I have a number of friends who use that phrase, fairly often, and it never ceases to make me roll my eyes.
When the concept of the three different worlds originated, the Cold War was at its height. The first world countries were countries that aligned with the United States; the second world countries were countries that aligned with the (then) USSR and China, and the third world countries were countries that were neutral and that didn’t align with either the first or the second world.
Now, as we all know, the Cold War ended in (or around) 1991, and with its end also came the demise of the Eastern Bloc. That’s when the definitions of the first and third worlds changed considerably.
The first world now refers to highly developed countries and the third world refers to countries that are still in a state of development. Now we’re entering the realms of segregation that I have problems with.
I hate anything that divides people into the privileged and the underprivileged, and that’s precisely what this does. I hate anything that forever classifies one set of people as the masters of all they survey, and the other set as the ones who must always pay obeisance. Besides, with the increasing homogenisation around the world, does a first world even exist any more? Does a third world? And what exactly defines the third world? What is the difference, say, between a failed state like Haiti and a military and economic giant like India? Can you even classify the two into the same ‘world’, then? Should you even try?
What happens when we do away with worlds and just admit that there is only one world? The end of the first world, forever? Now that’s a ‘first world problem’, if you like.