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Diary not associated with any candidate, campaign, or literary critic.

My favorite novel is Joseph Heller's Catch-22.  When I was looking for a DKos handle, I thought back to its final chapter, which contains a long conversation between Yossarian, the protagonist and anti-hero, and his friendly colleague Major Danby.  Knowing where I stood on the twin spectrums of political ideology and political practice, I felt that Danby's role in that dialogue placed me within our community.

Danby, the Army Air Force squadron's Operations Officer, is an academic by profession.  If people know him, it's usually due to the moment when a mercurial General orders that he be taken out and shot.  The conversation at the end of the novel, however, belongs in a league with the greatest and most insightful sections of novels, such as Ivan Karamazov's "Grand Inquisitor" story.  I'll discuss it at length, going well beyond three paragraphs, because I think it has so much to say to us as activists.

If you haven't read the novel, reading on will spoil it for you.  You've been forewarned.  I strongly suggest you read the novel before this diary.

I have a view of Catch-22 that, so far as I know, is completely idiosyncratic.  I think that the story actually ends about halfway through the last chapter, just before the words "until footsteps exploded in the corridor," and that the rest is an "An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge" type fantasy.  (Or at least I like to play with the idea, giving me two novels instead of one.)  I'm not going to describe what happens after those words -- many people probably ignored the spoiler warning -- and I very much hope that commenters below will follow suit.

(By the way, there is a fair use copyright exception for criticism, so you can relax.)

1. Text

The chapter begins with Yossarian lying in a hospital bed, having been attacked by the prostitute girlfriend of his deceased friend.  For unexplained reasons, since the moment he informed her of his friend's untimely death, she has believed that he killed and has sought vengeance.  (I've always thought this was a cautionary commentary on Yossarian's bad Italian.  Seriously, you have to read the novel to get it.)  Yossarian has agreed with his odious superiors, Col. Cathcart and Lt. Col. Korn, that he will be sent back to the U.S. with an honorable discharge as long as he publicly approves of their abusive and self-serving policy of making their airmen fly more missions than required.  Danby has been dispatched to the hospital to tell him that the deal is on.  Yossarian says he's changed his mind.  The deal, he says, is odious.  Danby reluctantly concedes the point.

‘But why did you make such a deal if you didn’t like it?’

‘I did it in a moment of weakness,’ Yossarian wisecracked with glum irony. ‘I was trying to save my life.’

‘Don’t you want to save your life now?’

‘That’s why I won’t let them make me fly more missions.’

‘Then let them send you home and you’ll be in no more danger.’

‘Let them send me home because I flew more than fifty missions,’ Yossarian said, ‘and not because I was stabbed by that girl, or because I’ve turned into such a stubborn son of a bitch.’

Major Danby shook his head emphatically in sincere and bespectacled vexation. ‘They’d have to send nearly every man home if they did that. Most of the men have more than fifty missions. Colonel Cathcart couldn’t possibly requisition so many inexperienced replacement crews at one time without causing an investigation. He’s caught in his own trap.’

‘That’s his problem.’

‘No, no, no, Yossarian,’ Major Danby disagreed solicitously. ‘It’s your problem.  Because if you don’t go through with the deal, they’re going to institute court-martial proceedings as soon as you sign out of the hospital.’

So there's the conflict: Yossarian either accepts a separate deal for success at the cost of honor, or does what he knows is right and suffers the consequences.

Yossarian thinks that the attack has given him a way out of the dilemma, because the official report says that he was stabbed by a Nazi assassin trying to kill his superiors, making a court-marial preposterous.  Danby explains:

‘There’s another official report that says you were stabbed by an innocent girl in the course of extensive black-market operations involving acts of sabotage and the sale of military secrets to the enemy.’

Yossarian was taken back severely with surprise and disappointment. ‘Another official report?’

‘Yossarian, they can prepare as many official reports as they want and choose whichever ones they need on any given occasion. Didn’t you know that?’

Yossarian believed that he had won, within the rules.  He had not realized that the other side can ignore the rules.

Danby continues trying to convince Yossarian to save his own skin by cooperating, pointing out that nobody will actually be helped by his sacrifice, because he'll just be court-martialed and tried for a long list of crimes.  One "crime" was an act for which he received a medal, but Danby tells him that they'll get an unprincipled airman to testify that the report on Yossarian's behalf was perjury.  Then it gets worse:

‘They will also find you guilty,’ Major Danby recited, ‘of rape, extensive black-market operations, acts of sabotage and the sale of military secrets to the enemy.’

‘How will they prove any of that? I never did a single one of those things.’

‘But they have witnesses who will swear you did. They can get all the witnesses they need simply by persuading them that destroying you is for the good of the country. And in a way, it would be for the good of the country.’

‘In what way?’ Yossarian demanded, rising up slowly on one elbow with bridling hostility.

Major Danby drew back a bit and began mopping his forehead again. ‘Well, Yossarian,’ he began with an apologetic stammer, ‘it would not help the war effort to bring Colonel Cathcart and Colonel Korn into disrepute now. Let’s face it, Yossarian—in spite of everything, the group does have a very good record. If you were court-martialed and found innocent, other men would probably refuse to fly missions, too. Colonel Cathcart would be in disgrace, and the military efficiency of the unit might be destroyed. So in that way it would be for the good of the country to have you found guilty and put in prison, even though you are innocent.’

