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A Nasty Book About Nasty People Doing Nasty Things

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Phnom PenhOne of life’s eternal questions must be ‘Why do most people behave pretty much the way they should, most of the time?’ Excluding the odd bit of swearing at speed cameras and folk who ‘forget’ a few little things on their tax returns, society gets along because the majority behave in line with the law and the norms of social interaction. You can put it down to it ethics, a desire to conform with the ‘greater good’ or even at its most base, a fear of getting caught. Even though our prisons are apparently bursting at the seams, one way or another, most people behave themselves most of the time.

So what would happen if you took away the laws; if prostitution, drugs and guns were readily available and nobody was likely to give you a hard time for using them? Nobody would raise an eyebrow if you popped off to a brothel in your lunch break the way that many of us might pop into a Starbucks and it would cost about the same amount; nobody would notice, or apparently mind, if you showed up to work stoned and couldn’t make it through the afternoon without heroin; and if you got mad at someone you could get them bumped off for a few hundred dollars. All this and more is standard fare in Amit Gilboa’s horrible little book about Cambodia’s capital city, Phnom Penh, in the late 1990s.

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