In which Michael Egnor steals the “shrill harpy” title

Over the years I’ve seen PZ Myers excoriate the odious Michael Egnor many times, and enjoyed it greatly.  Figured it’s time for me to get in on the act.

Here’s what happened:

JT Eberhard decries the despicable bullying that Jessica Ahlquist has received for her role in getting the prayer mural taken down at her high school, and expresses concern for her safety.

Egnor accuses Eberhard of “using a schoolgirl as a human shield.”

Now, I’m not sure if I actually agree with JT that the school has grounds to stop something that is essentially passive-aggressive behavior on the part of hostile students (wearing t-shirts), and Egnor may or may not be on the right side of that issue… but that’s not my point here.

What’s interesting to me is that Egnor has gone for a particular line of response that involves snidely insulting Jessica herself — dismissing her as an irrelevant pawn in this story, manipulated by the evil atheist community who merely wants to use her as a buffer against criticism because she’s a teenager.  In other words, he’s attacking her character with ageism while pretending to be defending her virtue, all in the service of minimizing the criticism against the bullying itself.

This is pretty rude, especially from my perspective since I’ve talked to Jessica Ahlquist on The Non-Prophets, and she was a great conversationalist.  Extremely bright, fully self-aware of what she was getting into, and coolly analytical about the constitutional issues involved.  Quite possibly my favorite guest of the last year.

Egnor’s on the attack, and instead of dealing head-on with the real issues of a school that deliberately pushed religion on its students and then looks the other way while someone is harassed, he chooses to piss and moan about how unfair it is that Jessica’s age somehow makes her a “shield” for adults who have the same concern.

This reminded me of something I once noticed about Ann Coulter — who, big surprise, is apparently a hero of Egnor’s.  I dug up the post.  It’s political, so it turned out to be something I wrote on my personal blog in 2006 when she was touring around to hype that bile-storm of a book she called “Godless.”

Ann was, at the time, incensed about a group of 9/11 widows speaking out against the Iraq war.  She said, “This is the Left’s doctrine of infallibility. If they have a point to make about the 9-11 Commission, about how to fight the war on terrorism, how about sending in somebody we’re allowed to respond to? No, no, no, we always have to respond to someone who just had a family member die.”

But as I pointed out, Coulter doesn’t really know what it means to “respond to” someone.  In her view, “responding” is essentially identical to “attacking the character of.”  And what she was really complaining about, in the end, was that if she slings petty insults at a group of widows, she looks like a loathsome, morally retarded harpy.  And that’s totally not fair!

Egnor here is pulling a line out of the Coulter playbook.  He’s upset that he can’t very well deploy an ad hominem against Jessica directly, because he’ll wind up sounding like a total douche-nozzle for throwing in with the bullies.  (Not that this stopped her state senator from doing it.)  So he attacks Jessica — not for what she did, but just for being the kind of person that most people are sympathetic to.  And he does it by proxy, by pretending to attack people who are mainly concerned for her safety and well-being.