In the past authorities and experts were generally accepted as authorities and experts and the knowledge and conclusions they reached were considered accepted. Not all of the time and of course there were always plenty of counter arguments placed. But the reason people get labeled as expert or an authority (knowledge) is generally because they knew a lot about the subject - they had studied and analysed it, they had contemplated and come to some conclusions, they had extrapolated and modeled.
In our new interconnected world it is a lot harder to accept authorities or experts - whoever they are.
The reason is that pretty well anyone with the net can be (pretend or self delusional) an authority and can quote or link to other authorities or experts. You can find anyone who is (in the past) an accepted authority or expert - like a scientist for instance, in any area and saying anything.
we are all Spartacus now...
In effect what these myriad of authorities give us is confusion and uncertainty. The EX prime minister john key showed this quite well a few years ago on HardTalk when he embarrassed himself and us.
Sackur: But he is very well qualified, isn’t he? He’s looked, for example, at the number of species threatened with extinction in New Zealand, he’s looked at the fact that half your lakes, 90% of your lowland rivers, are now classed as polluted.Yes another one that will provide a counter-view - this is post truth in action.
Key: Look, I’d hate to get into a flaming row with one of our academics, but he’s offering his view. I think any person that goes down to New Zealand ...
Sackur: Yeah but he’s a scientist, it’s based on research, it’s not an opinion he’s plucked from the air.
Key: He’s one academic, and like lawyers, I can provide you with another one that will give you a counterview. Anybody who goes down to New Zealand and looks at our environmental credentials, and looks at New Zealand, then I think for the most part, in comparison with the rest of the world, we are 100% pure – in other words, our air quality is very high, our water quality is very high
This gets very complicated when we consider that, in general, authorities or experts have lost a measure of their authority because of vested interests, money and funding, bogus deliberate falsehoods and outrageous claims, individuals without morals and scruples and so on. Who the hell can we actually trust? In this world of immediacy, of wiki and blogs and commentators and commenters - who can we trust?
I don't think we can trust many.
The reason is that all of us tend to find people that agree with us, authorities that see the same issues and propose solutions that fit well with what we think could work - in other words we get silo-ed. The internet is increasing this trend I think. As more and more voices get added to the mix and as everyone quotes and links to some authority or expert - we are actually listening less, learning less and being reinforced in our views more. We are in a silo.
The answer isn't to listen to other people's experts or authorities, the answer is to be aware of how self referencing or perhaps self authoritating works and to understand how we are affected by it.
Another really sad aspect is that just because someone was an authority or expert about an important subject in the past, or indeed today, doesn't mean they actually are an expert or authority about the burning issue of today. Guess what - humans are human. Leading journalists, scientists and experts are human - they make mistakes, they get things wrong and they have their own bias and self referencing apparatus in play.
We have seen this all in play around global warming and climate change, 911, trump, 1080, the middle east conflicts, the environment, economics, - you name it and we have seen it.
In all of these discussion areas someone's expert is pitted against another person's expert - it is just a competition where repetition and hard headedness are the key and the goal is to win. Of course there is nothing actually to win other than an argument with another anonymous internet user.
The competitive element of expert/authority use is very right wing - the left do it too but the right love it. It destroys debate, lowers the tone, and muddies the waters and these are all 'nice to haves' for the right. The dirtier the water the less people want to swim and the same is true of voting, at least for anyone other than the right.
Post truth means that there is very little that can be pinned down in online debates and even when the pin is in, somehow it gets pulled out and poked somewhere else. It can be frustrating. We have to learn to live in this post truth world and we do that by first knowing ourselves.