Once upon a time, there lived a poor alchemist. Alchemists are always poor unless they could convince a rich man to pay them for the promise of increasing the rich man’s fortunes; and this alchemist (whose name was Isaac) had never been able to do so. With small cures and physics, he had bought a small room, some scant pieces of glass-wear, and the basest materia with which to learn and practice his art.
But one thing this alchemist had in abundance was lead.
More than most, Isaac the alchemist labored day and night to transform his lead to gold.
After yet another hot, sweaty day that amounted to nothing, Isaac muttered darkly to himself, “This is impossible! I need gold to buy equipment and other rare reagents in order for my craft to progress to the point where I can make the gold I need to buy equipment and other rare reagents!”
Isaac collapsed in a huff.
“If only I could buy for my needs with this lead, then I’d surely discover the secret of making gold.”
And then Isaac had an epiphany: he needn’t transform lead to gold first, if he could transform the VALUE people placed on lead and gold. And Isaac was quite sure that transmuting the value in people’s heads would be a simpler matter than changing the base nature of his metals.
For three days and three nights, he toiled; pushing past every frustration and setback till finally he gazed with pride on the small vial of gas he’d captured in a tube with a cork stopper.
“Excellent, when I release this all the town will believe that lead is more valuable than gold.”
On the next morning, Isaac did just that.
For a moment, nothing happened.
And then, bedlam erupted all about town. Customers and shopkeepers argued as -mid transaction- they became convinced the other was cheating them. Laborers simply walked away from their jobs, knowing their masters could only pay them in something so tawrdry as gold. All over, deals unmade themselves, agreements evaporated, and chaos reigned.
A local gang of ruffians remembered tales of a local alchemist with a basement full of lead. They broke into Isaac’s home, slew him, and stole his great wealth.
And so on and on it went, the aerosol slowly spreading across the land, the continent, and finally the world. Until everyone forgot that gold was black and poisonous, and lead was shiny, and yellow colored and wouldn’t tarnish. In time they began to call one after the other to better communicate value with others.
And thus we live in a world where the people value the useless trash, and ignore what’s really of value.