What Is A Catch-22?

By Antonia Čirjak on March 16 2020 in Society

Catch-22 is a thought concept that explains the impossibility of completing a task because it depends on conflicting conditions.
  • Catch-22 is a satirical novel written by Joseph Heller.
  • Catch-22 explains the inability to complete tasks because you get stuck in a loop of inter-depending factors.
  • The main character of Catch-22 is called Captain John Yossarian.

Catch-22 is a thought concept that explains the impossibility of completing a task because it depends on conflicting conditions.

Imagine this: you need to wear glasses because your vision is terrible. One day you lose them. You can not function properly without your glasses. To get back to your routine, you need to find your glasses, but since your vision is bad - you can not, and that is a Catch-22 situation. 

Bureaucratic Logic

This concept explicitly points out how it can be challenging to complete an action because of the depending factors. But this is not your typical ‘’everything is related’’, blanket type of thinking. As with the case when someone loses their glasses - the only possible solution seems out of reach because it is inherent to the problem: you do not see good enough to look for your glasses in the first place. 

The analogy of the Catch-22 is often used to describe some structural problems that came with modernity. The complexity of our world and our business and personal relations has changed drastically from the 20th century onward. The advancements in the technology of transportation and communication are accompanied by the ever-growing bureaucratic system of the state.

While bureaucratic institutions try to simplify life by reducing it to a number of manageable (but different) objects, the truth is the exact opposite sometimes. This example was portrayed in a novel called, you guessed it, Catch-22.

Insane Or Not - You Are Flying Those Missions!

In 1961, American author Joseph Heller wrote a satirical piece about Captain John Yossarian and the troubles he had to go through only to avoid going into the battlefields of World War II. Heller, although the novel did not have much success upon release, provides a critical analysis of a military system and the way it handles people, or war in general when the time comes. The military system is, in many ways, bureaucratic. Strict procedures and thought regimes, loads of paperwork, hierarchy - it is all part of the military infrastructure. 

In 1961, American author Joseph Heller wrote a satirical piece about Captain John Yossarian and the troubles he had to go through only to avoid going into the battlefields of World War II.
In 1961, American author Joseph Heller wrote a satirical piece about Captain John Yossarian and the troubles he had to go through only to avoid going into the battlefields of World War II.

Heller’s main character, Captain Yossarian, is a member of the crew of a plane that is involved in airstrike operations. We can look at the whole book as a critique of the military, and what kind of fear and horror situations of war cause in people. But, there is something very detailed about Yossarian’s issue, which explains the absurdity of war. 

Yossarian wants to stay alive, and he knows that flying these missions is very dangerous. In the book, there is a military rule known as Catch-22, which makes it impossible to escape from participating in battles for plane pilots. So, the reasoning behind the Catch-22 rule goes something like this:

Flying these missions is crazy per se, as they are very dangerous. If you are crazy - you do not have to fly. But, you have to apply that you are insane to avoid missions, which is viewed as an act of sanity. So, whatever you do as a pilot, you will have to fly: if you do not report insanity, you fly; if you do report insanity, that makes you rational, you fly.

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