"If I, or someone I love, can be saved from a fatal illness, then yes, I do think it's justified," said my friend, Sue*. Sadly I looked at her across the room. Here at last, I thought, was my chance to unpack this horrible attitude.
"So, you believe the end justifies the means," I began carefully.
"Yes, it does."
"Ok," I went on, "so it's alright for a person to be tortured to death as long as there is a chance that it might result in your getting something you want?"
"It's not being tortured to death, don't be so stupid."
"Oh, you don't think being, say, strapped down and having body parts removed is at all unpleasant? Or, say, having detergent put in your eyes every day? Or having your spine snapped, without anaesthetic, so that people can study the effect of paralysis...." here my stomach failed me. I don't want to think about that kind of crap any more than the next person.
"Don't be disgusting."
"Well, you do know that's the kind of thing that goes on, right?"
"But what? It doesn't matter because it isn't someone you know? But those animals might have had someone that loved them just like you love Rover*. What if it was Rover having those things done to him? Would that be ok, for him to be tortured so that you might have a slim chance of recovering from some illness?"
"Of course not. I'd never let anything happen to my snookums." She wrapped her arms around Rover and gave him a big, smoochy kiss. Rover sighed and rolled over to have his stomach rubbed.
"But it's okay for it to happen to other dogs, as long as you might get something you want, then? So it's okay for someone to be tortured to death as long as you have a chance of getting something you want, and it doesn't cost you anything personally?"
"Okay, listen, I've got an idea. You've been complaining that you're broke, and you know I'm always broke. Why don't we go downtown tonight and rob a bottle shop or a servo? They always have stacks of cash. We can wear masks and bash the shop assistant over the head."
"Don't be stupid, that's just wrong."
"What, because it's stealing? And we'd hurt someone?"
"Well, yeah." Big eye roll.
"But you might get a lot of free money, and it's no one you know, so what if some shop person gets a concussion and loses his job? He's nothing to you."
"You just can't do things like that. You can't bash some guy over the head just to steal money."
"So you admit that some things are just wrong in themselves, and it's never ok to do them?"
"Don't you think that torturing someone to death is like that? It's much worse than a whack over the head."
At this point, Sue burst into tears, recanted her views and promised never again to buy a product not listed on the Cruelty Free list.
Of course, this whole conversation, except for the first couple of sentences, took place in my imagination. Real life people don't obligingly adopt the 'straight man' role in a Socratic dialogue. What actually happened was that Sue lost her temper, accused me of picking a fight with her and of wanting her to die of cancer (even though she was perfectly healthy).
But wouldn't it be lovely, if we could have this kind of conversation in real life? If even a few people were willing to examine their beliefs and pick out the inconsistencies, and then change the course of their conduct according to the conclusions they reached? Of course we can't force anyone to do this. But we can, always, set an example.
* names changed to protect the writer