We live in a world of hyperavailability, hyperconnectivity, hyperinformation flow; more than anyone could possibly winnow into useful usable substance. How can the average educated human know where to look, with so many options and such scarce demonstrable authority?

It used to be that credentials like phD or QC or MD or Rt.Hon were credentials of trust worth trusting. The democratisation of access to the humans behind the credentials – if one cares to look – has broken the trust paradigm by exposing the chaff as well as the wheat of an individual’s collateral output. It doesn’t take much chaff to undermine trust.

Prior to the ubiquity of the internet most of us had been trained to expect an almost superhuman expertise from public figures, conditioned to see a single failure as a sign of terminal disqualification and disdain nuanced opinions or “learning on the job, sometimes with mistakes and admissions of error” as weakness, flip-flopping, proof of unfitness for the job, whatever the job happens to be.

Since the confluence of internet and polarisation (as a reactionary political strategy) the chaff of every public individual has been subjected to the coruscating spotlight of this intolerant expectation; and trust has been annihilated. Not only trust in politicians, professionals and civil authorities, but trust in complex conclusions, pros and cons messaging, and authentic open discourse. In a world of broken trust, with no tolerance for equivocation, complex conclusions become suspicious prevarication, pros and cons messaging becomes unreliable weakness of character, and as for authentic open discourse, it’s considered taboo, treacherous and politically suicidal.

To stand out in a world of broken trust and reclaim the authority of expertise – or, as it has become, simply authority over expertise – a different strategy is required. Power (your own and your relationship to others’) and money (your own and your supporters’) and consensus expediency (your status vis-a-vis the credential ecosystems you inhabit) are the holy trinity of capturing trust in the 21st-century public square.

To be specific: if you’re a politician, your power matters and how your power benefits or threatens others matters; your money matters because it defines your influence, your independence and your allure, your supporters’ money likewise; consensus expediency matters insofar as you are an exemplar of your credentials, improving or eroding its reputation (wealth, power and trust) by your status and your actions.

In our brave new paradigm the reality of an individual’s expertise is usually irrelevant, and on the odd occasion it comes under scrutiny, it’s a binary result: either the so-called expert is fit or unfit to wield authority. In a sense, authority has become the workaround for general resignation to the broken trust. Given the polemicized society has been reached in part by reactionary political strategy – as a means to consolidate power – it’s clear the bell-curve of public opinion becoming a U-curve of polarization serves the ends of that strategy: locking democracy into an authoritarian paradigm.