Cyborgs and Other Companionate

assemblages

Linfan Shi, Joline Fu, Joyce Yun

 

With the outbreak of COVID-19 in Hubei China and the spreading of the virus at an uncontrollable speed, Chinese government has since sealed off Wuhan province and put the whole country under martial law. Even with such strong emergency measurement, within months, COVID-19 still became a health crisis, causing deaths, social panic and public health issues across the world. 

In light of the recent tragedy of George Floyd, the deeply rooted issue of racism in this country surfaced once again, reminding us of the violence these categories cause to human life. Since the nature of this country involves co-existing with many different people of race, it is especially crucial for this country to recognize each other’s existence. However, the largely imposed characteristics of America that have people categorizing each other into different groups, especially with race, is absolutely disheartening and disgusting. The principle of assemblages contributes to our social reckonings with racism, since we do not realize that the categorizes we impose on each other based on the color of our skin and the language we speak is all a social construct.Like mentioned, socially constructed ideologies, like language, are people-driven, which means it acts merely as a hindrance to us actually perceiving the world as what it is. These constraints hinder us from feeling, expressing, experiencing, and enjoying life as it is, and it is such a tragedy that one category is socially perceived as “superior” than the other. These constructed categories that we bind with, or prison others, are often treated as constants, as mentioned. This causes serious damage to the people who are jailed to these categories just because of the way they were born. We judge people by these categories and label false stereotypes to it. And undeniably, stereotypes play a huge role in how we perceive the world. Labeling people with categories based on their color of skin and judging them by the stereotypes that were created to discriminate impedes our ability to experience the world. Categorizing people restricts them from being who they are, and being treated with honor and respect. This is the United States of America, which means it is a country of many races. We came together to build a land, to live with one another, and for a better life. Assemblages within ourselves is crucial in understanding that we are all in this together, and that we should honor, respect, and take care of each other, rather than shoving each other into socially constructed categories that only guide us to discrimination. Focusing on our bodily matter is useless and pointless; and so is language. This leads to us turning backs on each other and classifying one other by race, gender, sex, etc. The brutal outcome of this is what we are seeing on the news today about George Floyd. The stereotype of a black man being violent resulted in an innocent man dying under a white policeman’s knee in seven minutes. Floyd was an innocent man complying to the police officers disrespectful order to get out of the vehicle with a gun pointing at him, for no reason. This is the reason why assemblages are crucial in equality. We must shift our focus from our bodies and stop considering categories as the finite attribute or quality of a person. We should detach ourselves from our bodies and begin focusing on our minds, the composition of information; the ideology. Language and categories are all created by people and are socially constructed to lock us up. Instead, we should start embracing one another, allowing ourselves to be free from bodily matter, and perceive the world as it is. 

If the idea of assemblage can be so effective in helping individuals to understand each other, why do we fail to utilize it in our dealing with cases like George Floyd? Why even Haraway, the great scholar of cyborg still uses the idea of dualism? In fact, although the ideology of assemblage derails individuals from linguistic presumptions, our society is still very much dependent on categories and sanctification. Once individuals recognize a stable identity that centralizes and describes personal features in a power system, the boundary between their definitions of themselves and the systematically defined identities become vague. In other words, individuals can and tend to put themselves into categories. In fact, this behavior which opposes what assemblages intend to do is attempting. For instance, when we are all infants, we have the urge to communicate with our parents but are  hindered by the ability to speak. Hence, a commitment to our linguistic system is inevitable. We have to adapt ourselves to  an existing linguistic system which has the categories already. Thus, a racist power structure would be passed down to generations. From George Floyd’s case, we find out that when black people are brought to the categories in the power structure, they are forced into a role of the discriminated. This brings out a question: in society that most people are aware of categories and some of whom, willingly accept their identities, can we detach those people again from dualism or performativity assumptions? And by doing so, can we successfully apply assemblage ideas to realistic issues?

At this point, we may step away from what happens within the United States and look at different angle: Before George Floyd ignited the online discussion, discrimination against Asian, especially Chinese during the pandemic never cease to enter the public eye. From the New York Times report of “Chinese Virus” to online “shaming” on how Chinese government bribery the WTO for compliments, in the first two months of the COV-19 outbreak, none of the western nations bother to deal with the fact that what happens in China can happen in any other nation. Under a Youtube video where the Chinese government criticizes President Trump for discriminating by calling COVID-19 the “Chinese Virus (https://www.youtube.com/watch? v=k6jnR4bi-uw)”, the comment section actually agrees with Trump. For instance, some of the most rated comments are: “It’s funny how angry China gets when it hears the truth”; “It comes from china...Therefore its china virus. That's all”; “China is just shifting the blame to everyone else for what THEY did.” Those comments can be written by anyone. Some message writers point out that they are Latino Americans who distrust the Chinese. Interestingly, what those Latino American say about the “facts” of the virus is also the tool used by the United States government to rationalize police violence against black or latino. The virus is indeed spread from China just as the Blacks and the Lations have the highest crime rates in the United States. Both statements are true, but can we use this truth to intentionally discriminate? The answer is probably “No.”  Sadly, very few people recognize that what they are doing to the Chinese population is similar to how they are treated by their power system. This goes back to our previous concern that can we actually detach people from the existing categories?

