We Are One World

An ongoing trend on social media is to make fun of everyday bourgeois values and concerns. For example, people post tongue-in-cheek complaints that their day had been ruined because the Starbucks app was down, someone took their favorite parking spot, their pizza was delivered without pepperoni, or a multitude of other similar vanities.

These posts appear under the hashtags #FirstWorld or #FirstWorldProblems, and are thus implied to be ridiculous in comparison to the starvation and other issues of so-called "third world" nations.

If you are not familiar with the terms "first world" and "third world," they had long been used to distinguish richer nations from poorer ones. These "worlds" are a relic of the Cold War between the United States and the former Soviet Union. During this epoch, tensions split the planet into geopolitical blocks, with the U.S. and NATO designated the first world and the Soviet Union and its bloc the second.

The "third world" was comprised of nations unaligned with the geopolitical blocs of the other two worlds. Many of these nations had colonial pasts and had experienced little development. Often they were used as surrogates in the struggle between the Cold War adversaries, becoming theaters of prolonged and destructive armed conflicts.

As time passed, the "third world" became synonymous with impoverished regions of the planet.

Post-Cold War Distinctions

"The 'third world' is a term I don't like very much because we're all one world. I want people to know that the largest part of humanity is suffering." —Audrey Hepburn

Use of numbered terminology to distinguish blocs of nations is now passé. The "second world" is no longer around and the planet is today comprised of "developed" countries and those still "developing".

Among the reasons for dropping the numerical ranking is that it imposes a superiority of the first above the third. People in developing nations are not third rate. They are not backward or crude, but, like peoples everywhere, possess the acuity and desire to pursue opportunity, success, and good health. They are not from another world; they are our sisters and brothers.

Return of the Cliches

As mentioned previously, social media has helped revive the use of the first world-third world dichotomy. While the purpose is to have a few laughs, not everyone has considered it funny.

The organization Water is Life International responded to the trend with a video that mocked the #FirstWorld meme by having children and others in the developing world read trivial social media posts against a backdrop of extreme poverty. The video went viral and has been viewed more than 7 million times.

Water Is Life contrasts vanity with harsh reality. While laudable in its defense of the unseen and often forgotten individuals living on the margins, the video also reinforced a stereotype of the developing world that is not accurate.

Yes developing nations lack infrastructure and suffer from other deficits due to centuries of exploitation, but they are made up of people with dignity and a desire to make things better. The scenes of extreme poverty in the Water Is Life video clearly exist in the developing world, but similar scenes could be filmed in the United States where more than 40 million people also live in poverty. The "first world" also has its poor.

Planet Aid is dedicated to mobilizing communities in the developing world to lift themselves from poverty. That is a core part of our mission.

We have seen how targeted assistance and support can change lives, and we hold fast to the vital truth of our common humanity.