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Appeal To Worse Problems
Also called:
  1. The "Children Are Starving In Africa!" Argument.
  2. Fallacy of relative privation (its proper name).

Arguing that expressing concern about a (relatively) small problem means that the person doesn't care about any larger problems. A type of Strawman, this fallacy takes the opponent's claim and appends to it the following additional claims:

  1. That it is not possible to care about big and small problems simultaneously.
  2. That venting a minor complaint is sufficient proof that the major problem is considered unimportant.
  3. That if the person irritated over the minor problem did help solve or even cared about the big problems, s/he would then not mind at all that his/her car broke down or whatever the frustration was...or because there are people with worse problems, that person shouldn't complain about a frustration.

The intent is to distort the opponent's claim X into "X, which is far more important than anything else."

A similar fallacy is the "if you care so much, why aren't you doing something about it?" argument, which is also related to the Perfect Solution Fallacy in that the only way that the target can be doing something about it to the arguer's satisfaction is to be devoting 24 hours of every day to the issue and therefore not be involved in the debate.

A related issue is the airgap problem. No matter how much worse someone else's pain is, you can only feel your own. Your paper cut isn't objectively as painful as someone else's broken leg—but you don't feel any pain from their leg, while your own paper cut stings you like the dickens. (For that matter, their broken leg isn't as painful as the pain of someone else who's being tortured to death; but they still have an airgap. Their broken leg is agonizing to them, but they don't feel the other person's torture at all.)

Finally, there's the issue that people have different pain tolerances. One woman might be kind of bummed by a miscarriage; another might be depressed for months; a third might go permanently mad from grief. A "First World problem" for one person might be honestly devastating for another.

Often invoked in Misery Poker.

Examples:

Advertising
  • The "And you are worried about stepping on dog poo" ad in Reader's Digest about landmines.

Film
  • Commonly used when an unrealistic element of fiction is being argued about; for example, if one person questions how Naboo in Star Wars can have an Elective Monarchy that elects a 14 year old queen, (or what the point of such an institution would actually be) the second states something like "And this is the biggest problem you have in a universe with mystic powers and spaceships as big as moons?"
    • There's an old fiction saying about this: "You can ask an audience to believe the impossible, but not the improbable." If our hero must win a game of poker versus the Galactic Emperor Zurg to save Earth from the Unobtanium Bomb, people will buy it. If he wins the game with a Royal Flush beating a 4-of-a-kind, they cry foul.
  • Done in A Christmas Story when Randy doesn't eat the meatloaf because he hates it. Mrs. Parker tells him that starving children in China would be happy to have it.
  • In Munich one of the people involved in the planning of the Munich massacre of Israeli Olympic athletes says that compared to the reaction of the massacre, nobody says anything about the children killed in Israel's military attacks to Palestine.
  • 3000 Miles to Graceland gives us this exchange:
    Michael: Finish your fries.
    Jesse: I don't have to if I don't want to. You're not my father, you know.
    Michael: Didn't you ever hear about starving kids in Africa?
    Jesse: Why? Are you gonna send them my fries?

Literature
  • In the Dilbert book The Joy of Work, Scott Adams responds to Norman Solomon's book The Trouble with Dilbert by writing a fictional interview between Solomon and Dogbert. When he has Solomon complain that Dilbert attacks Pointy Haired Bosses more than Corrupt Corporate Executives, Dogbert's counterargument is that Solomon clearly supports teen pregnancy because he didn't write a book about that.
  • In The Cat Who... Series, one time when Qwilleran's pampered Siamese turn up their noses at the food he gives them, he makes some reference to there being cats in another country that don't know where their next mouse is coming from. It makes no difference to the spoiled kitties.
  • In Write This Book: A Do-It-Yourself Mystery, Pseudonymous Bosch talks about this in a sidebar in about perspective, describing a parent using this argument against a kid who got a bad haircut. He comments "It goes without saying that this so-called long view is infuriating for someone whose hair is cut too short. Sure, your hair might grow back one day, but will it grow back before school starts next week." The end of the sidebar, however, reads "And stop whining about that haircut!"
  • Spoofed in Good Omens, when the anthropomorphic personification of Famine throws the contents of a fast-food tray into a bin; "if you had told him there were starving children in Africa, he would have been flattered that you noticed."

