Does Vegan Advocacy Need A Reformation?

Graeme M

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Lately I've been thinking about the fact that veganism seems largely unsuccessful achieving any mainstream success. It really looks like quite the opposite (especially here in Australia), though of course there has certainly been progress since 1948 or so. It occurred to me that maybe vegan avocacy is chasing the wrong target. So, I wrote a short post about that for my blog. I thought I'd post it here and see what people think about the idea.

Does Vegan Advocacy Need A Reformation?

I believe that veganism is the single most rational and effective strategy for conducting ethical relations with other species. To recap, I take the position that veganism is the idea that we are under a duty to act with justice and fairness towards other sentient species as far as possible. In other words, veganism recognises the inherent value and dignity of other species and aims to treat them fairly by our choices whenever we can. A simple way to think about this is to regard other animals as attracting the same three basic rights as do people. We make fair decisions for other animals whenever we seek to respect and protect those rights. This boils down to very much the same definition as that of the UK Vegan Society.

Unfortunately, this is not how veganism is generally understood nor how it is usually promoted. Instead, too much vegan advocacy is shrouded in judgement, forceful criticism and rejection of everyday feelings about the world. As well, most people think of veganism as merely a super strict diet.

As a result of this poor and fractured public image, veganism appeals to very few people. Worse, the word seems to evoke an almost irrational reaction that borders on hatred towards "vegans" (people who endorse veganism). This is incredibly sad given what I said above about the value of the idea as a rational and effective ethical framework for all of us.

Advocacy group Pax Fauna observed in recent research:
"Vegetarians and vegans, however, remain deeply unpopular. Omnivores view veg*ns more negatively than several groups which are commonly targets of prejudice, including Black people, immigrants, and atheists… Negative feelings are stronger towards vegans than vegetarians, and towards veg*ns motivated by animal suffering or environmental concerns as opposed to those motivated by health."

How can this overwhelmingly negative attitude be turned around? Perhaps the times call for a radical reformation of the public face of veganism and associated messaging to build on the progress and gains of the recent past. Only by winning over citizens to believe that treating other animals fairly is important, indeed necessary, are we really likely to see greater progress. However, winning people over is rarely achieved by pointing out their shortcomings.

If current strategies are failing to encourage general agreement with veganism and doing little to change public attitudes, a new strategy is needed. The way I see it, far too much weight is being placed on the tactic of complete individual conversion to veganism. Too often, success is measured by the number of people becoming vegan, yet so far at least very few people do this and the vast majority reject the idea out of hand. Worse, many vegans eventully abandon their veganism.

My suggestion then is to focus instead on encouraging a more positive society-wide attitude to veganism. That is, the aim of vegan advocacy should not be converting people to veganism (with often doubtful results) but rather promoting a more positive public attitude to how we regard and treat other animals. How this could be done is open to debate, but I would take the tack of providing an educative and guiding role more than anything else. For example, one could conduct street advocacy where people can learn more, ask questions and even contribute their own perspectives without being judged. The very well known Earthling Ed offers a fine example of this kind of advocacy.

However, I'd even go a step further and NOT measure success by individual conversion to veganism and thus strict and complete adherence to a vegan lifestyle, but rather by engagement, interest, willingness to discuss and by whether or not participants in discussions depart on good terms. In other words, success is measured by the extent to which public attitudes to veganism (justice for other animals) are positive, enquiring and supportive, even if the public remain by and large not strict vegans. The long game is important.

For now, veganism is not required by the law and all that anyone can do is make the changes in their life they are willing to make. It seems important that we celebrate the small steps and encourage even the slightest inquisitiveness about justice for other animals. And more than that, I hope for greater public engagement with the simple idea that we regard other animals as more than objects to be used however we like.
 
sorry I am in a hurry and may not have read it properly however it sounds like you asking to people to be normal kind humans... which sadly we have strayed away from - I think we should expect all people to adhere to this standard which is different than veganism although most vegans are kind humans - imo

Emma JC
Find your vegan soulmate or just a friend. www.spiritualmatchmaking.com
 
Lately I've been thinking about the fact that veganism seems largely unsuccessful achieving any mainstream success.

