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Blinding, amputation and other punitive mutilations have been used effectively in the past; however there are no accounts of deafening, e.g. removal of one's sense of sound, being carried out.

How would a judicial deafening sentence be carried out using simple technologies and techniques?

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    $\begingroup$ It probably wasn't done because would be nigh on impossible to do reliably and it doesn't show to the world that it's been done. Simple and obvious is what you're looking for. $\endgroup$ – Separatrix Jul 26 '17 at 10:21
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    $\begingroup$ Chopsticks in the ears. Tom Dooley documents this being done to/by Vietnamese during the First Indochina War. $\endgroup$ – Hot Licks Jul 26 '17 at 20:50
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    $\begingroup$ Wrong! Your ears you keep and I’ll tell you why. So that every shriek of every child at seeing your hideousness will be yours to cherish. Every babe that weeps at your approach, every woman who cries out, “Dear God! What is that thing,” will echo in your perfect ears. That is what to the pain means. It means I leave you in anguish, wallowing in freakish misery forever. $\endgroup$ – Samuel Jul 26 '17 at 22:42
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    $\begingroup$ Firstly, I love this side of StackExchange, man it makes me laugh. Secondly, to solve the problem of not knowing what the person did, I'd tattoo the crime and the sentence in his face, arms, back and chest. Well... we are deafening somebody, I think we already broke the humane punishment line... $\endgroup$ – AFP_555 Jul 28 '17 at 5:07
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    $\begingroup$ Do you have Rock and Roll in your world? $\endgroup$ – Harper - Reinstate Monica Jul 30 '17 at 0:11

13 Answers 13

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There is historical record (although old and unreliable) that, in 1031 or 32, Vazul, the grand prince of Hungary, was blinded and deafened using molten lead to make him unsuitable as king. It was not a regular punishment though.

Feeling his powers slipping away, [King Stephen] sent messengers in haste to have his uncle's son Vazul brought from prison in Nitra, in order to make him king of the Hungarians after himself. However, as soon as Queen Gisela got wind of this she hatched a plot with a group of traitors, and sent the ispán Sebus ahead of the messenger. Sebus had Vazul's eyes put out and molten lead poured into his ears; he then fled to Bohemia. When Vazul was at length brought back by the King's messenger, the King wept bitterly at his fate.

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  • $\begingroup$ Strange, some drawings (such as this one depict the usage of sharp tools to deafen and blind him. $\endgroup$ – Bálint Jul 30 '17 at 19:17
  • $\begingroup$ Dont know much about this particular story, but i am from Nitra and there are many mentions of pouring lead into an ear in stories. But they are just stories... $\endgroup$ – Pepo_rasta Aug 9 '17 at 13:52
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Pretty easily, even if it will be really messy and obviously painful. Drive a red-hot spike through the ear canal, about one inch deeper than the eardrum membrane.

This will destroy the tympanus and the small bones of the ear, and cauterize the vestibular ganglia and the cochlear nerve.

Obviously, you're also looking at a pretty grim fatality rate. Preventing infection will not be easy.

However, simply cauterizing the eardrum should probably be enough - the victim will then only be able to hear very strong sounds through bone conduction. You'd have to shout at him while keeping him in a head-butt. Survival rate will be markedly higher.

Both mutilations would be difficult (but not impossible) to simulate.

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    $\begingroup$ You gotta be careful with this if you want the punished to be anywhere near functional afterwords. slip a tiny bit too far and you damage the inner ear and the person's sense of balance is shot to the point that they wouldn't be able to stand, walk, sit upright.... $\endgroup$ – Paul TIKI Jul 26 '17 at 18:20
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    $\begingroup$ Yes, for that and risk of infection probably eardrum cauterization would be the easiest way to go. $\endgroup$ – LSerni Jul 26 '17 at 18:33
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    $\begingroup$ Very Very True. excellent point. This whole discussion is making me want to put headphones and earplugs as far away from me as possible :-( As was mentioned in the comments under the question, amputation and cauterization of the flesh around the ear would also be desirable to show the punishment was carried out.... Egad this is making my skin crawl $\endgroup$ – Paul TIKI Jul 26 '17 at 18:37
  • $\begingroup$ Make sure you don't go in as far as the brain either... $\endgroup$ – marcellothearcane Jul 29 '17 at 11:22
  • $\begingroup$ @marcellothearcane "You have to stop the Q-tip when there's resistance!" (Hope you got the Friends reference). :) $\endgroup$ – Deepak Jul 30 '17 at 11:41
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In my old elementary school, that was done by putting naughty kids under the bell. It was an old-school metal bell with a hammer rapidly slamming into it, that type of bell. It also was placed in a roofed part of the playground, which came down to a concrete block. Needless to say what that did to the bell sound. Naughty kids who had to stand under the bell regularly had trouble listening for the next 5 - 10 minutes after. When we didn't listen, we were basically punished to not being able to listen.