Live-Action TV
  • Phoebe on Friends, when Rachel is wangsting over Ross getting remarried (and looking a lot like a nod to viewers who made such complaints);
    Phoebe: Wow! This reminds me of the time when I was, umm, living on the street and this guy offered to buy me food if I slept with him.
    Rachel: Well, h-how is this like that?
    Phoebe: Well, let’s see, it’s not. Really, like that. Because, you see that was an actual problem, and uh, yours is just like, y’know, a bunch of, y’know, high school crap that nobody really gives, y’know?
  • In "Amy's Baking Company" on Kitchen Nightmares, one of the owners actually uses this when a customer complains about the food.
  • Frank Burns tries to use this argument in M*A*S*H when he sees Radar throwing away a half-eaten (and inedible) dinner:
    Burns: There are people starving in China, you know!
    Radar (offering his tray): Here, you can give them this.

Newspaper Comics
  • Appears very frequently in For Better or for Worse, when a character wants to shut up the complaints of another, typically along the lines of "You're sitting around complaining about a haircut when there are refugees in war-torn countries out there!"
    • Mocked in this Shortpacked! strip. "April, you spoiled brat! There are children starving in Africa!"
  • Many accusations of this fallacy are deconstructed by Quino in the form of First World Problems, for example: In one strip it shows a man walking unflinchingly through crime-ridden poverty-infested streets, until he arrives to his job as a TV host where he dedicates his program to people "With great angst and sadness caused by gaining weight and who wanted to show their figure by the pool this summer". In another it puts a side-by-side comparison of a rich woman and a Third-World country one, where they both complain about the unhealthy food their family eat (sweets and junk food in the rich woman's case and worms, rotten meat and infected water for the poor one).

New Media
  • The "First World Problems" phenomenon originally applied to minor inconveniences treated by the afflicted as the worst thing ever to happen to them, but it's taken on implications of this as people started using it in response to any complaint a "first world" citizen has.
  • Some of the detractors of Shane Koyczan's anti-bullying "To This Day Project" have been guilty of this, by claiming that the issue of bullying doesn't deserve attention when there are children starving in Africa or warring in trouble spots around the globe.

Stand Up Comedy
  • Referenced by Peter Kay when he complains about his mother buying him Rola Cola and him refusing to drink it. "There are children starving in Africa!" "Then send it to them! They'll send it back! It's that bad!"
  • Also Carl Hurley, a rather rotund Kentucky comedian, who'll occasionally sprinkle in a reference of how he wonders how his obesity benefits children in Africa.
  • German comedian Otto Waalkes has made a sketch where a friendly priest holding a tv-sermon tells us about a friend of his, a millionaire, has come to him in great distress: he had dropped his shaving brush into the toilet that morning. The priest consoled him in this fashion by reminding him that while yes, having dropped your shaving brush into the toilet is horrible, there are people who are worse off by far, after all, some people don't even have a beard.

Tropes
  • Constitutes the Misery Poker trope. And the Serious Business trope, if used as an insult. (The implication being that you take it too seriously and other things not seriously enough.)

Video Games

Web Comics
  • Parodied in this strip of Saturday Morning Breakfast Cereal, in which people who try to use the argument are constantly interrupted by people with even worse problems until they finally reach the least fortunate man in the world.
  • You Damn Kid! had the author relate how his family once accepted an orphan from China into their home for a while... which led to the Kid pointing out that his mother's claims about "Starving orphans in China would kill for that!" were false when even the orphan was disgusted by the meal.
  • Parodied in this strip of The Non-Adventures of Wonderella. "How can you even THINK of superheroing when there's so much crime and tragedy in the world?"
  • In Arthur, King of Time and Space Guenevere responds to the idea that there are "bigger problems than misogyny" by asking which is worse, misogyny or littering. When the other person admits misogyny is worse than littering, she retorts "But when you see litter, you pick it up, don't you?"