I guess that depends on what your measuring stick is.
Also since I am American I can't really speak to what is happening in Australia. However I don't think the animal rights movement is "largely unsecsusful" in America. And since Europe seems to be ahead of America in many Animal Rights achievements - I don't think that is fair to say about Europe either.

In your defense, the achievements have been small and incremental Maybe they are hard to notice without stepping back. But if you step back, and especially take the long view, there have been significant accomplishments made.

There have been so many accomplishments I can't list them all. But I will list a few. And again I apologize for my American POV. but that is where I live and that is what I'm most familiar with.

  • the granting of basic rights to five great ape species in New Zealand in 1999. Their use is now forbidden in research, testing or teaching.(1)
  • 1958 Humane Slaughter Act
  • 1966 Animal Welfare Act (AWA) (2)
  • 1989: Avon stops testing its products on animals
  • 1990: Revlon stops testing its products on animals.
  • 1993: General Motors stops using live animals in crash tests
  • 2009: The European Union bans cosmetic ingredients testing and bans the sale or import of seal products
  • 2014: India bans cosmetic testing on animals, the first Asian country to do so.
  • 2019: California becomes the first U.S. state to ban the sale and manufacture of new fur items; (3)
  • And that is without dipping into what PETA lists. (4)

Unfortunately, this is not how veganism is generally understood nor how it is usually promoted. Instead, too much vegan advocacy is shrouded in judgement, forceful criticism and rejection of everyday feelings about the world. As well, most people think of veganism as merely a super strict diet.
Yes, I agree we are frequently misunderstood. But I don't think that is our fault. It's like if students fail in a class - it's not necessarily the teacher's fault.

Right now, here in the USA, things are getting worse in that the far right has decided that climate change is Progressive propaganda. And refuse to eat less meat.

As a result of this poor and fractured public image, veganism appeals to very few people.

Yes, but,...
I can't remember who said this first (Pete Singer, maybe), but it's been repeated very often. Getting one person to become 100% vegan is great but it's just as good (if not better) to get 10 people to reduce their meat consumption by 10%.

According to one poll we have 35% of Americans are “making a conscious effort to eat less meat.” (5)
Too often, success is measured by the number of people becoming vegan, yet so far at least very few people do this and the vast majority reject the idea out of hand. Worse, many vegans eventully abandon their veganism.
  • The number of vegans has increased over the last decade—driven by factors such as age, gender, ethnicity, and social-political issues. (6)
  • In the selected part of the EU, there are an estimated 6.62 million vegans as of 2023. This number is forecast to rise to about 8.25 million(7)


My suggestion then is to focus instead on encouraging a more positive society-wide attitude to veganism.
There are a number of good books, articles, and films on vegan advocacy. Some of them are very much like your suggestions.

IMHO, the best authority on Advocacy is Dr. Melanie Joy. Her books are great but if you prefer a video - she has a great TED talk.

References
1. Animal Rights Movement: Understanding When and Why It Started - Animal Charity Evaluators
2. History.
(3) How the Animal Rights Movement Developed Over Time
(4). PETA's Milestones | PETA
(5) Consumers looking to reduce meat intake
(6) What Percent of Americans Are Vegan? The Latest Statistics
(7) Vegans and vegetarians in Europe 2023-2033 | Statista.
 
However I don't think the animal rights movement is "largely unsecsusful" in America.
Can I clarify that I don't mean the animal rights movement, but rather vegan advocacy. Vegan advocacy covers a wide range of possible meanings of "veganism", though many regard animal rights as important. However, the main goal of vegan advocacy appears to be conversion of people to veganism, which is primarily regarded as not eating, buying and using animal products.

Several studies in recent times report increased awareness of animal welfare and treatment and there is a strong component of animal welfare advocacy even within general society. So it does seem people are more engaged with the need to protect animals from egregious harm. However, can we infer from this a general growing interest in animal rights as an idea and more to the point, in adopting a vegan lifestyle? I don't think so.

