The Ultimate First World Problem


My parents are two dramatically different people. This is a product not only of disparity in their upbringing, but of the chasm both physical, and cultural that separates their native countries. My father and mother were born in Egypt and Mexico, respectively, and serve as epitomes of Arab and Latino culture; two of the most notoriously difficult races on the planet (N.B. the word “difficult” was chosen for being the most diplomatic alternative to stubborn/crazy/pathologically insane, which are terms normally used in the description of these races, so as to avoid invoking the “difficulty” of said peoples; [N.B. also that “race” is not my term of choice as a “multi-racial” academic, but has been selected herein so as to avoid inciting the annoying cyclical debate over whether or not “race” is proper nomenclature, or for that matter any recognized form of nomenclature at all]). Thus, the cultural divergences between Egypt and Mexico are marked, and one of their few commonalities (apart from mutually peerless “difficulty”), is a classification by the Human Development Index as countries of the Third World [credibility of this Index being very much undocumented]. Criteria listed by the HDI for membership to the Third World are inclusive of, but not strictly limited to below average statistics in the following categories:

  • Gross National Income (reported, not actual)
  • Life expectancy (see above)
  • Educational attainment (?)
  • Levels of industrialization (presumably any form of mechanized production, hopefully this does not preclude the manufacturing of sex toys)
  • Economic freedom (recently coined term whose defining has been sidestepped with near Clintonian technique by those who coined it)

Albeit unofficial, I have proposed some other uniquely Third World problems for HDI consideration and/or certification:

  • Decapitations per capita
  • National rate of infanticide
  • No. of cases reported of inexcusably antiquated diseases (e.g. Smallpox, Polio, Tuberculosis, Cholera etc.) for which the prevention/treatment has long been not only known, but comfortably accessible, to citizens of the First and Second World
  • Ratio of child laborers to adult, and their respective working conditions (e.g. virtually nonexistent wages, arguably nonexistent health and safety procedures, and verifiably nonexistent worker’s rights)
  • Percentage of GDP earned by human sex trafficking (frequently a.k.a. modern day indentured servitude and/or slave trade)

Suffice it for we as more privileged onlookers to say, there is a rather lengthy laundry list of problems standard for a Third World citizen that goes unnoticed (or more likely unacknowledged) by his or her First World counterpart. That being said, the generously recycled tactic used by parents of informing their offspring that “there are starving children in Africa,” has worn on me just as much as the next son or daughter who refuses to eat his or her veggies; I assure you. So if you’re worried I’m about to hop up on my writer’s soap box, and remind you of how easy you’ve got it and how so many others don’t and how we’re all just so goddamn lucky to be living this life we’ve been blessed with; please don’t be. For like most of us, I am routinely at fault for complaining about  problems that are hilariously trivial. Perhaps not as often as the oil tycoon’s gambling addicted son, or the venture capitalist’s rapaciously coddled daughter, but enough to know that I can’t in good conscience criticize others without being guilty of glaring hypocrisy. My mission, however, is not prosecutorial, far from it. In point of fact it is investigational. I don’t intend to call everyone out on being unappreciative and spoiled by taking everything for granted (although I will indulge in illustrating a few choice instances delineating similar such qualities). Rather, I will attempt to get to the bottom, the core as it were, of some First World problems in order to get closer to identifying the First World problem.

The better part of my knowledge or experience regarding Third World countries and their differing stages of development (N.B. that again I am using a word reluctantly, as “development” generally implies a sort of primitive barbarism when describing a nation that is contended to be “undeveloped”; my application of it here is solely in the interest of sticking to layman’s terms that are in keeping with my very layman understanding of “Human Development”), can be attributed to my family’s collective penchant for world travel. [Let not the irony be lost that my relative acquaintance with Third World hardship is thanks entirely to my distinctly First World luxury of globetrotting]. I have visited or lived in upwards of 20 countries on four continents, and consider myself unimaginably lucky to say so. This appreciation, however, is not only for all the magnificent sights I’ve seen; but for the abject poverty and dereliction I have been so fortunate as to be exposed to along the way.

And the most fascinating, puzzling, heartbreaking reality I have discovered in my travels thus far is one that speaks precisely to our most pervasive First World affliction. People living in destitution, in utter squalor, people whom we expect to be assuredly and unequivocally miserable; succeed in being far happier than we supposedly civilized people ever do. I’ve seen Sudani families living out of huts on a gallon of water a week, singing in ways that only genuinely blissful souls can do. I’ve lived with Bedouins who spend their entire lives traipsing around the desert with none but their camels for company (N.B. that I deeply, intently, and fervently abhor these infernal creatures. Those who assume I share a special bond with camels purely for being Egyptian had best believe it would only be special in its contempt; I loathe every last of those lumbering salivary fly traps the same way I do being asked if I rode one to school every day in elementary school [Jackie Ramos]) that’ll keep you laughing with the best of them. I’ve danced with a Mestizo rape victim so light on her feet you’d have never guessed she had ever been so weighted down.

Meanwhile, we of the allegedly more developed world find ourselves wildly unhappy for reasons so petty as to merit a literal and figurative slap in the face. We bitch, ever so furiously, at our $600 handhelds for failing to carry out their 4G duties with sufficient haste. We sit fuming in front of our $2500 desktops, contemplating totally irrational and undeserved violence in retaliation for their noncompliance in provision of immediate entertainment via some manner of hollow visual stimulation (primarily in the form of a video so breathlessly insipid as to feature a gorilla displaying auto-erotic prodigy). We complain astonishingly, about the harsh existence we are forced to endure wherein our food isn’t delivered to us, fully prepared, in less than five minutes (this is usually because we are too drunk or too stoned to comprehend that there is a single purpose to human existence apart from eating, or for that matter that it is anyone else’s sole occupation to do anything but dutifully serve us [provided of course that we even consider anyone other than ourselves to be part of an existence that is humanly relevant]).

So you really do have to wonder why we are so hellbent on concerning ourselves with little problems, that needn’t really be paid any mind to begin with? Our list grows longer and longer with each passing day, but to what end? The only sensible answer to this question would seem to be, honestly, that we make it so. Because we’re so voracious in our desires that no lavish standard of living will ever prove to be enough. The most fundamental truth in Microeconomics is that humanity’s wants will forever exceed its needs. The First World has fallen so deep into delusion that we are actually making up problems to be unhappy about, just so we can carry on existing in a state of perpetually wanting more. The ubiquitous (and rather tired) quote of Jefferson’s from the Declaration of Independence articulates this insatiability with flawless concision. In promoting “Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness,” he makes it very plain that happiness is not so much a right as a fantasy; something to be chased after rather than positively achieved.

What we billions of God’s prodigal children fail to realize however, is that there is no such thing as a problem of Worlds, be them Third or First. Because we humans were very unfathomably bestowed with the gift of life. And mind us all it is a gift, bona fide, in the sense that we never once did anything to truly deserve it. Thus, as unwarranted recipients, to find fault with the condition in which we’ve received this gift (or more accurately in which we’ve left it), is totally absurd when thought about in earnest. Because while it cannot be denied that there are those whose existences are perceivably more fortunate, the truth is that not a single man or woman alive can ever justifiably claim to have a problem that is in any way valid. And so we are presented with the quintessential First World dilemma: instead of finding happiness in what we do have, we look for it in what we don’t. All the while it never seems to occur to us beleaguered souls that the source of every last of our First World problems, is blindness to the reality that they don’t even exist. Thought Catalog Logo Mark

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