First World Problems Are Not Real Problems (Hold on a Sec)

Before you scroll away, take note: this is not about the self-righteousness of the privileged and the armchair activists. This is not a shame piece on those who deny their privilege. This is not a solution to the unhappiness of the world. This is a perspective.

One Point Perspective Drawing - Civilization

First World Problems Are Not Real Problems

Does this mean the “first world” has no problems? No.

Does this mean the “first world” should be happier than the “third world?” No.

In popular culture, the term “first world problems” has become a joke dealing with the material luxuries and excesses of our culture. And when I refer to culture, I do not mean the culture of a specific ethnicity or country or borough. I refer to the culture of our civilization as a whole – not the concept of civilization, but our civilization as it is. The “first world problems” meme is something of a misnomer. It is misleading and yet it is completely accurate. You see, this idea does not deal with the deeper illnesses and shamefully hidden lesions of our culture, the true problems of the first world. We laugh at instances of “first world problems,” such as not being able to text because your fingers are too cold or forgetting your WiFi password for the dozenth time. At first, we laugh because we can relate. And the smirk dissolves into realization. We laugh because it’s true. And then we realize it is sad.

Our culture is not a happy one. Many of the inventions that were created to make our lives easier and more fulfilling simply do not. They were created – manufactured – for extrinsic reasons: money, fame, power.

But not contentedness.

“Nowadays People Know the Price of Everything and the Value of Nothing.” 
– The Picture of Dorian Gray, Oscar Wilde

There are some in our culture who have immersed themselves so deeply into the narrative of material paradise that they allow themselves to pretend to be happy. That is not true emotion; that is denial. It is a lie. I value the wisdom of accepting each individual’s reality, but on one condition: that the reality does no harm. The reality that we have been baptised in within the soothing cathedral walls of our culture is not harmless – far from it. These murky waters that we both wade in and drink from have clouded our minds. I am no unclouded messiah, no trained physician, nor am I the first to ever question the methods of our civilization. (In fact, I am only just beginning to explore the notion – and what an interesting excursion it is becoming). However, I do see that we are sick. None of us are immune and it is more than what a few teaspoons of cough medicine can fix.

Some people become sanctimonious, lamenting the supposed unhappiness and unnatural suffering of those in “less fortunate” countries. And I have bought into the sanctimony more than once, but I’m slowly getting my money back. Customer service may prove to be a bitch, but I am definitely going to get my money back.

“Finish Your Food – There Are Starving Kids In India”

Well, there are starving kids in Indiana, too. Finishing my plate of peas and carrots isn’t going to fix that problem. We are not all that better off than those “poor, dirty, backwards India folk.” At this point, the privileged saints of our culture froth at the mouth at such a blasphemous remark. “You are so ungrateful for what you have.” Am I? Yes, it is wonderful at the end of a lovely day at a higher education institution to be able to go home – a home with a roof and insulated walls; a home with central heating and clean, hot water; a place with electronic entertainment devices. I can drive to the grocery store in a sturdy, warm, cushy vehicle and get enough food to stock an underground fallout shelter. (And have enough food left over for a family reunion weekend).

But does this make me happy? No.

And does that answer make me ungrateful? No.

“First world problems” are not real problems. But it does not mean we do not have them. We are just more skilled at denying them.

What do you think about the idea of “first world privilege?” Can it be used fairly (without shaming)? Is it a responsibility of the “privileged” to better the world?

Read on:

29 thoughts on “First World Problems Are Not Real Problems (Hold on a Sec)

  1. My understanding of ‘first-world problems’ is an ‘inconvenience’ experienced by someone living in a first-world nation, that they feel needs to be addressed as if it is equal in magnitude to a problem faced by someone living in a third-world nation on the edge of death.
    I think the ultimate result of such ‘memes’ is that it causes first-world’ers to lose the ability to know a bona-fide problem when it sticks its ugly face at us. There are still homeless people wandering the streets barely able to feed themselves, for example, and there are still households who are barely getting by on the skin of their teeth.
    And it will only get worse as the Elites who run the Western world continue to turn all these first-world nations of ours into third-world nations under our very noses.

    • Agreed on all points. The only part I have reservations about is the blaming of the Elites. I do not have a clear enough vision yet, but I have a feeling that it runs deeper than the apparent powers-that-be that are running humanity into the ground. Similar to a point the thinker/writer Daniel Quinn made, blaming our Elites for our problems is like blaming Hamlet’s downfall on his fencing match with Laertes. There is something more going on, something more abstract and insidious…

      • No doubt it goes deeper. Like you, though, I’ve no idea (as do the rest of us Plebs) where it goes nor how far it goes. Who or what is ultimately behind all this, and where they truly reside in the Universe.
        However, we can only address the sources of our troubles that we can see and have the greatest knowledge on, thus my only referencing the Elites.
        Just Google ‘new world order hierarchy chart’ for cool visual representations of what we do know about the Elites.