Web Original
  • Played for Laughs: Fark has many headlines that fall into this, mostly for local legislatures who, "having solved all other problems", get to work on something mostly innocuous. Also, whenever doctors come up with some silly technological innovation, you can be sure there'll be a Fark headline about it ending with, "Still no cure for cancer."
  • During a Heat Wave, you might see a blurb (sometimes on a picture, sometimes as a Facebook status, what have you) about how "I'm not going to complain about the heat today because soldiers in Iraq/Afghanistan not only experience heat every day, but carry lots of equipment through it and may not even survive the day." Here's a sample.
    • The inverse applies to a milder extent: Don't complain about how cold it is. Ever. Especially if it's above 0 C. Unless you want to get in a Flame War with those who live in colder climates.
    • Similarly, complaining about the aftermath of a tropical storm/small hurricane or small earthquake will likely get you blasted by people who experienced far worse storms and quakes every year.
  • Greta Christina lists this as one of the standard "Shut up, that's why!" arguments used to shut off discussion.
  • During Facebook's university-student-only days, there would often be groups titled along the lines of "Finish Your Drink, There Are Sober Kids In India". (This was later turned into a mildly popular dorm-room poster.)
  • Unfortunately David Wong makes this mistake in his article 7 Reasons the World Looks Worse Than It Really Is claiming people complaining about the economy making opportunity scarce are only doing so because they have no unique skills, or give up trying and become cynical. Ignoring the fact that one can both complain and work for a better world as well.
  • When JonTron was criticized for referring to the Playstation Now service for PS 4 as "retarded" on Twitter, he responded that those offended by his word usage should instead direct their outrage at more important matters, like the Gaza strip bombings.

