theories


CHIRP – Community Home Investment Repurchasing Program

CHIRP is designed to stem the flow of the foreclosure crisis while allowing communities the opportunity to use federal funds to stimulate local economies. There are many safeguards that must be built into CHIRP prior to enacting legislation, but by understanding it as one part of a larger growth and reinvestment solution into America’s future, solutions are possible.

CHIRP allows communities the chance to band together to repurchase homes and invest in their futures. By meeting a set of stipulations, a community can be eligible for a series of federal loans and insurance programs that will allow municipalities to purchase homes from banks for under market value. This provides a much-needed flow of capital throughout the banking structure, while giving communities valuable assets that can be maximized as investments.
Chirp’s stipulations would include a vision and business plan for the municipality, created with direct community involvement. A sample plan would include the rental or sale of community-owned property to increase the funding of public services provided at the state and local levels, such as schools, libraries, police, and fire. This would provide much-needed relief to strained budgets.

A portion of the CHIRP funds for each project would go to ongoing asset management planning – this allows communities to invest for long-term sustainability. By making greater amounts of locally-owned property available for rent, local communities have greater power over their futures. This direct empowerment speaks to grassroots organization efforts on both sides of the political spectrum, and could be a useful olive branch of real bipartisanship in an otherwise hostile environment.

Business, investors, homeowners and governments have explicit self-interest in maintaining and growing property values. There is direct evidence to support the rationale that a rising tide lifts all ships – when prosperity is high, crime is low. By building strong local communities of ownership, we can grow sustainable local economies across the country.

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I wrote the letter below in response to a NY Times op-ed piece by a Harvard econ professor.  N. Gregory Mankiw uses himself as an example of why rich people would stop working if taxes were higher – a dangerous myth that circulates whenever talk of raising taxes arises.

I’m sharing it here because I’ve had access to some very ambitious people who are motivated by money, and they don’t think in the same way that normal people do.  I’m speaking of the people who put aside their families and their relationships for the sake of business, and those who wage war to make a profit.

My family members are primarily good-hearted working-types who can’t even conceive of the type of greed that they hear about in the news each day.  My grandpa can’t imagine that people would actually wage war over oil – for him, there is nothing as valuable as a human life.

For many rich and powerful people, money in the bank is worth a lot more than a human life.  The role of government is to safeguard the people from this type of dangerously ambitious greed.  When this type of myth is spread, it results in policy that undermines the ability of good people to make a decent living – much like the recession that we’re in today.

from Aaron McManus
to ngmankiw@harvard.edu
date Thu, Oct 14, 2010 at 11:57 AM
subject Ambitious people don’t work less, but academics might.

Mr. Mankiw,

With all due respect, you are spreading a highly damaging myth by using yourself as an example.

As an academic, writer, and teacher, it’s safe to assume that you’re motivated by thoughts and ideas.  Your concept of the legacy that you want to leave most likely is propelled by thinking about the innovative thoughts that can impact and shift the way that economics are considered in the general public, and not about how much money is in the bank when you die.  You say yourself that you “don’t aspire for much more than a typical upper-middle-class lifestyle.”

You have fought hard to get to your position of success as a Harvard professor – but please consider that most of the people who are in the top 5% of income-earners do not define success in the same way that you do.  Please consider these two (cliche) quotes from two “titans of industry”:

“Life is a game. Money is how we keep score.” – Ted Turner 

&

“After a certain point, money is meaningless. It ceases to be the goal. The game is what counts.”  – Aristotle Onassis

When people are playing a game, they simply want to achieve the highest score.  It doesn’t really matter how the rules are defined – because a basketball player scores more points per game than a soccer player does not make him a superior athlete.  They are simply playing games with different rules. 

The athlete, like the titan of industry or the academic, is motivated by a level of mastery.  Most successful people define themselves by comparison to others within their field – we want to “best” our competition, to emerge victorious – this could easily be wrapped into a larger discussion of human nature emerging from a competitive biological drive motivated by natural selection.  The difference is that the “titan of industry” keeps score through money – the Forbes list of the richest people springs to mind.

Why would someone who has worked exclusively to attain vast sums of wealth simply stop?  The wealthy people I’ve known who have “worked their way up” do not have a sense of “enough” – they want to see simply how much they can attain before they reach retirement.  It’s the same motivation that I see with people playing video games – the quest to see if they can beat the high score of the other people who play the same game.  In the case of the financially-motivated, the higher the bank balance, the higher the quality of lifestyle.  In our consumer-driven world, there is no end to the status symbols that can be attained  – and consequently no end to the desire to attain them.

By using yourself as an example, you promote an idea which resonates with “normal” Americans who are not exclusively motivated by money. Most people are not titans of industry, and have not had direct access to the minds of the uber-wealthy.  Most people aspire to a sense of “enough” – they desire security for themselves and their children, and probably a place of contentment – the noble “pursuit of happiness” that we are told we are entitled to as Americans.

The myth that you are spreading becomes dangerous because you attach it to economic policy – and your position at Harvard and the nature of an op-ed piece in the NY Times lends credibility to your views.  The problem is that our policy is not shaped by people who have a sense of “enough” – many of our past presidents and global leaders of the past 300 years have reminded us of the dangers of big banks and the military-industrial complex who simply will not stop seeking wealth until they die.  In its ideal, our government exists to protect “average people” from those who would do them harm in the quest of attainment.

Our legislative process determines the “rules of the game” that the uber-wealthy play – but these “rules” are felt by average people as the economic policy that shapes our lives.  Is it realistic to assume that a titan of industry would withdraw from the game simply because it was a little harder to increase his or her wealth?  No more realistic than believing that Michael Jordan would have stopped playing basketball if they moved the net an inch higher.  It simply increases the challenge, which whets the appetite of the ambitious person, not drives him or her away.

Good fiscal policy requires more than just increased taxes on the wealthy.  There are many challenges that we face as a country, and our sharpest minds should be attuned towards solutions.  I would ask you to consider the mentality of the people who drive and shape our economic policy, and put yourself aside.  I think that if you do, you’ll find that you do not share the same motivations as those who would seek only money.  You probably have more in common with hard-working Americans who simply want to provide a better quality of life for their children and their communities than those who would stop at nothing to attain vast sums of wealth.

Please consider the ramifications of spreading the idea that rich people would stop working if taxes were higher.  The net impact of the myth that you are spreading will be harmful to the policy that results.

Thank you for your consideration.

Sincerely,

Aaron McManus
630.240.3072

 

 

—– update: 10/15/10 I received an email reply thanking me for my comment, which was certainly gracious of Mr. Mankiw.

I watched two videos tonight on TED from two very different storytellers.  One is from a fiction writer named Elif Shafak, who delivered the most eloquent speech I have ever heard on stories and the politics of identity.  The other was from a psychotherapist named Naif Al-Mutawa  who designed “The 99,” a new comic-book empire of Islamic superheroes now collaborating with the Justice League, thanks to a deal with Marvel Comics.  Barack Obama recently praised Dr. Al-Mutawa at a conference celebrating entrepreneurs for his depictions of positive Islamic role models.

[I should interrupt myself here—if you plan on watching these amazing videos linked above, do so now.  I will continue to spoil their surprises.]

Elif Shafak is an amazing woman. I must start there.  Her presence and composure is comparable to the grace of Sophia Loren.   I haven’t read her books, but watching her speak has brought her books to my short list. Ms. Shafak’s words are cool raindrops falling on my face on a hot day.

Elif Shafak was born in Turkey, and in one of her novels a character refers to the slaughter of the Armenians as “genocide.”  For that, she was persecuted in a Turkish court for defaming Turkey.  In her TED talk, she spoke of the connective way that stories bind humans through imaginative experience, and the ways that we fail to draw the lines between fact and fiction.  After all, the character who dared to utter the word “genocide” was fictional.

Ms. Shafak urges us to draw those lines carefully, to remember when a story is just a story.  She spoke of her time as a child in an international school, and the way that she became a walking representation and a target for anti-Turkish sentiment.  Because she is a Turkish woman, some people expect to find a stereotypical perspective within her fiction.

She said she spoke in Harvard Square with two other writers—an Indonesian and a Fillipino.  “Like a joke,” she said.  The panel was advertised under the banner of Multicultural Literature—anything written outside of the West.  In this way, she felt others would (if given the opportunity) deny her right to explore the avant garde and the far reaches of her imagination.

Ms. Shafak cautions us against blurring the line between fantasy and reality, and asks us to understand the distinction.  Stories move in circles, and when we define something we draw a line around it that boxes it in.

On the other hand, Naif Al-Mutawa reminds us that we have the power to create new political realities out of the stories that we tell.

Dr. Al-Mutawa spoke of reframing—the term from family systems therapy that asks us to shift our perspective and to look at something a new way.  His 99 heroes give children a positive take on Islamic archetypes without proselytizing in the slightest.  His mission is cultural, not religious.

Gary Engel said that Superman represents the true assimilated immigrant who has managed to successfully merge two cultures through his dual identities.  Dr. Al-Mutawa seeks to help children to heal by creating Islamic heroes who have merged their own identities—like all good superheroes, his characters are tortured with internal conflicts.

Both Ms. Shafak and Dr. Al-Mutawa have found the political and social power of stories through their success.  Stories are social collateral—by sharing a story with you, I show a tiny part of what I have to offer in a relationship.  We barter our emotions through the stories that we tell—especially those we tell ourselves.

Although Ms. Shafak has encountered the power of stories, I don’t think that she has used it to its full potential.  If I can paraphrase the comic book V for Vendetta, artists use the truth to tell lies, and politicians use lies to tell the truth.  Ms. Shafak is an artist.  Perhaps the only distinction between artists and politicians is the extent to which one desires power more than the other.  Each wields social collateral through stories, visual and spoken.

Dr. Al-Mutawa is more political in his reach for influence, although I believe his motives are pure simply from the joy in his face as he speaks of the impact his work has on children.  It is a shame that one rarely sees pure love on the faces of those who lead us in our politics.

I will end this in the same way that Ms. Shafak ended her speech: with a poem from the Sufi philosopher Yunus Emre.

Come, let us all be friends for once
Let us make life easy on us,
Let us be lovers and loved ones,
The earth shall be left to no one.

Every business should look to the emerging field of community development for tools that will help to grow their corporate culture.

Every community should look to successful business examples of internal cultural development for the techniques that work to establish consensus.

Steps that work:

1 – Ask questions, don’t presume solutions.

Too often external consultants presume that they know what’s best for a group of people – in an organization, community, or corporate environment.  The first and best practice should always be to assess first, analyze later.

2 – The solutions are always within the group.

Group dynamics are the same wherever humans gather.  The process itself is the solution – too often people sit through ineffective meetings where the same things are regurgitated, the same people dominate the conversation, and the leaders don’t know how to lead.  I guarantee you that there is a solution to any problem within any group that has organized around a collective purpose.

3 – Never underestimate the importance of politics.

Human emotions and relationships are irrational.  All fields of study attempt to categorize irrational behavior into sequential and logical portions – that’s a large part of the human quest for knowledge.  We’re doing a great job.

There are always unknown relationships at play.  Step back, hold the big picture (the mission of the group), and know that the process will never go as fast as you would like it to go.  Don’t tell anyone else to do the same thing – when you encounter frustration (or other negative emotions), make time to listen and understand the layers under the surface.

4 – Find shared purpose, and hold on tight.

Why do people organize into communities?  Why do we decide to work for one business and not another?

The answers always come back to shared values. To effectively manage any group, you must constantly remind the participants of the benefits of their involvement.

Studs Terkel said something to the effect that communities form where there is shared action with purpose.  Whenever we get together to accomplish something, we have formed a community.

The largest question that remains:  What do we want to accomplish?

“Oregon is one of only two states in the nation without a plan for the future of its water supply.”

http://www.oregonlive.com/news/index.ssf/2009/04/oregons_water_issues_run_deep.html

When I saw that quote, it scared me. I am realizing that I moved to Portland specifically to seek out a place to settle down. I wanted to explore the Northwest because its climate appeals to me, and I am an American. I want to raise a family, I want to get married. I envision a cute house with a beautiful wife, babies, and pies in the oven. My vision of my future is simple, it’s quaint, and it is iconoclastic. But I own it, and it is mine.

house by sunset

I realize that a part of the ownership of my future is my involvement with the present. I have to consider the choices that I am making on an individual level, including the ways in which I want to inspire the people around me to participate. A big part of my interest in storytelling lays in the ways in which we use new media to share ourselves with other people in ways that were not possible even a few years ago.

Sometimes it seems as if we’re taking too many pictures of ourselves, and not enough of those around us. I’ve been having some amazing discussions with some people that are artists, visionaries, musicians, and business people about the future of this micro-culture called Portland. I want it to continue, and to keep growing and expanding.

Water is at the heart of it all. That article above left me thinking about water usage, and how industrial and agricultural uses compose most of it. As much as I turn off the faucet and let it mellow when it’s yellow, unless I work to impact policy, no real change will come.

Having Obama in office gives me hope that change is possible. Watching the Health Care Bill stall through Congress is a sobering reminder of the amount of work that is needed to create change. I have spoken with friends who worked in Congress, and it is a glacially-slow process that needs as many non-corporate participants as possible.

My conversations of the past few days came as a result of the request of some friends to throw them a fundraiser. I believe wholeheartedly in the work that Sarah and Arthur are doing and want to help them. I jumped on the chance to help a new mutual friend to throw something good. During our long, in-depth conversations, I realized that I am interesting in answering a predominantly local question: What is the future of water in Oregon?

Water plays a role in our daily lives, and as Americans we have it good. It has been my privilege to grow up with water at the tap, in the toilet, and to sprinkle on the garden. We’ve had it cheap, and it has been easy. This summer while I was hauling water from glacial streams, I thought about the billions of people around the world who move water by hand every day.

In Guadalajara, Sarah and Arthur have encountered stories of water, like that of a young boy who fell into a stream and died of arsenic poisoning. Companies and government officials have conspired to create sickening conditions that effect billions around the world. Each of them has a story to tell about water.

What impresses me about what they are doing is that they are leveraging new technologies to empower people to incite real local change for themselves. They are acting, and action is required. The heart of my Superhero Action Project is to help people to become superheroes themselves, and to help the superheroes already out there working to help others. I want to share that story.

In the next few weeks, I’ll continue to work to carry forward this conversation, and to find the people around Portland that know the key stories about the future of water here. I want to know the future of Oregon’s water, and I want to help give that story a happy ending.

See you at the party.

Eric,

I left you a message, but I wanted to get a bunch of thoughts out now as a way to document and share them.

Tiffany sent me an email last night that I’ll forward you. She and I have long shared a vision of the way in which we’ll enter the child-raising years of our life, on a small-scale community basis involving foster children, the elderly, the formerly homeless, families, and individuals. There are a lot of people doing this, and like all of them we share the goals of micro and macro sustainability.

After reading her email, thinking about it, and talking to her, we discussed the importance of incubation. Having a master’s in sustainable urban planning would only enhance the many assets that she’ll bring to this project, and there is certainly a need for great amounts of research, communication, and synthesis in the generation of a viable plan for something of this scale. There’s an incredible amount of detail that can go into this, and a lot of factors to consider and information to digest.

One of the factors that continues to be really important to me is my own personal ability to engage on a larger-scale level, and not just on the small-scale projects. I don’t want to be pulled down to the tribal levels that small groups are reduced to functioning at, as so often happens with engagement on really comprehensive micro-projects, like starting a business or being involved in a real estate development.

As I was discussing this with her, I was thinking about the conversations about the integration of the individual, small-group, and collective conscious levels of development and evolution that you and I have had. I would like to research Detroit – I really want to know about their real estate situation there, and to understand how the real estate works there. At this point, my mind is trained to observe the real estate phenomenons that take place throughout the world, and I know I could bring a tremendous amount of knowledge to their table.

I called my blog Visions of Green because I realized that what I do is to bring about the voice of the vision – I can describe the future, and help people to see the steps that must be taken to achieve it. I wanted to participate in telling the story of how multiple levels of development intersect, but I have been searching for a focal point. I realize now that what I needed was a concept that was so large that it could only be held collectively – something that is bigger than me. That’s the point of the internet, of course – a way to simultaneously project and share our thoughts with the masses. In fact, I’m just going to post this onto my blog after I send it to you, because I might as well put it out there.

This will be the vision of the Superhero Action Project – a way to catalyze these multiple development projects through the creative and collaborative processes. What you and I can do is to utilize the existing technological resources that exist to pull together people around the whole world who are interested in donating their time and thought to making Detroit a model of sustainability, simply because it is a good thing to do. There is a movement that can be joined together by putting this thing together well, and helping to create an online arena as a place to synthesize thought around it.

You and I can work to create workshops that people in Detroit can facilitate, and to give people the tools to lead them and share them. I watched MoveOn’s campaign from the inside in Chicago, and I know some folks who were early in Barak’s campaign to join the Senate back in the day. Come to think of it, people can have Detroit parties all around the country, and share what happens from asking the right questions, recording the answers, and dialoguing about them with other like-minded folks around the country.

Each group can document the ways in which they are Heroes, including their weaknesses, strengths, stories, and SuperFriends, as a way to understand how to create a small-scale purpose and mission that coincides with the larger goals of the movement. We can create resource banks of information wiki-style about what’s going on, integrating maps and sale data and different groups that are doing shit – it will be a huge thing when it is realized. We can create places to record what’s gained both online and through these offline groups, and facilitate the creation of the processes that will be necessary to attain the small and larger goals of each micro- and macro- subset of the participators.

Let me know what you think. I would love to hear comments from anyone who is interested… that’s the whole point of the blog.

Much love,

Aaron

I’ve been thinking a lot about superheros lately.

Storytelling has long been one of my favorite topics. I love stories, and I’ve been fascinated with the work of Joseph Campbell for years. If you’re not familiar with his work, I highly recommend watching the BBC interview series he did with Bill Moyers called The Power of Myth. He was considered by many to be the world’s greatest mythologist, and he traveled the world during his 83 years of life documenting the myths of every culture that he could find on the planet. He developed the incredible themes of the Hero’s Journey, and a great deal of his work was spent exploring the relationship that great stories have on our lives as humans. He gave answers to life’s greatest questions through the vantage point of these myths, and taught that we only begin to understand our lives when we see ourselves as the heroes of our own journeys.

The work that I was doing in Alaska was centered around the theme of storytelling, on so many incredible levels. My dreams chronicled an incredible parallel experience that I wrote about in March, and talking to other people about their dreams and seeking to understand my own has been an enormous source of self-realization. I’ve read dozens of books through the years on the relationship of dreams, stories, myths and heroes, and countless articles and websites.

I have been writing a journal for years now, and have taught the usage of writing, communication, and self-expression through words and speech to hundreds of people in different ways. It’s only now as I approach my 30s that I’m beginning to see what a huge theme this has been throughout my life. My mother is an award-winning teacher-turned-principal and educator. My dad’s degrees are in psychology and journalism, and he’s been a carpenter and a paramedic in the wild for most of his adult life, in addition to a huge journey of self-revelation. My grandma was a reference librarian has been undergoing a personal transformation with me through yoga and meditation that started years ago.

Selling real estate was a 9-year-long case study that I conducted in my head in how we humans create the stories that we live in our lives, and a lesson in how to guide people through the process of accomplishing a goal. This summer, I helped to lead young men up to the top of a 10,000 foot mountain covered with a glacier, and to paddle canoes down a 220-mile river through Northern BC and Alaska. Towards the end of that 7-week experience, I asked the boys to describe the stories that we had told each other. They recanted the books that they’d been read, the myths of Alaska that I’d brought, the stories of my family that I told, and finally remembered – they had their own stories.

