22 March 2009

Catch-22

I’m reading the classic called Catch-22. It’s a satire, and a very funny one. Here are a few thoughts about it:

The cover of Joseph Hellers novel Catch-22

Yossarian is a bombardier pilot. He has to fly 55 missions before he can go home. It used to be 45 missions, and then 35—it keeps changing as he approaches it. But there’s an alternate route: If a pilot is crazy, he can go home. “Well,” says Yossarian, “so-and-so is crazy. Why doesn’t he get out?” “Because he hasn’t asked.” “Well, what if he does?” “He won’t.” “Why not?” “Because he’d have to be sane to want to not fly through the air with people trying to kill him.” And that’s the catch. Catch-22, that is. Catch-22 says that if a pilot asks to get out, clearly he is not insane.

The book is full of these logical circles. (Another character thinks he has flies in his eyes. But, of course, if you have flies in your eyes, you can’t see clearly enough to tell whether you’ve got them or not. So nobody really knows.) It’s almost like it was written by someone who was crazy.

It reminds me of a peeve I had in the 10th grade. On the math tests, there would be a really hard problem at the end. And if you got it correct, you got extra credit. The funny thing though: the kids who were smart enough to solve the problem had high enough grades not to need extra credit. The kids who did need it were never smart enough to get it. Catch-22.