I'd say this concept can easily be enhanced to cause perma-deaf.

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    $\begingroup$ I really hope you're very old, because I'd consider that child abuse $\endgroup$ – nzaman Jul 26 '17 at 14:20
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    $\begingroup$ If you are exposed to sound loud enough to cause you to lose hearing "temporarily", there is permanent damage being done. Repeatedly being exposed to trauma does "toughen" one up, but only because scars are stiffer and less flexible. $\endgroup$ – Michael Richardson Jul 26 '17 at 15:23
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    $\begingroup$ That does permanent damage to the cilia in the cochlea $\endgroup$ – Richard U Jul 26 '17 at 15:53
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    $\begingroup$ The damage to the cilia is what causes the long term deafness: those hairs are fragile and don't grow back (its also why we, generally, lose our hearing as we get older: the loss of--say--1 cilia a month doesn't make much difference, but after a long enough period, the accumulated loss builds up: after 50 years that would be 600 missing or broken cilia! You only have about 3500 of the inner ones). $\endgroup$ – Draco18s Jul 28 '17 at 15:41
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    $\begingroup$ That is horrific. Please tell me that this was a long time ago, because all those "naughty kids" now have permanant hearing damage. $\endgroup$ – Shayne Jul 29 '17 at 13:12
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Pouring molten tin (melting point about 230°) into the ear would be agonising but survivable. The ear canal would be physically blocked and the eardrum burnt. With the head held on its side, some of the outer ear could be filled, which would be pretty obvious. Tin has been available since ~3000BC (wikipedia) so fits your setting (simple technologies).

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    $\begingroup$ I have to say this is the first time my own answer has made me feel slightly ill. $\endgroup$ – Chris H Jul 26 '17 at 19:30
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    $\begingroup$ This would give a new meaning to the phrase "tin ear", which of course normally just means tone deaf. $\endgroup$ – Chris H Jul 27 '17 at 12:37
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    $\begingroup$ @barbecue And there I thought earwax was yucky... $\endgroup$ – Zommuter Jul 28 '17 at 14:16
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    $\begingroup$ @ChrisH This made you ill? I had to talk about using human blood as a building material and it's my highest-rated answer. Yuck. $\endgroup$ – Draco18s Jul 28 '17 at 15:42
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    $\begingroup$ Cloned blood, actually, the 'donor' is still alive. But the thought of painting every surface of a prison in blood is still pretty awful. But point taken. $\endgroup$ – Draco18s Jul 28 '17 at 16:01
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What technology level?

If the technology level is 1930's and above, simply slicing the hearing nerve(vestibulocochlear nerve) would result in total deafness.

Certain drugs and chemicals can cause hearing damage.

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There have been lots of great answers. You say "simple technologies" but that doesn't really give me an idea of WHEN.

The biggest issue is that to deafen someone without killing them depends on the level of knowledge and tech available. And since I do not know when (it isn't in your question) it's hard to answer.

As to how: this will take precision. A hot spike will do, as will molten metal, like lead, has been recorded in history.

But it actually, historically has been used in at least one instance, in the case of Vazul in during the late 900s-or early 1000s. Blinding in Medieval times mostly happened with war or politics, making them unfit for command or leadership. In the case of Vazul, who was heir to the throne of Hungary, they reportedly did one better by also filling his ears with molten lead.

But, they did not just make him deaf you notice. They made him blind as well. Just making him deaf would not have been enough. A missing ear or deafness can be hidden. A person can still be used as a symbol even if they cannot hear. Especially if they can read and are educated (someone with them can make sure they say specific phrases in response to things).

I can tell you why it hasn't been used much and you can go from there.

