Your Problems Aren’t Problems

My brother Kent sent me the following video –

First World Problems

Wherein a number of desperately poor people deadpan into the camera things like, “I hate it when I can’t text and walk at the same time” and “I hate it when I tell them no pickles, and they still give me pickles.”

Now, before I say anything about this video, I should come clean and admit that I’m a terrible contrarian. The second someone says something platitudinous I react with eye-rolling distrust, but that’s NOT what makes me a contrarian. It’s when people say something interesting, comforting and affirming of an opinion I’ve long held that I find myself knee-jerk wondering if it’s too good to be true. The logic in my head basically dictates that if something true can be expressed in a unit small enough for me to digest, they have to be glossing over the details.

But this video stuck in my craw immediately. The message makes sense to me – there are children without running water, and you’re worried about pickles, that seems like an awful waste of energy. Maybe it is, but I’m not ceding any moral high ground to the makers of this video or to anyone in them.

There is an epidemic in America of depression and anxiety. No, it’s not just me and my friends, and it’s not just you and your friends. You’re on an anti-depressant? Oh wait, *you’re* not, but someone in your family is, more than likely several people in your family are. And these black clouds of depression are always accompanied (and I would argue, often caused by) a relentless anxiety, a fear that THE THING around the corner is coming faster, or is going by and leaving you behind, or is creeping up behind you or is running away. Whatever it is, it’s just out of your grasp.

America has to run on this. The “First World” has to run on this. Because we have chosen fear as our primary motive for inspiring action. I don’t care who you’re voting for, I guarantee you that your candidate said, ‘We are the greatest country in the world, and we’re right on the edge of a precipice.” Really? We’re the greatest country in the world, but if the wrong guy gets in office our country could literally be dismantled? JESUS CHRIST!!! I’d better harangue people on facebook about registering to vote, it’s the least I can do to avoid this CATASTROPHE!!!

My job… I have to… I have to get to my job, but I’m tired because I took work home and my boss knows I have email at home and she wrote to me twice but I had fallen so far behind on Rizzoli And Isles and EVERYONE AT WORK TALKS ABOUT IT, so I gotta catch up or I’ll look like an idiot… but I can’t talk about it at work, not really, I’ve got a job and in this economy, I’m lucky to even have a job because AMERICA IS ABOUT TO FALL OFF A PRECIPICE, so I gotta buckle down and plus – I’ve gotta pay down my credit cards because the interest is killing me but the new iPad was so much better than the old iPad and if I’m gonna be paying for the wireless service so I can check my email on the train (between the email checking on my home computer and the email checking on my work computer) then I should at least have the *fastest possible* iPad and I use it for my kids more than me, to help them learn to read, because if they’re not reading by the time they’re five THEY WON’T HAVE A CHANCE AT GOING TO COLLEGE and they will be stuck in the prison of low-wage earning mouthbreathers, all because I didn’t spend the time, spend the time, spend the time, SPEND THE TIME…

Statistically, America has the highest rate of anxiety and depression disorders. We are a miserable people. We are the ONE HUNDRED AND FIFTH happiest country in the world. Wanna guess who’s in the top ten? Vietnam. Columbia. Nicaragua. If you include the top twenty, you get Israel, Cuba… PAKISTAN. These are all countries that we are told time and again are shitholes of horror, places you wouldn’t send your children on vacation for fear that they would literally be stabbed at the airport by blood-thirsty brigands and zealots. How are there one hundred and four countries that have happier people than America? I thought this was the greatest country in the world!

If you look at what is actually said in that video, it’s easy to feel smug about how *shitty* we all are for complaining about this stuff. And yet almost every single complaint listed there “I hate it when I leave my laundry in the washer and it starts to smell” or “I hate it when I go to the bathroom and forget my phone”… almost all of these are based on the fact that our lives are plagued with responsibilities, that we have no time, none, not a moment to breathe or wash or clean or even take a shit without relentlessly trying to forge ahead just to stay even with expectations.

“I hate it when I say no pickles and they still give me pickles”? Right? Except, this person has just gone through the drive through, the only place he can feed his family dinner for less than $20, while in the car, on the way home from work, to soccer practice where he has to drop off his younger kid while his older kid does homework in the bleachers and a *different* mom is gonna bring them home because he has to go to his volunteer shift and if he doesn’t do any of this stuff, HE’S A COMPLETE FUCKING ASSHOLE.

And three of these are just straight up bullshit. “I hate when my leather seats aren’t heated” is a complaint that only eleven people have ever made, and seven of those were self-aware jokes about how absurdly opulent our lives are.  “I hate when my house is so big, I need two wireless routers” isn’t even *true*. There are people sitting in a car across the street able to steal WIFI from me… so you’re saying a *common problem* among first world inhabitants is that there homes are the size of a New York City block? And “when I have to write my maid a check, but I forget her last name.” – what is this, 1911? By “first world problems” are they talking about Downton Abbey? I’m sorry, I was told that America is on the verge of complete economic collapse unless I vote for one of these dudes, but apparently *most Americans have maids*.

And pay for them with *checks*.

Our lives are essentially one tiny meaningless step in the march that started on the ocean floor, made its way to the trees and then down again and will hopefully end with us in the stars, riding around in a Tardis with a Timelord, so the only measure of significance right now is how we feel, each of us, day to day. Don’t tell me that our problems aren’t real problems, unless you’re working towards building a new system that doesn’t include marketing and fear-mongering in every single aspect of our First World lives.

Look, I’m glad that this organization exists. And I’m glad that they changed “white people problems” (which is how I’ve *always* heard it when we mock ourselves for living in ridiculous good fortune, having most of our lives handed to us by being born this race, in this century, in the most egregiously wealthy country that has ever existed) to “first world problems”. But when they end by saying “these aren’t real problems”, that’s just infuriating. We’re a miserable people, trudging through our days, exhausted with the constant barrage of signs saying “do this or nobody will fuck you” and “vote this way or your house will be o’errun by villains” and “if you don’t (x), YOU WILL BE SORRY”, and we’re working every hour we have, every day, just to stay *average* and… Yes, and we have clean running water. That we have.

Or… at least I think we have that. I heard something about… fracking, is it? And the oceans are becoming… desalinized? which is gonna lead to drought and… something else, something awful and… and there isn’t enough regulation on our clean water, we have no idea what’s *in it*, I heard on the news that what is in our water *COULD KILL MY CHILDREN* except… to pay for those regulations, they’re gonna kill jobs and… and they are gonna have to raise taxes and I don’t have enough money, I’m already working as many hours as I can to afford all the stuff they keep telling me I need, and…

And on and on and on and on…