February 21, 2019

Deepfakes, Truth, and the American Way

Hilke Shellmann
The Wall Street Journal
October 15, 2018

Seeing isn’t believing anymore. Deep-learning computer applications can now generate fake video and audio recordings that look strikingly real.
In a recent video published by researchers to show how the technology works, an actor sits in front of a camera moving his face. The computer then generates the same expressions in real time on an existing video of Barack Obama. When the actor shakes his head, the former president shakes his head as well. When he speaks, Mr. Obama speaks as well.
“This is a big deal,” Hany Farid, computer science professor at Dartmouth College, told The Wall Street Journal. “You can literally put into a person’s mouth anything you want.”
Prof. Christian Theobalt, part of a team working on the technology at the Max-Planck-Institute for Informatics in Germany, said he is motivated by the creative possibilities that it holds for the future.
He said researchers have developed forensic methods to detect fakes.
But Prof. Farid says researchers who push computer-generated technology need to think about the consequences these computer-generated fakes could have for society. He believes forensic experts are being outpaced by the development of fakes and that there is no method yet that can detect them all.
“How are we going to believe anything anymore that we see? And so to me that’s a real threat to our democracy,” Mr. Farid said.
In the video above, WSJ’s Jason Bellini explores this world of realistic video fakes. He gets deepfaked himself, and thanks to a deep-learning application, he can now dance like Bruno Mars. He also learns of the dark side of this technology, through one victim whose life has been deeply affected by deepfakes, and why others believe they could even lead to war.
~ ~ ~
I am grateful to a friend for drawing my attention to the above report and video. It’s not the tech that should concern us. It’s the owners of the tech and the moral and ethical truth they control with it that we should be very concerned about.
Deepfakes are to truth what makeup is to beauty. Both are tools of deceit and manipulation. 
Truth, especially truth telling or truthfulness, used to be a moral matter parents taught children without much difficulty, and something politicians made an effort at being. Or, something philosophers esoterically debated.
I know, perjury, fraud, white lies happened, still do and always have. But, it was not too long ago that most everyone pretty much knew what truth was, whether they were adhering to it or not.
Not anymore. Massaging or disguising the truth is now more valued in US society than being genuinely truthful. No surprise. It’s follows from the mainstream view of the American economy, especially those favoring consumer crony capitalism – whatever the market will bear; let the buyer beware! One could say that what has happened to truth is an example of morality following the money. Let’s put it this way: You want to know what happened to the truth in America? Follow the money!

February 16, 2019

Batshittery - An Anthropological Commentary

a video on
A friend asked what I as an ethnographer, a student of Humankind, make of the cult reported on in the above video. My answer: “Batshittery americana domesticus, anthropologically speaking.”

This genus, species and subspecies belongs to the taxonomic family of religious cults and other beliefs and practices that have failed to find a place in mainstream American life. Such cults and their beliefs are not in a dustbin with similar nonsense the likes of which are never to be seen again. This one and its sundry mutant variants await us in a holding pattern in the Ethnosphere. Awaiting what? Awaiting their chance to rejoin us and hopefully get into the mainstream of American thinking. That is, as a new and improved human-made supernatural myth to propel us further toward our place in Abrahamic heaven.

But, shockingly (well, not too shockingly), such bizarre approaches, in all spheres of human life, have become more highly feasible options for Americans in recent years. That is, as we careen toward full national batshittery under the pastoral presidential leadership of God’s current anointed one, Junior Jesus Golden Hair.

February 13, 2019

African Philosophy

Thank you to those who attended Owl & Ibis on February 12th where a presentation and slideshow, "African Philosophy", was given by Immy Rose Lassiter and yours truly.

A PDF of the slideshow is here. All photos of African life by JEL.

We covered a lot of topics yet had plenty of time for questions and discussion.

~ Overview of Africa's Geography, Demography and Major Foreign Influences
~ What, Whose African Philosophy?
~ "Culture Philosophy" & Ethnophilosophy
~ African Culture and Personality
~ "Traditional" African Cultural Characteristics
~ Revitalizing, Reverting to "Traditional" African Ways
~ Case Study: The Bamasaaba of Eastern Uganda
Take Home Handout: Excerpts from the book, Circumcision and Coffee in Uganda by yours truly.

Sincere thanks to the attendees for their interest and their great questions and comments!

}:> ~:) 

February 2, 2019

United The World Stands, Divided It Falls – Choosing Capitalism Or Socialism

Virtue can only flourish among equals.
Mary Wollstonecraft

Fareed Zakaria
January 24, 2019
Washington Post

“This, then, is the post-American world. Not one marked by Chinese dominance or Asian arrogance. Not an outright anti-American one, but one in which many yearn for a greater U.S. presence. One in which countries are freelancing, narrowly pursuing their own interests, and hoping that the framework of international order remains reasonably stable. But with no one actively shoring up the international system, the great question remains: In a world without leaders, will that system over time weaken and eventually crumble?”

This is the Gloom and Doom Fareed. Below is an essay a week later where he comes on as Mr. Sunshine and Hope. In both essays he ignores the fatally flawed, thousand pound gorilla in the room – consumer crony capitalism.

Now, let’s consider the above, his first essay.

Regrettably, the US is not withdrawing from world leadership because it believes the system is flawed and it is looking for a more sustainable, equitable way forward. We, our current leaders, are withdrawing because they (wrongly) believe their nationalist power, wealth and world hegemony can be increased and more assured by going it alone.

Trump, his GOP generally but not all, claim and reassure their patrons and voter base with this ill-founded notion: “It’s a social Darwinist* world out there! No more operating as one nation among equals. We shall take the lead, dominate through economics and military threat and force, and let all others fare as best they can in our wake. The only globalism** we adhere to is one where the U.S. economically dominates but allows political spheres of influence among its adversary nations. Globalization for us is a very flat pyramid of the world’s nations with the U.S. at the apex. So help us God!"

This national versus international approach is an analogous, individual-weighted take on the individual-group dynamic, the most fundamental aspect of being human. We recently looked at this dynamic in depth at Owl & Ibis – A Confluence of Minds, through my presentation of The Evolution of Western Individualism, Part I and Part II. To analogy being made here is between the individual-group dynamic and a nationalism-globalism dynamic now favoring nationalism.

From a consideration of prehistory, history and current events O&I concluded that a political and economic approach skewed in either direction - one favoring sustained, hardline, libertarian, individual freedom or one that favors fascism, slavery, group dominance - is not better for human wellbeing and flourishing than a sustained balance between the two. That, since the origins of agriculture and urbanization the balance has shifted back and forth between favoring collectivism then favoring individualism. O&I believes there is a deep need among most of Humankind, something fundamental to our cultural nature, to ensure that one approach does not dominate the other indefinitely.

Here's another aspect of that same human nature, something contradictory: