As the probability of war in the Indo-Pacific rises, Australia consciously jeopardises its energy security. In America, where a revolution is conceivable, President Biden recently stoked the fire by lamenting that the SCOTUS is ideologically corrupt. And in the UK, the Tory government is suffering serious woes having forgotten an age-old lesson: there’s no such thing as a free lunch.

The harsh truth is that these self-afflictions, and many others like them, reflect decades of lousy political leadership. Parochial and dogmatic thinking plainly pervades the minds of many elected officials, fuelling the West’s demise. Given that we get the politicians we deserve, one thus contemplates what sins us heathens have committed…

Plausibly, there’s a causal and mutually-reinforcing relationship between the declining quality of politicians and the shrinking intellect of the average Joe and Jane; not necessarily in the academic sense, but rather in the way that our ability to think critically, deeply, or about complex issues has diminished.

Such diminishment is obvious. If unconvinced, consider the following indisputable truths about the majority of people in the West: they’re now more easily influenced by newspaper headlines, usually not having read the article itself; populist soundbites and tweets are now more potent than legitimate political discourse; and short-sightedness is endemic, such that policies that are mildly beneficial in the short-term, but seriously consequential in the long-run, gain undue favour.

Sure, the average Joe was never immune from being unjustifiably outraged, or to effortlessly succumbing to the influence of populist politicians, or to being easily swayed to support unworthy causes. But these states of being aren’t binary, they’re on a spectrum. And only Blind Freddy can’t see that the intellect of the average modern Westerner is sitting firmly on the wrong end.

A possible reason contributing to the average Joe’s diminished ability to think is the manipulation of Western vocabulary. George Orwell, the pen name of novelist Eric Blair who wrote the fictional masterpiece 1984, believed that the quality of a society’s vocabulary strongly influenced its member’s thinking capacity. Orwell thought, like many philosophers do, that because we think in language, the words we use and their meaning profoundly impact our intellect.

In 1984, Orwell introduced ‘Newspeak’, which is the fictional propagandist language of Oceania, a totalitarian superstate. The purpose of words in Newspeak isn’t to convey meaning, but rather to deceive. By design, the consequence is that one’s ability to think critically, especially about the government, is, at best, limited.

It’s possible that the West has imposed on itself a kind of Newspeak. Certainly, contemporary Western vocabulary consists of words, terms, and apparent definitions that, at the minimum, impede the conveyance of meaning. Such has arisen through two processes. First, well-understood terms and words are replaced with vague new ones. And second, long-standing definitions of words are usurped by meanings that are ambiguous; or are inconsistent with etymology; or are the opposite of a word’s prior meaning. Let’s go through some prevalent examples.

Despite being labelled as ‘climate denialism’, the term ‘Climate Change’ has replaced ‘Global Warming’ in common parlance. This is problematic because, putting aside they’re not the same, the term ‘Climate Change’ is even less informative than its predecessor.

Indeed, no natural meaning can be derived from the words ‘Climate Change’ that even remotely resembles its modern application. Interpreting the words ordinarily, the term merely refers to a possible climate-related phenomenon. However, according to its mainstream usage, the term is much more precise. Specifically, the term refers to the downstream effects of anthropogenic global warming.

Such a meaning requires the words ‘Climate Change’ to be strained beyond their breaking point. Accordingly, using the term in the sense just described doesn’t assist with the conveyance of information. Moreover, because its mainstream meaning isn’t deducible from the term’s words, the meaning is susceptible to manipulation by the less scrupulous. While imperfect, at least the term ‘Global Warming’ means what it says.

The customary meaning of the word ‘gender’ has now been inverted. The Australian Human Rights Commission defines ‘gender’ as the ‘way in which a person identifies or expresses their masculine or feminine characteristics’. In other words, to quote Descartes, ‘I think, therefore I am.’

However, gender’s etymology doesn’t have a trace of subjectivity. The word derives from the Latin word genus, which means a category, kind, or type. Words originating from genus, other than gender, include, for example, gene, genital, and genre. The common object of these words is to objectively categorise things of a similar kind. Accordingly, the AHRC’s definition is antithetical to the word’s original meaning.

There are two possible meanings of the term ‘First Nations People’ (regarding Aboriginal Australians) that are deducible from the words themselves. Yet, neither truly reflects the position of Aboriginals in Australian history. The first is that they were the first peoples to inhabit the Australian nation, as opposed to the continent. Plainly, only the latter is true.

It follows that the term ‘First Continent Peoples’ is more accurate. However, if that term was adopted, it’d beg the question why the term ‘Aboriginal’ was discarded, considering its definition is, effectively, the same as that which is deducible from the words ‘First Continent Peoples’. In fact, the term ‘Aboriginal’ is preferred, because ‘First Continent Peoples’ is circumlocutionary.

The second possible meaning is that Australian Aboriginals were a collection of first nations. For only (and all) Aboriginal nations to be first, in any true sense of the word, they must have all ‘crossed the line’ in such a timeframe that doesn’t arbitrarily exclude the Australian nation that followed.

If all Aboriginal nations had been formed ~60,000 years ago and subsisted unchanged hitherto, then their status as first would be indisputable. However, this scenario is implausible, given how volatile nationhood is. Rather, it’s likely that tens of millennia separate the formations of the earliest and latest Aboriginal nations.

Accordingly, on the collection of nations’ interpretation, Australia can’t be definitively excluded from the same ‘first’ cohort, unless there are records showing a comparatively significant duration between the formation of the last Aboriginal nation and 1901. While no such records exist, that isn’t an excuse to arbitrarily group only and all Aboriginal nations as ‘first’.

The word ‘belief’ is now interchangeable with ‘my truth’. Clearly, beliefs aren’t equivalent to truths, but calling a belief so gives it a perception of equivalence. Similarly, lived experience now means the same as empirical evidence.

The word ‘science’ is now almost meaningless due to the word’s frequent incorrect application. For example, the public is repeatedly told, in the name of science, that extreme weather events are proof of Global Warming. A recent article to this effect was titled ‘Extreme weather events prove climate change is already here’.

I’m not suggesting that there isn’t a link between floods and Global Warming. I’ve no special knowledge in climate science. However, I do know that such use of the word is erroneous.

Actual science refers to a process of trying to disprove one’s hypothesis. Merely finding evidence supporting a tentative theory is called pseudo-science. But saying ‘we have to trust the pseudo-science’ just doesn’t have the same ring to it.

‘Tolerance’, as shown in the Essendon saga, now means an intolerance of those with whom one is ideologically opposed.

‘Misinformation’, as demonstrated during the pandemic, now includes anything dissenting from the prevailing narrative.

And calling for equal rights, irrespective of race or gender, now means bigotry.

Is this all just a matter of semantics? Possibly, but surely it can’t be helping. Indeed, it’s possible that ensuring language is, once again, exclusively used as a tool to convey meaning might halt the West’s foreseeable self-induced collapse. But it’s unclear how such a colossal change to the contemporary Western vocabulary could transpire.

In 1984, its appendix implies that Newspeak went extinct, and the people of Oceania lived on. Unfortunately, however, Orwell didn’t tell us how that happened.