  • you'd have to go in the ear canal, and that's not highly visible.
  • you want it to be highly visible as a deterrent. Taking off an entire ear is actually preferable to this. And, that's far more theatrical than a delicate procedure to deafen.
  • these people won't be listening to you chastise them later if they do anything else. Most civilizations, in early stages, do not have a high level of reading and writing. What it means is that there is no way of giving these people instruction and orders, no way for them to understand. And unlike blindness, it doesn't make them helpless and unable to attack you, just deaf to your pleas.
  • You WANT your victims to survive. They need to be a walking advertisement. If this is primitive, the procedure itself has a high probability of killing them. This is actually pretty likely that close to the brain.
  • It's not on the list of things for a reason. Blinding someone, which is relatively "easy" is but other things were not carried out as much as you might think.

Amputation was in Byzantine times, supposed to be a replacement for the death penalty. You'd likely die of your wound, however, there was possibility you would not. A rich man might get a surgeon in to do it properly. A poor man got a man with an axe.

Taking a tongue out--not giving the person a voice is far better than making them unable to listen. Symbolically.

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  • $\begingroup$ However with your point #4, you contradict it with an example involving amputation. Why couldn't deafening be used in a similar way? High chance it might kill you but on the chance it doesn't, you can't hear. Also, if #4 was so important, then there should have been far less executions. $\endgroup$ – The_Sympathizer Jul 30 '17 at 10:24
  • $\begingroup$ @mike3 That depends on the aim. And what society. In Byzantine, they didn't care if the victim survived, it was death OR. So, yes, there's a contradiction. . Of course if you amputate 100 thieves and only 3-4 survive, it can still work. But if you are going out of your way to blind someone or deprive them of a sense, and this is a regular punishment, yes, you would rather they survived as a deterrent. And this happened often in the case of honored opponents of battle, or political leaders that you don't wanna off $\endgroup$ – Erin Thursby Jul 30 '17 at 17:21
  • $\begingroup$ What I was suggesting was what about using the deafening punishment in cases where they wouldn't care about the victim survival as you mention (and a chance of dying from it could make a deterrent of its own wouldn't it?)? $\endgroup$ – The_Sympathizer Jul 30 '17 at 22:58
  • $\begingroup$ @mike3 I agree with you on that! Yes. $\endgroup$ – Erin Thursby Jul 31 '17 at 4:15
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Ok, here is a semi-human (read simian) way to do it without much pain and complications:

You eliminate the eardrum scratching with a needle, and then surgically insert a small cylinder that prevents the tissue from growing back.

It is not pain- or risk-free, but should be efficient. The drawback is that there would be some residual hearing because the auditory ossicles would still be functional.

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Ototoxic drugs exist, and their effect is often via a cumulative lifetime dose: though I wouldn't approve of this clinically(!), in the setting of the world you are building, an intravenous infusion of one of these drugs would be effective, cheap, and easy to administer (hence why it's a classic medical error).

The ones that spring to mind are antibiotics such as gentamicin. I think the maximum lifetime dose is about 15g - you couldn't give it all in one infusion (it's profoundly nephrotoxic), but, say, 1g per day over a fortnight might be a slow, macabre approach to causing deafness.

Arguably, ototoxic drugs may be more 'humane' than more violent approaches like surgical ablation, radiotherapy to the ear, or acoustic trauma; or maybe it's just more sinister? Good luck with your story.

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As long as you're careful about exactly how deep you go a spike could be used to destroy the structure of the ear, go too deep and you'll hit the brain and it's all over. There's always going to be issues of infection with any physical trauma, especially with the ear because you can't see what's going on, using a hot iron will help because it will at least sterilise and cauterise the initial wound site but it's a punishment that's going to kill a lot more people that you probably want it to at low tech levels.

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Something that could be considered, that I don't believe would actually physically harm the individual would be to damage their hearing with loud sounds. Anything above 85 decibels will start to damage your hearing with a direct correlation to the amount of time exposed. A rock concert is usually between 110-120 decibels. From personal experience I can say after being exposed to that for 4+ hours had my ears ringing the next day and most sounds sounded muffled to a degree. So if you have access to firearms in your world, shooting directly by the ear of the individual would damage their hearing (guns tend to be between 120-190 decibels).