Some possible indications of this are that meat and dairy consumption continues to grow, in some cases at increasing rates (eg chickens and eggs), and that surveys continue to find vegans are a staggeringly small proportion of the population. Vegetarians may be more common, but overall veg*ns appear to represent little more than 5-10% of any population. A recent Gallup poll in the US showed that about 4% of US citizens identify as dietary vegetarians and less than 1% as dietary vegans. In the case of vegans, this represents a fall from 3% in a Gallup poll in 2018. Intriguingly, the Gallup poll matches my own observations here in Australia of a peak in interest in veganism is 2018 followed by a rapid decline since.

All of this seems to me to align with my general observation that vegan advocacy is currently actually counter-successful - it is contributing to a fall in the number of vegans in the population. This may be also partly due to a very successful counter-campaign by the meat and dairy industries aided and abetted by both governments and social media influencers.

If the number of vegans in the population is a measure of success for vegan advocacy, then we must regard current strategies as failing. On the other hand, growing interest in animal welfare and emerging interests in reducing meat intakes in favour of plant-based diets, even if only as tactics for improving personal health and the environment, suggest fertile ground for a slow and measured campaign of growing such attitudes. That is why I suggest abandoning conversions and the number of vegans as measures of success in favour of broader and more socially relevant indicators, such as interest, positive feelings towards animal welfare and animal welfare advocates, support for educational campaigns and political activity and positive attitudes from mainstream media towards veganism and "animal right", etc.
 
sorry I am in a hurry and may not have read it properly however it sounds like you asking to people to be normal kind humans... which sadly we have strayed away from - I think we should expect all people to adhere to this standard which is different than veganism although most vegans are kind humans - imo
I think being kind is important, but no, I'm not asking people to be kind to animals but rather suggesting that veganism is primarily concerned with fairness. Think about it like this - kindness means to be kind obviously enough but it doesn't tell us anything about what that means in practice. For example, a slave owner could be kind to his slaves. It doesn't follow that he has to want to free his slaves. Fairness, on the other hand, can be quantified and one way to do that is by applying a rights-based framework.

Here is what the Australian Human Rights organisation says:

"Human rights are a set of principles concerned with equality and fairness. They recognise our freedom to make choices about our lives and to develop our potential as human beings. They are about living a life free from fear, harassment or discrimination."

So kindness is important and most people are interested in being kind to some extent, but I think veganism is about being fair to other animals and giving their interests equal consideration, whenever we can.
 
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I really wish the push from all those advocating plant based eating would come to united front.
The goal of vegans is ethics and empathy
The goal of medical advocates is for health
The food industry wants to exploit both for their own profits
The medical industry as a whole has nothing to gain unless they change their goal to maintain wellness rather than sickness

I see the two in such adversary--so many people swearing by wfpb with no concern about vegans goals
Vegans willing to die on the hill of AR even if the diet ruin their health
So many go into this woe with such feelings of guilt and empathy, only to find it wears off as time goes on....
People who watch sensational documentaries about how plants can cure everything....and go back to old eating as they either don't see the benefiets soon enough, or just tire

People don't care enough to change their ways on their own, which is why so many don't change until they get so sick it's like their last resort

People want normalcy. They go to grocery with the same lists, prepare the same foods. their kids wan what others have. They want it at the same price

I've so often said I see more interest in plant based foods from books like Food Inc. and food tv shows that feature plant options
Why aren't all restaurants giving plant options to all their dishes?
Why aren't foods that are so easily made without animal products free of them?
Politics. The Food & Drug Administration

This is all from a US perspective

Honestly I'd like the emotion removed. Lose the whole "we've evolved eating meat" ignorance and realise plants are the way to go in this 21st century.
 
Can I clarify that I don't mean the animal rights movement, but rather vegan advocacy.
They are one and the same (more on that later)
Vegan advocacy covers a wide range of possible meanings of "veganism", though many regard animal rights as important.

IMHO, all the other meanings are secondary. The MOST improtant reason is animal rights.
Again, IMHO, you should be a vegan if you support animal rights. I think. it's hypocritical to support animal rights and then go and eat animals.
Health and environment concerns are great but they don't cover a lot of "vegan ground", i.e. cruelty free.
However, the main goal of vegan advocacy appears to be conversion of people to veganism, which is primarily regarded as not eating, buying and using animal products.
I don't think that's true. and if it is - it shouldn't be.
The main goal of veganism isn't (or shouldn't be ) to create more vegans. The goal is to save animals. Veganism is just pathway. To paraphrase one of my favorite influencers, compassion is the goal. veganism is the path.

