It is somewhat common for a no-win situation today to be referred to as a “Catch-22″. This is from Joseph Heller’s 1961 classic novel of the same name. Within the book, “Catch-22″ is a military rule, the self-contradictory circular logic that, for example, prevents anyone from avoiding combat missions. The paradox is best explained in Heller’s own words:
There was only one catch and that was Catch-22, which specified that a concern for one’s safety in the face of dangers that were real and immediate was the process of a rational mind. Orr was crazy and could be grounded. All he had to do was ask; and as soon as he did, he would no longer be crazy and would have to fly more missions. Orr would be crazy to fly more missions and sane if he didn’t, but if he were sane he had to fly them. If he flew them he was crazy and didn’t have to; but if he didn’t want to he was sane and had to. Yossarian was moved very deeply by the absolute simplicity of this clause of Catch-22 and let out a respectful whistle.