Yossarian challenges Danby for his endorsing this.  Danby claims only to be trying to help him.

Major Danby turned red and squirmed and squinted uneasily. ‘Please don’t blame me,’ he pleaded with a look of anxious integrity. ‘You know it’s not my fault. All I’m doing is trying to look at things objectively and arrive at a solution to a very difficult situation.’

‘I didn’t create the situation.’

‘But you can resolve it. And what else can you do? You don’t want to fly more missions.’

Yossarian says that he can desert.  Danby argues that that wouldn't work and in any event is ignoble.  Yossarian suggests that Danby is lying to him about trying to be helpful.

‘I’m a university professor with a highly developed sense of right and wrong, and I wouldn’t try to deceive you. I wouldn’t lie to anyone.’

‘What would you do if one of the men in the group asked you about this conversation?’

‘I would lie to him.’

They laugh, though Yossarian still views Danby with pity and contempt.  The conversation turns to being abused by leaders.

Yossarian felt sorry for the gentle, moral, middle-aged idealist, as he felt sorry for so many people whose shortcomings were not large and whose troubles were light.  With deliberate amiability he said, ‘Danby, how can you work along with people like Cathcart and Korn? Doesn’t it turn your stomach?’

Major Danby seemed surprised by Yossarian’s question. ‘I do it to help my country,’ he replied, as though the answer should have been obvious. ‘Colonel Cathcart and Colonel Korn are my superiors, and obeying their orders is the only contribution I can make to the war effort. I work along with them because it’s my duty. And also,’ he added in a much lower voice, dropping his eyes, ‘because I am not a very aggressive person.’

‘Your country doesn’t need your help any more,’ Yossarian reasoned with antagonism. ‘So all you’re doing is helping them.’

‘I try not to think of that,’ Major Danby admitted frankly. ‘But I try to concentrate on only the big result and to forget that they are succeeding, too. I try to pretend that they are not significant.’

‘That’s my trouble, you know,’ Yossarian mused sympathetically, folding his arms.  ‘Between me and every ideal I always find Scheisskopfs, Peckems, Korns and Cathcarts. And that sort of changes the ideal.’

‘You must try not to think of them,’ Major Danby advised affirmatively. ‘And you must never let them change your values. Ideals are good, but people are sometimes not so good. You must try to look up at the big picture.’

Yossarian rejected the advice with a skeptical shake of his head. ‘When I look up, I see people cashing in. I don’t see heaven or saints or angels. I see people cashing in on every decent impulse and every human tragedy.’

‘But you must try not to think of that, too,’ Major Danby insisted. ‘And you must try not to let it upset you.’

‘Oh, it doesn’t really upset me. What does upset me, though, is that they think I’m a sucker. They think that they’re smart, and that the rest of us are dumb. And, you know, Danby, the thought occurs to me right now, for the first time, that maybe they’re right.’

‘But you must try not to think of that too,’ argued Major Danby. ‘You must think only of the welfare of your country and the dignity of man.’

Yossarian denies that the country is still in danger at this late point in the war.

‘If I were to give up my life now, it wouldn’t be for my country. It would be for Cathcart and Korn. So I’m turning my bombsight in for the duration. From now on I’m thinking only of me.’

Major Danby replied indulgently with a superior smile, ‘But, Yossarian, suppose everyone felt that way.’

‘Then I’d certainly be a damned fool to feel any other way, wouldn’t I?’

The conversation then turns to the personal responsibility to act.

‘You know what I might do? I might stay right here in this hospital bed and vegetate. I could vegetate very comfortably right here and let other people make the decisions.’

‘You must make decisions,’ Major Danby disagreed. ‘A person can’t live like a vegetable.’

‘Why not?’

A distant warm look entered Major Danby’s eyes. ‘It must be nice to live like a vegetable,’ he conceded wistfully.

‘It’s lousy,’ answered Yossarian.

‘No, it must be very pleasant to be free from all this doubt and pressure,’ insisted Major Danby. ‘I think I’d like to live like a vegetable and make no important decisions.’

‘What kind of vegetable, Danby?’

‘A cucumber or a carrot.’

‘What kind of cucumber? A good one or a bad one?’

‘Oh, a good one, of course.’

‘They’d cut you off in your prime and slice you up for a salad.’ Major Danby’s face fell.

‘A poor one, then.’

‘They’d let you rot and use you for fertilizer to help the good ones grow.’

‘I guess I don’t want to live like a vegetable, then,’ said Major Danby with a smile of sad resignation.

And then comes the discussion of capitulation to power.

‘Danby, must I really let them send me home?’ Yossarian inquired of him seriously.

Major Danby shrugged. ‘It’s a way to save yourself.’

‘It’s a way to lose myself, Danby. You ought to know that.’

‘You could have lots of things you want.’

‘I don’t want lots of things I want,’ Yossarian replied, and then beat his fist down against the mattress in an outburst of rage and frustration. ‘Goddammit, Danby! I’ve got friends who were killed in this war. I can’t make a deal now. Getting stabbed by that bitch was the best thing that ever happened to me.’

‘Would you rather go to jail?’

‘Would you let them send you home?’

