OK, now I'm totally reaching...

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But still, reading Andrew Bacevich's  The Limits of Power has put me in the mind of the great, clear-eyed, philosopher of our time, Bill Withers, who once said the following:

I want to spread the news,
If it feel this good getting used
Just keep on using me until you use me up

Bacevich's book is another one of those "how did we end up in this mess" tracts. But, in addition to being very well written, the thing I like about Bacevich's critique is his refusal to attack the usual suspects (big government, Wall Street, politicians etc.). I mean all those people come in for criticism, but the real villain of TLP is us. It's our desire to have luxury on the cheap, to drive big cars, to spend more than we make, Bacevich argues, that's taken us to war, ruined our economy and our environment.

I've been thinking about this for awhile. How much of this current crisis is just a manifestation of the American--indeed human--will? We're always talking about politicians deluding us and Wall-Street manipulating us, and predatory lenders conning us, into doing things that aren't in our own interest. But maybe we don't want what's in our interest.  Maybe we like our gas-guzzling, credit-card charging, second house buying when you can't afford it, commercial culture.

The thing I always liked about Bill Withers's "Use Me" was that it was a man's critique of a dysfunctional relationship. Unlike a lot of rappers, Withers doesn't blame the girl, he blames himself, going so far as to say, "It ain't too bad the way you using me, because I sure am using you to do that thing we do." In fact he laughs at the people trying to help him, much as one might picture people laughing at some lefty for telling them "they aren't voting their interest." In that respect, I think Bacevich's critique is a man's critique of another, very similar, dysfunctional relationship. It easy to think we've been conned into this current crisis. But what if this is the world as we want it? I think it's imperative to never forget that humans are animals. What if, in the words of Bob, we're just fulfilling the book? What if it isn't even dysfunctional? What if this is just who we are?


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Ta-Nehisi Coates is a national correspondent at The Atlantic, where he writes about culture, politics, and social issues. He is the author of the memoir The Beautiful Struggle. More

Born in 1975, the product of two beautiful parents. Raised in West Baltimore -- not quite The Wire, but sometimes ill all the same. Studied at the Mecca for some years in the mid-'90s. Emerged with a purpose, if not a degree. Slowly migrated up the East Coast with a baby and my beloved, until I reached the shores of Harlem. Wrote some stuff along the way.

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