Meghan’s Being Very American

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As someone who has lived in both countries I’m here to tell you that the US is a very much more Protestant country than Britain is. We in the senior branch of the Anglo Saxon community having got this the right way around.

The Duke and Duchess of Sussex have been making masked food deliveries to housebound people in their new home of Los Angeles, as Meghan praised the benefits of home-cooked meals for the community.

The couple, who dressed casually and were accompanied by security for food parcel drop-offs over two days this week, volunteered with Project Angel Food to help those who are ill or vulnerable during the coronavirus pandemic.

On Friday, images of the couple on CCTV were shared on celebrity websites, as the charity’s director said they had “quietly continued delivering meals to relieve our overworked drivers.”

Leave aside the amusement of the security bods following them along.

The American idea is that you, the individual, have to be doing the charitable works. It’s not just the outcome – more meals delivered to the hungry – that matters, the blessed ones have to be doing the actual hump work. This is how you get Wall St CEOs standing on the buffet line – serving on it – and handing out sliced turkey to the homeless at Thanksgiving.

Sure, there’s a merit to it, walk a mile in my shoes and all that. But this free market Papist (something of an odd breed to be sure) would argue that it’s a very Protestant idea. The shriving of the soul can only be done by the direct action of the individual, that action having to be the heft work of charity itself.

The British idea – despite our rather inventing Protestantism, at least certain forms of it – concentrates rather more on the good that is done. Thus things like the division and specialisation of labour come into play. What this means is that the Wall St CEOs (OK, City Grandees) don’t end up washing the feet of the poor.

They have certain skills, like knowing how to run things, finance them, scramble for resources. They also know lots of rich people they can tap for funds. So, that’s the sort of thing they do. They might well enjoy themselves at livery dinners while they do so but we are getting the job done by allocating the work to be done among those best skilled to do it.

Yes, sure, this is a tendency, not an absolute, it’s also an observation by just the one person who is known to get more than the occasional thing wrong. It is though, to me, one of the differences between the two societies. American charitable endeavour all too often seems to allocate highly specialised, skilled and valuable labour to menial tasks. It is necessary to volunteer and that means going and doing the grunt work. The British, or perhaps more English, idea is that people do what they’re individually good at as a contribution to the overall endeavour.

Think on it. Would Crispin Odey do more good works if he were to proffer cups of warm soup, personally, to the homeless or if he devoted his admirably efficient capitalist skills to making money that could finance cups of warm soup to be offered to the homeless?

The American idea would have him with ladle in hand, the British doing what he does do.

Sure, it’s possible to see the point. Only by splitting and sharing the cloak and the cold does true shriving happen. And yet that’s not the efficient method of cold alleviation, is it?

Which brings us back to Rachel, Duchess of. She’s dragging Harry along in what to an American seems like an entirely natural way to conduct charitable work. Sure, it’s for a bit, and as an exercise, but it’s doing the actual heft work of the manual labour etc. While that English way could be that two famous peeps, who can get near anyone in the world to pick up the phone, might go off and use those skills to say, oooh, dunno. Set up a global games for injured veterans say.

The more I observe of Meghan and her way of doing things the more I realise that she just doesn’t understand us, the British.

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jgh
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jgh

“American charitable endeavour all too often seems to allocate highly specialised, skilled and valuable labour to menial tasks. … The British, or perhaps more English, idea is that people do what they’re individually good at as a contribution to the overall endeavour.” Not always. When I was involved in a political party, there was a stage where this discussion went on: Them: We need somebody to be doing the back-office IT stuff. Me: I can do that, I’ve got enough time to be at the office almost every day. Them: No, we need you stuffing bits of paper through letterboxes.… Read more »

Snarkus
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Snarkus

jgh, politics mate. Anything to avoid doing something efficiently. I wonder if political parties attract or are infested with OCD types.

Snarkus
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Snarkus

Tim, perceptive analysis of the cultural differences across the Atlantic. Makes me glad Oz is more British than Yank. Of the volunteer and charities I have worked in or assisted, the skills specialisation was generally done. Similar to self selecting teams. I see a lot of this approach in emergency services. I also suggest Yanks have comparative less sense of community. During our recent bushfires, I was present at a forward base when the kiwi volunteers arrived. In half an hour the briefings were done and everyone headed out to their allotted tasks. The Yank commented that Oz pulled together… Read more »

Esteban
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Esteban

Overlooking something that is an important factor here – the Photo Op. The photo of M&H carrying a basket of warm, home cooked food up the driveway will earn much more goodwill than one of them on the phone securing donations from some rich person. Ditto for the CEO at the soup kitchen. The rest may all be true, but the optics are pretty significant. The hilarious bit is if you get a look at the scene from a wider view – the celeb is surrounded by a small army (publicist, security, videographer, photographers, hair & makeup, etc.) that could… Read more »

Spike
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Spike

I agree with your take on this, and disagree with Tim that it flows from any of our American religions. The religion on display is our public-school religion, in which one earns salvation by “Making A Difference In The Community,” that social activism is the only thing that gives a life value. This implies that they have to see you doing it.

TD
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TD

I’m pretty much on the same page; you might find CEOs doling out servings to the homeless for an afternoon, but they won’t spend the entire weekend doing it. Still, they’ll get their picture in the paper in the hopes of being regarded well. However, Tim has a point that perhaps an American can really only recognize if they’ve spent enough time outside of the country. There is a streak of puritanism in the US that pressures people to occasionally put on a hair shirt and be observed doing it, though if you want to participate in a charity (or… Read more »

Bloke on M4
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Bloke on M4

“Overlooking something that is an important factor here – the Photo Op. The photo of M&H carrying a basket of warm, home cooked food up the driveway will earn much more goodwill than one of them on the phone securing donations from some rich person. Ditto for the CEO at the soup kitchen.” I’m also not that sure they can get huge donations right now. Donors at least partly give large cheques to celebrities because of the value of that association. There’s tons of cancer or homeless charities you can donate to via the web if you care to. You… Read more »

John B
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John B

In the UK, charity has become an industry with well paid jobs and career path for people with no marketable skills in the productive sector. It is largely about promoting ideology and engaging in politics, ‘doing good’ is a virtuous fig leaf. Additionally the little charitable platoons of volunteers are implicitly discouraged by the concept of the Welfare State, and the professionals in the State-run charities jealously guard their turf against amateurs… have you done environmental impact report for that soup kitchen, what about health and safety, what is your climate change policy and and equality policy? The USA more… Read more »

Bloke on M4
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Bloke on M4

That depends on the charity. I know a few tiny charities running on no salaries and lots of volunteers. I’ve helped out with the local air ambulance who have professionals but it’s a rather small organisation and they’re always calling out for volunteers for small tasks.

Nautical Nick
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Nautical Nick

I agree, Tim. I thought much the same about Jimmy Carter. He is still volunteering, building houses, in his 90’s. Sure, he may enjoy working with his hands, and why shouldn’t he? But in terms of maximising the benefit to the poor, wouldn’t he do better to give an after-dinner speak for a few thousand dollars, and hire professional builders to do the , um, heavy lifting?

Bloke in Germany
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Bloke in Germany

Brits invented Protestantism? Nahh, it was the Germans who invented Protestantism, in bygone days of yore. And they’re now in the process of inventing Protestantism Mark II. Might make an interesting story to follow, if you are interested in the shenanigans of the Romish church worldwide.

Quentin Vole
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Quentin Vole

Quite right, Anglicans aren’t Protestants. At every service they affirm their belief in “one catholic and apostolic church”.