Several studies in recent times report increased awareness of animal welfare and treatment and there is a strong component of animal welfare advocacy even within general society. So it does seem people are more engaged with the need to protect animals from egregious harm.
Right.

However, can we infer from this a general growing interest in animal rights as an idea and more to the point, in adopting a vegan lifestyle? I don't think so.

Right. and it doesn't need to be. Chalk up "increased awareness of animal welfare" as a win.
Some possible indications of this are that meat and dairy consumption continues to grow, in some cases at increasing rates (eg chickens and eggs), and that surveys continue to find vegans are a staggeringly small proportion of the population. Vegetarians may be more common, but overall veg*ns appear to represent little more than 5-10% of any population. A recent Gallup poll in the US showed that about 4% of US citizens identify as dietary vegetarians and less than 1% as dietary vegans. In the case of vegans, this represents a fall from 3% in a Gallup poll in 2018. Intriguingly, the Gallup poll matches my own observations here in Australia of a peak in interest in veganism is 2018 followed by a rapid decline since.
Yes and all of that is sad. but like I said earlier, according to one poll we have 35% of Americans are “making a conscious effort to eat less meat.”
and the number of vegans in both the US and Europe are slowly increasing.
That is progress.

All of this seems to me to align with my general observation that vegan advocacy is currently actually counter-successful - it is contributing to a fall in the number of vegans in the population. This may be also partly due to a very successful counter-campaign by the meat and dairy industries aided and abetted by both governments and social media influencers.
Absolutely. but again if you step back you can see changes and progress. Here in California laws were passed, despite huge efforts by the livestock industry to defeat them. The protection provided to animals was small (maybe even insignificant). but it might prove to have some significant ramifications (1). Prop 12 is just one example. many other laws have been passed in the 2020s.


If the number of vegans in the population is a measure of success for vegan advocacy, then we must regard current strategies as failing.
Ok, but it isn't. or shouldn't be.
On the other hand, growing interest in animal welfare and emerging interests in reducing meat intakes in favour of plant-based diets, even if only as tactics for improving personal health and the environment, suggest fertile ground for a slow and measured campaign of growing such attitudes. That is why I suggest abandoning conversions and the number of vegans as measures of success in favour of broader and more socially relevant indicators, such as interest, positive feelings towards animal welfare and animal welfare advocates, support for educational campaigns and political activity and positive attitudes from mainstream media towards veganism and "animal right", etc.
Done.

(1) The Supreme Court’s ruling on Prop 12 is a win against factory farming. But the pigs’ lives will still suck.
 
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I really wish the push from all those advocating plant based eating would come to united front.
The goal of vegans is ethics and empathy
The goal of medical advocates is for health
The food industry wants to exploit both for their own profits
The medical industry as a whole has nothing to gain unless they change their goal to maintain wellness rather than sickness
I kind of think there is are some commonalities. And I don't think we need a "united front".
As a vegan concerned mostly with animal rights, I don't see a problem if people choose to eat less animals to slow global warming. Or for people to choose to eat less meat for their own health.

I sort of consider it as an opening. Once people are open to the idea of eating less meat then maybe they can also start thinking about causing less harm to animals,
I see the two in such adversary--so many people swearing by wfpb with no concern about vegans goals
Vegans willing to die on the hill of AR even if the diet ruin their health

What is "AR"?
 
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I kind of think there is are some commonalities. And I don't think we need a "united front".
As a vegan concerned mostly with animal rights, I don't see a problem if people choose to eat less animals to slow global warming. Or for people to choose to eat less meat for their own health.

I sort of consider it as an opening. Once people are open to the idea of eating less meat then maybe they can also start thinking about causing less harm to animals,


What is "AR"?
AR=Animal Rights
There shouldn't be a problem, but after being on FB so much lately I am finding there is a huge division! People who eat plant based absolutely trashing any vegan talk of what they percieve as junk food. Vegans responding with way sensitive comments about animal feelings
Honestly, I kinda cringe at the whole kissy-poo ads with cows and pigs. They are that way because they were bred that way. I just feel there is no need to breed or kill, and humans infringe far too much even without using them as food or other things.
For me, being vegan is just the right way to be in this day and age.