‘Of course I would!’ Major Danby declared with conviction. ‘Certainly I would,’ he added a few moments later, in a less positive manner. ‘Yes, I suppose I would let them send me home if I were in your place,’ he decided uncomfortably, after lapsing into troubled contemplation. Then he threw his face sideways disgustedly in a gesture of violent distress and blurted out, ‘Oh, yes, of course I’d let them send me home! But I’m such a terrible coward I couldn’t really be in your place.’

‘But suppose you weren’t a coward?’ Yossarian demanded, studying him closely.

‘Suppose you did have the courage to defy somebody?’

‘Then I wouldn’t let them send me home,’ Major Danby vowed emphatically with vigorous joy and enthusiasm. ‘But I certainly wouldn’t let them court-martial me.’

‘Would you fly more missions?’

‘No, of course not. That would be total capitulation. And I might be killed.’

‘Then you’d run away?’

Major Danby started to retort with proud spirit and came to an abrupt stop, his half-opened jaw swinging closed dumbly. He pursed his lips in a tired pout. ‘I guess there just wouldn’t be any hope for me, then, would there?’

They discuss a few other possible ways to escape the dilemma.  In all of the cases, Danby explains why Yossarian's threads of hope won't bear weight.  Everyone who could possibly have helped has died or been co-opted.

‘Then there is no hope for us, is there?’

‘No hope.’

‘No hope at all, is there?’

‘No, no hope at all,’ Major Danby conceded. He looked up after a while with a half-formed notion. ‘Wouldn’t it be nice if they could disappear us the way they disappeared the others and relieve us of all these crushing burdens?’

Yossarian said no.

Major Danby agreed with a melancholy nod, lowering his eyes again, and there was no hope at all for either of them....

To me, that's where the book ends.  There is a deus ex machina, and an ambiguously hopeful ending that I won't discuss (and I hope that you won't either), but it feels tacked on.  To me, though, the key exchange in the book is right there where I think it ends.  The academic asks the agitator, wouldn't it be nice to be relieved of the burden of responsibility?  The agitator says no.  The academic agrees.

2. Criticism

I did not choose the name "Major Danby" as my handle because I thought that Danby was a particularly appealing character.  Parts of the above dialogue may make clear why that is.  I chose the name because I think that his perspective provides a necessary counterweight to the main thrust of the netroots, where everyone (me included) wants to think of themselves as heroic, intrepid Yossarian.  But Heller was writing for an audience that he had to know would be predominantly intellectual and academic; I believe that's why Danby is one of the few good characters who is allowed to live through the end of the book, so that his dialogue with Yossarian can illuminate a dialogue progressive intellectuals have within ourselves.

Yossarian's bravado largely comes from his not understanding the situation he's in clearly enough, not understanding just how malicious and twisted the world is.  Danby understands that, and understands the perils at hand.  He tempers Yossarian's bravado.  Yossarian, on the other hand, helps give Danby heart, which he can far too easily lose.  The themes described in the excerpts above are some of the main ones with which activists, or decent moral human beings of any stripe, must grapple.  The most basic one: how does one act when the other side seems to be holding all of the cards?

At the end, when pressed, Danby accepts that even though the world is an ugly place with the rules stacked against justice, one is not excused from the responsibility to resist to the extent one can.  One may be left without hope, but not without responsibility, and it is that moment when he "agreed with a melancholy nod," even before hope returns, that redeems him for me.  He is right that Yossarian won't do anyone a bit of good by fighting without a good understanding of the situation, but he understands that his job is to understand the situation and to see where and how resistence is possible.  He might think he wants the cup taken from his lips, but in the end he doesn't.

In the progressive activist world, the Danbys of the world routinely get accused by the would-be Yossarians -- often armchair Yossarians who rarely have to decide whether to suffer a significant cost to achieve a small (and perhaps even illusory) benefit -- of being cowardly and weak, of lacking balls.  Generally, this is a load of crap: re-read the above passages and ask yourself where having gonads the size of coconuts would make a damn bit of difference.  (While I named myself after Danby, in my life I'm at least as much Yossarian-aspirant, so this criticism applies to me as much as anyone else.)

It's easy -- so easy, especially from an armchair -- to talk about how all we need to do to win is fight harder and the people will rush to our side and the walls of Jericho will fall.  The battlefields of progressive history are littered with the bodies of people who believed that -- and who were readily dispatched by the likes of Cathcart, Korn, Aarfy and Milo -- without doing a lick of real good in the world.  But on those battlefields of times past also lie the honored progressive dead, who believed that the fight could be won -- and were right.

Worker's rights, civil rights, economic and environmental justice, peace -- there are things worth fighting and dying for.  But one ought to want to know if one really is likely to have an effect on the world -- in fostering change in society or even simply in other people's hearts -- in making (or calling for) such sacrifice.  No life, not even one's own, is to be sacrificed casually, and all the less so stupidly.  And so Danby prodded Yossarian to figure out whether his sacrifice was likely to be justified on instrumental grounds, before ultimately agreeing that in this case it would be justified even if it did no good.

