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Babies, Trolls, and Dante Alighieri | Amb. Laura Del Rosario Quiambao, MA, MEd

Babies, Trolls, and Dante Alighieri | Amb. Laura Del Rosario Quiambao, MA, MEd

How early do we develop a sense of right and wrong? An early sense of justice? Let’s learn from babies.

Most psychology students must have seen the New York Times’ and 60 Minutes’ video reports on the findings of Yale University’s “Baby Lab” on babies’ sense of morality. These TV reports, now on You Tube, feature 3-months old to 6-months old babies deciding who is right or wrong in experiments, actually brief “situations” created through puppet shows and animation that babies are made to watch.

But before discussing the findings from these experiments, let me share what a reliable colleague shared just hours after the polls had closed: “A troll confessed via Magic 89.9 that most of them in a cybercampaign agency of mostly Ateneo and UP grads decided to vote for Leni because they couldn’t stomach “it” anymore (referring to the misinformation and manipulation they were paid to do).” He revealed that they were paid at most P2.5M for a one-year contract, “depending on which cluster one is assigned to, higher in NCR” They reportedly “intentionally made their replies and posts stupid and incoherent to sow disagreement among the Pinks and go trending.”

Why the last minute feelings of guilt among these trolls that made them reportedly “vote for Leni” in the end and the belated confession done a few hours after the election polls closed is puzzling. Is it the mistaken belief that confessing erases one’s sin? And should one believe the confession of a paid “liar”?

Based on the confession, it took the end of a year’s contract for this group of excellently educated trolls (if one will believe the confessing troll that most of them came from the top two Philippine universities) to “realize” that what they were paid to do was “not right and just”. The babies were better! Within a minute after they had watched a puppet show, 75% to 87% in each group knew which puppet was “good” or “bad”. From these experiments, the psychologists were awed that a 3-month old baby can make a moral decision. The philosophers and the theologians were led to ask: Is there a Universal Conscience that is present in each human being upon birth? Is there a Guiding Light in each baby that manifests itself in a baby’s choice at the age of 3 months?

The confusion sown by the trolls and social media campaigners became so bad that one side accused the victims of human rights of “fake news” especially in reference to our recent history under Ferdinand Marcos, Sr., and one side lauding the Marcos years while the other lamenting a Marcos return to the presidency. Marcos Jr. himself complained about the “lies taught in schools” as we watched revised versions of the Marcos rule.

Moving the discussion away from the voters’ opposing versions of the past and their belief in different narratives, accounting for the trolls’ behavior and their moral choice might make it easier for us to understand what happened. Was there another reason that made the trolls spread misinformation deliberately beyond money? How many believed their own lies? As I write this, I received a snapshot of another confession from a troll who said that “even vocal Kakampinks became trolls because of the P60K to P80K monthly salaries.” Now this troll claims that “I regret what I did but I can’t do anything right now!”

It seems that they knew what they were doing, Dante Alighieri who placed the liars and the fraudsters in the lowest two circles of hell (the 8th and 9th circles), lower than those who committed acts of violence such as murder (Circle 7) or those who were greedy for wealth and material things (Circle 4) will make sense to them. We know that lies can lead to tragic consequences that can destroy other people’s lives. To Dante lying and fraud are the greater sins because the liar or fraudster debases his human intellect to harm another– “perverting (one’s) human intellect to fraud or malice against (one’s) fellowmen is the greater sin.” But there is a much more serious reason than “debasing one’s intellect” through lies.  

The recent elections clearly show the more serious reason behind Dante’s judgment on the gravity of the sins of lying and fraud, as committed by many candidates and their trolls—based on two “repentant” trolls. Lying and fraud turns off God’s guiding light (the conscience that even a 3 months old baby will follow). Using ethically informed choice as a fundamental ingredient for discernment and decision making, then lies told to another person prevent God’s voice from being heard. Despite prayers and fasting (yes!) God’s guiding voice was not being heard through the thicket of lies. God’s plans and will for his creation can only be revealed through an informed conscience, in stillness and silence, and within the boundaries of Truth. At a fundamental level, lies pervert God’s will and plans for his creation and his children because liars over-ride God’s message and plan by imposing their own agenda.

President Ferdinand Marcos, Sr. was reported to have allegedly said, “Everybody has a price, just find out how much.” What he reportedly said has been proven through many decades. In teaching the history of democracy in the past, students were often told: “The voice of the people is the voice of God.” Sadly, lies and money have silenced the voice of God. 

As we prepare to bring back credibility and morality in politics and in social media, let us all be encouraged by the belief that God’s will and plan for us will find a way to be fulfilled. For those who worked hard to promote truth and good governance, remember that nothing done in truth and with good intentions is ever lost in the scheme of eternal progression. What happened on May 9 took many years of preparations and good management to bring it about, something that the trolls pointed out. May 9 reminds us that democracy is the most fragile form of government, that indeed “vigilance is the price of liberty.” It takes only one to change a nation’s history as we have seen. Instead of despairing, putting our heads and hearts together to work on transforming our nation’s trajectory towards good by working with the poor whose wellbeing is often forgotten after elections by politicians and big business is the big task demanded from us. It will be a long, hard, contentious journey, but our beloved country needs it.

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