Blog of Sara Jakša

What Really Is Catch 22?

Recently, somebody mentioned on one of my columns, that I described the catch 22. Not knowing, what does it mean, I decided to investigate and see, what is behind this phrase.

Catch 22 is a phrase, that came from the novel with the same title (from Joseph Heller). It can describe either the bureaucratic operations or impossible situation.

The number was chosen arbitrary. 14 didn't sound like they wanted, the 11 was used before in Ocean 11 and so on. The 22 in just some publisher's idea, and the whole idea of catch and number was some book author's idea.

But it started to get used in the language more and more, indicating the decision, where both of the outcome were unfavourable.

There are other words that I prefer to use for situation like that, but some of them have different meaning as well, making this phrase possibly more suitable for use.

Like the word no-win situation. It is possibly the term, that can be used the easiest instead of the Catch 22. Dilemma could already meant, that there could be two positive possible choices, but only one could be chosen. Paradox usually described the situation, that is not possible under the known rules, but can also mean a choice between two negative decisions.

So to apply that to the comment on my column. It referred to the laws concerning pot. Because reducing the restriction on the drugs could stop some people from getting addicted (eliminating the forbidden fruit effect), but not the others. And some people, that otherwise would never tries pot might try it, because it is not forbidden anymore.

So any action potentially leads to negative effects. And we also have a bureaucratic situation, reminding us on the original Catch 22, that made the bureaucracy work and people were obedient, but it did not really exist, so it could not be destroyed.

Let hope that the usage of drugs will not have the same fate.