Nightcap

  1. The communist who explained history Corey Robin, New Yorker
  2. On China’s new naval base in Cambodia Charles Edel, War on the Rocks
  3. Why Trumpist populism is so popular Emmanuel Todd, City Journal
  4. How the Soviets learned to think freely Jennifer Wilson, New Republic

Opportunities for blockchain-based social media in developing countries

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On September 22nd, I presented my Serey project – a blockchain based social media platform in Cambodia – at BitFest 2018 in Amsterdam. It was organized by the BitShares Foundation and mainly attended by enthusiasts of BitShares and Graphene technology. Being part of the Bitshares/Graphene family, I was invited to speak at the conference.

We shared the stage with other graphene projects as BitSpark, DasCoin, PayGer, BitCrab, RuDEX and many others. I look forward to work together with anyone that seeks to decentralize our future, that has a vision in which every human being is free, and where blockchain technology provides the tools to secure our rights to life, liberty, and property.

Stan Larimer was there as well, and he had something interesting to say about how BitShares will import EOS technology through a middle-layer. This will greatly benefit the whole BitShares/Graphene community, including Serey.

Regarding my own presentation, I have made the case that Blockchain is not only a technological revolution, but essentially a social, political and economic revolution. I believe it’s a tool that will move us into a more decentralized world that was envisioned by the earliest internet adopters. As more internet applications were built, it became clear that it would not become as decentralized as these adopters hoped. These applications suffered from a centralized system in which data was stored and controlled on a single or a small number of servers. Those who controlled these servers, the men-in-the-middle, dictated the rules of the platform. They could look into your data, modify your data, prevent you from accessing your data etc.

Blockchain eliminates these so-called “men-in-the-middle”. Its censorship-resistant property provides many great opportunities for developing countries where the rule of law are often weak or underdeveloped. One opportunity that I have been trying to seize in Cambodia is the creation of a social media platform that could not be controlled or censored by a single party. As Cambodians are becoming more tech savvy, and more connected to the outside world through internet access, it’s a great time to roll out a Blockchain-based social media platform where people can express themselves freely. The advantage of a social media is that it’s easier to build the network effect that can reach critical mass in a relatively short period of time. Once we gain enough momentum, I would like to tokenize the national currency, the Riel, develop a Serey Wallet, and provide anyone who has access to the internet the opportunity to open a wallet (bank account) for free and use our tokenized Riel for e-commerce, remittances, savings, loans etc. Although Cambodia has experienced tremendous economic growth in the past two decades and the World Bank has moved Cambodia’s status from a lower-income bracket to a lower-middle-income bracket, 83% of Cambodians still remain unbanked.

Doing so, I hope we will promote freedom of expression and an intellectual society in Cambodia, as well as help banking the unbanked.

Below, you can find my slides for the presentation.

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Nightcap

  1. Cambodia and the academic Left Matthew Blackwell, Quillette
  2. Lewis Carroll’s adventures in Russia Mark Davies, Times Literary Supplement
  3. Does ‘Melanesia’ exist? Rhys Griffiths, History Today
  4. KFC: Kentucky Fried Camel Sarah Osman, Coldnoon

Serey: a Cambodian blockchain-based social media platform inspired by Friedrich Hayek’s theory of dispersed knowledge

www.serey.io

Serey is a new Social Media platform that specifically targets the Cambodian market. The country that saw nearly a quarter of the population decimated during the civil war of the 60’s and 70’s, the Khmer rouge regime, and the subsequent famine, has gone through rapid economic developments in the past two decades due to its friendliness to free markets. Accompanying this development is the adoption of new information technologies. One such technology is blockchain.

The team behind Serey has now created a blockchain-based social media platform called Serey. It rewards content creators, such as writers, for their creativity. The platform now has 400-500 users who all contribute by writing content ranging from short fictional stories to history, philosophy, and technology. Users can post any content they want. There is no central authority that can censor the posts in any way. The system is based on a democratic voting system in which every user can vote on articles. Dependent on the votes, the content creators are rewarded with the platform’s native cryptocurrency called Serey coin (SRY).

