Things people do to make them seem uberhuman & thus uniquely capable
July 28, 2019 2:03 PM   Subscribe

Shamans often claim that they diverge from normal humans, such as through having different organs or undergoing painful bouts of asceticism. These claims promote perceptions that they are different and, in turn, help convince others of their special powers. Something similar seems to happening with many modern professionals. Elizabeth Holmes, for example, claimed to live off of green juice and salads and to sleep only four hours a day, building an image of her otherness or superhumanness. Do people know any other examples of well-known professionals performing strangeness, otherness, or superhumanness to promote perceptions of their unique abilities?
posted by mrmanvir to Society & Culture (24 answers total) 26 users marked this as a favorite
Margaret Thatcher was also reputed to only sleep four hours a day, which I'm sure was a story she was happy to let flourish to make her seem superhumanly capable. Or inhuman, depending on your take.
posted by penguin pie at 2:27 PM on July 28, 2019 [6 favorites]

Jack Dorsey from Twitter basically has these habits in lieu of any semblance of a personality
posted by potrzebie at 2:32 PM on July 28, 2019 [14 favorites]

Menachem Schneerson, the Lubavitcher Rebbe, was known to sleep very little. He was such a beloved leader that a majority of the Lubavitch think he was the Messiah, and to this day no successor has been appointed.
posted by Melismata at 2:32 PM on July 28, 2019 [1 favorite]

Of course there was Mark Wahlberg's claimed daily schedule, which included getting up at 2.30am, snacks that lasted an hour and a half, and time in the cryo chamber. Not sure what he was trying to promote about himself, except the idea he was in some way exceptional. I don't know if it really counts as claiming superhuman abilities, but it's certainly performing strangeness.
posted by penguin pie at 2:39 PM on July 28, 2019 [1 favorite]

Political cults of personality often have these aspects (like that of the Kim family in North Korea, or the Stalin cult, but also Lyndon LaRouche had more than a touch). Omniscience, especially, and universal expertise.

In the Russian example there’s a older basis esp. to the first generation of revolutionaries having extremely austere habits, coming from nineteenth century literary models, and everything suggests a lot of them took the models seriously, reading and writing and working constantly (rather than just using outward personal austerity as show).
posted by Fiasco da Gama at 2:51 PM on July 28, 2019 [2 favorites]

Response by poster: These are great -- keep 'em coming!
posted by mrmanvir at 3:17 PM on July 28, 2019

Jim Jones often claimed superhuman abilities.
posted by easy, lucky, free at 3:18 PM on July 28, 2019

Was coming here to say Wahlberg because it's a sort of normal thing for cult leaders, less so for just "Guy who works out a lot" The short sleeping thing is claimed by a lot of people and scientists have discovered there's a genetic abnormality that lets some people, very few, do this.

Helen and Scott Nearing talked a lot about the Good Life and self-sufficiency and how other people could, and should, do it, but relied a lot on his speaking engagements and trust fund money to make it work (a LOT of back to the lander types had some sort of family money or safety net to fall back on while making claims about how much they'd turned their back on society)

President Bush made a lot out of his resting heart rate as if he was a super jock (he was fit but not THAT fit), but it was just, again, another abnormality of genetics.
posted by jessamyn at 4:11 PM on July 28, 2019 [8 favorites]

Elizabeth Holmes' 16-hour days were powered by a strict food regimen.

That Jack Dorsey stuff about not eating until 6PM on weekdays -- I wonder if that's when the appetite-suppressing stimulants wear off..
posted by Sauce Trough at 4:49 PM on July 28, 2019 [7 favorites]

There's a common theme among many of these: members of the ruling class trying to justify their status by making claims about how much they work (or how little they rest). This piece in The Guardian on the phenomenon of "conspicuous production" provides some analysis and more examples.
Nowhere is the cult of conspicuous production more visible than among America’s CEOs. Today’s top executives are devoted work-worshippers, nearly to the point of perversity. Apple CEO Tim Cook told Time that he begins his day at 3.45am. General Electric CEO Jeff Immelt told Fortune that he has worked 100-hour workweeks for 24 years. Not to be outdone, Yahoo CEO Marissa Mayer told Bloomberg News that she used to work 130-hour workweeks. And so on.
posted by ludwig_van at 5:08 PM on July 28, 2019 [23 favorites]

Edison claimed 4 hours of sleep a night. Buckminster Fuller had a schedule he called Dymaxion that consisted of very strictly timed (both in start and stop times) naps for about 2 hours a day/night. How well he stuck to this is anther question.
posted by Hactar at 5:22 PM on July 28, 2019 [2 favorites]

Grimes Had that ridiculous fitness regime recently published (whether it’s her being facetious or not is up for debate, probably so, but a fun read) where she does scream therapy, sword fighting, and removed a layer of her eyeball. She did say she locked herself in a room for nine days without food and sleep to record her album.
posted by buttonedup at 7:22 PM on July 28, 2019 [2 favorites]

Immanuel Kant was said to be so regular in his habits that people set their watches by his afternoon walk.

