What if charisma is a golden mane?

19.32, Friday 17 Apr 2020

I was talking with my old friend Adam Greenfield a few months back and the topic touched on the rich and the powerful and the uncanny gravity they have.

I raised my pet theory that maybe charisma is a real physical attribute like height or eye colour, not psychology, and the hyper charismatic have effectively a mutation – or putting it another way, an evolutionary adaptive trait.

There are some involuntary tells that are on the face of it invisible, but perhaps pre-consciously detectable:

Paul Ekman’s theory of micro-expressions holds that our emotions are visible in sub-second facial expressions, invisible to the eye without training, but visible to cameras.

Then check out this video magnification technique which shows that the pulse is visible through colour changes in the face. I’m sure this must be unconsciously visible – perhaps sensed just as a feeling or an intuition.

But we do have an impressive ability to detect when a person is lying! Humans, generally, are pretty good judges of character.

I’ve been in rooms with reasonably powerful people once or twice. David Cameron and Steve Ballmer come to mind. (Adam had a few too, but those are his stories to tell.) I was not a fan of either of them. Afterwards – I felt impressed? Respect? Reviewing my experience, there’s nothing tangible that should have changed my view. No conversation, just presence. AND YET.

So that’s unnerving.

It might not be purely visual. Maybe it’s a mutation which leads to intoxicating pheromones. But I think it’s physical, or at least that it’s multifactor and a large factor is physical, because it doesn’t work as well through TV.

The Golden Man

What if this ability is the ability to hack human social interaction. They don’t know how they’re doing it, or even that they are.

There’s a 1953 short story by Philip K Dick called The Golden Man (you can read the whole thing at that link).

Nuclear fallout has given rise to mutants – humans with bat wings, or psychokinesis. A government department methodically finds and euthanises them: the fear is that a mutant will be appear that can out-compete baseline humans.

The Golden Man is such a mutant. He is quick; he can see five seconds into the future; he has a golden mane. He is unnaturally sexually attractive. But he has no frontal lobe: he is pure animal. His irresistibility means he will win in the only race that matters: We’re the last of our line – like the dinosaur.

People with charisma. People with charm. So what would that mean, if true?

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