The recent (Wednesday, January 27, 2010) death of 26-year-old Kansan Daniel Shaull in Portland, Oregon, who set himself afire downtown outside a fur store to protest the wanton and callous cruelty of the fur industry and of those who buy from fur stores and who engage in supporting the fur industry, has promoted much discussion on the Internet.
Man Sets Himself on Fire at Portland Fur Store
A man set himself on fire Wednesday outside Ungar Furs in Portland, Oregon. After dousing himself with gasoline, he attempted to enter the store, shouting “There are animals dying! Animals dying!” After police extinguished the flames, he was taken to Legacy Emanuel Hospital where he later died. The man was identified as 26-year-old Daniel Shaull from Kansas. Among the local activists I have spoken to, none are familiar with Shaull by name, nor recognized him as being a part of the active, long-running campaign against Ungar Furs. Yet the location and witness reports strongly indicate this man sacrificed himself to bring attention to the horrific treatment of animals on fur farms…..
2. The Defendants have literally gotten away with murder…
The courts are no friend to underdogs. They are ostensibly objective, but ultimately, they exist to protect the “rights” of the rich and powerful to bully the rest of the world, including the poor, minorities, immigrants, the working class, and, last but not least, nonhuman sentients and those who fight for them. Grand juries, which are often witch hunts and sometimes violate their victims’ Constitutional rights by imprisoning them indefinitely without charging them with a crime, and stalking orders, which are becoming frequently employed tools of judicial over-reach and creative law enforcement, are the repressive measures of choice that the corporate-state is using to attempt to intimidate and shut-down legal, above-ground animal rights activists….
Nuancing this sacrifice correctly is going to be a challenge to the AR movement, particularly activists in Portland because, even though Daniel may have wanted to the horrible things being done to animals (albeit rodents, we're often reminded), the attention has been on the burning of oneself.
Ethicists always focus; we focus on the (statistically-frequent) cruel interface between humans and nonhumans for whom some uses, often trivial and indefensible uses, have been invented.
We abolitionists don't separate defensible and indefensible human uses of others against their willful consent; many consequentialists do such a conceptual distinction.
Daniel, who may have said to others that he was going to 'do something' that day and had previously expressed that the (social) world is not as it should be (he has the world's religions and ethical philosophies backing him up there), still seems to have decided and acted on his own (and even his father commented in one interview that his son had never presented himself to his family as being an animal rights activist, though he had presented himself as being troubled about the state of the (social) "world" around us that was filled with so much wanton cruelty.
Whatever solutions we offer need to be adopted as sustainable solutions (such as abandoning ALL animal wearing - I suggest for items other than shoes, though we know quite easily that we can do without leather shoes) and recognizing the personhood of nonhumans - rather, acknowledging that what makes each of us humans persons is something that is not unique to us - individual corporeality, complex nervous systems that coordinate as individual self-aware selves capable of complex outlooks on the world and complex emotions regarding other persons, including persons of other species (demonstrated, WE think and many others think, too) in nonhumans widely.
However, the attention has been reassigned to Daniel's mental status, a mental status that IMHO remains fully capable of recognizing when something is dreadfully wrong with how one class of humans (from whom we expect moral accountability) treats another class of beings (who are structurally marginalized by the society of the dominant species).
This needs the kind of attention that will NOT marginalize or dismiss the atrocity of their even BEING industries of animal exploitation and abuse and will NOT let the definition of the situation drawn tightly around one individual's presumed mental status (a designation made by a relative, not a mental health professional).
"I'm not a big fan of self-sacrifice" in any way, and I've commented often in public spaces to that effect, but some desperation is triggered when society's moral condition reaches such overt depths of depravity that we wear bodies of tortured animals as symbols of status and glamor and pride.
The longstanding issue is NOT the mental status of Daniel Shaull; it's (a) the grave injustice of animal exploitation and abuse AND (b) the moral depravity of a species who, beyond all consequentialist calculations, continues to abuse where there IS no defensible rationale.
This is the year 2010. Are YOU still eating and wearing dead animals? [If so, grunt !] It's time for a profound change in our understanding of our moral relationships with self-aware persons of all kinds, not merely symbolic readjustments or the same-old same-old dismissive marginalizations.