|Sin||In Moderation||In Excess|
|Wrath||Natural and healthy reaction to unfairness or injustice.||Broken friendships, feuds, vendettas, casual violence, and unjustified war.|
|Avarice||The will to provide oneself and one's loved ones with the necessities of life, and perhaps some comforts as well.||The pursuit of money or material goods to the exclusion of relationships, to the detriment of the environment, to the exclusion of effort on truly worthwhile pursuits, or to the point of unjustly depriving the needy of the necessities of life.|
|Sloth||Avoid wasting energy in cases where nothing useful can be accomplished, recharge one's batteries, smell the roses.||Wasting time and energy when critical work needs doing, when others need help, or when excellence and achievement are possible.|
|Pride||Keep one's possessions in presentable condition, maintain an upstanding reputation, be unreproachable in both word and deed.||Refuse to admit mistakes, rest on the laurels of long-forgotten achievements, refuse to improve oneself.|
|Lust||The continuation of the species.||Addictive behavior, neglect of duties, betrayal of loved ones. Or, as the case may be, previously loved ones.|
|Envy||Emulating the successes of others.||Wasting time and effort coveting the possessions and successes of others, reducing everyone to the lowest common denominator, thwarting success and achievement of others, and perhaps even attacking others simply to spite them.|
|Gluttony||"A man's gotta eat!!!"||Poor health and early death, to say nothing of wasting food, thus resources.|
Some would argue that the indignation that rights a wrong on the one hand and a vendetta that destroys a community on the other are different in kind, not merely different in scale, and perhaps rightfully so. However, for our purposes, the crucial observation is that both are driven by the same feelings and emotions—in other words, they are both symptoms of the same underlying motivations. The sad fact is that the participants in a vicious and destructive vendetta feel the same sense of moral outrage felt by someone standing up to a belligerent bully.
The seven deadly sins are clearly extremely powerful motivators, so much so that they are harnessed to drive organizations of all sorts. Interestingly enough, many organizations seem to specialize in one or another of the deadly sins. The choice of sin is extremely important: As we will see, the choice of sin greatly influences the organization's longevity.
In a manner not too different from our envious/liberal and avaricious/conservative policians, a wrathful politician would be less likely to expound wrath for wrath's sake than to focus on the necessity and righteousness of a forceful response to real or imagined injuries caused by real or imagined enemies, whether contemporary or historic.
Likewise, a healthy civic organization would not focus on pride itself, but on good works well done.
The experience of the Democrats attempting to harness wrath in the 2004 US presidential election should give caution to any organization tempted to switch sins. Howard Dean did indeed make an excellent showing, but for a short time only, and Michael Moore, though more durable, did not seem to have a decisive effect on the outcome. Perhaps political systems with less of a winner-takes-all makeup can draw on the motivational force of multiple sins, but the shifting coalitions that tend to be engendered by these other systems leave ample room for doubt.
How then does an organization survive long-term, given many society's notoriously short attention spans?
In addition, organizations based on envy need countervailing organizations based on avarice and vice versa. Unless presented with meaningful opposition, envy-based organizations will reduce everyone to the least common denominator. To see this, consider that it is far easier to remove the wings from a bird than it is to add them to a mouse. Beyond a certain point, therefore, equality is the sworn enemy of excellence. But neither are avarice-based organizations free from fatal flaws. In the absence of meaningful opposition, they can result in oppressive winner-takes-all scenarios. Although excellence might well have been the basis for the big win, a very natural but very undesirable outcome is for the winner to defend the win by suppressing nascent excellence in others.
The more hysterical proponents of either conservative or liberal political philosophies would therefore do well to think much more carefully about their party platforms. Or indeed, to think at all. Unfortunately, I cannot offer any hope on this issue, as I fully expect politicians and their minions to continue focusing strictly on winning elections, resorting to deep thought only after a devastating loss.
As to wrath, people have proven themselves quite capable of holding grudges for centuries, but only if a real or imagined enemy remains a potent threat. When the enemy is vanquished, so is the wrath. It is therefore quite dangerous to try to appease a wrath-based organization. The organization needs a viable enemy in order to motivate its people, therefore, any attempt to address the advertised grievances will very result in new grievances being generated as needed to sustain the organization.
Pride considered to be the most deadly of the sins, but this deadliness is inextricably linked to its great weakness as a source of motivation. A feat in adolescence, for example the winning pass for the Big Game, can be a source of pride for a lifetime—but such a source of pride generates reminiscences, not action. An enduring pride-based organization must have a strong component of "so what have you done for me lately?", setting an endless series of grand challenges and goals—and continuing to make itself attractive to the young, the energetic, and the disaffected. This latter is itself a difficult challenge as the organization ages and starts to prefer dignity to adolescent chaos, but any organization that fails to meet this challenge will find that its lifespan is bounded above by that of its current members. Therefore, any organization that fails to appeal to the young will die within one generation.
The hedonistic Big Three, gluttony, lust, and sloth, provide motivation only up to the satisfaction of the underlying need. This motivation can be extremely powerful, for example: