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« More on "cultural availability" & the Crickett... Ignored stories of "defensive use" (by children wielding the "Crickett" no less!) | Main | Who sees accidental shootings of children as evidence in support of gun control & why? The "cultural availability" effect »

Who is disgusted by kids' "toy" guns & drones, and why?

I was reflecting on the "disgust and revulsion" occassioned by "the Crickett"--a (slightly) minaturized but fully authentic, functional .22 rifle that is marketed for children ("my first rifle!"), one of which figured in the widely reported fatal shooting of a 2-year-old by her 5-year-old brother (the Crickett "owner") in Kentucky.

That got me to thinking about the links between cultural styles, the role of technological objects in expressing and propagating them, and the way in which emotions figure both in the value (or disvalue) we attach to such objects and the risks (or benefits) we see those objects as posing (or conferring)....

I thought maybe I'd write about this but I was not sure exactly how to put things or exactly what I think anyway. Actually, those problems rarely stop me, but still, I thought I'd try something else that might both communicate my apprehension of the phenomenon and motivate others to try to help make me sense of it.


I admit that I am disgusted by the Crickett (I admit, too, that I'm slightly concerned about why, and about the challenge this reaction creates for me in trying to see things in a fair and impartial light and to deal with others in a respectful and tolerant way).  

But the Bumblebee "first drone" strikes me (so to speak) as wondrous and beautiful--and a brilliant child's toy! Indeed, I'd very much like one myself.

One of the reasons I can't get one is that it doesn't exist--yet. But I'm sure someone-- someone else who followed this week's less widely heralded reporting on the progress of Harvard University's "Robobee" project-- is working on it. (You can get the Crickett, or at least could until a couple days ago; the "newsletter" for is real & was captured from the internet before the recent Kentucky shooting, after which the company shut down its internet site.)

At the same time, I know that the Bumblebee-- and the anticipated companion "first drones" that its manufacturer has in the works--will fill many with horror, revulsion, disgust. As a result, it will fill them with fear of all the harmsto public safety, to privacy, and to other goods--that private drones pose.

Is that part of what I like about the Bumblebee? I don't think so; I sure hope not, in fact.

But knowing they feel this way almost fills me with resolve to buy one for myself, and another two or three for holiday gifts and birthday presents for children whose families I know will want them to grow up sharing their fascination and wonder for science, technology, and human ingenuity . . . .

A while back, I posted a 2-part series "Who are these guys?," which responded to Jen Brisseli's request for a more vivid picture of the sorts of people who subscribe to the cultural styles defined by the "cultural cognition worldview" framework.  

This post is in the spirit of that, I think. Indeed, I think it is in the spirit of how Jen Brisseli wants to promote reflection on science generally with her "designing science" conception of science communication--this way of proceeding likely occurred to me b/c I have had the benefit of reflecting on what she is up to.

But now my question is this: who would be filled with appreciation and passion, and who with revulsion & disgust, by these "toys"?  And why?  Who are these guys?

In this regard -- and getting back to the form of inquiry and communication that I usually use to address such matters -- it's interesting to consider perceptions of technology risks.

In one CCP study of nanotechnology risk perceptions, we found that there was no cultural division over its risks and benefits generally. Not surprising, since 80% of the subjects had no idea what it was.

But when we exposed another group of subjects to a small amount of scientifically accurate, balanced information on nanotechnology risks and benefits, those individuals polarized along lines consistent with cultural predispositions associated with pro- and anti-technology outlooks.

The cultural group that credited the information about nanotechnology benefits and discounted the information about risks, moreover, was generally hierarchical and individualistic in orientation.  People with these outlooks are generally skeptical of environmental risks--ones relating to nuclear power and climate change, e.g.

But they also are the ones most predisposed to see gun risks as low--and see the risks associated with excessive control, including impairment of lawful self-defense, as high.  They believe, too, that empirical evidence compiled by scientists backs them up on this, and that their views on both climate change and nuclear power are also consistent with scientific consensus.

Egalitarian communiatarian subjects are generally very sensitive to technology risks -- they worry a lot about both climate change and nuclear power.  

They also are sickened by guns. They find them disgusting.  And consistent with cultural cognition they see guns as extremely risky, and gun control as extremely effective--and believe that empirical evidence compiled by scientists back them up on this, just as such evidence backs up their views about environmental and technological risks

I bet people who buy "the Crickett" for their young children are mainly hierarchical and individualist. Does that mean they would also like the Bumblebee?

Kids having a blast with their Cricketts!Would egalitarian communitarian, who I'm sure tend to be very disturbed by the Crickett, think the Bumblebee is also an abomination? And of course a tremendous risk to public safety and various other elements of well-being?

I sort of think that this conclusion isn't really right. That it's too simple....

"Group-grid," as my collaborators and I conceive of it at least, is a model.  All models are simplifications. Simplifying models are useful. But they also are necessarily false. 

If the insight that is enabled by simplifying complicated true things outweighs the distortion associated with what is necessarily false about simplifying them, then a model advances understanding.

