The pessimist looked down at all the people roaming the streets of a small town. Standing on a grass-covered hill, shaded by a magnificent oak tree, the three of us were getting into a heated discussion. “Two deadly sins will turn this fine town into a big bad city, covered in smoke and dust and filth.” said the pessimist. “The first sin is greed, which will cause its people to always reach for more, never ever satisfied with what they already have. Because of greed, the beauty of this town will soon be buried beneath smoking chimneys and massive industries. Good neighbors will have become sworn enemies as they compete for ever scarcer resources to claim as theirs. I believe you call this business.”
He looked angrily at the optimist, who was shaking her head. “You are missing the point completely.” she said. “This town will transform because its people have great ambitions – producing more food to feed the hungry, better clothes to protect people from the cold, cleaner water for the children, and so forth. A wonderful side effect of these ambitions is when people start to share the surplus of their production – trade it – with others. Magic is channeled through the invisible link between those who produce and those who consume; it is progression and leads to higher quality of products, services, and life. That’s what I call business, and there’s nothing sinful about it.”
They both looked expectantly at me, as if waiting for my judgment. “Actually,” I said, “both your arguments make sense to me. I’m not really ready to say who I think is right just yet – but I believe you mentioned there’s another deadly sin that comes into play?”
“Indeed there is”, said the pessimist. “Laziness, which is even worse than greed. Because people here are inherently lazy, they will soon start to hire others to do the hard work, build machines to automate every manual task, coldly calculate logistics to maximize profit, and carelessly consume nature’s resources so they themselves are freed from any real work and can instead spend their days counting money and looking for new ways to avoid doing things of real importance.”
The optimist started laughing. “No, no, no!” she said. “You’re blinded by your bitterness, my cynical friend. Where you see lazy people who avoids working, I see wonderful commitment to continuous improvement. Through the drive to build things that are better, cheaper, and faster than before, these fine people bring greater products to a bigger market – they are the unsung heroes who protect our ever-growing world.”
Again, they turned to me. “Well“, I said. “It’s clear that you both feel strongly about your own views…and it’s hard to know who’s right. Where one of you sees greed, the other finds ambition. Where one of you sees laziness, the other finds commitment and drive.”
Suddenly the leaves rattle and there’s movement in the branches of the great oak under which we stand. A small woman with a funny beard1 appears and looks down at us. “They are both right. Just as the genius and the lunatic represent two sides of the same coin, so do the optimist and the pessimist, the believer and the fanatic2, the cynic and the idealist, and most certainly the greedy and the ambitious.”
(The discussion continues for hours, now including myself, the pessimist, the optimist, and of course the bearded lady.)
It was getting late. I looked down at the small town, only to find it was no longer there. In its place was a great vibrant city with warm glowing lights to safely guide its countless citizens home at night. And even though there was no telling who was right or wrong regarding the two deadly sins – or great virtues – somehow it didn’t seem so important anymore.
“It’s absolutely magnificent”, I said.
“What a dump”, said the pessimist3.
1. Since this text is both gender-neutral and open to genetic tinkering, this facial hair shouldn’t come as a surprise.
2. Agnostics might want to argue that these are actually on the same side of the coin, but that’s simply because some coins have three or even four sides.
3. You will note that pessimists always want to have the final say. Footnotes notwithstanding.