Humans have come up with all sorts of ways to inflict suffering on one other, from torture devices, to psychological manipulation, to Denny's. You might reasonably assume that the people inventing these new and terrible forms of torture were pure, unadulterated evil -- but that's not always the case. Sometimes, they were honestly trying to help. For example...
For decades, the idea of jamming a spike through someone's cerebrum was considered a legitimate treatment for everything from panic attacks to nervous indigestion. Potential side effects included the loss of inhibition, catatonic states, and death -- which isn't that surprising, considering that lobotomists weren't exactly sure what they were doing, or even where in the brain to target. They were essentially playing Operation inside your cranium.
What kind of monsters would send someone to get lobotomized? Mostly people trying to keep their loved ones, or themselves, from ending up in an asylum. Before we had things like antipsychotic medication, treatment options for mental health issues were basically limited to straightjackets and confinement. So when the lobotomy came along and promised a simple procedure that could get rid of those nasty thoughts, volunteers weren't hard to find. Hell, some people went back for repeats.
The world's preeminent lobotomist, Walter Freeman, promised that a "lobotomy gets them home," and for the most part, he was right. A lobotomized patient might come back with a duller personality, and needing to relearn how to use the bathroom -- but hey, they came back! Uh, except the 13 percent who ended up worse, or the 3 percent who died. But lots of people still liked those chances better than what they faced in a mental hospital.
Lobotomies only went out of style when less invasive, cheaper treatments such as Thorazine were introduced. Even though they advertised the drug like a John Carpenter film, for some
Being kept awake for several days is no picnic. Doctors insist that prolonged wakefulness produces psychosis, and is tantamount to brain damage, hampering bodily functions and inflicting psychological scars normally only observed among viewers of recent Adam Sandler movies.
So it's ironic that the people who came up with this form of torture did so out of compassion and empathy... relatively speaking. Even during the height of the witch-hunting craze in pre-Enlightenment Europe, governments had concerns about the legality and morality of their horrifying interrogation techniques. Spanish Inquisitors advised against breaking bones if possible. When everyone's going around stretching people to death and such, depriving someone of sleep was one of the few ways an interrogator could show "leniency."
Scotland became the first country to adopt sleep deprivation on a wider scale in the 1640s, since they considered it "less legally dubious" than stuff like Spain's beloved rack. Plus, it got fast results! Or so they thought. Because going two or more days without sleep tends to produce hallucinations, jailers took ravings about flying or turning into animals as confessions of witchcraft instead of annoying conversations about stupid visuals, and were able to execute the accused with a clear conscience.
Locking someone up for 23 hours a day in a tiny cubicle with no windows and no human interaction is not particularly conducive to good mental health, it turns out. The practice has been shown to lead to psychosis, suicidal thoughts, PTSD, and permanent alteration of the brain. And here's the soulless bastard who popularized it:
Horrified by the primitive conditions of dirty, crowded, violent prisons in the 18th century, Quakers formulated a humanitarian solution that drew inspiration from monastic orders. The whole point was to redeem inmates without whips or public humiliation. Judging by their hats, they were probably immune to that last part, anyway.
Solitary confinement was supposed to be the great innovation that would reform the brutal American penal system. The Quakers devised the idea of a lone prisoner doing penance like a monk in a clean, private cell, reading their Bible in silent contemplation, reflecting on their sins and the meaning of life. Then they tried it out for real, and things went south fast. Rather than liberating prisoners, it drove inmates out of their minds and led many to insanity or suicide. The Quakers forgot that even monks shoot the shit with each other, engage in meaningful work, and sometimes get trashed on homebrewed wine.
Once guards and wardens figured out it was an easy route to fuck with prisoners, solitary quickly devolved into routine disciplinary action. Today we have prisons that are basically big masses of solitary confinement units. They should have just made 'em wear the funny hats.
Scopolamine, sodium pentothal, and sodium amytal are better known as "the truth serum," when they should be known as "some bullshit that only works in spy movies." Truth serums do make people blather, but there's no scientific evidence that it makes them blather the actual truth. Unscrupulous shrinks have long used these drugs to force lurid, book-worthy stories out of patients, with little care for whether they happened or not. That's actually how we got the stupid satanic sex panics of the 1980s.
But that wasn't the plan. Truth serums were intended not to coerce dubious confessions or allegations, but to free innocent suspects. It makes as much sense as billy clubs designed for physical therapy, but the first non-medical uses of the drug were advocated under the guise of ethical policing. While working with pregnant women in the 1920s, obstetrician Robert House noted their reduced inhibition while under scopolamine. And, bless his soul, the man's first thought was "This could revolutionize crime-fighting!" House suggested the tool to law enforcement officials as a great way to end wrongful incarceration, and began acting as an uncompensated pitchman for truth serums ... which means that in all likelihood, he accidentally sent a whole lot of innocent people to prison. Whoops.
Believing they'd discovered a foolproof method to extract the truth, every bent cop and interrogator adopted the drug, but without any of the pesky ethics House had in mind. It wasn't until the 1960s that the Supreme Court declared a truth serum confession unconstitutional. On the upside, this whole thing eventually led to some funny moments in the latest Ant-Man movie. Let the healing begin.
Between the exploding heads, the sizzling flesh, the blood spurting out of orifices, and the botched executions that periodically drag out over 15 minutes, the electric chair is the stuff of nightmares. Today, the chair is used in only a handful of U.S. states that are unusually fond of the stench of burning hair. Because criminals should die as horribly as possible, right?
Well, that's the exact opposite intention of the electric chair's inventor. Engineer Alfred Southwick was trying to make a near-instantaneous, painless way to shuffle off undesirables (as opposed to hanging, in which the condemned sometimes had to be revived and re-executed). Before the state of New York took Southwick's suggestion, a board of reformers came up with 34 rejected methods which could replace hanging, ranging from blowing the condemned up with cannons to throwing them off a cliff -- oh, also impalement, fire, boiling, crushing with a giant mortar and pestle. It was like a particularly dark brainstorming session in a Wile E. Coyote writer's room.
To be fair, electricity was kind of a new thing back in Southwick's day, and he didn't quite know what it would do to the human body. You may remember that famed inventor and Cracked Rogues Gallery Chief, Thomas Edison, suggested using alternating current in Southwick's chair... solely to undermine rival George Westinghouse's preferred tech (or just to ensure the confused ghost haunted someone else).
After trying the chair on stray animals ('good intentions' is a relative term all throughout this article), Southwick proved its feasibility on humans ... sort of. The first electric chair guinea pig, William Kemmler, took four minutes to die, prompting incredulous screams from witnesses. His corpse was hot to the touch for hours afterward. Annoyed at the negative press AC technology received, Westinghouse summed up the debacle best: "They could have done a better job with an ax." Good thing we ... kept using the chair anyway for over a century? Hahaha, we suck so much.
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