But even a model that advances understanding in this way with respect to some issues or for a period of time can become one that doesn't advance understanding -- because what is false about it obscures insight into complicated things that are true -- with respect to some other set of issues, or with respect even to the same ones at a later time .... 

Anyway, I plan to keep my eye on drones.  I think they are or can be beautiful.  But I know that they also sicken and disgust others.  Who? and Why?


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Reader Comments (19)

In your earlier post on the "people of the grid", in reply to Jen Brisseli's questions, I noted in a comment that it was interesting you used two representatives for the egalitarian/communitarian sector -- presumably because you recognized a divergence there that the 2D model couldn't handle. I suggested a third dimension be added to the model, with the poles designated "control" and "laissez-faire" to handle this deficiency, and I wonder if it would help in these case? In a number of issues, for example, it's possible to feel opposed to something personally, even to the point of disgust or sickness, yet feel even greater opposition to the idea of using force, especially the force of the state, to suppress it. That might be the case for quite a few regarding abortion, for example. And it might explain some of the anomalies surrounding the issues of guns or drones.

May 4, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterLarry

I find myself wondering which of the cultural groups would perceive it to be most appropriate that the company making the Crickett is located on Sodom Road.

May 4, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterDoug S

Drone/aircraft have been around for years, my children had remote control helicopters and planes.Of course they were not used for spying or dropping bombs, but I guess the ability to do so was there. Barbie Doll Pink guns in a 5 year old hands with live ammunition is a new level of madness for me, it is such a stretch from a water gun. I think the Lone Ranger six-shooter started this insanity and Cricket pushed the envelope too far, no doubt they are looking for overseas production and have closed up shop temporarily.

May 4, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterDebra H.

@Debra H: Maybe we can have a Barbie accessory pack that comes w/ both operational handgun & drone. Mass marketing it might help our children learn to overcome the cultural polarization that is tearing us apart.

May 4, 2013 | Unregistered Commenterdmk38

@Larry: There are definitely some important fissures worth exploring among ECs -- HIs & HCs too-- on novel technologies ... Stay tuned!

May 4, 2013 | Unregistered Commenterdmk38

I don't know if my last comment got dropped into the spam bucket? I'll try again.


"At the same time, I know that the Bumblebee-- and the anticipated companion "first drones" that its manufacturer has in the works--will fill many with horror, revulsion, disgust. As a result, it will fill them with fear of all the harms—to public safety, to privacy, and to other goods--that private drones pose."

Dunno about "horror, revulsion, disgust". Caution, maybe. It's like a lot of technologies - it's not about the technology itself, it's about the uses people put them to. If society has widely-accepted ethical rules against abusing it, the benefits generally outweigh the costs. The issue in this case is not the drones, which I think HI people would think were pretty cool too, but society's casual attitude to other people's privacy (as opposed to its disapproval of shooting people).

Take another, similar example - camera phones. It's a great boon to humanity to have a high-quality camera on hand at any time. And it wasn't long before guys were spotted in shopping malls on escalators using them to get ... ahem... upward-looking shots of the girl just in front of them, if you know what I mean.

Disgust and horror? Sure. But ban camera phones? No.

By the way, so far as I know, such drones are already available to the public, although not at bumblebee size. As are hidden spy cameras. As is pervasive surveillance in shops and streets.

The question is how can you get people to respect other's privacy, without banning a useful technology entirely. Especially when some of them, like law enforcement, think that such moral boundaries don't apply to them.

May 5, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterNiV

@NiV: What do you think of the Crickett? & of those who are enthused about it?

May 5, 2013 | Unregistered Commenterdmk38

@NiV: & what is Jesse Ventura disgusted by? ...

May 5, 2013 | Unregistered Commenterdmk38

"What do you think of the Crickett? & of those who are enthused about it?"

I think it makes much more sense to teach kids to use guns safely and responsibly, under supervision, and for them to learn to think of them as something ordinary, a tool for a particular purpose, rather than something glamorous/dramatic/scary they only see in movies and on TV. TV is not a good place to learn about guns.

With regard to guns generally, I'm not an enthusiast myself (and I live in a country where they're very hard to get hold of legally), but I'm not bothered by them either. I have been taught to use them, in the past. I can see the point of those who support them in terms of the arguments for liberty - that the state should not have all the guns, that the state shouldn't have the right to tell you what tools you can and cannot possess without a much better reason, and that they have their uses. I do think they're being grossly unrealistic if they think they could use them to take on a government that became oppressive, but I would say that standing up for the right is a necessary element in stopping the government becoming oppressive, because it establishes and maintains the principle that the government has limits, and reduces the imbalance of power considerably.

While I'm not exactly in the same camp as them, I find the gun enthusiasts far easier to understand than the gun opponents. In particular, I find the idea that people object to ordinary people having guns because it allows them to challenge the state's power to be unpleasantly authoritarian. Or the idea that power is only safe (or indeed any safer) in the hands of the state. People forget the state is composed of people too, and the Stanford prison experiment (or any amount of real-life history) tells us what a bad idea that can be.

