If you have a heap of objects, you can remove one and still have a heap of objects. But at some point you will have removed so many objects that you no longer have a heap. It is too strong to claim that someone removing one object is destroying the heap. But it is also correct to point out that it is possible that removing one object will change the nature of what is left behind. This paradox has many names but for this essay I’ll call it the Paradox of the Heap.

We struggle to have measured conversations in areas that have this property. Is a cultural shift just a recalibration or the start of a larger decline? Are we dialing things in or changing them profoundly? Is this a real slippery slope or an instance of the slippery slope fallacy?

In my experience the best way to explore these types of topics is to consider them in the absolute rather than the relative. From any given frame of reference a change can feel like a loss or a gain. But if you contextualize it things can appear quite different. A change in degree is not necessarily a change in kind.

Imagine the world after a change is made. How would you describe it? Rather than using relative language like “more open” or “more closed” how does it stack up on an absolute basis? To tie it back to the paradox, these arguments hinge on the fact that a heap is by definition an amorphous concept and thus cannot be discussed as such. Thus to resolve what might actually be minor disagreements (or determine if they are meaningful) we must look at the problem holistically.