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    • Scratch that, was working on the comment box, didn’t know that pressing enter meant post comment instead of new line. Anyway,

      why did I read this just now. This kind of reminds me of the White Man’s Burden. Sometimes I find it nice to be born, raised, and live in a third world country (given favorable circumstances). True poverty is everywhere, and that crime can be a bitch but the thing with living in a third world is that you get taught how to live “creatively”. It’s fun sometimes, it sucks sometimes.

      Good read.

      • While I knew what “white man’s burden” meant, I had never read the poem until now. Left a bad taste in my mouth.

        May I ask where you’re from? (Just out of curiosity – no stalking, I swear). Living “creatively” is an interesting way to put it. I’d imagine that the more one steps away from the “first world,” the more natural and organic one becomes. And it’s true everywhere: life’s fun sometimes and it sucks sometimes. Life may not be paradise, but it’s not necessarily a bitch either.

        Thanks for reading and commenting.

        • It’s funny when Culture when capitalized meant Eurocentrism. It’s one of those things that pisses me off sometimes.
          Stalk me? No problem. Some of it is on the net anyway (and to answer the question, I live in The Philippines).
          Electricity bills are through the roof (and the only distributor is a monopoly) and that some mobile services are a bit expensive but reaching affordability. But hey, we get to do crazier stuff here (tried crossing the road here?)

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  8. Thanks for the like, and this was a well thought out post, good job 🙂

    As some have already mentioned, it is not the obligation of the more fortunate to help the less fortunate, but it seems to be the most moral thing to do, in most cases. Personally, I never really started thinking of ways that I can actually help until I stopped thinking so much of myself. In general, there are a lot of selfish people in places where you can have whatever you want, whenever you want, by default. Just some thoughts 🙂

    • Oh man, dragging the idea of morality into the conversation – don’t even get me started on “morality.” (No, really, don’t because I’m not sure where I stand on the question of morality yet). I agree – we shouldn’t feel obligated to help or just be good human beings in general. It’s something we should genuinely WANT to do. It’s going to take a lot of reprogramming to replace this level of selfishness with egalitarianism.

  9. I think the height and idiocy of some “first world problems” came to light when my sister shared a story with me over Christmas. Which in itself brings another “first world problem” since my wife has to say “Happy Holidays” at work… Anywho…my sister shared the story of a vegan Peace Corps volunteer she knew in Khazahkstan. In case you’re unfamiliar, they don’t have much there in the winter outside of potatoes and meat (sometimes of questionable nature, but that’s another story). Well…Mr. Hipster radically vegan decided to stick to his guns and ate nothing but potatoes for awhile. And got deathly ill. Go figure.

  10. Our biggest first-world problem is that we don’t recognize our problem, as you so deftly point out.

    Let’s go back to those families in Indiana and/or India. Are many of them miserable in their poverty? You bet. But are some of them content, peaceful, and happy? Absolutely. The question for us is “How?”

    I’ll give you a clue. “Is it a responsibility of the ‘privileged’ to better the world?” If you see it as “responsibility”, then my answer is “no” and you will be more miserable doing so (are you simply covering up your guilt?).

    But if you can find the desire to do so without feeling responsible, then you are on the right path. 🙂

    Fantastic post, btw.

    • I agree with seeing it as other than “responsibility.” It’s rather arrogant to assume that it’s your duty to save the world, but that doesn’t mean you’re off the hook and free to be a human douche canoe (excuse my language).

      Thanks for the feedback 🙂

  11. I think that there is a lack of compassion that prevents us from helping from our excess. Our focus is wrong too. Instead of resolving to be satisfied with what I have, I see that others have more and desire that. Amazing mind stretching post.

    • It’s easy to ignore problems that you don’t have to confront every day. We live based off of what we experience. I agree that there is a lack of compassion – and then again, there seems to be an abundance of holier-than-thou compassion as well.

      • True compassion, that isn’t all for show works on caring and loving those who can do nothing for you in return. It isnt for recognition or applause, but out of a true desire to help make someone else’s life easier. There isn’t enough of that.

        • Indeed. Have you ideas on how to go about making people care – truly care? We’ve become collective denial machines, so skilled at ignoring the things that make us uncomfortable. Apathy and ignorance are massive barriers to becoming more satisfied as a society.

    • Right. It’s a bit frustrating when people apply a blanket of standards across an entire group. Even I’m guilty of it at times in this post. And even though problems are relative among different peoples, are they really incomparable?

      Thanks for reading.

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