Bill Gates, and I believe Warren Buffet, are both described as "reading a book a week". That's not exactly superhuman, but it shows some discipline and curiosity.

Donald Trump famously said he could murder someone in the middle of 5th Avenue in broad daylight and none of his followers would care. He has indeed proven to have something very much like that super power.
posted by Winnie the Proust at 7:33 PM on July 28, 2019 [1 favorite]

Trump also claims to not sleep much and wake up stupid early. Which, unlike most things he utters, seems at least vaguely truthful given the time stamps on his tweets. I suspect "diet pills" from his wierdo Dr. Feelgood.
posted by soren_lorensen at 7:44 PM on July 28, 2019 [3 favorites]

There was a really interesting New Yorker article about a professional pickpocket:

A user on Hacker News made a comment on this article that I've bookmarked and come back to from time-to-time:

Magic tricks are hacking! You are hacking someone's mind, particularly their assumptions and attention. The exploits to human psychology and attention are just as sure as the exploits to crack or unlock a smartphone and many other software exploits. The difference is that software can be patched but the evolved behaviors that are the root of the exploits used by magicians are very hard to "patch".

Whole comment was a mindbend for me.

On sleeping 4 hours, yeah that will impair you cognitively. I read the Theranos book right after I read Why We Sleep and one of the first things I noticed is the significance of sleep deprivation in Elizabeth Holmes's life. It's mentioned like 3 times in the first couple chapters. The Sleep author notes that even though Edison was the original famous 4 hour sleeper, he was napping all the time.
posted by klenwell at 9:04 PM on July 28, 2019 [7 favorites]

In the Walter Isaacson biography of Steve Jobs, he has a number of characteristics like that. Jobs became a fruitarian and believed that he no longer had to shower. This is maybe the opposite of what you're talking about because it was obvious that he reeked, but it's all part of his famous reality distortion field. Another thing he would do was give a major presentation / product launch, be clearly winding down, and then have "one more thing" that was a bigger announcement than the whole previous presentation. Dude was basically a more sociopathic Willy Wonka.
posted by wnissen at 11:07 AM on July 29, 2019 [5 favorites]

Hunter S. Thompson's (literally unbelievable) daily diet/routine (mostly revolving around cocaine) probably falls under this:
posted by slimepuppy at 2:42 PM on July 29, 2019 [3 favorites]

I didn't know a lot of back to the landers relied on trust funds! But along those lines Laura Ingalls Wilder made it seem like her family moved out of civilization and relied solely on "Pa" for everything. No fucking way. Reality is that each family probably relied on 100 different people to make all that work. And there have been books written just on this subject. (Yes, I went to Evergreen.)
posted by cda at 2:48 PM on July 29, 2019 [2 favorites]

The head coach at my gym does ridiculous feats of athleticism off the cuff when he has a spare moment. And he literally refers to himself as a “fitness shaman.” That sounds insufferable, but he’s very amusing, and, yes, motivating.
posted by ocherdraco at 4:09 PM on July 29, 2019

The late Ricky Jay's books are full of people who could each do a few idiosyncratic things very well.
posted by ardgedee at 7:03 PM on July 29, 2019 [1 favorite]

Jonathan Franzen claims he wrote The Corrections in the dark, wearing earplugs, earmuffs, and a blindfold.
posted by peeedro at 7:14 PM on July 29, 2019

Eccentric Japanese inventor Yoshiro Nakamatsu has an eccentric creative process.
posted by peeedro at 7:27 PM on July 29, 2019 [1 favorite]

Honoré de Balzac credited his creative vigor to an extreme coffee addiction and a biphasic sleep schedule.

Tesla allegedly never slept more than two hours in any twenty-four-hour cycle, while da Vinci followed an extreme form of a polyphasic sleep schedule called the Uberman sleep cycle, which consists of 20-minute naps every four hours. Links to a 2016 article at the Independent, which also takes note of Mariah Carey's sleep schedule (15 hours a day in a 'steam room' created by twenty humidifiers, to preserve her voice) and Melissa Mayer's regimen (130-hour workweeks, with quarterly week-long vacations to catch up on sleep).
posted by Iris Gambol at 11:14 AM on July 30, 2019 [1 favorite]

Stephen King: "Six pages a day." As far as I am concerned, that is superhuman.
posted by bz at 6:31 PM on August 18, 2019 [1 favorite]

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