What does Serey stand for? 

The name of the platform, Serey (សេរី in Khmer), is derived from the Khmer word seripheap (សេរីភាព) which stands for liberty or freedom. The platform is built on the philosophy of liberty and is inspired by Friedrich Hayek’s theory of dispersed knowledge. Realizing that every individual knows just a fraction of what is collectively known and that our collective knowledge is therefore decentralized, Serey is looking to encourage the sharing of the unique information that individuals possess through the Serey platform. It wants to create an open platform where everyone is free to enter, to exercise their creativity without fear of being coerced into silence or conformity, and to engage in thoughtful, civilized discussions.

There was no such online platform in Cambodia yet. Cambodia, at this moment, also doesn’t have a culture of reading and writing. Serey is aiming to transform this so there is also an educational component to it.

We need to learn to dance with our feet, with ideas, with words, and, need I add that one must also be able to dance with the pen?

The mission statement of Serey is as follows:

“Rewarding self-expression and creativity.”

Why is Serey run on a blockchain?

The Serey blockchain allows the storage of content – actually only the actual text of the article and no pictures or videos to keep block sizes minimal – in a distributed manner. Anything written on Serey is stored on a blockchain that is shared among many other servers, called witnesses, that run an exact copy of the blockchain. This makes all content tamper-proof and censorship nearly impossible. This is in line with Serey’s belief that everyone should have the right to free expression.

In addition, a blockchain serves the people’s right to keep the fruits of their labour. Serey cannot take away any of its users Serey coins. All earnings are rightfully theirs and they can spend it in any way they want.

What are the features of Serey?

Serey is principally a fork of Steemit – another social media platform on the blockchain – and therefore essentially makes use of the Graphene technology that also powers Steemit and Bitshares. However, whereas Steemit is trying to create a one-size-fit-all approach with their platform, Serey is entirely dedicated to the people of Cambodia. They believe that regional differences require different user interfaces and functionalities that match the people’s cultural makeup and level of sophistication with blockchain technology.

Compared to Steemit, Serey has a different layout, a market place section, a Khmer language option, an free advertisement section, and a simplified reward system.

The Serey Decentralized Exchange is currently under development and will offer an English and Khmer language option.

In addition, the Serey Decentralized Exchange is currently being built in cooperation with developers close to Steemit and Bitshares. It will be a full-fledged decentralized exchange that is accessible by anyone, anywhere in the world. Users will then be able to trade Serey coins (SRY) among 15-20 other cryptocurrencies such as Bitcoin, Ethereum, Dash, Bitshares etc.

Other features that Serey users can look forward to in the next six months are an online betting system, improvements of the market place section, an integrated chat feature similar to that of Messenger, and a mobile app.

If you are interested in Serey, please feel free to visit the website and to register for free. Most articles are written in Khmer, but English articles are welcome as well.

Early childhood memories of a Cambodian refugee camp

In 1991, sixteen Khmer families from Cambodian refugee camps (mostly from Khao I Dang) received asylum in the Netherlands. This Saturday, November 5, we will celebrate the 25th anniversary. To commemorate our stay in the Netherlands, I would like to share some of my early childhood memories about being born in a Cambodian refugee camp in 1986.

I understand that my story is just one small, but essential part of my family’s overall journey for safety from the civil war (1967-1975), Khmer Rouge (1975-1979) regime, and the subsequent Vietnamese occupation. According to some estimates, 2 million out of 8 million people died during this long period. This figure has been contested many times. I don’t think anyone knows how many people have actually died, but if I look at the family members of my parents’ households: 40% from my mum’s side died and 25% from my dad’s side.

