The lesser evil | Inquirer Opinion

The lesser evil is, after all, evil just the same. The greater harm may not be choosing between two evils, but the acceptance that there is no other choice. That is the most insidious of all, when people of power, wealth, and authority can make everybody else believe that there is no other alternative but the lesser evil – greater or lesser.

The subtle moves to make evil acceptable is to provide the comparison of two evils, then making the lesser one seem the better choice. That is how evil is maliciously deconstructed into parts and colors that blur the fact that evil is evil, period. There is this insidious process to make us grudgingly accept evil in some form by making it appear overwhelmingly difficult for any other option to be impractical, or unavailable.

Ever-advancing technology and massive social media platforms combine to provide those with huge amounts of money to spend a treasure trove of information on the behavioral quirks of individuals and groups – and how to influence them towards specific advocacies or personalities.

Remember the Cambridge Analytica scandal? Cambridge Analytica was a data analysis firm who accessed the personal information of millions of Facebook users without their consent. I remember that a total of 87 million users’ data was extracted by Cambridge Analytica through a third-party app.

The sales pitch of Cambridge Analytica was that it could provide its political clients (at that time, it was the Trump campaign) detailed psychological profiles of every American voter, so that campaigns could tailor their pitches from person to person (consequently, from sector to sector). This now seems normal – except for one crucial factor. Cambridge Analytical used the personal data of individuals without their consent.

The scandal rocked America and caused Facebook to pay a penalty of $5 billion, and Cambridge Analytica to close the company. But, in the not-so-private rumor mills of political circles, Cambridge Analytica with its illegally obtained data and its efforts to use the data to influence elections did helped Trump win the presidency.

Cambridge Analytica the company may be gone but the people behind it and the technology and tactics are very much alive, and very much improved by now. Even in our 2016 elections, there was much talk in the inner circles how Cambridge Analytica (it was still operating) was hired by a national candidate to guide his campaign. We can all be sure that the Filipino people, in different age brackets and belonging to different sectors, are being profiled constantly and, ultimately, become targets of behavioral shifts.

It used to be that opposing forces, and business as well as politics, would use research and advertising to target their audiences and move those audiences towards specific decisions. But the times, then, and the people who offered these services, would follow an ethical course. Cambridge Analytica opened a new door of doing this kind of work, and traditional parameters were discarded.

With all we have witnessed in the last 20 years as communication research technology, including the present artificial intelligence phenomenon, I know that national political forces, just like business conglomerates, are availing of as much information as they can with expert analysis and recommendations. Way before the World Bank and PISA results of key educational statistics on learning poverty and most of the world leaving us behind in the academic preparation of our youth, top politicians and businessmen already knew about this alarming learning crisis.

If it suited them, meaning those who run our government and the billionaires who control our economies, they could have led the crusade to reverse the hemorrhage of societal intelligence. But the rich and powerful have their children study in our premier universities, many of them doing so in the most coveted learning institutions abroad. That is one reason why they are less concerned about learning poverty and what it does to create an incapable and unproductive workforce. In other words, it is not happening to their children.

But the history of the elite in the Philippines is not so generous except to themselves. This is evidenced how Filipino billionaires can grow their wealth almost 3 times faster than our national growth – while the bottom 50% of the population still suffer food insecurity. And I am not even talking about our perennial hungry citizens. Yet, without any meaningful and dedicated program to arrest and reverse the learning poverty of 90%, some members of Congress can think of opening economic opportunities for foreign universities.

A dysfunctional society with its attendant degraded value system will necessarily produce a poverty of learning. We understand that to mean our students, but we forget that it has already made many Filipinos less capable of discerning between facts, truth, lies, and disinformation. Why else would all kinds of scams abound in our midst?

Worst of all, our dysfunctional society has no more firm understanding between good and evil, between right and wrong, between true and false. It is not only that they have suddenly become stupid, but that their lifelong scarcity of the essential elements required for development has stunted them badly enough that their academic incompetence has become visible and measurable.

The next step, where we are today, is the national acceptance of the lesser evil. It seems that evil will become more acceptable by calling itself lesser to a greater evil. Compromising values and principles will be the lesser evil – better than your family going hungry or not being able to afford medication for the sick. Growing the ayuda by the hundreds of billions by incessant borrowing seems to be the lesser evil – and the most effective way of staying in power.

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But wrong is wrong, evil is evil. When the consequences come, they will not be measured from lesser standards, only from what we should have done but did not. Sadly, they will affect not only those who manipulate, but also, we who allow them.

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