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Searching for the Significance of a Life and a Death

Yesterday, a man set himself on fire outside Ungar Furs, and burned himself to death. We know his name now: According to the Alliance, it was Daniel Shaull. And we know that what he did appears to have been in solidarity with the animals who continue to die horrible deaths, day after day after day, to keep Nicholas Ungar in business. We know that, even as he was on fire and undoubtedly in terrible pain, he mustered great strength and tried to go inside the fur store to spread the flames to the coats and garments and blood-stained profits of the last fur store in Portland.

I would like to know more.
Indeed, it was strange to find out he was someone most of us did not know. Those of us who were not there yesterday, who scrambled to find out who it was, we each had a fear in the pit of the stomach, each of us sure we would know him, each of us having someone or other in mind that it might be. I know I did. When I finally heard his name, a small sense of relief washed over me, because it was a name I did not know. But someone knew him. And he deserves his story. If you knew Daniel Shaull, please post your stories of his life here.

If you did not know him but you just want to offer your critique of self immolation as a tactic, please just keep your useless judgments to yourself. This is the morning after, the place where all the bone-pickers will come in and make dismissive claims about this man and his last act of sacrifice. You know what I'm saying. "This is going too far," "he was just crazy," "he was a terrorist," "this tactic is too extremist," and perhaps the most unforgivable of all, "this will make us all look bad."

I'm not ready to dismiss the significance of this man's last act so easily.

Every year, more than 50 million animals - many of them dogs and cats - die for the fur industry. They die needless, painful, and suffering deaths so that people like Nicholas Ungar can make a lot of money, and so that vain, selfish, irredeemably thoughtless people can wear those animals' skins. Fifty MILLION beings, every single year, killed in horrific and unceasingly bizarre ways. For nothing. Absolutely nothing. Some of them are picked up by their hind legs and pounded against the cement until they die. Some have metal bars shoved into their mouths, and electrodes pressed against their anus, and are electrocuted. Some are gassed. Some are trapped in the wild, and spend days on end struggling to free themselves. Terrified, dehydrated, hungry, cold, and mutilated, they wait for the trapper to come. I have personally witnessed a fur trapper approaching a frightened little bobcat like this, right here in the woods of Cascadia, and then unceremoniously beating her over the head, repeatedly, with a baseball bat. CRACK. CRACK. CRACK. CRACK. CRACK. Until she finally died.

Sometimes, these animals are beaten unconscious, and they awaken while they are being skinned alive. This is not just some far off, urban legend thing. This is something real and immediate and horrible. I have seen this happen, and watched as the trapper just laughed and taunted the half-skinned, dying animal. Her last screams jeered at, the violation of her being complete. Her bloody little body went into a pile of bloody little bodies just like hers. Her skin was sold in someone's garage, on the first leg of the journey to Ungar or Schumachers, or Nordstroms.

This is what Nicholas Ungar sells.

Unimaginable suffering, for nothing. A lot of people just don't care. A lot of people think wearing fur is acceptable, and that making a living off this kind of unending suffering is tolerable. It's the people who care that are labeled "terrorist." The killers are just "businessmen." Some people actually defend the practice, many more just don't care enough to do anything about it. Still others like to get all philosophical and "tolerant" and pretend to be above it all. (I have seen a lot of that here on this site in recent days. These are the people who also defend slaughter houses, and lab experiments. Cold, academic justifications for horrific acts of violence. Disembodied philosophizing and dismissive tomes meant to put those who actually give a damn "in their places." Here, for example:  http://portland.indymedia.org/en/2010/01/396920.shtml, and here:  http://portland.indymedia.org/en/2010/01/396920.shtml, and here:  link to portland.indymedia.org.)

Is it really all that hard to understand, that someone could find that they just can't take it any more? They just can't stand by and do nothing, even when there is nothing left to do? Is it really so difficult to comprehend that this man could be so profoundly moved by such an unimaginable injustice, that he would be willing to actually sacrifice his own life in a last desperate act?

Not to me. I get it. I can understand that frustration and pain and desperation. I have felt it myself, and I think that any one of us who was born with the ability to empathize with non-human animals in this cold-hearted world has felt it too. We might not be lighting ourselves on fire, but deep down inside, I think we understand Daniel Shaull's desperation and despair. Even if we did not know him, we know what it feels like to bear witness, day after day, to the intentionally inflicted pain and suffering of others, and to feel so mutely powerless to make it stop. We watch in horror as a never ending stream of animal victims is poured into the maw of human hatred and indifference. We cannot understand how humans can be so needlessly, thoughtlessly, cruel. And we cannot understand why their eyes cannot be opened to the pain and suffering they are causing. Sometimes, even our "friends" turn out to be the kind of people who either cause this suffering, or try to excuse it. God, it gets so frustrating after awhile... and it never ends.

If you care about animals in this human world, it's easy to feel like you are alone in a sea of inexplicable hatred. It isn't even just the people wielding the metal pipes in the slaughter houses, or the electrodes on the fur farms. It's not just the people with the guns and the deer heads tied to the front of their "rigs." It's not just the people shoving load after load after load of cats and dogs into gas chambers, or the people gouging baby mice out of their mothers' bellies in laboratories. It's not just the assholes offering "chicken chokin" classes, or the old men making money selling furs. It's also all the mind-numbingly cold people who build word monuments to themselves over it - defending it and justifying it and dismissing it. It's the overwhelming awareness of all the suffering in the world, and the strange ostracism of anyone who can see it, who tries to point it out.

This can be a cold, hard world for people of compassion for the animals. Even radicals often just don't get it.

It may actually turn out that Daniel Shaull suffered from mental illness. But in this world, I sometimes think mental illness and desperate acts might be the only sane response.

