First world problems
| We control what|
you think with
|Said and done|
|Jargon, buzzwords, slogans|
The concept of first-world problems is a piece of rhetoric mainly used for two purposes:
- to dismiss another person's grievance as trivial, and/or
- to put an overreaction into perspective
Even though the phrase is not exclusively used in arguments, this rhetoric is always a fallacy of relative privation.
The underlying idea behind both uses is that "other people have it worse", namely by deriving from the nature of the complainer's grievance the implication that they are otherwise comfortable - comfortable enough to complain about something that would only bother someone used to a life of luxury. In case (1), this implication aims to shame the complainer for having bothered to speak at all, whereas in case (2) "first world problem" is invoked to counter someone in the process of making a mountain out of a molehill.
Note that the political-correctness mafia discourage use of the terms "first world" and "third world" nowadays, since their connotations hark back to an outdated Cold-War era habit of assigning ranks to countries according to their economic and political status and influence.
A major issue with the use of 'first world problems' is the implication that second and third world countries do not have the minor concerns or small luxuries the phrase is often applied to. (Pretending for the moment that there is a clearly defined 'first world', which is only found in 'the West', and that there is a clearly defined 'second' and 'third world', which is the rest of the world.) This contributes to the stereotyping of non-Western countries as backwards, poor, or ignorant, and often betrays the speaker's ignorance as to the actual quality of life in non-industrialized countries. It also implies that absolutely everybody outside of the Western world lives in poverty and hardship, and that this is all there is to their life if the Western world does not intervene.
Examples of problematic applications of the phrase include:
- Complaints about emotional issues, especially those involved in dating and romance (dehumanizes non-Westerners by denying their emotions)
- Complaints about traffic or cars (apparently, these people have never driven in Beijing or New Delhi)
- Complaints about one's appearance (non-Western cultures also have standards of beauty)
- Complaints about money (not all non-Westerners are poor)
- Complaints about food (you don't have to be Western to want your food to taste good)
- Complaints about malfunctioning technology (there are people outside of the Western world who own technological devices, and they too would be annoyed if the said devices did not work as they wished)
Besides, using "first world problems" implies that severe problems such as hunger and disease do not exist in the Western world; they do, just not as prevalently as in the "Third World". Large cities in the West still have large numbers of poor and homeless people who often go hungry.
- Richard Glover, "As the First World turns", Sydney Morning Herald, November 24, 2012.
- Frontalot's take