Hindipendence Day: The Matrix is Real

June 13, 2024

by Sonny Africa

The cyberpunk film “The Matrix” released 25 years ago was about humanity rebelling against sentient machines ruling an apocalyptic wasteland. The machines use people as biological batteries, keep them inert in pods, and make them docile with a simulated reality where they are free. Most of humanity is oblivious. Some know they are captives but don’t mind the illusion – perhaps because, like Imelda Marcos, they embrace the dictum that it’s perception that’s real. Others finding the truth, like the film’s hero Neo, fight to free humanity.

Freedom by force

Which brings us to the aftermath of this year’s Philippine “Independence Day”. It’s not that the country is ruled by artificially intelligent machines (or not yet at least) but because of the nagging notion that the best jail is where the caged think they’re free. “Best” for the jailers, of course, like the machines in “The Matrix”.

Among the spectacular achievements of United States (US) foreign policy is when nominally independent countries like the Philippines believe we’re exercising sovereignty even when we’re really just doing exactly what the US wants for its benefit at our expense. Like the humans in “The Matrix”.

So much can be said about how the Philippines has been skillfully manipulated to play its role as a vital cog of the US imperialist war machine to encircle and entrap its only “peer competitor” in the world, China. Many are convinced that the US is our benevolent defender against Chinese expansionism.

Fewer are aware that the US which so insistently invokes the “rules-based international order” in dealing with China in the West Philippine Sea is also the country which has engaged in the most overseas military operations in violation of the United Nations (UN) Charter’s provisions against the use of force. Not even the Philippine government, it seems, which so dutifully parrots that grandiose invocation so favored by the US and Western liberalism.

What’s good for the gander is good for the goose. Condemning Russia and holding it accountable for its criminal invasion of Ukraine (2022) should also mean condemning the US and holding it accountable for its criminal military adventures in Syria (2014), Libya (2011), Iraq (1991, 2003), Afghanistan (2001), Yugoslavia (1999), Haiti (1994), Somalia (1992), Panama (1989), Grenada (1983), Dominican Republic (1965), Cuba (1961), Vietnam (1955, 1965) and Korea (1950). Modernized violations include drone strikes in Pakistan, Yemen, Somalia, Afghanistan, Iraq and Libya since 2004.

Many of the US’ military operations in or against these sovereign countries lasted many years, some are still ongoing, and their cumulative death toll runs in the tens of millions. A lot of time has passed since the earliest of these. It’s not completely true that time heals all wounds but it’s absolutely false that time brings the dead back to life – or maybe at least until the dead “rise again” upon the biblical apocalypse predicted in the Book of Revelation.

Unfortunately, the vastly expanded US military presence in the Philippines which the Marcos Jr administration is giving aims to expand the US’ ability to wage war against China or other non-compliant opposition. When the US chooses to use its bases, missiles, drones and other war materiel stored in the country it’s not really to defend the Philippines but to assert the US’ geopolitical hegemony.

Feeling free

The US imperial machine’s grip on the Philippine neocolonial mind is far more subtle and sophisticated than simple puppetry though, and hence so much more powerful. It’s something that has been carefully cultivated over the country’s long history of political and economic subservience to the US starting from the colonial period in the early 20th century.

The foundation of US control of the country was laid during the brutal Philippine-American War which was the first exercise of US hard power in Asia. The US has since then used its considerable military and economic might as leverage in dictating the country’s politics and economic policies.

From the 1970s and 1980s, it used its control of the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and World Bank (WB) to impose globalization-friendly policies and align our economy with the interests of US capital. In the 1990s, it shifted to using the World Trade Organization (WTO) to further open up the economy and prevent us from using protectionist policies to develop the national economy. Today, American dominance of the global financial system is used to steer policymaking towards US-favored globalization and to stop any digression.

But there are also the soft cultural, institutional and diplomatic levers. The notion that the free market, attracting foreign investment and fostering economic growth is essential for economic freedom and opportunity is a distinctly US-promoted narrative. This is so widely promoted through media, schools and civil society that it is widely believed to be the natural or best guide for policymaking. The grip on the public mind is so powerful as to be barely shaken by the reality of economic decline and wealth for a few at the expense of the many.

The US has been cultivating the Philippines for so long that it already has a corps of Filipino believers among the technocracy, bureaucrats and politicians. For good measure, the US still constantly provides technical assistance, policy advice and capacity-building, presenting all these as best practices for economic development. “Best” for the US, of course, and not for independent national economic development.

Not a few are thrilled by the US government deliberately raising the international profile of Pres. Marcos Jr to solidify the Philippines as a critical client state in Southeast Asia and the broader East Asia region. This is a counterpoint to how it actively undermined the China-leaning Duterte administration among the “international community” of mainly US-allied Western liberal powers.

Breaking free

The more the government propaganda factory produces, the more unreal that things seem. It’s frightening not only how brazenly the public is being manipulated but also how sophisticated and expansive the manipulation really is.

More and more we are told that facts don’t matter so much and it is stories, emotions and narratives that truly motivate. “The Matrix” was just a story but it did usefully tell us that the most effective form of control for oppression is one where those being controlled are unaware of their confinement. That, and it gave us that iconic bullet time visual effect for the very first time.

The president’s Independence Day message was so corny, cringy and trite that it may have been written using ChatGPT. Albeit just vaguely, it did evoke the sentient artificial intelligence of the machines of “The Matrix”. So maybe a good way to start the day after Independence Day is with how the four movies of the series ended. Neo’s and Trinity’s love for each other was so strong that they beat the Matrix – then they coolly put on sunglasses and flew off together into the sunset to remake the world.