A document asserting that allowing the young and healthy to build herd immunity against COVID-19 and decrying “draconian” lockdowns as counterproductive was named the Great Barrington Declaration after the town that is home to the libertarian think tank where it was drafted.
Residents are not thrilled that their community is associated with a theory described as inhumane and unworkable.
The unhappiness was deepened when the document found favor with President Donald Trump, a coronavirus victim who may think that everyone who contracts the disease is helicoptered to a hospital and treated by a team of 10 medical professionals.
There are historic precedents in Berkshire County for the situation in Great Barrington. The Savoy Declaration of 1782, drawn up a colonial think tank in the thriving town, declared that herd immunity was the best approach to deal with an outbreak of witchcraft in the community, rather than seek to determine the identity of the witches and risk burning innocents at the stake, as had occurred in Salem a century earlier.
Unfortunately, a series of violent deaths followed, largely by spontaneous combustion and being impaled by farm equipment. Many residents were transformed into newts and toads.
With the population decimated, the witches left town in pursuit of greener pastures. The authors of the Savoy Declaration declared victory and sought and received a grant from the Province of Massachusetts Bay to continue to explore their theories of herd immunity. Savoy began rebuilding its population, an effort that continues to this day.
In 1922, a libertarian think tank housed on Main Street issued the Stockbridge Declaration, which asserted that the stop signs and other traffic markings deployed on roadways to address the rapid growth of automobiles in the quaint town were an infringement on the rights of the individual. The Stockbridge Select Board, declaring themselves to be anti-government — even though they were the government — adopted the declaration and had the signs removed.
The result was chaos, although slow-motion chaos as the cars at that time did not reach a high speed. Fender benders and bumper benders clogged intersections, and newly fashionable oil lamps fell from cars and started small blazes. Townspeople blamed New York motorists who “drive like they are in Manhattan” for most of the accidents.
The endless series of collisions outside the early incarnation of the Red Lion Inn led to demands that the signs be restored by a chastened Select Board. They were, but debate over what to do about the intersection of Routes 7 and 102 in front of the historic inn, and the poor driving the intersection attracts, continues to this day.
(Historic footnote: It is believed that the witches of Savoy stayed overnight at the Red Lion Inn as they moved south toward Connecticut.)
More recently, it was a think tank in Alford that, in 2008, proposed that building herd immunity was the best way of treating Lyme disease. The Alford Declaration noted that Lyme disease more than likely existed only in the minds of hypochondriacs and hysterics, but if it did exist, medical treatment was the wrong approach.
Regrettably, the declaration opened the door to a variety of charlatans who attempted to profit from gullible residents and visitors from nearby Berkshire communities. An unscrupulous townie penned in several deer and invited people to “pick their own ticks” off the animals for a modest fee. Mom and dad could pick ticks and fasten them to themselves, Little Jimmy and Little Jennie to contribute to the building of herd immunity to the disease. (“Tick pickers lick Lyme in time,” Eagle, Sept. 28, 2008.)
Others in the wooded town took the less-ambitious approach of simply opening up forested or overgrown sections of their property and allowing folks to wander around collecting ticks on exposed portions of their bodies. Property owners would charge by the half hour or hour.
These efforts were cut short by big government in the form of the Alford Board of Selectmen, which banned profiteering from the Alford Declaration and the supposed building of Lyme disease herd immunity. It’s an effort that continues to this day.
A Great Barrington resident recently expressed concern to The Eagle that the Great Barrington Declaration will become linked to the town as Lincoln’s Gettysburg address has to the town in Pennsylvania — except not in a way that flatters Great Barrington, a town that is serious about preventing the spread of the highly contagious disease.
It seems more likely, however, that the world will little note nor long remember the declaration and what it advocates.