“The third world is not a reality but an ideology” — Hannah Arendt
My writing depends on my mood and right now my mood is great. I’m currently sitting in a quaint cafe in the historic old town of a beautiful Eastern European capital. The coffee is smooth. The prices are just right. The people are friendly. The baristas have model looks (although no one pays them any attention because here they’re considered only average). It’s a beautiful sunny day, although a bit cold. Apart from that minor meteorological imperfection there’re no other drawbacks in this “third world” picturesque old town.
For the last decade I’ve spent more time in the so-called “third world” than in the so-called “first world.” Initially, like a toddler who was learning to crawl, I took things very slow. I took quick trips outside the US, returning several days and weeks later. Slowly, but surely the pattern of those trips has reversed: it’s now about taking those quick trips back to the US and those trips are getting shorter and shorter — the toddler has all but grown up into a mature and sovereign man.
I remember that fateful afternoon in 2007 when I was boarding the Mexico City – Bogota flight. At that time not many people traveled to Colombia, and everyone thought that you would be kidnapped the second you landed and went on the street. To say that boarding that plane was a nerve-wracking experience would be an understatement. Few hours later I landed in Bogota and in the ensuing weeks and months experienced one of the best times of my life. (Oh, and I did end up being kidnapped; she was 5’6” with beautiful brown black hair and big brown eyes.)
The “third world” is one of the most misattributed terms in history. The purpose of the term is to blanket the world outside of US/West hegemony (i.e., the “first world”) as a land of lawlessness, a place riddled with widespread crime, a place ruled by mafia or warlords instead of having an established law. The reason that this term is so prevalent is a testament to how successfully it has served its purpose: it taught you that in order to have a safe and predictable life, you should safely tuck yourself inside the confines of the first world, otherwise scary and bad things may happen to you.
That has not been my experience at all. In fact, living all over Central and South America, and now, Eastern Europe has been exactly the opposite. To me, returning to America actually increases the level of stress. Each successive trip feels like I enter a more and more alien country. On my last trip, I literally felt like an extraterrestrial that landed on some distant planet, and spent most of my time trying to make sense of some strange environment.
One of my life-long dilemmas was to find the right adjective to describe my experience in the “third world.” After pondering on this problem for a long time, I’ve finally discovered the right adjective: easy.
Life is truly easy in the third world. It’s easy to make good friends. It’s easy to date beautiful women. People make things easy. In Brazil, it was easy to train BJJ , grab a cheap and delicious juice at a juice bar, and then head to the beach and go for a swim. In Eastern Europe, it’s easy to land, pass customs, buy a prepaid SIM card, and join a gym membership all without annoying long-term contracts. It’s easy to get what you want.
There was a time when I had to convince myself to travel and venture outside America. Now, exactly the reverse is happening: I have to convince myself to go back to America. I have to find the right excuses. I have to rationalize the trip back more and more. And — not surprisingly — I’m having a very hard time. I don’t understand what America can offer me over my life here. What does America really have?
When one things of America, his mind is flooded with an array of popular buzzwords: democracy, rule of law, freedom, and capitalism. But do any of those words really mean anything? Do they really stand for anything any more? In any case, I have all that here, and I’m not being forced to buy health insurance.
The secret of the successful man is that he, like a profitable and agile business, is constantly searching for an advantageous business environment, an environment which helps him to make the absolute best of what he has; where the value of what he produces is higher — in some cases, substantially higher — than the value of what he consumes. And for most men that world doesn’t exist in New York, Los Angeles or London; it’s more likely to be found in Rio de Janeiro, Vilnius or Cape Town.
It’s increasingly becoming clear to me that the first world is for those who simply don’t know any better. It’s for those who don’t or can’t break away from the groupthink and think independently for themselves. The rest are rewarded with a world of limitless opportunities where things are, well, for a lack of a better word, easy.
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James Maverick used to work in a cubicle as a code monkey in Silicon Valley. Then, in 2007, he quit his job and a one-way ticket to Brazil. Ever since, he continued to travel, visiting over 85 countries and living in more than a dozen of them. He loved his location-independent lifestyle and has no plans to live in America.