We are almost all Yossarians here on one issue or another -- me included -- and to be effective activists we have to be prepared to let the Danbys of the world challenge us and give us pause.  By "Danbys," I don't mean me specifically -- or necessarily at all; like anyone else, I should be judged by the quality of whatever claims I make about the world.  I mean those who challenge us, who stick an oar in the water to insert some turbulence into the flow that otherwise brings us too quiclly to a result that may not stand scrutiny.  Some argue that the netroots is strongest and most powerful when it allows for a blogswarm, a hive mind in which no one gets in the way of the charge upon pain of ridicule.  (To me, this belief seems to be most predominant among those who fancy themselves able to direct the swarm to where they believe it should go.)  There are times when I'd agree.  But more often, the Yossarians and wannabe Yossarians among us need to be tempered with a serious measure of Danbian doubt.

We will never run out of Yossarian-style sentiments in the netroots.  But because of the machismo that helps fuel activism, and especially because one's endorsing the strongest action rarely gets far enough along to get swatted down by grim reality, it's easy for people to criticize the caution of a Danby.  (And it's too easy as well for a Danby to dismiss a Yossarian as not thinking things through; were I part of a blog dominated by DLC or even DCCC thinking, I would probably have chosen the name "Yossarian.")  We need both "guts and brains" -- among us and within each of us -- but it is the Danby within us that seemed to me to be more endangered here back in September of 2005.

And that is why, when I ventured into the netroots, I chose "Major Danby" as my name.

Originally posted to Major Danby on Sat Dec 08, 2007 at 08:49 PM PST.


Which of these reflects the balance within you?

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Comment Preferences

  •  aha! so that's where your handle's from (7+ / 0-)

    why did I never ask you? I recognized the name Yossarian in your diary title (even before I saw the words Catch-22) but the only other characters I remember are Major Major Major & Scheisskopf (did I spell that right? Shithead in German, however you spell it)

    "If farmers farmed like legislators legislate, there would be no food." - Sen. Byron Dorgan

    by OrangeClouds115 on Sat Dec 08, 2007 at 08:53:44 PM PST

  •  Every once in a while I receive a message (17+ / 0-)

    from someone telling me to go check out what's recently been said in one or the other of the "leftier than thou" sites that exist the slam the perceived moderation of Daily Kos.  When I do, I sometimes come across a particular poster who accuses me of sins including making up dichotomies in which "people like me" come off better than "people not like me."

    If that poster reads this -- and it seems almost inevitable -- I hope that he or she will take a long look at my assertion that I consider myself to be on both sides of this debate, depending on the context of those around me (I'm either 50-50 in my poll or 60-40 in one direction or the other, and I haven't figured out which), but also will look through those excerpts from the book and ask whether it's really plausible that I see Danby as the more attractive character rather that, as I suggest, a necessary corrective for some netroots tendencies.

    There's another minor character from the book, Dobbs, who is driven mad by the injustices done to him and those around him and tries to enlist Yossarian in an attempt to assassinate Col. Cathcart.  Dobbs eventually causes the death of many people, including one of the most beloved characters in the novel.  My take is that there is room for Yossarians in our movement, and there's room for Danbys, but may God protect us from the Dobbses of the world, who would bring us all crashing down.

    If somebody writes a book and doesn't care for [its] survival, he's an imbecile. U. Eco. (P.S.: my opinions are mine, not my employer's.)

    by Major Danby on Sat Dec 08, 2007 at 08:57:40 PM PST

  •  Somehow (7+ / 0-)

    Catch-22 fell through the cracks of my literary education. These things happen.

    I wonder about the value of ascribing these roles to the netroots. Most comparisons are reductionist in one form or another so it's unfair to say that just about this one. But given the diversity of the netroots, even of Daily Kos, is this really the best way to symbolize our struggle?

    Maybe I initially resist because here at dKos I definitely come across as a Yossarian type. Railing at the failure of Democrats, at the crises our nation is entering, at Kossacks' stances on this or that issue. I took the pseudonym "eugene" after Eugene V. Debs, who preferred prison to supporting World War I, but perhaps Yossarian does better suit the personality I have here.

    As I read Yossarian and Major Danby's exchange, it's about the need to take bad deals over a doomed last stand on principle. Certainly there are times when we need to accept such bad deals - most of us have voted for Dems these last few cycles, have we not?

    But whereas Heller has created a dilemma that Yossarian cannot escape, I am not yet convinced we face such a situation. This is where any pretense at Yossarian I have evaporates; at heart I, like most others here, believe we can reconcile realism with idealism. That there are ways to build a better nation that won't lead us to repeat some of the mistakes of past leftisms.

    The netroots are at their core a movement designed to employ new tools, and reshape well-used tools, to mobilize a nation with new demographies and new political contexts to confront challenges new and old. We have more options than Yossarian. Many more.

    I'm not sure we realize that quite yet, though it's beginning to dawn on more and more of us.

    I'm not part of a redneck agenda - Green Day

    by eugene on Sat Dec 08, 2007 at 09:12:34 PM PST

    •  You and I are mostly in agreement (6+ / 0-)

      It's funny that while here I'm mostly in a Danby role -- because so many people urge action simply without gaming out the consequences -- in most aspects of my life I'm a Yossarian figure.  Let's take an example: I think that Congress should go to the mat over the Executive's refusal to honor subpoenas.  As I argued months ago, I think that this is a compelling ground for impeachment on a charge of obstruction of justice, and I really don't care whether the Senate dishonors itself by blocking removal.  Now that sounds hot-headed, but it's anything but reckless -- it depends on having gamed out the situation and concluded that we could win, and even if we couldn't win, must make the attempt.