And I'm against banning stuff just on general principles. I find it disturbing that some people seem to think they have the right (indeed, the responsibility) to decide for others what risks they'll take.

I consider this the major cultural and political divide in all our societies; one that keeps on recurring over and over again in history. In your terms: individualists versus communitarians. Is it better/safer to live in a society of free individuals bound only by a strong moral code, or as powerless and obedient members of the community protected by a beneficent and all-powerful state? This is just another skirmish in that long war. And as such, it's not really about the specific facts of the matter regarding guns. As you've already noted, few pay any attention to the actual facts, anyway.


I'm not really familiar with Jesse Ventura, beyond what I read on the internet, so I couldn't really say. You'd know better than I. I get the impression that he makes no secret of his opinions, though.

May 5, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterNiV

@NiV: I think Jesse Ventura was an outstanding wrestler

May 5, 2013 | Unregistered Commenterdmk38

Here's another Youtube video: "Girl defends home with pink rifle" (found alongside the Cricket commercial linked above). Would those sickened and disgusted at the Cricket ads still feel such emotions over this story?

May 6, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterLarry

@Larry-- I was going to feature that video in another blog post! The answer is that those who are disgusted by the Crickett won't see that video at all. Part of the cultural availability effect--people take note, assign significance to, and recall only those stories, events etc. that gratify what they are culturally predisposed to believe... Of course, you probably noticed what someone disgusted by the Crickett would notice if forced to watch the video? It's really soooooo perfect!

May 6, 2013 | Unregistered Commenterdmk38

@Larry-- posted it

May 6, 2013 | Registered CommenterDan Kahan

"Of course, you probably noticed what someone disgusted by the Crickett would notice if forced to watch the video?"

Several things. The burglars breaking in were themselves teenagers with a rifle. The parents had left a child alone. They'd left them in a house with a gun and ammunition not locked up in a gun safe. Fortunately, the burglars ran away, but what if they hadn't? Would we have had a traumatised 13-year old who would have to live with having killed people? Or worse, having got shot herself? Do we know what the story of the teenage burglars was - might they have been driven to it by deprived childhoods and poverty? Do we know if they intended any harm to the girl? And do we really think it would serve the interests of justice for minor burglary to be summarily punishable by death?

There's a lot more that could be said about it, and if you look at it more closely it's a more complex moral question. But I suspect that such deep questioning would be excluded by the combined cultural and emotional weight of home, family, the heroic narrative and sheer cuteness. It would be seen as ungenerous to take away the girl's moment in the limelight.

But that would be to let emotion overrule rationality. This is just one case, a narrowly-averted near-tragedy for a child that people are using for political purposes. What about the bigger picture?


There! How do you think I did, getting into the mind of a gun opponent?

May 6, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterNiV

@NiV: I think you are even more in the mind than I imagined I was (& it might be my mind; I'm completely lost in that respect!). The point about teens w/ a gun breaking in is great! I thought the kicker was that the intruders were breaking in to steal the family's guns! The instrument of defense was what put them at risk in the 1st place -- a point reinforced by your observation that the intruders armed w/ a gun (probably not a Crickett, which is no doubt why they fled; the pink rifle stock is terrifying)

May 6, 2013 | Registered CommenterDan Kahan

Thanks! As you might have guessed, I've been in this debate before.

Yes, the pink rifle might have been another reason they ran. They were hoping to get hold of some new guns, but can you imagine any self-respecting teenage boy, sensitive to their street-cred image amongst the criminal classes, being forced to appear in public with a pink gun?! Or trying to sell it, and pretend it's legally theirs?

It's like the argument about "assault" rifles - in which it proves very difficult to define exactly what that means in practical terms. It appears to be mainly about cosmetic features and... well... 'image',

May 6, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterNiV

I want one a drone. The hummingbird one. Last I read (in Science about a yr ago) they still hadn't worked out its ability to land properly

May 8, 2013 | Unregistered Commenterdmk38

I received my first .22 rifle on Christmas at the age of 8. I was taught to respect guns, and never to touch even "my" gun without an adult around. At age 13 I was given a "build a radio" lab kit for my birthday. I now work on radios in the Air Force, and deployed with a .223 cal rifle. I reject the notion that people who love firearms hate science and technology.

October 18, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterJoe Johnson

"The instrument of defense was what put them at risk in the 1st place"

Hunting firearms tend to be much more expensive. What makes you so certain the firearms targeted for theft were purchased solely -- or at all -- for self defense?

My self defense firearm is a $400 semiautomatic pistol. My hunting and skeet shotgun is worth nearly $2,000. Because of the long barrel it is utterly inappropriate for home defense.

Also are you aware that many jurisdictions now force you to buy double the number of guns if you have a spouse? In my jurisdiction my wife cannot take any of my guns, even locked and unloaded in the car trunk, to the range. The laws effectively force us to have two of everything. My eldest is 17, when he turns 18, I will have to start buying three of every rifle.

March 28, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterRobert

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