Tag Archives: Halloween

First World Problems

I know I’m going to get a load of blowback for this, but I’m posting it anyway.

In Bangladesh right now, religious extremists are murdering advocates of secular democracy. Recent religious conflicts in East Timor, the Ivory Coast, Bosnia, Ireland, India and many other countries have been persistent, vicious and bloody.

Meanwhile, here in the good old U.S. of A., college students are irate over insensitive Halloween costumes and fundamentalists are whining about Starbucks unadorned coffee cups.

I have to agree with Asher Miller, who wrote in a recent Resilience column

If offensive Halloween costumes and throwaway holiday coffee cups can generate this much discord and animosity, what happens when Americans are faced with far more complex and challenging situations? I’m afraid that in the coming months and decades there will be no shortage of these …

In this our mainstream media and politicians are doing us no favors, as they feed on anger, resentment, and an “us vs. them” mentality to capture eyeballs, votes, and dollars. Nor is modern communication technology, which fosters an expectation of immediate gratification and instant answers, while allowing us to filter information and interactions to those that reinforce our cognitive biases.

What is really worrisome about our homegrown conflicts is not that they exist, nor that they reflect different perspectives on our common culture. We live in a diverse society, and we should expect–and to the extent possible, accommodate–such differences. What is troubling is the lack of proportion.

So many of these “culture war” conflicts–some manufactured out of whole cloth, some vastly overblown–are what my youngest son calls “First World Problems.”

Let me stipulate that people have every right to criticize clueless folks who appropriate others’ identities or insult minorities by their choice of Halloween costumes. It’s insensitive and tasteless behavior. In the scheme of things, however, it ranks considerably behind machete-wielding in Bangladesh (or for that matter, racist bullying and gay-bashing in the United States).

Coffee cup hysteria is harder to justify. When people’s real lives and liberties are so secure that they have to go looking for offense at Starbucks, we can only assume that they have a very tenuous relation with reality and a deep-seated psychological need to see themselves as victims.

Americans can and should discuss differences in our perceptions and approaches. We should try to understand each other, and appreciate where other folks are coming from.

But we also need to recognize the difference between actual threats to personal safety and/or liberty, and First World Problems.

Americans need to get a grip.