Khao I Dang, the refugee camp where I was born

My parents were forced to work in labour camps in the countryside in Battambang by the Khmer Rouge. They eventually met each other while fleeing from Battambang to the Thai border when the Vietnamese invaded Cambodia. As with most fleeing Cambodians, my parents decided to get together – not out of love, but more out of the need and desire to share their hardships. This was after all, a months-long journey through the heart of the Cambodian jungle in which my father lost his father, the granddad I never came to know. My mother lost her brother and her father. As my mother was separated from her brother early on during the Khmer Rouge regime and never witnessed his death, she had always held hope that one day she would find him again.

My parents’ long journey towards Thailand brought them to the Sa Kaeo camp which was the first organized refugee camp that opened in 1979. Within just 8 days, the refugee population grew to 30,000. The camp eventually closed down half a year later, because of unfavorable conditions. The drainage in the campsite was for example so poor that several refugees, too weak to lift their heads, drowned from a flood as they laid on the floor in tents made of plastic sheets.

One month after the opening of Sa Kaeo, the Khao I Dang camp was opened and many people were repatriated into Khao I Dang. My parents eventually ended up there as well.

Khao I Dang camp

Khao I Dang was a refugee camp on the Thai-Cambodian border where I was born. It was a bamboo village with dirt roads, barbed wire, and armed guards. Within just 5 months, the camp’s population reached 160,000. Population wise, this would make the camp the 11th largest municipality in the Netherlands.

Although the camp gave us more safety, violence and theft ran rampant.

Religion and death

People continued their religious activities and some houses were transformed into places for Buddhist ceremonies. In this picture you see my two brothers, my father, and I wearing our best clothes. We just came back from a visit to a local ‘temple’. The husband of my aunty, who had just been allowed to find refuge in Australia, had recently died in the camp.

My two brothers, me, and my father

Behind me is a grave of him. My father hired a photographer to take this picture so that he could send it to my aunty. I am the one barefooted.

Hospital

My father worked at the hospital. The hospital was a large hall with beds placed next to each other. I remember that I visited the hospital where I was given a doctor’s gloves to play with. I would blow it and enjoy a child’s kick out of it.

Hospital in Khao I Dang

Night raids

I remember that during some nights, rebels with guns would raid people’s houses to steal their belongings. Often, the word about night raids spread faster than the rebels themselves, and so most of the times we were warned before the rebels reached us. I remember very well one incident when we did not flee early enough.

My brothers and I ran after my father, while my mother took my baby sister in her arms to flee in separate directions. My father brought us into a nearby canal to hide there. When the Thai patrolling soldiers within the camp arrived at the scene, shooting between the two groups erupted. When I think back to this moment, I can still clearly feel the fear I had. I wanted to cry, but my father put his hands tightly on my mouth so that I would not make any sound. We then fled to the hospital where my father was working, and stayed there during the night. We were too afraid to go back home, and waited until the next morning.

In another incident, our neighbors were too late to flee and somehow for reasons unknown, a rebel threw a hand grenade inside their little home that killed the whole family.

Kindergarten

Despite the violence and misery, people tried to rebuild their normal lives. I went to kindergarten and remember so well one incident that I played hooky.

I was 4 years old and walking to school by myself, I stopped and decided to return home to my mother’s small shop. This is an incident that I am personally extremely proud of. As long as I can remember, I have always detested school. I hated to sit still and to be told what to do and what not to do. I took this attitude with me to the Netherlands, and still today I am very critical of schooling. My mother, a soft young woman, let me stay with her at the shop. But then my father came by, got angry with me, and spanked me for not going to school. Until this day I still don’t think that I did anything wrong.

Our little shop

Trade went on. Although it was illegal, industrious people were trying to make money by starting small businesses. This shows to me that entrepreneurship is natural to us human beings, and that economics and trade are naturally emerging processes as people are always looking for ways to improve their lot and to fulfill their needs.

Thai merchants would come to the fences, away from the Thai soldiers who were patrolling, in order to sell food to the refugees inside. Such activities occurred during night-time. When Thai soldiers would find out that we were trading with outsiders, they would beat us and take away our belongings. We, refugees, were also not allowed to get outside of the camp or we would risk being shot dead by Thai soldiers.

My mother, my brothers and I at our little shop. I am the one in the blue jersey

During day-time, people inside the camp would expose their new belongings and small shops would emerge. My mother sold small products of convenience. Some of it was smuggled by Thai people into the camps that we, Cambodians, were selling to other Cambodians. Other things like oil and sugar were given to us as part of a food relief program that we used sparingly so that we could sell it further. With the money we earned, we could then buy other goods that we needed more.

Other ways through which we made money was by brewing alcohol made from rice and apples. Although alcohol was illegal, it did not stop my parents from brewing it. Whenever a Thai soldier would come to our house for inspection – I don’t think you can really hide the alcoholic odor that was surrounding our little house when we were brewing alcohol – my parents would bribe him with money so that he would leave us alone.

Continuing story

These are some of my childhood memories of our lives in Khao I Dang. Maybe next time I can tell more about our life in the camp, share some of my older brothers’ memories, our cat that was lost, killed and eaten by someone or my first encounter with inspiring Superman and Spider-Man comic books. Maybe, I will also write about our continuing journey to the Netherlands and the psychological impact my experiences in Khao I Dang had on me. I can tell about the nightmares that haunted me until my teenage years, how I always felt alienated from the people here and the inferiority complex towards Dutch people that I developed as a little child for feeling different. Feeling different made me feel insecure. Every time I met someone, and I think it lasted until my later teenage years, I would always ponder whether the person would kill me if he would be put in similar circumstances as those many killers from the Khmer Rouge period. In other words: as a child, I already wondered excessively about the “banality of evil”. These thoughts were of course extremely unhealthy, especially when you are as young as 4 or 5 years old.

The biggest lesson I have learned from my childhood is that both good and bad experiences are important in our lives. Happiness, in my opinion, is very much overrated and hardship is at least as valuable.

I have not written this so that people pity me. Pity, and in particular self-pity, is an extremely damaging emotion. It multiplies our suffering and reveals an extremely pathological egoism. When I look back at the hardships my family has overcome, I like to remind myself of Haruki Murakami’s saying that “only assholes feel sorry for themselves”.

Urging Cambodians To Critique Their Culture

Brandon has recently referred to my comment that the Cambodian culture is ‘backward’ in this post. In response to that, I would like to share some more thoughts about the Cambodian culture and why I would urge all Cambodians (and all others) to critique their own culture.

I notice that some Cambodian people romantically adore their Khmer culture. Some people’s adoration stretches to the extent that they cannot accept any critiques about their culture as if critiquing the culture equals criticizing the person. Their adoration takes levels that are frightening me – examples are sentiments of supreme nationalism, the gullible belief in distorted histories that have pushed Cambodians into a victimized position that they gladly exploit in political and personal relations, and their willingness to fight and die for the country. To them, the excessive love of one’s culture or nation is noble, but to me it is ridiculous. It doesn’t require heart to love something, it requires more heart to critique the thing you love.

Several aspects of the Khmer culture that I find absolutely deplorable:

  • the hierarchical structure of its social life. Cambodian children are raised to respect and to be obedient toward their elders and toward Buddhist monks. Instilled with strict social rules, the Cambodians are unable to properly reflect on social values and social norms. Children are not encouraged to think for themselves, and to oppose their elders as the elders are always considered right. It should be no surprise that they grow up lacking self-reflective skills;
  • the people´s highly status oriented attitude and their low demeanor toward those who are more wealthy. Cambodian people are extremely status oriented and excessively adore those who enjoy a higher status. It is considered impolite to make eye contact with someone of higher status. In return, empowered by a feeling of superiority despite their plain stupidity, those of higher status look down on the lower classes;
  • their idleness and slowness, which seems to be common among most native South-East-Asians and which may be attributed to their tropical climate. Cambodian people are lazy and like to spend their time gazing around mind-numbingly;
  • its false and pretentious intelligentsia. The Cambodian intelligentsia are like dogs: they bark so much, but they know absolutely nothing! Equipped with beautiful words and eloquent expressions, their words are often empty of substance. They are good at doubtlessly regurgitating any knowledge or wisdom that they have read, but are incapable of critical thinking and of constructing their own ideas;
  • and worst of all its culture of self-pity. Cambodians like to pity their own existence and it is in this self-pity that their suffering is multiplied and their extreme egoism is revealed. This most self-destructive emotion which drowns them in a sea of depression is often used as a weapon to manipulate others, and is sometimes expressed through hysterical lamentations. See here and here for some examples of their miserable cries.

Although I know that my harsh critique of Cambodian culture does not please some Cambodians, they should know that in criticism there is often a desire to improve the people’s situation and to elevate them. It requires effort and energy to care enough about something to speak freely about it. I would urge all Cambodians who would like to improve their nation to gather the strength to stand above their culture so that they can look down on it, reflect on it, and critique it – even better, make fun of it and eventually transcend it.

Hence, Cambodian, go and indulge yourself in some self-mockery!

From the Comments: Why did Cambodians trade foreign terror for domestic horror?

John Cyberome pitches the question to Chhay Lin on his post about the terrorist attacks in Paris. Chhay Lin’s response (which I have broken up into smaller paragraphs) deserves a closer look:

I don’t understand why Cambodians traded foreign terror for native horror. It’s something I’ve always wanted to understand. I don’t remember a time when I did not have such questions as: how can people be so cruel to each other or would they (the friends I had) be able to commit such horrendous acts to me if they would live during the Khmer Rouge period? It seems like there is a terrible part of human nature that is called upon in certain circumstances. I think the Milgram Experiment and the Stanford Prison Experiment have been examples of how peaceful people can move to extremely horrifying acts. I also think that the Khmer Rouge had good intentions. In their eyes, they were saving the nation from corruption, from immorality, from foreign invaders and from domestic traitors.

Cambodia by the way, is a country that is quite paranoid. Until this day, they still fear that the Thai or the Vietnamese will one day take over the country. Some already believe that the country only exists by name, but that it’s actually under Vietnamese rule. According to them, after the Vietnamese occupation from 1979-1989, they have installed a pro-Vietnamese ‘puppet’. This paranoia feeds nationalism – a sentiment, I believe, that can be easily manipulated into hatred towards foreign Khmer like Sino-khmer or Vietnamese-khmer.

Besides that, I also think that the poorer people were envious of the wealthy class. When the Khmer Rouge came into power and turned the social hierarchy upside down by installing the poor people into higher social positions, they may have been especially cruel to those fellow Cambodians who they believed were better off.

I also think that we can partly blame it on the Cambodian culture. The culture is very hierarchical. People of status look down on poorer people and treat them like crap. The poor don’t even dare to look the better-off in their eyes. It’s a culture that breeds envy and discontents between classes. I think these are a few reasons why the Cambodians had traded foreign terror for native horror. In all honesty, I find the culture quite backward 😛.

This is a whole lotta insight packed into one short ‘comment’.

For starters, I would be comfortable in suggesting that land is the crucial factor of production in Cambodia, rather than capital. (I am not as confident as Rick in arguing that land, labor, and capital are basically obsolete tools, in large part because there are big swathes of the world that don’t share the institutions that have created the West.) Land-based societies that I have read about all share the same general cultural characteristics as those mentioned by Chhay Lin (though none would dare call these characteristics ‘backward’!).

Trade has, in my reading of history, been the traditional arbiter of destruction for land-based interests. Does anybody have any good information on international trade and Cambodia? I’ve looked in to a few sources (World Bank, OECD, Heritage) and it looks like the volume of trade has been increasing since at least 2010, but that there are institutional problems which have yet to be addressed.

‘Creative destruction’ is such a strange concept, especially to a libertarian like me.