      But for me, that conclusion isn't automatic, and the belief that we can win any confrontation is not easily adopted.  People are quick to believe, like Yossarian, that there's an easy way out of the trap and that we just lack the guts to pursue it.  That is a dangerous game, especially when played from an armchair.  But one thing that the netroots is very good at doing is showing that just because sometimes people are too quick to jump to the conclusion that all we have to be is tough doesn't mean that they're always wrong in doing so.  Like I said, Yossarian gives Danby heart that he may otherwise too readily lose, and it was certainly not impossible that Yossarian might have asked a critical question or come up with a plan that had eluded Danby.

      So yes, I think that there is great reason for hope, and that what we are doing in sites like this contributes greatly to it.  And if we end up in an ultimate dilemma we can't escape, then I can't really even criticize the likes of Dobbs.  But thinking that we are in a better position than we are -- as when Yossarian didn't understand that there could be as many "official histories" of his previous actions as need be -- is inimical to the sort of progressive action you suggest because it makes our job too easy.  It doesn't push us to figure out how to find the plan that has a realistic chance of fostering change.  Part of Heller's message here, I think, is that wanting change is not enough -- you have to do the hard work of understanding your situation and your options.  Sometimes we do that, and more power to us.  Sometimes we don't.

      If somebody writes a book and doesn't care for [its] survival, he's an imbecile. U. Eco. (P.S.: my opinions are mine, not my employer's.)

      by Major Danby on Sat Dec 08, 2007 at 09:27:59 PM PST

      [ Parent ]

      •  At one time that was the issue here (4+ / 0-)

        I'm not so sure it is today. In 2005 we definitely had a lot of folks spoiling for a fight, any fight, regardless of the circumstances. Today it seems that most of the disagreements we have here at dKos are over interpretations of what is "realistic," of how to best make change happen. When we criticize the Congress for giving in on Iraq funding it's not because we want to fall on our swords, but because many of us are convinced, through various assessments of the world around us, that Dems could force an end to the war without sacrificing their electoral chances.

        What drew me to dKos, and what keeps me here, is the opportunity to suggest to people ways we can produce real, lasting change, change that advances our progressive values instead of sacrificing them yet again for short-term gains that never seem to materialize.

        Your guide is Heller, mine is history. I look back to the 1850s, or the 1960s, and see significant attitudinal changes among the American public produced by people who kept pursuing those changes even when their chances of success seemed dim. In both decades the key was that those who pursued change understood that American society had undergone dramatic changes that those in power had not come to recognize.

        It's not enough to want change, nor is it enough to justify inaction and acceptance of the status quo through appeals to "realism." We live in the reality-based community - but reality can be changed.

        I'm not part of a redneck agenda - Green Day

        by eugene on Sat Dec 08, 2007 at 09:47:19 PM PST

        [ Parent ]

  •  The Difference Is That There, the US Was Defeatng (3+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    eugene, atdnext, Boreal Ecologist

    fascism, at the cost of advancing internal corruption.

    Whereas here, fascism is defeating the US, with corruption on our side collaborating.

    The United States is far along at losing this war of survival as we know it. It's already unconscious and not functioning as we've known it--it's already a matter of conjecture whether it can be revived at all.

    That's the principled, ivory-towered "idealism" of today's Yossarian left.

    Danby's arguing for a sensible middle, perhaps ultimately a home rule congress with some power over Sunday blue laws and dating.

    We are called to speak for the weak, for the voiceless, for victims of our nation and for those it calls enemy.... --ML King "Beyond Vietnam"

    by Gooserock on Sat Dec 08, 2007 at 09:17:09 PM PST

  •  My father's ... (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:

    ... favorite book was Catch 22.  He saw it far differently than you, I think.  He laughed and laughed when he read it.

    He was neither Yossarian nor Danby.  Frankly, I think it's kind of terrifying to ascribe personality traits based on characters from this novel!  Lol lol lol lol.

    •  Oh, it's funny as hell, I agree (2+ / 0-)

      But not so much the last chapter, or much of the last part of the book at all after the interlude with Michaela.  I'll bet your dad wasn't laughing at that part.

      (Have you read the book, by the way?  What did you think of it?  And what I describe here are not "personality traits"; these are approaches to activist problem solving, which may not be consistent within a person across domains or even in the same domain over time.)

      You don't fool me, NPK; we may disagree, but I don't think you terrify that easily.

      If somebody writes a book and doesn't care for [its] survival, he's an imbecile. U. Eco. (P.S.: my opinions are mine, not my employer's.)

      by Major Danby on Sat Dec 08, 2007 at 09:34:56 PM PST

      [ Parent ]

      •  Well ... (1+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        Major Danby

        I'll bet your dad wasn't laughing at that part.

        ... that was the part he laughed hardest about.  My father was a freethinker and had, shall we say, an unusual take on things.

        I read the book many many years ago and thought it was one of the funniest books I had ever read.

        As far as activist problem solving, well you know we'll never agree on any of that.

        •  It is one of the funniest books ever (1+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:
          willy be frantic

          It is, however, not merely one of the funniest books ever.

          (He really wasn't laughing about what happens to the maid in Rome, was he?)