This had been a subliminal theme that I’d introduced early and often – I often “accidentally” provoked discussions that talked about heroes and leaders, and helped the kids to tell stories of pure fantasy and conjecture. This was a big part of the program – stimulating thought about the lives of each other, and the reasons for making our choices. Using words to create awareness. Stimulating thoughtful discussion. Feedback within the context of community. Executing serious wilderness expeditions. Finding the self within the context of the vastness of nature. Telling stories to relate our experiences. The core elements of what it means to be human, a man, and alive today.

This is good stuff for young men. I also talked to young women during other trips earlier in the year about what it means to be a woman, from the perspective of those wonderful teachers that I have been privileged to know. I honor the divine feminine in them, and I am lucky to have been able to study intimately with many amazing women. I talked to these young girls on a secular level, but used the same central theme – we are our own heroes, and we must understand the lessons of the Hero’s Journey.

Every journey starts with a calling – the purpose behind how we find ourselves here. Sometimes the hero initiates this – a decision to move across the country, to take a new job, to go back to school – and sometimes another character will make a decision – when we get dumped, when our parents ship us off to shape us up, when someone we love hurts us – that changes our life.

I’ll skip the rest of the process – it’s known as the monomyth – and there’s been a lot written on it. Instead, I’d like to introduce the Superhero Action Project. I’ve been assembling and incubating a bunch of good ideas, and I have figured out the theme – it’s really the Superhero. My life’s work is in using the tools I’ve gained to help people to understand the monomyth, and how to use it.

I’ve been thinking about how to use this blog to assemble what I want to compile, and the best format to discuss this in. My whole life I’ve been trying to figure out how to change the world, and it wasn’t until I finally figured out how to change myself that I started to see how I could be a part of what’s already going on.

I posted a quote & a link on Facebook this morning: “Pessimism is a luxury of good times… In difficult times, pessimism is a self-fulfilling, self-inflicted death sentence.” Evelin Linder, as quoted here. That link has a great talk from the head of WorldChanging.com, and he’s spent a great deal of time assembling thousands of articles and compiling an enormous database of exactly what people are doing to fix all of the social problems of the world. He talks about the empowerment that he developed from learning how these solutions are actually making the change that we need.

Francisco, as captured by Sarah Kelly and Arthur Richards of http://www.adaptingtoscarcity.com/

Francisco, as captured by Sarah Kelly and Arthur Richards of http://www.adaptingtoscarcity.com/

I also spent some time chatting on google with a friend of mine who is working on some amazingly cool stuff in Mexico. Sarah and Arthur are recording all of the amazing water scarcity and pollution issues that they’re purposely encountering and learning about as they travel through a nation that supplies a great deal of our food and labor. I was so excited about the work that they’re doing to help people there to record and document what’s taking place in their immediate environments. Check out their website or click on the photo above to read up on it – really great job, and I’m super proud to be their friend.

They’re connecting with the ways that empowering people to tell their own stories can change the world. I sent her a link to a really cool talk on the ways in which people are using facebook and twitter to implement social change. Sounds crazy, eh? Just ask the people in Iran who were able to stage a hugely successful protest by using their cell phones to follow Twitter feeds. The cops didn’t know how to keep up – but everyone in the crowd knew where to go and what to do. Check the talk out here.

Once when I was about 19, I was in a conference where the speaker asked everyone to close their eyes, and imagine an old man or woman (depending on their own gender) walking through a forest. This old person was about to die, and was thinking back on his or her life. He was content with his life, and was happy. We were asked to imagine – what choices did she make, and how did she live? Was she thinking about how much money was in her bank account, how big her television was, or was she thinking about the people she’d known? What about the best experiences of her life – were they with others, or alone?

I’ve used this exercise a great deal with myself and others. As I learned from that speaker ten years ago, it’s a really effective way to help people to consider themselves as their own storytellers. Those people that live life to the fullest are the ones who understand that their story will come to an end. They consider where they want to go, what they want to do, and who they want to be in the world.

I’m going to wrap this post up, because it’s gone on much longer than a blog post should. It’s really just the context for the next post I’m about to write.

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