Catch-45

There is only one catch...

There was only one catch and that was Catch-22.

Team Trump has issued their official response to the impeachment inquiry, as summed up here:

It's a familiar tactic from Donald, who says he will accept any negative coverage as long as it's fair, and who judges coverage of himself to be fair if it's positive.

These are both classic examples of a catch-22, a form of logical paradox introduced in the novel of the same name by Joseph Heller. In logic and pop culture, a catch-22 is a type of self-fulfilling double-bind, like "you can't get experience without a job and you can't get a job without experience." In the novel, catch-22 says (among other things) that any airman who is not sane must be grounded, but any airman who asks to be grounded must be sane.

Catch-22 is remembered as being a bit of absurd legalism, Kafkaesque bureaucracy run wild, but that isn't quite true. It didn't arise because the right hand didn't know what the left hand was doing, or because two petty tyrants were working cussedly at cross-purposes.

It didn't, properly speaking, arise at all.

It doesn't exist.

Within the narrative of the novel Catch-22, there is no actual official canonical formulation of Catch-22. It isn't written down anywhere, and when it is invoked, it means whatever the speaker needs it to mean.

It's usually in the form of the paradox that bears its name, but in one of the most telling moments in the book, one of the women of Pianosa tells Yossarian her version of Catch-22: the US military men have the right to do anything people can't stop them from doing.

This differs from the other formulations in that there is no contradiction. To fit the formula, they would have to have the right to do anything they can't physically do, or something like that. "Might makes right" is not a nice way to do things but it's not a logical paradox. It's internally consistent within itself.

And in this moment, we see what catch-22 really means: that might makes right.

Catch-22 is that it doesn't matter what the rules say the rules are, it matters what the people who enforce the rules say they are. Catch-22 is that it doesn't matter if a piece of paper or an ideal or an abstract concept or a regulation or a law says you have a right, it only matters if the people with the muscle and the guns and the will to use them against you says you have that right.

Catch-22 is that if someone has power over you, they can make you play absurd games with no hope of winning and keep you playing because losing over and over is better than forfeiting, and anyway you might win.

Catch-22 is that they can put the absurd cruelty on display for all the world to see, give it a name like "catch-22" that you know is not the name of any rule or regulation and then refuse to let you see it, because they know there is nothing you can do about it.

In the most iconic example, there is no actual definition of sanity or insanity being cited. There is no actual contradiction between being too unwell to fly and recognizing that flying bombing missions is dangerous. And above all else, there is no logical reason why -- if your working definition of insanity involves being unable to make rational decisions -- your mental health screening would rely on soldiers asking to be excused.

Yossarian's catch-22, the one that is given to him, exists because the powers that be above him have decided to keep everyone flying as many missions as possible no matter what. No excuses allowed, no exceptions, no matter what the rules or common sense say.

It's an excuse, an absurd, wrong on its face excuse, an excuse that does not cover up the naked exercise of power but rather draws attention to it. It is not the sort of explanation that will make anyone go, "Oh, well, I guess that's how it is. Rules are rules." Rather, it makes those caught up in the exercise of power realize just how helpless they are.

When Hair Furor issues edicts to say that it is illegal to investigate him without evidence of his guilt (making all evidence the product of an illegal investigation) or declaring that a legitimate impeachment proceeding would not impeach him, he is not engaging in logical arguments or legal arguments.

He is employing catch-22, a catch he has long understood better than most, and exactly as well as the old woman in the story:

For every regulation, for every law, for every order, for every norm, for every structure, for every stricture... for every rule of any kind, there is only one catch, and that is catch-22, which says he has the right to do anything so long as no one can stop him.
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