          If somebody writes a book and doesn't care for [its] survival, he's an imbecile. U. Eco. (P.S.: my opinions are mine, not my employer's.)

          by Major Danby on Sat Dec 08, 2007 at 09:51:37 PM PST

          [ Parent ]

          •  Well ... (2+ / 0-)
            Recommended by:
            Major Danby, willy be frantic

            ... I never asked him.

            But he never said much serious about the book.  He dug what the ethical dilemmas were, but also, as an old-style Jew (and atheist, it's kind of complicated) was aware of many of the origins of Heller's arguments and, arrogant man that he was, felt he could have done a better job of explaining all that.

            The atmosphere I grew up in, my father would use those kinds of dilemmas as casual conversation, my brothers would all argue, and I'd listen, sometimes humming.  One day they all were arguing around the kitchen table and there was a big silence, as one of my brothers yelled at me to stop humming, it was driving him crazy.

            I was very annoyed.

      •  Yossarian's midnight walk through Rome (1+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        Major Danby

        Always seemed to me a scene out of some lost scene from Dante's Inferno. The pure madness and brutality of Rome at the end of the war was a cruelty that drained Yossarian of the ability to escape into his own private logic. In that midnight ramble Yossarian's eyes were forced to witness the imposition of someone else's bloody logic.

        No race has a monopoly on intelligence or beauty . . . there is room for all at the rendezvous of victory--Aime Cesaire

        by Sansouci on Sat Dec 08, 2007 at 10:03:45 PM PST

        [ Parent ]

        •  It's incredibly powerful. But let me direct you (1+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:
          willy be frantic

          to something I really only noticed the last time I re-read the book a section at the end of the first chapter about a dying officer with (as I recall) translucent skin.  It's poignant and poetic, so much so that it doesn't stay in memory once one gets further into the book.  But it's there, and it's gorgeous.  As with most great literature, every time you read the book you dig out something else.

          If somebody writes a book and doesn't care for [its] survival, he's an imbecile. U. Eco. (P.S.: my opinions are mine, not my employer's.)

          by Major Danby on Sat Dec 08, 2007 at 10:09:07 PM PST

          [ Parent ]

          •  Snowden? (1+ / 0-)
            Recommended by:
            Major Danby

            If I recall Yossarian is haunted by the death of Snowden in the back of his bomber. Yossarian attempted to help him as, a dying Snowden, could only focus on how cold it was in the plane. This is Yossarian's epiphanic moment where he begins to break from the system. Departing from the novel, in the movie Alan Arkin stark naked in front of Orson Welles is an underrated classic scene.

            No race has a monopoly on intelligence or beauty . . . there is room for all at the rendezvous of victory--Aime Cesaire

            by Sansouci on Sat Dec 08, 2007 at 11:00:21 PM PST

            [ Parent ]

            •  No, no: right at the beginning, end of Chapter 1 (0+ / 0-)

              Nameless character, attended by a second nameless character, completely overlooked (from what I can tell) in any discussion of the novel, but extremely well done.

              If somebody writes a book and doesn't care for [its] survival, he's an imbecile. U. Eco. (P.S.: my opinions are mine, not my employer's.)

              by Major Danby on Sat Dec 08, 2007 at 11:06:22 PM PST

              [ Parent ]

  •  Just out of curiosity... (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    ignorant bystander, Major Danby

    ...did you also read Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance?

    Nice analysis BTW, IMO the fantasy of the novel is there to allow one to experience the characters rather than analyze them, thus fantasy becomes reality.

    The young man who has not wept is a savage, and the old man who will not laugh is a fool. George Santayana

    by Bobjack23 on Sat Dec 08, 2007 at 09:38:40 PM PST

    •  Yes -- another fun and wise book (0+ / 0-)

      But it didn't stick with me the same way.  Not enough sex and violence?  ;7)

      If somebody writes a book and doesn't care for [its] survival, he's an imbecile. U. Eco. (P.S.: my opinions are mine, not my employer's.)

      by Major Danby on Sat Dec 08, 2007 at 09:42:23 PM PST

      [ Parent ]

  •  That's why I was involved in scientific research (3+ / 0-)

    Despite the crap, useful results accumulate over time and the crap gets removed.

    "It's the planet, stupid."

    by FishOutofWater on Sat Dec 08, 2007 at 09:39:38 PM PST

  •  recommended (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Major Danby

    "They blamed it on the Islamic fanatics, at the time. [...] That was when they suspended the Constitution. They said it would be temporary."-Handmaid's Tale

    by JLFinch on Sat Dec 08, 2007 at 09:45:11 PM PST

  •  There are other alternatives (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Mr Bula, Major Danby

    You could choose to be Milo, for example, but personally I'd choose to be Orr. Either way, you beat the system (or in Milo's case become the system, I suppose).

    Orr represents a lot of things I like - patience, knowledge, empiricism, learning from experience and making corrections, planning and having alternative plans. In the end it works out pretty well for him (but in the process works out well for those around him too).

    So I'd choose Orr. Besides, I already have apple cheeks.

    I have my fears, but they do not have me - Peter Gabriel

    by badger on Sat Dec 08, 2007 at 09:46:49 PM PST

    •  The "nails from Wales riff" (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      Major Danby

      from Milo is brilliantly insane.

