively admit my fault, work to correct the error, and apologise profusely to the person I have wronged.

    There are plenty of mistakes I have made at work that I could have kept quiet about and none would have been aware a mistake was ever made. I have admitted them all, because I believe in taking responsibility for my actions.

    You do know that 70% of drivers consider themselves as above average, don’t you?

    For all we know, Vacula subscribes to the above sentiments. I surely do, but I also know enough of human nature (and psychology) to know that my appreciation of “me doing something wrong”, and another person’s appreciation of “Bill doing something wrong” are often diametrically opposed. To use Haidt’s analogy, the rider (our conscious part) is the advocate of the elephant (our non-conscious part), and does its best to find justifications for its behaviour. The elephant leans in one direction, and the rider looks for reasons to do so.

    From your point of view, Vacula was wrong and needed to apologise. From his viewpoint, he has been hounded down by rabid feminists, and if anything, he now even more strongly believes in the “male” cause.

    To make a connection, we need to understand the other person. It’s very difficult to connect when believing that the other is wrong, and we are right. Once discover the needs behind our own (re)actions, and look for the other person’s needs behind their actions, we can build a connection, and through that connection, we will grow closer.

    Growing closer implies softening of both positions, not one person adopting the position of another. That is capitulation, and no-one can be sure enough of their position to expect capitulation of the others. In other words, look for what links us rather than what divides us.

    None of us has a monopoly on the truth. And in matters of human relations, where science is not really capable of shining its cold light, when there are two opposing viewpoints, the truth is somewhere in the middle.

  2. 53

    Can we clear something up? Kelly Damerow told me personally that she was aware of who Justin was and of the things he had done PRIOR to his appointment. IOW, the SCA had vetted him. They didn’t care. The activism he had done was more important than the bad judgment and sexism he had exhibited towards women. He was given a probationary period of four weeks in which to prove he could restrain himself. It was at that point the announcement was made.

  3. 54

    Stephanie Zvan @50

    Ok.

    Noelplum99 @48

    Great point m8. Pleased to see someone looking at this from a dispassionate objective perspective – couldn’t have said it better!

    Jim (np99)

  4. 55

    permanganater @ 38

    I was sitting on the fence prior to this JV episode but the sheer, bald-faced reinvention, lying and four-legs-good-two-legs-bad-lynchathon has me thorougly disgusted.

    Where’s the lie? Zvan’s petition linked to specific actions of Vacula, backed up by evidence. Are you arguing he didn’t post to A Voice For Men? Are you arguing he didn’t post Amy’s address? And it’s tough to lynch someone you’d be willing to co-operate with in future. From the original post, no less:

    Vacula, the moment you recognize your misdeeds and make an effort to reach out to us, I’ll personally forgive you and give you another chance. Not a chance for leadership, but a chance to work together to be atheist activists without rending our communities over gender politics.

    The only thing that seems invented is your disgust.

  5. 56

    @Illuminati I doubt that you can be so positive that I am tone trolling or that I do not criticize bigoted views.

    I assume this is meant to be directed at me. I can be so positive that tone trolling is all you ever post on any blogs here.

    I believe that one can only be a troll if one is only concerned with causing outrage.

    Incorrect.

    I never want to stir the shit but I am a cocky person who thinks that people should care what I say so I go on blogs and twitter to spout off on things I find distasteful/tasteful.

    LOL very very incorrect. But thanks for the hilarious and pitch-perfect display of privilege. Couldn’t have aped it better myself.

    I do think tone matters though because a poor tone can make it impossible for the recipient to accept the arguments of their opposition. It’s human nature to go on the defensive when our character or like is attacked and to completely miss all cogent arguments lying therein. So yes, tone matters.

    It might have helped you to have learned what tone trolling is before going off on this entirely unrelated tangent.

  6. 59

    I don’t want what EllenBeth said @52 to be buried under noelplum’s odd self-conversation.

