The power of @

The power of @ was also published by The Manila Times on 23 August 2023.

Part One: The power of @

THE opening scene of the 2004 movie “Troy” recalls decades of bloody conflicts among the Greeks. Thousands of men, led by Triopas of Thessaly, stand guard on one side of the battlefield. On the opposite side are as many men, led by Agamemnon, king of Mycenae.

Triopas and Agamemon leave their troops behind to meet at the center of the arena of combat. This arena is just a few kilometers away from the previous day’s deadly skirmish.

Agamemnon proposes to Triopas: “I don’t want to watch another massacre. Let’s settle this war in the old manner. Your best fighter against my best.”

Triopas replies: “And if my man wins?”

Agamemnon: “We’ll leave Thessaly for good. You keep your throne. But Thessaly falls under my command to fight with me whenever I call.”

(A footnote: This obviously is a lopsided proposal of a treaty — if it can be called a treaty at all — but Triopas has limited options. With a superior army, Agamemnon harasses and bullies hostile kingdoms at will. Triopas relents and saves his face.)

Triopas yells, “Boagrius!”

As thousands of Thessaly fighters cheer, out comes a massively built, scarred-faced Boagrius.

Agamemnon matches the vocal power of Triopas, also yelling, “Achilles!”

Not even a shadow of Achilles appears. There follows silence and a few chuckles from the Thessaly crowd. This prompts Triopas to say that “Boagrius has this effect on many heroes.” He means to mock Agamemnon, implying that Achilles — his best man — has chickened out.

Then somebody approaches Agamemnon to say Achilles is not in the army, but he assures the king he has sent someone to look for Achilles (whose role was played by Brad Pitt).

(Another footnote: We might add that resolving conflicts between kingdoms or principalities through a single combat finds similarity in the biblical accounts of David versus Goliath, which happened about 200 or so years later.)

Back to the movie. Achilles does appear later and kills Boagrius in less than 24 seconds. Just like that, Thessaly falls. Agamemnon wins not only an entire army but also Triopas’ kingdom. In the later part of the story, we see Agamemnon invade more kingdoms and beef up his army, thanks in large part to Achilles, who fights grudgingly for him.

Out of the movies and into the present scheme of things, the principalities and kings of China, the United States and Russia, among others, with their superior armies — not unlike that of Agamemnon — harass and bully other countries that they consider to be belligerent.

The old manner of resolving intra-kingdom conflicts through single combat is gone. The new name of the game is threat of nuclear mayhem and destruction. Kingdoms back up their threats with a technologically boosted stockpile of ordnance, heavily funded offshore bases, troops, mercenaries and a network of spies (including artificial intelligence). For the superpowers, the war industry has become good business and an essential part of their gross national product equation. They gather allies around their agenda and build military blocs — the better to make themselves look more threatening to adversaries. For the inferior powers, the threat of war has depleted their resources and diverted funds needed for basic social services to milit ary build-up and some semblance of modernization.

Even at the country level, today’s mythical constituents of Triopas remain at Agamemnon’s mercy. The powerful continue to exploit the powerless. Even though the latter constitutes most of the source of political authority (they vote political leaders to office supposedly in a show of a win for democracy), they are helpless as those same political leaders appropriate economic opportunities for themselves and the interests they represent and hoard the spoils of partisan wars that they continue to dominate.

Baguio City Mayor Benjamin Magalong says only about 42 to 55 percent of public funds intended to support infrastructure projects are left after the corrupt take their cut. No wonder politicians love infrastructure projects — they can hustle that much money from them, and they get free promotion for their dynastic brand by emblazoning their names on them.

By appropriating for themselves big chunks of confidential funds — away from public audit — the powerful lead the way in showing how to loot people’s money for debatable ends. And their minions are not far behind.

Congress Content Creator -

A crocodile farm as habitat for thieves and clowns is an allegory for Philippine politicians. The power of @ is proposed by the novel “Miracles of Quiapo” under Chapter 8, titled “Citizens’ Congress”.

With political connections, fraudsters run amuck all over the place.

Smugglers make a killing. Real estate developers and mining operators buy questionable permits with hardly any hassle. Dummy companies sell overpriced goods and services to government on sham contracts. Gambling regulators rig results and steal taxes due the government. Uniformed men secure the private properties of the rich at the expense of disrespecting the human rights of the poor. Some judges and prosecutors sell the prints of their dry seals and signatures to those who can afford them. Even prison guards allow the entry of contraband in exchange for money.

In this uneven field, the powerless have no voice to call out Boagrius or Achilles to fight for them. But they can fight for themselves. Not because resolving conflicts in the old manner has yielded to democratic processes by which the poor may be able to send leaders to the seat of power to represent and fight for them, but because they have the power to shake the status quo. They can plan, promote, and carry out new ways of doing things.

What, for example, if the change we need takes another way of calling out for a leader like @? In this day of computers and big data, typing on the keyboard @Boagrius or @Achilles will yield the one — maybe a person, a system, a movement, or a nation — who can represent and fight for them. The difference between then and now is that while Agamemnon had thousands of armies, @ can have under its command billions of users.


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