I used to think doing it for health would lead to doing it out of ethics from a personal connection, but now I'm finding that isn't so true. WFPB folks can be far more on the side of the Whole 30 group, think Mark Hyman and Mercola
 
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AR=Animal Rights
Thanks, that went over my head,
There shouldn't be a problem, but after being on FB so much lately I am finding there is a huge division!

I don't see the problems you see. but then I spend 0 minutes on FB.
I do use Reddit and YouTube, tho and still don't see those issues.
Except for a few people, most of the P-B people I know are vegan and most of the vegan people I know are P-B.
Most of the health conscious ppl I speak to believe in cutting down on meat consumtion. Same with the environmentally conscious ppl. They may not be vegan but they are on my side. And I support them too.

Maybe I wish that more people become vegan. but I not only know it's a difficult transition, I also know that it's more important that a lot of people should cut down on meat consumption than a few people abstain from it.

my favorite slogan is appropriate here too. Perfect is the enemy of Good.
 
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IMHO, all the other meanings are secondary. The MOST improtant reason is animal rights.
Again, IMHO, you should be a vegan if you support animal rights. I think. it's hypocritical to support animal rights and then go and eat animals.
I am having a conversation elsewhere about this. I have my own particular opinion, but most people I talk to don't agree. What do "animal rights" mean to you? For many AR activists, the aim is to enshrine animal rights at law. There has been some progress as you have pointed out, though really mostly in terms of animal welfare, which in my view is only protecting one of the three basic rights we can believe other animals should have.

I regard veganism as the idea that we behave as though other animals have basic rights and I think we do that for the same reason we do with other people - to recognise their inherent value and dignity and in consequence to treat them fairly. So, I don't regard veganism as inherently demanding animal rights - an externally focused strategy - but rather as demanding that we ourselves recognise and respect the rights of other animals when we can. In other words, "rights" stand in for reasons for acting in certain ways.

The main goal of veganism isn't (or shouldn't be ) to create more vegans. The goal is to save animals.
I believe that the goal of veganism is for me to regard other animals as deserving of fair treatment. Vegan advocacy is about encouraging others to believe the same.

Edit: I just thought I'd add this video link. In this clip, the speaker (Nathaniel) talks about why he thinks veganism is primarily concerned with moral scope rather than any particular ethical theory. Though I don't completely agree with some of his points, he is overall making much the same claim I am. I would refine his claim such that when we include others in our moral scope, we do so to seek to treat them fairly by our actions.

 
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I am having a conversation elsewhere about this. I have my own particular opinion, but most people I talk to don't agree. What do "animal rights" mean to you? For many AR activists, the aim is to enshrine animal rights at law. There has been some progress as you have pointed out, though really mostly in terms of animal welfare, which in my view is only protecting one of the three basic rights we can believe other animals should have.

Well.... by no stretch of the definition would/could I label myself as an Animal Rights Activist (ARA). And I have not put much thought into ARA goals and objectives.
However I think I must be in favor of something more than just Animal Welfare. I must be more in the Abolitionist Camp.
in fact, I think just by being vegan, puts me in the abolitionist camp. I guess the first (and biggest) step to abolishing the animal livestock industry is to stop eating animals. Same thing goes with fur, leather, and other things.
I regard veganism as the idea that we behave as though other animals have basic rights and I think we do that for the same reason we do with other people - to recognise their inherent value and dignity and in consequence to treat them fairly. So, I don't regard veganism as inherently demanding animal rights - an externally focused strategy - but rather as demanding that we ourselves recognise and respect the rights of other animals when we can. In other words, "rights" stand in for reasons for acting in certain ways.

I first transitioned to veganism without much (if any) philosophical considerations. Or health based, environmental based or economic based considerations. I just made the jump to the conclusion that what we was doing to animals was wrong and I didn't want to be complicit.
In the meantime I have had plenty of time to consider all those other things but mostly I'm still that guy that thinks what we are doing to animals is wrong.
I believe that the goal of veganism is for me to regard other animals as deserving of fair treatment. Vegan advocacy is about encouraging others to believe the same.

