I feel like I recently was in a similar head space, struggling with trying to be "appropriately" (or even "ideally") cooperative. Something that personally helped me a lot was the idea/mantra of, essentially, I am a more benign entity in the world than I tend to fear.
What I've found over time is just that people are exceptionally caught up in their own narratives/life circumstances -- they are, after all, human beings with their own lives and priorities -- but as part of that, they're accepting that things are sometimes inconvenient for them, sometimes they miss important discussions, etc. I used to get caught up worrying about stepping on anyone's toes, but I ended up, essentially, exhausting their mental resources asking for permission and preferences on every little thing, and they'd be too polite to tell me that.
If you are planning a large scale, sudden, and/or violent change with far-reaching consequences (like, say, the overthrow of your government), then only having discussions in private will be very problematic because people will have little to no recourse for addressing grievances. If you're trying to advance your field of research, then informal discussions on specific issues (especially with context well understood by those parties) is just faster. It's so hard to just get anything into motion that if someone wants to stop your plans later on they'll likely have a ton of opportunities to do so -- if you even get that far! The apathy issue you talked about activists observing is very real, and it's true among collaborators as well -- even ourselves.
The biggest thing I realized as part of this line of thinking, though, was that I was trying to get other people to confirm my beliefs about what would work for me, and that wasn't fair to them or respectful of their time. I would plan speculative discussions or meetings and be sad when people didn't come, but really what I was sad about was that I had to do things on my own and I was scared that I wouldn't be able to handle that. If I think about my life and experiences with full honesty, the strong unintended consequences of my decisions have always been ones that hurt me personally, not anyone else. I was trying to clear everything "pre-flight" just so I wouldn't look dumb.
Our current society is essentially set up so that everyone explores the earliest things on their own, and slowly we build momentum by getting others excited about the progress we've made on an issue alone, and then in a small group, and then in a medium sized group, etc. That maximizes our exploratory surface area while still giving us that critical mass for execution. I wanted to skip ahead in that process to the point where we were all fully in sync right away, but that's just not really feasible because we just have different places where we all want to start. There was an early IETF motto along these lines that I think still holds up here: "We reject kings, presidents, and voting. We believe in rough consensus and running code." It's not an idyllic system all the time, but it has (generally) worked for many things and gotten us to where we are today.
I am a more benign entity in the world than I tend to fear, and everyone else has more agency and resilience than I give them credit for when I take those fears to heart.
I'm generally hesitant to get into this line of thinking (and others like it) because knowledge is such a thoroughly multi-dimensional space and usually the ends people are looking to move towards with these kinds of models aren't terribly realistic.
I think the true answer is that it's both hard to know what anyone knows about a given field and it also very rarely matters. It reminds me of the talk "Superintelligence: The Idea That Eats Smart People" -- there's a habit among intellectuals, academics, and learned professionals (usually in that order) to get so caught up in their work that they think it intrinsically matters, when, really, nothing does (at least not to everyone).
You can be very "knowledgeable" in a field, double down on the wrong side of a schism, and then see years of your work become nearly worthless when your mental framework is empirically proven wrong. That work might also turn out to be useful again decades later for secondary or even unrelated reasons; when and where are you more or less knowledgeable than your peers here?
And to circle back to the Superintelligence talk: we as humans are very adept at finding ways to survive and thrive despite all kinds of uncertainty and threats, and one of the best tools we have for that is ignoring things until they're a major problem for us. In your radio intellectual example, I'd put forward that those kinds of situations arise because the presence or absence of such figureheads (or demagogues) doesn't generally matter to most people most of the time. When such people become burdensome and overbearing in their demands, they are ousted--entire governments have been bloodily overthrown from within and without for such reasons. That feels inefficient to the person who thinks such fields and their heads matter, but it's generally good enough.
My last point would just be that if it's really hard to know how much more knowledgeable than you someone is, how can you have confidence that someone knows more about specific sub-niche X than you, and not just more about overall field Y? Einstein probably knew more about Physics on the whole than just about anyone outside of a group that could fit into a single lecture hall, but if he looked at a suspension bridge's plans and wanted to "make corrections" I'd probably stick with a seasoned civil engineer unless they both agreed on review. The engineer would probably know more about the physics of suspension bridges in their home country than Einstein; if the latter was able to convince me otherwise that's a question of societal status and political skill in general.
The NYT had an opinion piece talking recently about how Americans (especially younger ones) are in fact the *loneliest* they've ever been, and how this is being attributed as a cause for a whole host of social ills:
That doesn't seem to go along with the "easier to find another social group" hypothesis. Anecdotally, I and almost everyone I know has had an incredibly hard time making new friends, especially outside of college.
I could see the inverse argument then (as is apparently being made) that maybe the lack of community ties is making people more resentful/anti-social/destructive in their interactions.
Haha I was kinda scared I'd done or said something very wrong, thanks for the reversal!