While British multiculturalism may have its evils, and there may be better policy options, might this be an inopportune time to say so? Might that claim be misunderstood, even subconsciously, in ways that will exacerbate social tensions and strengthen the hands of political extremists (some, perhaps, driven by cultural xenophobia or outright racism)? Would the book be misused and its message distorted by those extremists? Might the eventual outcome be a contribution to the very forces in society that the author opposes?
If so, might it be wise not to go ahead with the book? But what if another person advised you not to go ahead? Should you be angry, or grateful for the advice, or what? What if someone says publicly that such books should not be written - perhaps while you are immersed in writing the book, or, perhaps worse, after it has already been published? Should you be angry, grateful, detached and reflective, or what?
Well, at least one answer, which in my more pious moments I’m inclined to favour, is that one should ask whether their request – or even demand – has any merit. Are their concerns legitimate – can you see what they’re worrying about? Is their position held in good faith (since even if you think they’re mistaken, this is a relevant datum in terms of how one should view their character, etc)? Does their position have at least some evidential merit? In other words, one should react in a spirit of rational enquiry – after all, it’s possible they’ve got a point, and it’s possible that a lot is riding on getting things right.Now, that may be right. But telling people to shut up may not be the best option in a class of cases (perhaps even a very large one) where it's a tempting option. Does it matter how clear-cut the case is? What if the case for shutting up depends, in part, on claims that are obviously bullshit (perhaps showing the person who is calling for the shutting up to have poor judgment and/or a strong bias)? Doubtless there are many different scenarios to consider.
How one should not react is simply to assume that they are beyond the moral pale because they make the request or demand. Sometimes, shutting up is the best option. And sometimes telling people to shut up is morally justified (and perhaps even obligated).
There's a good thread going over there at TP, and I've made a couple of comments so far. As I say there, I'm certainly not an absolutist about it. I wouldn't claim, in all cases, that a person calling for others to shut up is of vicious character. Still, I do think that as a general rule we should try to avoid getting into meta-level debates about whether certain things should be said at all, as opposed to whether those things are likely to be true. (I don't see any horrible paradox in this; it's usually possible to distinguish between a debate about, say, the merits of a government policy and a debate about the propriety of expressing a particular view on the policy.)
Notwithstanding the example used in the post, I'm sure we could think of other salient examples where arguments about some topic or other have quickly "gone meta". I'm not especially interested in discussing the merits of these examples - see, folks, another paradox! I'm not interested in discussing them in this place, at this time, because I want to discuss with you the general merits of shuttuppery and when it's appropriate ... and how we should respond to it.
So if we do use examples from the "Exhibit A" debate, or Elevatorgate, or Chris Mooney's response to "Seeing And Believing" (and the backlash that he copped), or any other recently-heated topic in the blogosphere, let's use some good sense and discretion. I don't actually ask you to shut up on those topics in your wider lives - by all means go and write a book about "Exhibit A" - just that you not try to settle the merits of those topics here. That's not the purpose of the thread.
It may be better to stick with the multiculturalism example or with made-up examples, but I'm not going to jump up and down about what examples are used unless they are used in the wrong spirit. As judged by me.