 

Actually, assemblage can be utilized but only to a narrow perspective. Within a fixed power structure where individuals can efficiently recognize the roles that they are pushed into, people can use the framework of assemblages to begin the discussion. However, such discussion usually ends when it reaches out to another power system. To a certain degree, in the category of Americans, individuals can relate to each other by using assemblage ideas; when it comes to a different category, an outside category of other nations, because people can not fully empathize, they still rely on the category to make decisions. It is perhaps the reason why Haraway has to rely on the language of performativity to construct a new understanding of feminist studies. It is not due to her inability to realize the importance of assemblage but the inability of others to understand her point of view in the existing language system. Nevertheless, the difficulty of applying assemblage to real world problems on the larger scope is not equivalent to completely giving up our rights to advertise the idea. 

In terms of  the benefits of using assemblage to specifically analyze events, the international students from China try to use assemblage to render chinese have a better approach to face the current situation since no one has ever thought that the Spring Festival in 2020 will be the most tasteless one. In those days when China was struggling to fight against the epidemic, those overseas students who went back home because of holidays set foot on the journey to foreign countries alone, but they were always worried about it. During the rapid development of the epidemic, most overseas students checked the news in China every day. In addition to finishing our heavy study, what international students did during that period was to pay close attention to the epidemic and collect support materials. At that time, international students thought that although they were in another country, they could only help to transport foreign medical supplies back to China to show our support. In this way, since January, the masks in major pharmacies in the United States have been out of stock until now. In January, even Doctors in the United States had trouble getting professional masks. Whether in CVS or Amazon, masks, disinfectant alcohol, protective clothing, and other anti- epidemic materials all have been out of stock from January to the end of April. All they want is to make their parents, relatives, and friends who are still in China and suffered from Covid-19 to stay safe, they donated all the materials and transported them back to China. However, when the epidemic eased in China, the outbreak began to spread in the United States, which caught them, Chinese students, by surprise. In order to protect international students themselves and in case of the in-person infection, the university decided to transfer the education mode to remote education, which made many Chinese students want to go back home. Even though the flight ticket is much more expensive than the normal price, international students still want to go back to their hometown and stay with their parents at this special time. Some students, including me, decided to go to China in March before the school closed, and I also had a hard journey. They need to wear masks and protective clothing and not eat or drink or even go to the bathroom to avoid infection. After an average of more than 20 hours of tossing and turning, international students can finally reach the destination, but still, need to concentrate quarantine for 14 days. While the rest of the students, because of various considerations choose to still stay in the United States, faced a worse situation, which was made by the Civil Aviation Administration's "five-one" policy (in which an airline keeps only one flight per week on one route in a country). It is unbelievable to me that China will refuse their own citizens to go back to their hometown, and did not provide any help. 

However, when the epidemic eased in China and the epidemic broke out in the United States, the public treated overseas students badly and discriminated against them, because people did not have the mindset of assemblage. Chinese like to divide themselves into internal and external groups to have different attitudes to treat things, which makes the mistake of dualism, although Haraway's own idea is to escape dualism. Compared to the United States, when the outbreak in Wuhan happened, they sent many airplanes to get their American citizens in Wuhan back to the U.S., this policy really hurts the Chinese who transported the pandemic material to China, but now they cannot even get a flight ticket to go back. The number of international passenger flights has decreased sharply, and international students all over the world started to use several airline apps and always stay online to see if they can buy one flight ticket. Moreover, even when international students successfully bought a flight ticket, policies are constantly being updated, and there are plenty of examples of people leaving their homes to get to the airport only to be told that their flights have been canceled. There are many friends around me who still can't go back to China with 5 or 6 tickets in hand. Overseas students face not only the pressure of living alone but also the pressure of sky-high ticket prices and domestic public opinion. The issue of discrimination against Asian-Americans has not received equal attention. It would be better if China can replace the “five-one” policy with sending more airplanes to the U.S. to pick Chinese up and back to their hometown.