      Giuliani: I was once attacked by ninjas. That means I am a martial arts expert

      by Mr Bula on Sat Dec 08, 2007 at 09:47:57 PM PST

      [ Parent ]

    •  I don't see how Orr works in the metaphor (2+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      willy be frantic, erratic

      For one thing, his "solution" (which I don't want to spoil for anyone who hasn't read the book) doesn't really challenge the reign of Cathcart et al.; for another thing, he was incredibly lucky on top of his talent.  But your list of his virtues is right.

      As for Milo -- "become the system" is right....

      If somebody writes a book and doesn't care for [its] survival, he's an imbecile. U. Eco. (P.S.: my opinions are mine, not my employer's.)

      by Major Danby on Sat Dec 08, 2007 at 09:49:25 PM PST

      [ Parent ]

      •  Orr challenges the system (3+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        badger, Major Danby, willy be frantic

        within his possibilities. He survives as best as he can. He's no revolutionary but he's no passive conformist either

        Giuliani: I was once attacked by ninjas. That means I am a martial arts expert

        by Mr Bula on Sat Dec 08, 2007 at 09:50:53 PM PST

        [ Parent ]

        •  True -- sort of like (2+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:
          badger, willy be frantic

          "the Chink" [sic] in Tom Robbins's Even Cowgirls Get the Blues, another of my favorite novels from college that has a lot of interesting things to say about activism.

          If somebody writes a book and doesn't care for [its] survival, he's an imbecile. U. Eco. (P.S.: my opinions are mine, not my employer's.)

          by Major Danby on Sat Dec 08, 2007 at 10:00:42 PM PST

          [ Parent ]

          •  Or the Woodpecker (1+ / 0-)
            Recommended by:
            Major Danby

            in Robbin's Still Life with Woodpecker, which has a lot of unkind things to say about activism, and is a more libertarian take on what I think Orr represents.

            I have my fears, but they do not have me - Peter Gabriel

            by badger on Sat Dec 08, 2007 at 10:19:38 PM PST

            [ Parent ]

      •  But Orr recognizes (4+ / 0-)

        all along what Yossarian and Danby come to realize, but finds a way to beat the system (I won't spoil the ending either, although I suppose to some extent that already does - but you can't discuss Orr completely without that).

        Orr's solution is somewhat personal (not completely) but not selfish. It challenges the system by demonstrating the system is beatable with some risk, but without sacrificing yourself, and that in itself is a major threat to the system. Systems like that rely heavily on the perception of omnipotence. And it further energizes Yossarian (who's the "everyman" of the book in many ways) and allows him to see the system is beatable. You hope that others are similarly inspired/instructed, or that Yossarian becomes another example. From that perspective, I'd view the real ending of the book differently too (if I remember correctly what it is).

        The cliche is "you can't win, you can't break even - you can't even get out of the game", and Orr demonstrates that isn't true.

        In the realm of political action Orr isn't necessarily a good role model - I'd prefer a little more collective action and solidarity. But in terms of how to live in an insane world (which is something we all face on a personal level), I think Orr's choice is ultimately correct. Again, Orr's solution may be personal, but his 'life' in the book isn't selfish and isn't disconnected (doesn't he beat the shit out of somebody at one point? - that's not really in accordance with his plan for personal salvation)

        I have my fears, but they do not have me - Peter Gabriel

        by badger on Sat Dec 08, 2007 at 10:12:25 PM PST

        [ Parent ]

      •  I think Orr embodies (4+ / 0-)

        a sort of Zen response to Catch 22. He responds to the impossibility of the situation first by mastering the concept (with horse chestnuts), and then sets out to free himself, in a mticulous plan involving a prostitute with high heels, and a habit of crashlanding  every mission he flies...

        So while the ending offers an escapist solution to Catch 22 (suboptimal, from an activist perspective), I think it also affirms that motivated individuals can free themselves from impossible positions, and serve as inspirations to others. This echoes Arlo Guthrie's absurdist proposal in "Alice's Restaurant", on how to end the Vietnam War.

        But maybe I'm overthinking this. Beautiful diary, Major Danby! "Catch 22" is one of my obsessive books, I've read it 20 or 30 times...

  •  Thanks for the Diary (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Major Danby

    I knew where you'd taken the name from, but clearly never had a real understanding of why.

    I continue to believe that there will be repeated struggles on this site (and certainly elsewhere in the blogosphere) between the Yossarians and the Major Danbys, and I can only hope that we don't tear ourselves apart over them.  I don't believe it is helpful to be entirely of one or the other.

  •  Catch 22 changed my life (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    badger, Major Danby

    Major Danby thanks for a damn fine analysis. I used to read the novel once a year for years but have fallen out of touch with it. As a younger man it gave me the courage to spit in the yes of fools and endure what punishments were meted out because I was right. Nowadays the world seems to be Milo's and even Major Danby's advice fails us. Running away from pragmatism and idealism and diving into a virgin sea of selfishness seems so tempting but where could one ultimately escape to? I have felt myself a Yossarain all my years, gone mad with the reality of the madness of those in charge, a Cassandra. That too is a weight. To have Nately's bloom surround me once more . . .