I'm pretty sure I've never really thought about it like that. I guess "fair treatment" might be a good goal. IF we could all figure out and agree to what that meant.

I guess my goal is not to murder or enslave any. Maybe I'm like Emma and just want to be kind. Although I like using the word compassionate.
 
I've become increasingly skeptical of vegan advocacy and maybe the concept of veganism in general. It puts the focus on individual choices and creates tension between vegans and non-vegans.

I heard an oil company, BP if I recall correctly, came up with the concept of a person's carbon footprint as a way to reframe global warming from a systemic issue to one of individual choices. I think maybe animal rights advocates have built ourselves a similar trap in framing our discussion and advocacy around veganism.

I think most people have already come to the conclusion that they won't become vegan (even if they eventually will and just don't know it yet). And so they have to reverse-engineer a justification for that which involves rejecting our reasons for being vegan. Even when we try to shift the focus from our diet to the plight of the animals that framework is dividing us, either you're vegan or you're helping perpetuate it.

I'd like to be able to advocate for animals outside that framework, where my personal boycott of animal products isn't a matter of identity politics, and isn't some grand moral end-point, but is simply a symbolic act to show commitment to the struggle for animal rights.

Wayne Hsiung wrote about this not too long ago:

 
I've become increasingly skeptical of vegan advocacy and maybe the concept of veganism in general. It puts the focus on individual choices and creates tension between vegans and non-vegans.
I think this is where I am at. Too much advocacy seems to be targetting individuals in bad ways. I really think that from a high point just a few years ago, veganism has lost ground in the recent past. The animal ag industry has been very successful and powerful in its response to often vicious campaigns by vegan/AR activists and the public is very happy to be backed up in their desire to not have to do anything differently.

I think most people have already come to the conclusion that they won't become vegan (even if they eventually will and just don't know it yet). And so they have to reverse-engineer a justification for that which involves rejecting our reasons for being vegan. Even when we try to shift the focus from our diet to the plight of the animals that framework is dividing us, either you're vegan or you're helping perpetuate it.
This is why I think the movement needs to refocus on something other than converting people to veganism, or victimising people for not being vegan. My angle is to take the tack that the framework, the very idea of veganism, is something that everyone is already part of. The only vegan advocate that seems to come close to this that I have seen is Earthling Ed, but then again I don't really follow the "movement" that closely.

I'd like to be able to advocate for animals outside that framework, where my personal boycott of animal products isn't a matter of identity politics, and isn't some grand moral end-point, but is simply a symbolic act to show commitment to the struggle for animal rights.
I don't see why you'd need to step outside the framework, when the framework really is just the simple idea we care about other animals. I think many people - not necesarily you - often don't realise that veganism is an opt-in attitude. No-one *has* to become a vegan, but most people do care about other animals to some degree. If we step back from expecting success to come from converting individuals and instead encourage a greater curiosity, maybe that can get us further.

Wayne Hsiung wrote about this...

I think the vegan movement HAS failed, if the goal was a rapid conversion of individuals to veganism. But I'm not sure "open rescue" is likely to win hearts and minds. I suppose if it raises interest in the wellbeing of farmed animals... but I don't see why that would work. All it can do is encourage people to want better welfare, not so much not to use them. Here in Australia we have seen a local activist attempt large-scale farm invasion, "liberation" of some animals, and a website dedicated to naming and shaming farmers. That last one really back-fired in my opinion, hardening the public resolve that vegan/AR activists are nutjobs and anti-decent people. Maybe I am wrong... it was a huge undertaking but after the initial public flurry I have heard little more.

On the other hand, as @Lou has pointed out, there has been progress on a number of fronts in regard to better animal treatment and consideration, even some recognition of the need for some form of rights. But that is a very different thing from people wanting to be vegan. So, is the answer really just whatever gains can be made and forget veganism as a genuine society scale movement? I'd be more positive if I saw genuine public engagement with the idea of veganism, but most people don't even know what it is.

Sorry to sound a bit cynical and disengaged, but I've watched many good people become burned out and disillusioned in the face of endless public disapprobation and antipathy. Can a change in approach pay more dividends, as I suggested in my OP? That's just my wonderings, I don't know if I see any genuine movers and shakers thinking along these lines.