April 17, 1975, the day the Khmer Rouge triumphantly marched into Phnom Penh, marks the moment the absolute contingency of the world was revealed to the city's residents.
Before, these residents had unconsciously assumed that urban life would carry on as normal, regardless of which faction won the civil war. Indeed, they cheered the victory of the Khmer Rouge, innocently thinking the new peace would be an unproblematic continuation of the old. This quickly proved to be a false assumption when they were forcibly evacuated from the city, with the seemingly eternal fixities of society, money and markets suddenly eliminated in the new anticapitalist utopia of Democratic Kampuchea....In this the victims of the genocide occupied the same epistemic position of Russell's tragic chicken who was misled by its "crude expectations of uniformity" to expect the farmer to continue to feed it indefinitely into the future:
The man who has fed the chicken everyday throughout its life at last wrings
its neck instead, showing that more refined views as to the uniformity of nature
would have been useful to the chicken.
The existential question this raises for us is thus: are we the contemporary equivalents of those urban residents of Phnom Penh on the morning of April 17, 1975, blithely expecting our ways of life to persist indefinitely into the future, all the time unknowing of the Chaos lurking underneath the seemingly stable foundations of our existence?-Alvin Cheng-Hin Lim