Titles Matter: Third World Countries for Dummies

By a show of hands, who can name a first world country?

Ok, now, who can tell me what a third world country is? Let's make it easier; just give an example of a third world country.

Now for a real test. What is a second world county? 

I got you with that one didn't I? Don't worry, you're not alone. I'd argue that most people couldn't tell you what a second world country is or even give an accurate example of one. I'm not gonna lie, I had no idea what a second world country was and I had to look up the actual definitions of all of these just to be absolutely certain. 

One thing that I am absolutely certain about is that the origins of how and why countries are categorized, and the latent effects that such categorizations play in our perception of certain areas is an outstandingly controversial topic. 


So, what exactly is a 1st, 2nd, & 3rd world country?

Traditionally, when we think of a first world country we tend to think of an economically developed country; one that is technologically advanced and a leader on the world stage. Countries like Japan, America, England, China come to mind. When we think of a third world country we generally lean towards poorer nations; Vietnam, Cambodia, and African countries like Somalia, Ethiopia, Kenya and Uganda typically come to mind. We then go on to define second world nations as anything that falls in between. But, that's not exactly the case. Let me explain.

According to Nations Online: "After World War II the world split into two large geopolitical blocs and spheres of influence with contrary views on government and the politically correct society: 
1 - The bloc of democratic-industrial countries within the American influence sphere, the "First World".
2 - The Eastern bloc of the communist-socialist states, the "Second World". 
3 - The remaining three-quarters of the world's population, states not aligned with either bloc were regarded as the "Third World."
4 - The term "Fourth World", coined in the early 1970s by Shuswap Chief George Manuel, refers to widely unknown nations (cultural entities) of indigenous peoples, "First Nations" living within or across national state boundaries."

After WW2 the winning side placed the different countries of the world into groups to easily categorize them. In layman's terms: Group 1 was with you shooting in the gym. Group 2; we ain't messing with them. Group 3 can't sit with us. Group 4, who?

TL;DR- After WW2 the world was split into winners, losers and "poor" people. 

  'Merica! F*&% Yeah!

'Merica! F*&% Yeah!

  1st place losers

1st place losers

  We're just happy to be here

We're just happy to be here

But what does that mean and why are you still talking about it?

That's a very good question.

These qualifications mean a lot especially when it comes to how we determine which countries we want to visit and their assumed worth. Since most people only understand first, and third world countries in terms of technological development and societal wealth, they base their opinions on where potential countries fall on that spectrum and not cultural richness. Because of that they tend to subconsciously divide the world into two categories: rich and poor. Black and white.

But Patrick, "ain't nobody trying to go to no poor, dangerous place. I ain't trying to get robbed, y'heard me."

Well, Person Reading This, as a life goal I, too, am not trying to get robbed at any point. I don't think anyone is traveling anywhere with the intention of getting robbed, but it happens AND it can happen anywhere, because ALL places have the potential to be dangerous, but I'll get to that later. For now let's examine that other part. The "poor" part.

The initial understanding was supposed to be: Democracy good and Communism bad, however that's not the message that stuck. When you think of a 1st world, "developed" country, you think of wealth. When you think of a 3rd world, "underdeveloped" country, you think of poverty. Polar opposites. How wealth is defined also plays a role into our perception of this. We all know that the continent of Africa is one of the most mineral rich places in the world, yet it is one of the poorest in terms of GDP. In terms of history, it is home to some of the oldest cultures on the planet and is commonly known as the cradle of civilization, but none of this matters when we consider wealth as it pertains to numbers and money. In our minds, wealth equals security, while poverty is akin to danger. However, that's not entirely true, and the reasons you believe that is for good reason. For now, just understand that wealth carries a false sense of security. 

The phrase, "history is written by the victors" (Winston Churchill) feels extremely pertinent right about now. When you think about who came up with and defined these titles things start to make a bit more sense. See, it's beneficial for a industrial-democratic (read: capitalist) society to discourage financial support of competing regimes. By placing different locations into categories with predefined terms you are consequently placing a stigma on other places which are not able to fit that definition. In short, a country cannot be advanced if it is a democracy. A country cannot be rich if it is not capitalist. A country cannot be safe if it is not white. Wait, what?

  1st World= Blue, 2nd World= Red, 3rd World= Green

1st World= Blue, 2nd World= Red, 3rd World= Green

What do you notice about the map above?

The overwhelming majority of third world countries have a majority black or brown population. When you couple that with the idea that third world countries are dangerous, herein lies the problem. The terminology tied to these underdeveloped country comes with the stigma of poverty, famine, and DANGER wrapped up in a cute little phrase. The damage has stuck. When people think of a third world country, they think of a dark dangerous place. Emphasis on the dark. This way of thinking completely fails to realize that danger exists everywhere. Poverty exists everywhere. There are just as many, if not more, chances of getting robbed, scammed, kidnapped, assaulted, or accosted in France as there are in Brazil. There's a higher percentage of people living below the poverty line in America than in Vietnam source. Titles matter.  

Titles shift our perceived value of something and determine whether or not we want to get to know it on a more personal level. This applies to how we approach a relationship, choose medical officials, and even how we travel.  

Patrick Springer1 Comment