Thank you! 28.Jan.2010 12:45

Mollie

It is too easy to demonize anyone whose actions we judge as too different and whose motivation we do not understand.
I suppose the Buddhists in Vietnam were judged to be crazy too.
But who is to say that their vision of the world was not clearer than ours or that their actions did not do more good than our protests in the streets?
Yes, it is true that there is not an issue in which I would set myself on fire--but that does not say anything about those who are willing. It only says something about who I am. And the fact that I would not does not let me conclude I am more sane. I might be pretty delusional about my ability to influence public policy.

Compassion. We need more compassion if we are ever to recreate a more just society.

Thank you for so eloquently reminding us of our humanity as we make sense of this death.

A Thought-Provoking Act 28.Jan.2010 15:30

ara

I hate to think that we in any way played into this by exposing the horrible reality of these animals' lives. I'm sorry to lose a sensitive man who could have been a great benefit to the community. I'm sorry he felt so alone that he didn't try to link up with us--as far as I know. His sacrifice, however, should be taken in the way in which it was intended.

I am a second generation Nazi Holocaust survivor. Here is a little story. The way the Nazis knew who was Jewish was from the census. When the Nazis invaded Holland, a group of young men immediately went to the city office in Amsterdam where the records were kept and attempted to set them on fire. Sadly, they were discovered and executed. The small fire that they set was put out. They may have saved some numbers, but unfortunately 98% of Dutch Jews were lost. Today, there is a plaque outside the building--which is now a barber college--commemorating the event.

Here is another interesting detail--I grew up knowing about the Jews in cattle cars, but one day it dawned on me that there was a reason they were called cattle cars: because we treat cattle like Jews in the Nazi Holocaust.

At any rate, I would love to know more about our silent friend and I would like to honor his memory and comfort his family, if possible.

political meaning 28.Jan.2010 17:51

sifting through conflicting stories

The corporate media has been saying all day that the act was "not political."

I question how it could not have been. It's not like Ungar Furs is an ideal place to randomly light oneself on fire. It's pretty remote, and hard to find really. Out of the way. It's not likely that this man just happened to accidentally light himself on fire here, of all places, unless there was a reason.

And now, even the corporate media seems to be contradicting themselves. They claim on one hand that it had no meaning, but on the other they quote Shaull's father, clearly indicating that it IS connected to the suffering animals hanging dead inside Ungar furs. According to KATU (which SUCKS), Daniel Shaull's father "said Daniel had Oregon in mind due to what he believed was a large population of vegetarians in the area."

Also, according to the corporate media, the man's father "repeatedly stressed that his son told him he was upset with violence in the world and was frustrated with the world's social ills and the apparent inability to solve them."

"It may actually turn out that Daniel Shaull suffered from mental illness. But in this world, I sometimes think mental illness and desperate acts might be the only sane response." Yes. I think so.

He was also pepper sprayed 28.Jan.2010 21:42

cherry on top

The police, noting he was on fire, grabbed the first thing they could think of: Pepper spray. They doused him with pepper spray.

They claim they thought it was an extinguisher. ?!

Maybe the police in Sandy thought their tasers were an extinguisher, when they tasered Fouad Kaady as he sat dying in the street from severe burns. Maybe they thought their guns were an extinguisher, when they then shot Kaady to death for trying to get away from the tasers.

Chief Sizer says that the pepper spray didn't hurt anything, because it was water based.

Can all of this be real?

I cannot believe some of the animal rights activists who are scrambling to avoid being "made to look crazy" by this poor man's desperation. This is so sad. What are we afraid of? You really think if you work real hard to look as normal as possible, and never make any waves, the crazies who hate animal rights activists are going to change their minds? Good God. I can't believe some of the people who seem to be promoting that idea.

J. Krisnamurti said that.. 29.Jan.2010 00:57

Vegan Cabal

........."it's no measure of health to be well-adjusted to a profoundly sick society" and that clearly portrays the U.S. and world conditions presently.

As a person who knows the recent campaign well, I see this raises awareness of animal suffering, it escalates Animal Liberation actions to a new height, it was absolutely not mental illness in vain.

The important conversation is increasing attention to the last fur store in PDX, unthinkable suffering making the owners rich, the assured death and suffering of all life, unbearable understanding of death and suffering, a call to action, his death was a liberation from this, painful though immolation appears, can we really judge what sight of resolute sacrifice was in his eyes?

He may have seen his purpose through and felt complete, does speculating make everything better? I applaud and appreciate the life of Daniel since he was evidently unconcerned with approval for his last act, genuine compassion. I'm astonished that animal liberation crossed a threshold into suicide terrorism, yet feeling total disgust by considering that anyone coerced him.

The impressions we make on each other are profound, so is the saying "let's be careful with each other so we can be dangerous together".

Regrettably I never knew him, he and I would probably have been good friends. It's like losing another friend and missing the ability to discuss other tactics and uplift each others' optimism. Being unpopular can look exceptionally desirable until Animal Liberation is a social normative, then we can gossip and be a scene for its own sake.

Forsaking his life for a message of immaculate compassion shows me that every bit of time used advocating for animals is well done, and I must accept responsibility for myself. The imperative to liberate internalizes due to a community where repression of compassionate philosophy is entrenched. The sad incident set a new precedent of compassion for nonhumyn animals.

To Portland Animal Liberation activists and sympathizers: the system won't let this go lightly, stay prepared to invoke 5th amendment rights, no need to give a name if not being detained, don't lie to cops or feds, that is a crime and they are eager to exploit small chinks in the armor to undermine Security Culture, instead of giving false information just mute yourself from revealing anything that may assist the persecution of compassionate activists, give them nothing and we stay free to fight for the silenced victims.