The only physical damage I could see being possible besides some ear bleeding, would be if the pressure/force wave of the sound was directed at the individual, because if that is high enough it can start to damage you internally.

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How would a judicial deafening sentence be carried out using simple technologies and techniques?

Using sound and pressure waves. A pair of airtight headphones are clamped to the ears and a combination of a piston (for low frequencies) and speakers (for high frequencies) would activate generating sounds at pressure levels that permanently destroy the cilia in the cochlea at all frequencies of interest.

This is done with sound pressure levels, at frequencies, and over a long enough period of time that 99% of cilia are destroyed, rendering the individual legally deaf.

It should not otherwise harm the other nearby organs, so sense of balance and brain tissue should be fine, though immediately after treatment I expect one would experience a headache.

Combine it with an EEG and you can measure brain response to sound, so you can perform sweep tests of the human hearing range, and then reapply sound pressure at frequencies they can still hear without requiring them to provide feedback. This would be necessary since everyone has some variation in hearing.

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Most of the answers above suffer from two problems: possibility for infection, and that they're permanent. If you don't care about that, fine, but if you do, let me offer an alternative.

Cochlear implants are real-life devices used to help people who are deaf. There could be some minor side effects, but they're usually not debilitating. And it's done in a hospital room, like any other surgery, and so minimizes the former problem (we hope). Plus, it's (mostly) pain-free. Unless you want the process to be torturous as well.

At this point, all you'd have to do is hook the devices up to a remote or something of the like, with which you can adjust the volume at which they can hear. Thus, you can just turn their hearing off for as long as you'd like.

One other bonus is that you can give them built-in shock therapy. For instance, if you want to do this to prevent thievery, and he continues stealing anyway, just use your handy dandy remote to get the implant to give him some good-ol' shock therapy. That's going to be one heck of a headache.

One problem is power sourcing. Perhaps you could somehow build the devices to build up energy from heat let off by the brain, where most of the body's energy is spent. Basically, it'll be the Prius of the biomedical torture devices. That seems to be the most practical option. You could put a solar panel on his head, or put some wires all up and down his body to gain energy from his movements, but seemingly having the charging device on the battery itself would be the most practical option.

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  • $\begingroup$ So much for low-tech... $\endgroup$ – Mathieu Guindon Jul 28 '17 at 1:24
  • $\begingroup$ @Mat'sMug Where did the OP say anything about low-tech? He said "simple," not "none." $\endgroup$ – DonielF Jul 28 '17 at 1:25
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    $\begingroup$ Well between "simple technologies and techniques" and "the Prius of the biomedical torture devices", I think this answer misses the mark. $\endgroup$ – Mathieu Guindon Jul 28 '17 at 1:27
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Might I propose Mack's Pillow Soft Earplugs?

https://www.amazon.com/Macks-Pillow-Earplugs-Value-Count/dp/B004RRGUCY?th=1 enter image description here

enter image description here

The technology is very simple. The nice thing about Mack's Pillow Softs as a judicial punishment is that it does make one quite deaf, but is easily reversible, and so the punishment can take place for a prescribed period and then end.

And if you transgress again you know what you are in for: more Mack's!

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  • $\begingroup$ wouldn't ... wouldn't the person just take them out when no one is around? $\endgroup$ – Apologize and reinstate Monica Jul 26 '17 at 19:29
  • $\begingroup$ @sgroves - there is something to what you say. But: why didn't Hester Prynne take off the Scarlet Letter when no-one was around? The Macks are partly to leaven the tone here because for once, Medwed is asking for simple and did not mandate that it be brutal. This is the simplest, best answer. $\endgroup$ – Willk Jul 26 '17 at 19:33
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    $\begingroup$ @sgroves. Yes. You will recall the endeavor on this site is to /construct imaginary worlds and settings/ $\endgroup$ – Willk Jul 26 '17 at 20:01
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    $\begingroup$ According to the description, those earplugs only provide a 22 dB noise reduction. My earplugs provide 33 dB reduction, and I can still hear people talking to me. They mainly just tone down really sharp sounds like firearms or power tools, and make it difficult to hear very quiet sounds. $\endgroup$ – MichaelS Jul 27 '17 at 0:27
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    $\begingroup$ Can't you put wax in people's ears? $\endgroup$ – user9981 Jul 29 '17 at 15:46

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