    Can we clear something up? Kelly Damerow told me personally that she was aware of who Justin was and of the things he had done PRIOR to his appointment. IOW, the SCA had vetted him. They didn’t care. The activism he had done was more important than the bad judgment and sexism he had exhibited towards women. He was given a probationary period of four weeks in which to prove he could restrain himself. It was at that point the announcement was made.

    They knew what he was about before they accepted him. Others (like Staks) can still claim ignorance, but not the folks who said yes to his nomination.

  7. 60

    billopenthalt, yes, changing people’s minds is hard because of the reasons you mentioned, and, yes, it can often be helpful to find a way to make concessions to one’s opponents in order to make it easier for them to make concessions to you. But that doesn’t mean that this:

    when there are two opposing viewpoints, the truth is somewhere in the middle

    is true, or useful. Sometimes one party really is completely right and the other one really is completely wrong. Sometimes both parties are completely wrong and the truth lies off in some other direction entirely. And even if it’s only the case that one party is mostly right and the other one is mostly wrong, while it might be technically correct that the truth lies somewhere in between, it’s still fairly insulting to the mostly-correct party to represent the truth as being just vaguely “somewhere in the middle”.

    There have been some bad things done in this situation by people who thought they were supporting FtB. I’m not going to deny that. That doxing, or hoax-doxing of Justin’s parents by S was one of them. But that doesn’t mean that it’s reasonable to ask the offended parties to soften their stance on the terribleness of his behaviors just because somebody else did a terrible thing to him. The most you can reasonably ask is that whatever nasty things that were done to him be acknowledged forthrightly and un-dismissively, and I think that’s been done at least to some extent. But even if it *hasn’t* been done, it doesn’t absolve him of the responsibility to acknowledge and attempt to atone for his own terrible behaviors.

  8. 61

    @Illuminati Maybe you’re right that I don’t know how to spot and label trolls as well as you do.

    Kudos to Anne C. Hanna and billopenthalt for being reasonable in general.

  9. 62

    noelplum99, here’s the thing. Coming into a conversation and staging an argument with yourself that serves no purpose but to introduce the idea that someone else did something wrong just isn’t funny. In fact, it’s the opposite. Once you’ve done that, you have to be really good to lighten the mood. You’re not that good.

  10. 63

    @Anne C. Hanna
    I agree that there are matters where one party is totally wrong, e.g. AGW deniers, or Creationists. They are wrong because science “shone its cold light” in their direction.

    I was talking about human relations, where it’s difficult to determine objectively who is “right” and who is “wrong”. In fact, in those matters there is no right or wrong. We do know that we’re really good at finding good reasons for our own cause, and good reasons against the cause of people we don’t like. And we do this while thinking we’re the most objective persons this side of the Equator. Yet we’re not.

    You think Vacula (my spell checker suggested Dracula 🙂 exhibited “terrible behaviour” and he thinks the same of “his detractors”. We know he’s into “man’s rights advocacy”, which is anathema to those of us who feel we’re living under the patriarchy. What interests me is if we can find some common ground, or at least an understanding of each other’s positions. If not, we risk replacing religious divisions by gender divisions. I want to get rid of us/them divides of all ilk.

    What do you think of the following:

    Clearly, many people suffer because of injustices linked to race, gender, sexual orientation, disabilities, age, etc. Some of these injustices are institutional, some are ancient, some recent. Some of these people are more on the male side of the gender spectrum, some more on the female side, some in-between. Some are on the milk side of the colour spectrum, some on the coffee side, and some are café au lait. But before they are carriers of all kinds of labels, they are individuals, and their suffering doesn’t depend on the labels we stick on them.

    I don’t want to judge or label other people, because that’s the first step on a slippery slope leading to the horrors we see around us.

  11. 64

    billopenthalt, I do indeed think that some of the stuff that Justin’s done is pretty terrible. I think it’s pretty terrible because I’ve paid attention to it. I’ve also paid attention to the defenses of it, and I’ve not found those defenses terribly convincing. I’m not the only one who’s come to this conclusion, either.

    So what exactly do you suggest all of us should do to find common ground with him and his defenders at this point? Where do you believe that common ground ought to lie? In my opinion, its coordinates include a fair bit of contrition from him, which has not yet been forthcoming. They may also include condemnation by his opponents of whatever inappropriate things were done to him, but, as I mentioned before, that’s already been happening, at least to some extent. What, specifically, do you expect from Justin’s opponents that is not already taking place? And if you can’t name specific things that they should be doing that they’re not doing already, then what’s the point of all this both-sides-ing?

  12. 65

    EllenBeth Wachs says:
    October 5, 2012 at 11:38 am ADT
    Can we clear something up? Kelly Damerow told me personally that she was aware of who Justin was and of the things he had done PRIOR to his appointment. IOW, the SCA had vetted him. They didn’t care. The activism he had done was more important than the bad judgment and sexism he had exhibited towards women. He was given a probationary period of four weeks in which to prove he could restrain himself. It was at that point the announcement was made.

    Oh, HELLO. Seriously? I did not know that. I am. Wow. I am really, really having a tough time holding onto my support of SCA.

  13. 66

    From his viewpoint, he has been hounded down by rabid feminists, and if anything, he now even more strongly believes in the “male” cause.

    So? He’s wrong.

    To make a connection, we need to understand the other person.

    I don’t want to make a connection with Justin Vacula. If being part of the atheist/skeptic movement requires making a connection with Justin Vacula, then fuck the atheist/skeptic movement, there are other movements with perhaps more theists but damned fewer sexists.

  14. 67

    Stephanie Zahn @62

    Let me give you a little ‘protip’ in the art of having a written exchange. Often, when you leave a comment or remark, with a little thought, one can anticipate possible responses. At this point you can choose to do nothing, or you can address the response in advance of it being made (as i did in my initial comment).
    The advantage of the latter is that is usually saves at least one round of messages (and demonstrates it is something you have already considered to boot).
    The downside is that it leaves you open to some wit informing you that you appear to be having a conversation with yourself, which you ably did. Well done.

    Jim (np99)

  15. 68

    The guy in unbelievable. He poses as a martyr of a conspiracy, reverting all the deeds of MRA bigots and the like:

    Instead of mainly focusing on issues such as religious privileging, defending the separation of church and state, strengthening the secular community, engaging in ‘real-life activism,’ improving the perception of secular individuals, or even constructively discussing how to constructively guide others who may err – a ‘you are with us or against us’ attitude is coupled with personal vendettas and whispering campaigns taking the stage regardless of concerns about the cohesion of the secular movement.
    Organizations are attacked, leaders of major organizations are condemned, prominent authors are boycotted, and ‘real-life’ careers are targeted as a result of disagreements or misunderstandings which likely could have been resolved by a simple telephone call…or ignored. Many have left the secular community, similarly vacated leadership positions of national organizations, or have been discouraged from participating as a result. This is not a constructive and positive way to address conflict.

    Looks to me he’ll never learn anything from that: he blames his behaviour on others.

  16. 69

    @64:
    I’m looking for ways to bring people together. Religion divides people into us/them camps, and I see the exact same thing happening here. This saddens me.

    @66:

    So? He’s wrong.

    I see that you are convinced that the people who acted to remove Vacula from his SCA perch are not rabid (I suppose you do agree they are feminists :). I also see that you don’t want to have anything to do with him, and that you’re so viscerally disgusted by Mr Vacula you’d rather believe in $DEITY than being “forced” to connect with him. Fine, I never asked you to reach out to Vacula.

    But if we’re going to convince him and his ilk to take a second look at their convictions, understanding what needs they are trying to meet is a prerequisite for suggesting alternative strategies. Undoubtedly, he’ll need a lot of empathy before he will be secure enough to reconsider what seem to be very deep-seated beliefs.

    As I said above, my goal is to try and remove us/them feelings, and see if it is possible to bring people together.

  17. 70

    Bill, if you want to help stop the us/them-ing, you might want to talk with those who “them!” an entire half of the human population and who when called out on it just up the ante.

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