I just completed reading The Trouble With Testosterone. ('Just' is a relative term. Actually I completed it almost a month ago. At that time I was in the middle of writing a post and the next post was its continuation.I didn't want to juxtapose this one between those two posts.)
In one essay, Sapolsky discusses the evolution of firing squads which according to him were means of reducing the feeling of guilt on killing a person. In olden times, one shot was often not enough to kill a person. Multiple shots, say five, had to be fired in order to kill a person. If a person fires five shots or five people fire one shot each at the same person, the result will be the same. But in the latter case, a person thinks at some irrational level that he is only killing one-fifth of a person and is able to convince himself that he has not actually killed a person. Sapolsky writes:
Why do I think the firing squad was an accommodation to guilt, to the perception of guilt, and to guilty consciences? Because of an even more intriguing refinement in the art of killing people. By the middle of the nineteenth century, when a firing squad assembled, it was often the case that one man would randomly be given a blank bullet. Whether each member of the firing squad would tell if he had the blank or not - by the presence or absence of a recoil at that time of the shooting – was irrelevant. Each man would go home that night with the certainty that he would never be accused for sure, of having played a role in the killing.
Guilt reduction techniques are used even in modern execution methods.
In the American states that allow executions, lethal injection is fast becoming the method of choice. In states more “backward” about the technology of execution, execution is done by hand. But among the cutting - edge states, a $ 30,000 lethal injection machine is used. Its benefits, extolled by its inventor at the wardens' conventions he frequents, include dual sets of syringes and dual stations with switches for two people to throw at the same time. A computer with a binary-number generator randomises which syringe is injected into the prisoner and which ends up in a collection vial-and then erases the decision. The state of New Jersey even stipulates the use of execution technology with multiple stations and a means of randomisation. No one will ever know who really did it, not even the computer.
PS: Currently I have many new books to read. It often happens this way - for a while I won't have any new books and I will be reading old books that were disappearing from memory. Then a raft of new books will arrive in a few days from different sources, It is like waiting for a bus - you wait for one for half an hour and then three arrive at the same time. The difference is that I can read all the books sequentially over time but multiple buses at the same time are useless for a single traveller.