First world ...

Over winter, great hordes of our population seem to have been infected by the phrase "First World problem"; a knowing pronouncement uttered after someone complains about getting too much feta in their Greek salad.

If you've not yet heard this new cliché of conversation, it's a reaction to what's been called the "white whine", where people who live in wealthy countries such as Australia voice frustration about life's petty inconveniences.

Thus, gripes about your iPhone's connectivity, your favourite TV show not being in HD or the great gobs of nutrition-rich food you've ordered being served without the right sauce - are dismissed by the listener with the tongue-in-cheek aside "First World problem, eh?"

Which can be a useful way of slapping some desperately needed perspective into the speaker but, now the term has gone mainstream, it's also increasingly used to shut down "thinky" or "difficult" conversations about more fundamental issues.

Recently, I've heard concerns about morality, gender, even the environment, belittled as "First World problems" simply because the "complainer" has enough to eat, is safe from war and lives in comfort compared to the average Syrian or Haitian refugee.

As one commenter on this blog put it: "Yes, we're privileged to live in a First World country, but am I meant to be silent if I see something wrong and want to protest about it, even if it's not as critical as 'poverty in Africa'?"

Though many of us live in "First World" conditions in this country, Anglicare Australia tells us there are still kids heading to school with no lunch and single mums and dads missing meals so their children will not.

45,000 Aussie households don't have enough food to eat, while pensioners go to bed at 6pm because they can't afford the electricity to run a heater.

Topics as diverse as the welfare of indigenous Australians, funding for the arts, euthanasia and overseas aid also struggle to find traction among the public because the moral responsibilities of being a citizen of the "First World" have been reduced to earning as much cash and having as much fun as possible.

In the public sphere, opinion leaders who dare champion issues other than immigration, education or the economy are ridiculed as elitist or eccentric, particularly when veering on to subjects such as culture, drug reform or political philosophy.

I've witnessed this dynamic countless times when conversations move into areas where people are challenged to assess the consequences of their choices as consumers or citizens; the bored shifting in the seat, perhaps an eye-roll and then the suggestion it's a "First World problem" if you've time to ponder values aside from real estate or the sharemarket.

In many contexts this phrase strikes me as the adult equivalent of the teenage dismissal "whatever" - it's the "evasion of scepticism" for topics deemed too "heavy", "confronting" or "complex" for dinner table chatter or the pub.

In short: "It's someone else's problem." So, many Australians simply throw up their hands and give up on moral reflection altogether and, worse still, mock it in others.

German philosopher Immanuel Kant had his share of First World problems and once wrote that: "Scepticism is a resting place for human reason ... but it is no dwelling place for permanent settling. Simply to acquiesce in scepticism can never suffice to overcome the restlessness of reason."

In short, again: It's not being a whinger to point out problems in our society - in fact, it's intellectually lazy not to.

It's also what makes us a "First World" country.

You can follow Sam on Twitter here. His email address is here.