I was up in the Berkshires a few weeks ago to visit my uncle. Every day, we’d go into the main town closest to him, Great Barrington, to eat breakfast. The place is loaded with rich folk of a particular caste: “It’s more Volvos and Subarus than Mercedeses and Porsches up here.”
You know, weekend warriors. Hedge fund managers decked head-to-toe in North Face gear, ready to hike the Appalachian Trail for all of three minutes; moneyed Stepford house-moms going Code Pink while their ethnically fashionable nannies—this year, it’s Tibetans, I think—watch little Madison and Morgan Jr.
My uncle, thank goodness, is not one of those people. He’s much more a you-get-what-you-get-and-you-don’t-get-upset kind of guy. My grandfather was a much severer version of that, probably because he never forgave the universe for taking his father when he was a kid, or our great-uncles for spending all the family loot on their hare-brained Wildcatting scheme, making him poor enough that grandpa and Uncle Bob had to share a Murphy bed in the motel my great-grandmother managed. He swore against all that was holy that he’d make all that lost money back, and he did.
Gramps thought the two deadliest words in the English language were “good job.” On the Porthault Jours de Paris bed sheets that became our prosperous patriarch’s catafalque—the guy liked a good bed linen—he was asked if he wanted to see a clergyman, and he responded by telling the offspring surrounding him, “When I’m dead, I’ll turn to dust, and that’s all there is.” The guy wasn’t a big hugger.
This is all to say that there are two types of rich folk: those who pretend they aren’t rich, and those who aren’t ashamed to be rollin’ in it. My old man’s old man never wanted to play peasant-shack playtime by erecting some fake Hameu de la Rein like Marie Antoinette. He was Ebenezer Scrooge, and he liked it that way. America, baby. That’s why we came here in the first place.
Where Are the Oh-So-Welcome Refugees?
As we walked around Great Barrington, I noticed a lot of stores with signs in Spanish and Arabic that read “No matter where you are from, we’re glad you’re our neighbor.” The tra-la-la toy stores and other chichi shops all had window placards telling us that “refugees are welcome here” too.
I walked into the organic toy store—whatever that means—and asked the proprietor how many refugees had resettled in Great Barrington.
“That’s not the point.”
“Sure, it is,” I said. “Are there 50?”
“I don’t know.”
“Are there 40?”
“I don’t know.”
“Are there 30?”
The turtleneck-and-ponytail retiree-radical turned sour. “Are you going to buy something or not?”
“I don’t have any money, I’m a refugee.”
“Judea-Samaria,” I said as I pointed to the “Free Palestine” bumper sticker on the antique cash register. I don’t think he got the joke.
We Love You, Just Please Go Somewhere Else
Later, I found out that 250 refugees had been settled in Springfield and 51 in Pittsfield. Springfield is the largest city in Massachusetts, and Pittsfield is the largest in the Berkshires. The difference between Great Barrington and those other two cities is that the median family income in Great Barrington is $103,135, while the median family income is $35,655 in Pittsfield and $39,535 in Springfield. Yeah, we support refugees. We just don’t want them around during the Organic Gooseberry Jam Sale and Jam Band Festival (proceeds of which go to resettling Syrian refugees in any city in the Berkshires other than Great Barrington).
So, on the one hand Great Barringtonians clearly believe in Juncker’s Dictum that national borders are “the worst invention ever.” On the other hand, the town border where you can see the “Welcome to Great Barrington” sign is apparently a completely different thing. That border is sacred. And the other, poorer towns in both the Berkshires and Massachusetts at-large? They can take all the refugees they want, so long as Great Barrington stays untouched.
I thought of all this when I was reading about New York’s newest NIMBYist mascot, Ai Weiwei. For years, Weiwei was held captive by the Chinese government because of what is unimaginatively referred to these days as “[blank’s] outspoken opposition to [blank].” (When filling out your political superiority-signaling form, simply insert your favorite pop-intellectual’s name and pet cause in the blank spaces.) While battling the mini-Maos-turning-monetarists of the CCP, Weiwei was working on a documentary called “Human Flow.”
An interviewer from Vox asked Weiwei why his film focuses on him so much, instead of on the refugees who are supposed to be the film’s subject—here’s Ai getting a haircut, here’s Ai playfully filming the fam with his iPhone, here’s Ai accidentally asking a fat lady if she’s pregnant.
“In a film about other people’s struggles, why put yourself in front of the camera?” the interviewer asks. Or, as I’d put it to Mr. Weiwei, why pretend you’re caught in a bunch of candid moments. What are you, Dissident Kardashian? (This movie is chock-full of “Human Flow” all right, but not the kind you want to see. It’s more like Gowanus Canal human flow.)
Words Speak Louder than Actions for Some People
In both cases, for the Weiweis and Great Barringtonians of the world, it’s not about helping people. It’s about letting people know how much they care. Perhaps the toy store proprietor I quarreled with wants to sell the $675 “rhodium-plated cast of the artist’s hand giving the middle finger” that Weiwei is auctioning off. (Great Barringtonians, I’m willing to give you the middle finger for a lot less than $675.)
But this isn’t just some frivolous money grab to pay for Weiwei’s Manhattan flat. Curbed NY explains for those of us who just don’t get it: “the cast is not just for shock value; it recalls the artist’s Study of Perspective series, in which Ai photographed himself giving the finger to landmarks and monuments ‘in a rejection of authority and political oppression, and in support of individual expression.’”
Maybe. Or maybe Weiwei and affluent Berkshires residents are just self-soothing cynics. Maybe it’s unbearable finger-wagging to tell people who work for a living that they’re bigots if they don’t want the same refugee crime wave that Europe is dealing with. Maybe those most concerned with the refugees’ plight ought to take them into their own towns, instead of dumping the obligation and the tab on broke municipalities in a state running out of money.
Great Barringtonians know there’s a snowball’s chance in hell that some Damascus-fleeing alawite and her half-dozen kids have enough cash to afford even a one-night stay in their high-dollar hamlet. “Refugees are welcome” is a completely safe political statement for them to make, because they know it isn’t something they’ll ever have to deal with.
But for the champagne socialists, the limousine liberals, the Northeast-NIMBY set, the whole point of their lifestyle is to dump the heavy lifting on someone else’s back, knowing that they’ll never have to roll up their own sleeves. There’s an even better way to put it, something Gary North supposedly once said: “Socialism is simply Communism for people without the testosterone to man the barricades.”
Want refugees in your town? Well, Great Barringtonians: man up, and take them in.