    No race has a monopoly on intelligence or beauty . . . there is room for all at the rendezvous of victory--Aime Cesaire

    by Sansouci on Sat Dec 08, 2007 at 09:57:53 PM PST

  •  What's good the Syndicate... n/t (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    badger, Major Danby
  •  Heck of a diary (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    faithnomore, Major Danby

    I read LithiumCola's diary yesterday about great war movies and was surprised to see that Catch-22 was not mentioned much.  The movie was good, the book is great. As for tip jars and alternate tip jars - I tipped most every comment you had in this thread.

    However, can you explain how Heller came to write such a piece of crap as 'Something Happened' ?  I believe it was the novel he wrote directly after Catch-22.  I spent good money on that book ( ok, paperback ) and was roundly disappointed in it.

    Excellent diary and analysis Major.  Carry on.

    There is no 'off' position on the genius switch. - David Letterman

    by willy be frantic on Sat Dec 08, 2007 at 10:44:59 PM PST

    •  I think that all of Heller's novels *after* (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      willy be frantic

      Something Happened are kind of weak, but I disagree about that book.  (Not that I would encourage you to read it again, de gustibus non est disputandum and all that, but I hope others will consider it.)  I haven't read it for 15 years, but read it probably 3-4 times over the 20 years before that.  (The first time was for a class when I was 13, and it left me dreading growing up.)

      It is probably the most depressing book I have ever read, despite being funny as hell at some points and incredibly insightful about the human condition in others.  But it is relentlessly depressing in its depiction of an anti-hero (whose behavior Heller does not endorse) whose internal monologue and reminiscences comprises the entire book.  You'll be confronted with some truly rawly emotional stuff filtered through blankets of irony, including a lot of racism and sexism that is notable mostly for its banality.  So if that's your idea of a good time ....  (For me, it was.)

      If somebody writes a book and doesn't care for [its] survival, he's an imbecile. U. Eco. (P.S.: my opinions are mine, not my employer's.)

      by Major Danby on Sat Dec 08, 2007 at 11:04:59 PM PST

      [ Parent ]

      •  Thanks for your insight. (1+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        Major Danby

        I had read Something Happened only once.  I have read no other books by Heller, except Catch-22.  I have to assume that I just didn't get it.  Your link says that Vonnegut considered 'Something' to be Heller's best work.  High praise.

        As for:

        So if that's your idea of a good time ....  (For me, it was.)

        Oy, it each his own.  Sadly the Philistine in me needs to be entertained to be enlightened.

        There is no 'off' position on the genius switch. - David Letterman

        by willy be frantic on Sat Dec 08, 2007 at 11:18:32 PM PST

        [ Parent ]

  •  Catch-22 (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    faithnomore, Major Danby

    It changed my life.  I would say that Major Major Major has been the emblematic figure for me (I was a manager for decades, but I knew my destiny long before). Orr, twiddling with the gas valve, and making it to Sweden, is a hero worth noting.

    I still remember the first time I read the novel.  A fellow freshman in college pressed the paperback copy on me, insisting that I had to read it.  So, I carried it to the study area, and started to read.  My laughter became uncontrollable, so I had to go for a walk.  I came back in, and began to read - same result.

    This was back in 1967.  I've never had quite the same perception of the world that I had before I read Catch-22.

    "Give me eat."

  •  Time I re-read it! (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Major Danby

    I have not thought about Catch-22 in a serious way in a long time. I read it for the first time when I was still in H.S., shortly after it came out in paperback. For many years I considered it the best novel I ever read, and then I stopped thinking about what was the best novel I had ever read. Thanks for reminding me.
    Strange and sad to think that the book has apparently fallen out of fashion.

    My European History major-daughter is bugging me for what I want for Christmas. Now I know, but under the condition that she read it, too.

    I somewhere that Huckleberry Finn is likewise thought to have a tacked-on, deus ex machina ending.

    Many thanks.

    "We fight, get beat, rise, and fight again." General Nathanael Greene, Continental Army, April, 1781.

    by faithnomore on Sun Dec 09, 2007 at 05:31:34 AM PST

    •  I think it's still assigned a lot in schools (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:

      Mostly, I expect, by teachers desperately trying to wake up their students.  (It's also, without really trying, a fair cultural history of wartime America.)

      My father read Catch-22 relatively late in life.  His law partner made him his own odious deal: he encouraged him to read Catch-22, but the bet was that my father would win if he could limit himself to reading only one of the book's 42 chapters per day.  I forget how long my father could bear that before giving up and plowing through the rest of the book; not all that long, as I recall.

      If somebody writes a book and doesn't care for [its] survival, he's an imbecile. U. Eco. (P.S.: my opinions are mine, not my employer's.)

      by Major Danby on Sun Dec 09, 2007 at 11:06:41 AM PST

      [ Parent ]

  •  Excellent diary (just saw it) (0+ / 0-)

    But you forgot the Snowdens of yesteryear.

    Because they are in the background, the throbbing oozing truth behind Yossarian's anguish, like the war victims in Iraq today.

    I enjoyed your diary and proclaim myself a 70-30 Y/MD split (at least today).

    The issue, I think, is this: in times of political reaction, the advice of a Danby is necessary. In times of rapid political change and upheaval, the words of a Danby can be (though not necessarily) a brake on necessary action.

    Danton is said to have famously said, in regards to running a revolution, one must have "audacity, audacity, and then more audacity".

    Shakespeare, as always, said it best: "Ripeness is all."

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