Real Life
  • This (specifically the starving African children) has become a fairly popular T-Shirt. It personifies Africa as saying "And you think you have problems..."
  • During The Troubles in Northern Ireland, this was about half of what was disparaged by the term "whataboutery" (the other half being hypocrisy).
  • Mocked on the Internet where someone once said, "If we really had no right to complain about stuff because others have it worse, then by that logic, people like Michael Moore and every radio talk show host should be out of a job, and most of the northern hemisphere should be dead silent, because the only people who have a right to complain are those in Somalia, Afghanistan, Sudan, etc."
  • Usually after some big tragedy in the U.S. (9/11, Sandy Hook Shooting, Boston Bombings etc.) there will be always someone saying that nobody sheds a tear for the children killed in U.S. military bombings.
  • This is the core of arguments along the line of "We shouldn't worry about or address the problems of X caused by Y, because Y has more/worse problems caused by X", especially when solving the problems of Y will not address the problems of X.
  • Just look at how people respond to celebrity confessions! Whenever a famous celebrity expresses some kind of personal fear or angst, there will be people using this argument (in combination with the person's status as a famous celebrity) to say that his/her problems are somehow invalid. Taylor Swift, Lena Dunham and recently Jake Lloyd (after admitting to the constant bullying/teasing he endured from classmates after playing Anakin Skywalker) are just a few celebrities that tend to frequently get this argument lobbed at them. Things like a drug problem, childhood trauma, deep personal fears, and so forth are legitimate problems no matter what hemisphere you live in or how much money or resources you have.
  • Ken Jennings (that guy who won all the money on Jeopardy!) points out the ridiculousness of this in his book Because I Said So!: The Truth Behind the Myths, Tales, and Warnings Every Generation Passes Down to Its Kids.
  • This was the reaction of several people when they learned how much money people in developed countries spend on their pets, by saying that there are other human beings starving in other parts of the world.
  • On the flip side, many citizens of Africa are getting tired of being the go-to location for this trope.
  • Several Worst News Judgement Ever accusations can actually be this.
  • Unfortunately, this can actually have very negative effects in real life. People with problems are told that theirs are insignificant, or tell themselves that their problems are insignificant, and may end up not getting help or not telling anyone. This can end very badly.
  • The argument that many a young person struggling to find meaningful work and earn enough money to, you know, be an adult has been heard constantly: "Just be happy to work at Burger Fool! At least you have a job! Not everyone can say that in this economy!"
    • And its corollary: "If you're not happy making minimum wage, get up off your lazy entitled ass, stop whining, and apply for a real job!" Which ignores the possibility of the person receiving this argument a) doesn't whine constantly, only sometimes and b) more importantly has actually been searching but fruitlessly.
    • It gets worse if you're stuck in an unpaid internship, which is illegal in most civilized countries (that's why the minimum wage is called a minimum rather than a suggestion) but persists solely because of the "no right to complain" mantra. Apparently you're a communist if you demand to be given something in exchange for the work you do, while the rich are entitled to have their toilets cleaned for free.
  • Opponents of President Obama's drone strikes program are frequently admonished by Obama supporters that the Republicans are far worse.
  • Some respond to legitimate feminist concerns (like sexist Double Standards in media) with "Female genital mutilation happens in the Middle East and Africa, yet all you do is whine about the shortage of women in Western media!" Its common for complaints about sexism to be met with complaints about them 'not doing anything about sex slavery/genital mutilation/patriarchal societies/etc', which ignores the fact that most people can't actually do anything about those issues, yet most issues with sexism in the media could be fixed by just getting those in charge to think for a change.
    • By the same token, this is also used as a response to advocates of men's issues, typically in the form of "Overall, men don't have it as bad, so they can't possibly have it worse than women in certain spheres."
    • It's also worth noting that people on both sides of these debates will criticize their opponents for using this tactic, then use it themselves without even a hint of self-awareness.
    • Feminism in general tends to be hit with this when compared to LGBT or race rights. As women are now legally equal to men, feminists are treated as ungrateful or entitled for complaining about issues women face (such as social stigmas against women that are still in place), because gay people still can't get married and both groups still face homophobia and racism; while this often ignores the fact that sexism is still a problem women face, it comes with the unfair expectation for feminists to also be vocal about LGBT and race issues instead of just issues with women, something that is very rarely expected of those groups to do as well, and if they ARE vocal about these issues, they're criticized for not being vocal enough. The same happens concerning male problems as well; if a feminist complains about the mistreatment female rape victims often face, they get criticism for not doing anything about the large number of male rape victims who're ignored or treated like they don't exist (which is a legitimate problem, true, but that doesn't mean female rape victims deserve no sympathy either like some seem to expect).
    • Using this informal fallacy in the context of the oppression of marginalized groups is often known as the "Oppression Olympics".
  • This argument is often used to shame suicidal people, criticizing them for wanting to take their own lives when other people deal with much "worse" circumstances. Many religious and ethical systems consider suicide the "ultimate act of selfishness" for this reason. What these people don't realize is that suicide is usually the result of mental illnesses like depression, bipolar disorder, and schizophrenia, which are actually very serious problems. Also, if a person is in a position where they are continually being dominated and pushed around, and for one reason or another see no option to escape (for example, a child in an abusive household who grows up in a community that supports that behavior; ditto a woman with an abusive husband whose community keeps blocking her efforts to break free), they may be thinking of taking their own lives because they think this will "free" them not only from being dominated, but from subsequently being told that their resulting pain does not exist.
  • Sometimes when somebody points out a particular instance of bias, discrimination, or prejudice against traditionally empowered, privileged, and/or majority group (such as men or White people), people will respond with, "But that's nothing compared to what (traditionally oppressed group X) has been through," or "(empowered group) couldn't possibly ever suffer prejudice." This ignores the fact that even if society in general favors group A over group B, it does not preclude isolated instances of prejudice against group A, nor does it make such instances justified or excusable.
  • The deaths of celebrities can be met with these, when Fast And Furious star, Paul Walker, died in a car crash there was no lack of people who accused the public of crying over the death of one rich guy than worrying about people dying in wars.
  • In the lead-up to Valentines Day 2014, there was a common Facebook meme being shared, which said something like "feeling sad about not having a date on Valentines Day? Shut the f!ck up, cos some people have lost both their parents, so get over your non-issues!", which is a perfect, and extremely sad, example of how some people use this fallacy.
  • Video games aren't immune to the trope either. If a game has several glaring issues and someone dares to complain about them, fans of said game may try to shut down the complaining by saying how another game has way more problems.

Looks like this fallacy but is not:

  • When dealing with limited time or resources, and discussion or debate of the lesser problem is impeding the parties from solving or addressing the greater problem (e.g. "Rearranging the deck chairs on the Titanic").
  • When the worse issues are directly related to the subject in question (complaining that your car is wrecked when your loved ones are in critical condition because of the accident) or when it's used to rebut a deliberate attempt to lump together or equate both issues.
  • When used as a counter to hyperbole along the lines of "[Relatively minor problem] is just the worst thing ever...."


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