There are a lot of collective concepts floating around at the moment: There are the Three Virtues (Faith, Hope and Charity), the Three R's (Reading, 'Riting, and 'Rithmetic -- a little forced, actually), the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse (War, Famine, Pestilence, Death), and loads of others.
What's interesting about collective concepts is that they're crisp, clean, and well-adaptible towards any sort of creative venture. I've seen the Three R's posing as anthropomorphic characters in a children's video, for example. Terry Pratchett has parodied the Four Horsemen not once but twice (the second time with Neil Gaiman's cooperation), and even the obscure 1990 movie Nuns on the Run named its primary characters Faith, (Brian) Hope, and Charlie. :)
My personal favorite, however, is the concept of the Seven Deadly Sins: Gluttony, Greed, Sloth, Lust, Pride, Envy, and Wrath. I find that these ideas encompass man's moral degeneracy quite well, and they're very open to interpretation (philosophical or literary) if you want to give it a go. They're relatively simple to understand, yet complex enough to discuss in creative executions.
And, of course, you just can't beat the number. Seven has a bit of an iconic feel, I think, because it looks like an anomaly in the counting system. You need at least seven riffle-shuffles to completely randomize a standard deck of cards. You can never produce an exact replica of a seven-sided polygon. And so forth. The number just feels so... arcane.
Anyone who's seen the movie Se7en (Brad Pitt, Morgan Freeman, Gwyneth Paltrow, Kevin Spacey) will immediately tie it to any mention of the Seven Deadly Sins. In fact, it's my experiences with the movie that dictate the order in which they appear above. I've also caught mention of these seven in the Deadlands: Doomtown collectible card game, and the Full Metal Alchemist manga -- that's just how far-ranging the concept is.
At their deepest core, however, I feel that the Seven Deadly Sins can easily speak to every human being who sees, hears or thinks them -- probably because we all have approached each and every one in our own little ways:
Gluttony - Gluttony's actually a little narrow if we think about it with regards to food alone. But if we extend the definition of exactly what humans can consume in egregious amounts, then what's stopping us from intruding into Greed's territory?
On the other hand, that might just be the key word: Consume. Gluttony consumes, whereas Greed keeps for itself. It's probably the difference between having the cake and eating it, too.
Would this possibly extend to words? Those are probably the only things to which I would be remotely gluttonous. The more words I consume, the better I feel. :)
Greed - Now, Greed's a fairly general sin, if only because there are so many categories of material objects that we can hoard. Somehow, I think that Greed happens to be the least obvious and the most subtle of the seven; It's not immediately identifiable from a surface point of view. It'll take a good amount of introspection, after all, for us to even figure out exactly what we ourselves are greedy for.
Sloth - Should Apathy be considered part of Sloth? Sloth automatically assumes that we are slow to move or act on a given cause, but what if we have no intention of furthering such a cause to begin with?
Perhaps Apathy is more a neutral concept than a sin, really. I mean, it should all depend on exactly what we're supposed to be doing to begin with. Being apathetic about, say, the current political situation (in choosing not to take sides) may not necessarily fall under a deadly sin.
Lust - What's ironic about Lust is that many of its possible interpretations in the modern world may not necessarily apply to it. Stalking, for example, feels more like a sin of Pride -- the offender assumes that the target will willingly acquiesce to his or her own clumsy overtures, after all.
I have a feeling that Lust tends more towards inappropriate feelings towards objects of desire, though, as opposed to the more blatant offenses. Sexual harassment is an obvious Lust aspect, yes, but I would guess that the acts of dropping by strip bars, surfing Internet porn, and leafing through the local issues of FHM would qualify as well. The jury, however, is still out on whether the minor offenses do escalate to the major ones.
Pride - Pride holds a special place in my life, as it does for virtually every writer and artist out there. After all, we do have to put a certain amount of emotional and financial investment into our own works. (Yeah, the monthly disclaimers on this blog don't help much, especially when I openly threaten plagiarists every single time.)
I've discussed Vanity a couple of times, and it definitely should be classified under Pride. Where Pride usually represents the raising of one's identity to a level above others, Vanity notes a constant trumpeting of one's own self-worth. Where the proud will occasionally keep their egos to themselves, the vain will constantly let others know just how superior their skills are.
I'll go as far as to guess that Pride is more readily noticed by others than it is by the offender. That makes it an interesting case -- how can a proud man speak highly of himself when he cannot realize the level of pride that he utilizes?
Envy - Doesn't Envy imply Pride to begin with? After all, it's difficult to be envious of someone else without envisioning the fact that you're superior to him or her in some way.
Or better yet, is it possible to be envious without being proud? Or maybe we just act envious without realizing that we're giving in to our very own pride. Hmmm.
Wrath - Everybody gets angry, I suppose. Some of us will quake and seethe but don't really do anything about it, while some of us will let loose with the most violent means of retribution possible. Does Wrath cover both these extremes? I'd say yes.
Historically, I've found that angry people will fall into two segments: those who place an emotional investment in anger, and those who play it cool the whole time. The emotional people will shout, scream and release their general vituperations for a while, but will gradually settle down on the matter. The cool ones will look perfectly normal on the surface, and yet will loose their not-so-pleasant responses from a distance where they would be impossible to reach. I've always made it a point to watch out for the latter -- they're a lot more dangerous.
All in all, the Seven Deadly Sins represent plenty of what we like to see in a collective concept: they're far-ranging, attractively numbered, and extremely open to interpretation. Their best quality, however, probably lies in an empathic point of view.
Chances are that you probably attributed at least one or more of these Seven Sins to yourself; Heck, I know that I have. I feel that it is therefore fairly easy for anyone to identify with any representation of the Seven Deadly Sins, simply because they tread on familiar territory. We've probably been there, in one way or another.
Sometimes, though, I wonder if there is any collective concept out there that has a good connotation. I mean, is there a "Seven Saintly Acts" or something like that? And for that matter, why aren't we using them much?
Maybe there's just something about sin that catches the eye. But, much as I'd like to go over villainy once again, I'll just stick to the technicalities of collective concepts this time. :)