Saturday, October 23, 2021

Aunt Agony: “I want to start a commune”

Story | Aunt Agony 

Illustration | Ishmam Ahmed

I’m back. We are off to a hectic start of the year, and dilemmas have already poured in. As I am only one student, I will only be answering two dilemmas this week, but for the rest of you, you will have your day. 

Dilemma 1: 

“Dear Aunt Agony, I really adore YNC, but I am really worried about Singapore. I live in a Global South country where, in the nearby capital, a lot of eco-radical left and decolonizing perspectives have flourished lately (at least in my spaces). My views have changed immensely since I deferred my matriculation last year, and now I don’t even want a job in an industry but to start a commune. 

Now my worry is that, as beautiful as it is, Singapore’s wealth comes from very extractivist and wasteful practices. I can’t deal with the fact that we’ll be living mindlessly in our bougie ass school at the cost of other people and the planet, playing to be very liberal while the Tuition Grant Scheme might become a pipeline to an exploitative capitalist job. Mind you, this does not extend to the people, but rather to how, from what I’ve seen of it, opulence and excess seem to play very big roles in the culture. 

I fear that ecological initiatives at YNC might be greenwashed, neoliberal, or performative, that I can’t protest even though Singapore’s climate policies are lacking heavily, and that I won’t find a radical community that I can turn my anger into systemic action with. (Also, not going to lie, I’m afraid that my gender nonconformity might make the city uncomfortable or unsafe for me). Am I despairing senselessly? What can I do?”

Dear eco depressed kingfisher, 

This is an archetypal example of being too woke. You care too much so you can’t enjoy anything. But in all seriousness: Yes, you are despairing senselessly. 


It might not be obvious to you as a freshie, or pre-frosh when you wrote this, but there are a ton of people who share your views in Yale-NUS. What I have learnt in my time at YNC is that there is always someone who shares your views, whether they’re about Jimmy Nugget or SATS vs Sodexo. Trust me, you’re not the only person to have thought that some ecological initiatives are greenwashing or neoliberal. There are several organizations and individuals within the college focusing on climate activism, such as iDECO, Fossil Free Yale-NUS, and the Farming Collective, not to mention the many environmental studies majors who will readily give you a crash course on anthropocentrism or environmental ethics.  

You’re not a hypocrite for living within a system which is harmful because the fact of the matter is that you can’t detach yourself from it. Are you meant to just… die? Okay, you can run off to the woods and live there, but let’s face it: Capitalism has become an unavoidable evil (not in envisioning the future, but certainly in our current lives). 

Now, does this mean that you have to give up your ecocentric values and go work for Shell? No, it doesn’t, but what you can do is prioritise your values in your professional life and live in a way which is consistent with them even if your employment is not necessarily related. Finding a way to negotiate between your values and how you make a living is a big part of growing up, and one which a lot of people struggle with. Otherwise the main employment of Yale-NUS graduates would be full-time internet communists. 

Thirdly, I’m glad you bring out the point about Singapore being a neoliberal hellhole, but I think that you need to be more optimistic in the way you see things. Rather than seeing Singapore as a place which will drain you of all drive to make the world a better place, why not see it as a place that needs your perspectives? Think about it this way: Your impact here, where your insights are valuable and your perspectives rare, will be much greater than if you had gone to study in an echo chamber like California, where everyone has already agreed that sustainability should be at the forefront of governmental policy. Instead of avoiding Singapore because you don’t think you’d fit in, think about it more from the angle that Singapore needs you. 

Lastly, about your gender nonconformity. I’m not going to deny that Singapore isn’t the most open-minded place when it comes to gender nonconformity. However, you can certainly find community everywhere, and especially so in Yale-NUS, where people are generally respectful of gender, pronouns, and identity. 

Dilemma 2: 

“I had a long distance relationship with my ex school fellow. She went to the U.S. for college and we had a relationship for around two years. Recently out of nowhere she decided to end things between us because she realized that whatever we were doing was against her religious values. She asks me to wait for her till we can marry (at least five to seven years). I love her and want to wait for her but it’s getting harder every day. Is waiting the right thing to do? If yes, how do I handle the situation?”

Dear (Too Much) Commitment Issues, 

Thank God we’re back onto relationships and dating, my area of expertise. Writing that motivational drivel for the person above really took it out of me. 

Now on to your dilemma: let it go. When I started reading your question, I thought it was going to be about whether to continue doing long distance or not, to which I was going to reply that you shouldn’t. I’m not a proponent of long distance relationships which don’t have a fixed start and end date, but this dilemma? This takes the cake… 

By not allowing you to live your life, your ex is showing that she doesn’t have respect for you. In love, you cannot treat people as tables in restaurants, expecting them to put their lives on hold by ‘reserving’ them for later. Moreover, even a table is only reserved for a window of 15 minutes before it is released for use by another customer, not five to seven years

It was actually very wrong of her to ask you to wait for her. She is, of course, allowed to have her religious epiphany and to end things with you, but she should cut things off entirely between you two. This should be a case of loving someone and letting them go for their own good. Instead, she is exhibiting a selfish love, stringing you along just in case she decides to be with you down the line. 

What happens when she decides she likes the U.S. more than wherever you’re from and wants to settle? What happens when she falls in love with someone over there who, unlike you, has an American passport? 

The answer is that you would have put your romantic life on hold for X years for no reason. There are too many variables which cannot be accounted for, and so many things could change from now until then that contribute to the fact that this relationship is probably already over, and for good, too. 

I understand that right now, she seems like the love of your life and you can’t imagine yourself being without her. But are you meant to endure the pain you’re currently feeling for the next decade? Go out and live your life, and if the stars align, you could end up with her if she returns. 

Have a problem? Send it to Aunt Agony at https://forms.gle/RuKiXGFjCVeKqGgk7

Disclaimer: The advice provided in this column is no substitute for professional advice, and should not be treated as such. The Octant understands the sensitivity of such issues. If anyone has any complaints, concerns, or comments please feel free to contact The Octant at yncoctant@gmail.com.

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