I have a hearty appreciation for jokes about first world problems. The fries are too cold. The Brita filter is too slow. The phone charger is all the way upstairs. That sort of thing.
Consider this round-up:
But although it’s healthy to poke fun at some of the pampered attitudes that come with widespread prosperity and convenience, plenty of real problems have also emerged. (“Pampered attitudes” are somewhere on the list.)
On my way to a lunch meeting, I noticed something peculiar: Upscale jewelry stores sat on every corner. That in itself was intriguing. But the concerning sight was how these stores were all mobbed. With teenagers. And they weren’t just browsing; they were buying.
Groups of adolescents entered and exited these stores adorned with Chanel watches and Cartier necklaces. Bags hung on every elbow. This was extreme materialism. Their parents felt the pains of prosperity too. Parents I met lamented the culture of workaholism.
Greed, obesity, hedonism, isolation, spiritual apathy, lethargy and depression lurked in the shadows of Hong Kong’s glassy towers. Hong Kong used to look like North Korea looks today—mired in grinding poverty and shackled by failing economic policies. People lived short, hard lives and many died simply for lack of food or basic medicine.
Without question, I’ll choose modern-day Hong Kong over modern-day North Korea. But the first world problems they experience in Hong Kong are not petty inconveniences. We joke about first world problems as if trifling annoyances are our chief concern. They aren’t.
Resisting the idolatrous “rationalism” of 20th-century communism has brought prosperity to many, but with any newfound economic freedom comes a temptation to yield to other, more comfortable variations of such rationalism. Retaining a careful and proper perspective of basic human needs, responsibilities, and obligations will be essential for achieving any kind of widespread flourishing—material wellbeing aside. Even in America, which was founded on a robust and well-rounded understanding of liberty, our position of economic prosperity has made it easy for us to neglect these roots and squander their fruits.
As Father Sirico writes in his latest book, we are constantly battling forces that seek to distort our understanding of “who we are”—”how we relate to nature, one another, and God.” Unless we take care to maintain a proper Biblical anthropology of human dignity, purpose, and destiny, we expose ourselves to being derailed and distracted further away from shalom and ever closer to vanity and materialism.
As Sirico explains:
The good news is that by rolling up our sleeves and digging for the truth, by retrieving a right understanding of the human person, we can turn things around. The tradition that gave birth to a morally animated liberty—not merely the power to do what one wants but the right to do what one ought (as Lord Acton observed)—is not a tradition of mere utility, selfishness, pleasure-seeking, or determinism. Freedom rightly understood is not a license to behave like spoiled adolescents but rather the noble birthright of creatures made in the image of God. As long as we refuse to sell this birthright for a mess of materialist pottage, hope remains.
There might not be enough dip for the chips or chips for the dip, but when invigorated by a “morally animated liberty” that’s determined and directed by the Almighty instead of the all-needy, hope remains indeed.