If I Had No Loot

In the middle of the 1990’s, the New Jack Swing group Tony! Toni! Tonè! released a successful single called “If I Had No Loot.”  The premise of the song, which hit the top 10 of the Billboard Hot 100, is pretty straightforward in that the group muses about whether friends would still continue to be friendly if they had no loot.  The anxiety is a common one within the community of hip hop and R&B artists.  Nor was it unfamiliar to the group themselves, who, as their first single, had released a song called “Little Walter” about a roommate with an expensive lifestyle and a lack of interest in paying rent who meets a bad end after a lengthy argument.  The tension in hip hop and R&B about the importance of material possessions is easy enough to understand when on the one hand people base a great deal of their self-image on the conspicuous and often wasteful display of wealth—having a large posse, making it rain in nightclubs, drinking too much, buying flashy cars and wearing large amounts of jewelry around their neck and on their teeth, while on the other hand what is often wanted is honor and respect.  If people respect those who are wealthy and famous, the concern is that such respect is only based on wealth and fame, and not on anything more lasting and substantial, which puts people in a very insecure position when it comes to reflecting on the long term.

To a slightly lesser extent, the question of whether people are respected only for their loot extends far beyond the insecure manhood of urban music [1].  Many men, for example, find themselves viewed as nothing more than an ATM by their estranged wives and partners.  In such an environment, it is little wonder that many of these Sunday fathers, as Sting referred to them in his song “I’m So Happy I Can’t Stop Crying” seek to encourage the good feelings of their estranged offspring through the purchase of items.  My own father, for example, was clearly someone who was focused on gifts, to the level where both my brother and I have names that relate to gifts, and the fact that to an uncomfortable degree his gifts were viewed by some as being bribery or an attempt to do penance for sin.  For myself, I long felt uncomfortable with his gifts, had a genuinely difficult time seeing love in his giving of gifts [2], and have not tended to act towards others in the same way.  I am not sure to what extent my discomfort springs from my own personality as well as my own experiences.  My father was not a wealthy man, but had he been more wealthy he could not have bought either the love, the respect, or the clean conscience he desired.  Nor had he been worse off would he have been less worthy of honor as my father, despite everything.  I do not think I am so superficial a person that I would have slighted him the honor he was owed even had he never bought any books or legos [3] or gone on any epic road trips or shared any afternoons watching baseball or times watching movies or traveling to graduations and the like.  Had he been a less troubled person, he would have been easier to love, though.

The problem of valuing people for what they can provide us, whether quarters for parking meters in downtown or more substantial gifts, is one that can be a problem with institutions as well.  Institutions often value people simply for what they give—does a particular employee hit his or her sales targets, does that volunteer serve enough hours, does that member pay enough in tithe money, and so on.  The reverse is also true, though.  People may consider institutions and governments to be worthwhile to the extent that these institutions serve their own interests, and once that no longer is the case, then no loyalty to them is felt.  A group of leaders in eclipse may not support an organization that no longer wishes to give them the highest offices, and seeks to force a split.  Businessmen whose activities have been protected by legal institutions and bureaucracy, once those governing institutions have been captured by ideological foes, espouse a different tune about lassiez-faire.  The same problem is true on a geopolitical level, as nations buy the favors of other nations, either for outright approval, or as a Danegeld to ensure peace for a while, at least until the wicked grow bolder and more greedy or the money supply fails [4].  At some point, though, marriages of conveniences on a geopolitical level fail for the same reason that they fail on a personal level—people find alternative sources of sustenance or simply do not feel up to keeping up the charade any longer.

What are we to do about this problem?  We cannot help it if other people are motivated by our loot, and wish to have little to do with us if we have little or none of it.  While we may hope that we are kind enough as people, with scintillating enough conversation, compassionate enough when others are struggling, that we would be good company even were we paupers and beggars, even nonmaterial matters still make for a qualification that we must have in order to get the company we want.  Some people may have loot, others tender affection, others brains, but we must have something.  Few people will value others simply because they are people, whether they are rich or not, kind or not, or intelligent or not.  Since we cannot do much to influence others, our responsibility is to check ourselves and where we are at.  Do we value others merely for what they have to offer us?  Or do we value them because of what they have been made in the imagine and likeness of God, whether or not they or anyone else act on that knowledge?  That is the question we must answer, and the grounds on which we will face judgment when we stand at the bar of our heavenly judge to offer a defense of how we lived our lives.

[1] See, for example:

https://edgeinducedcohesion.wordpress.com/2011/12/14/a-brittle-manhood/

https://edgeinducedcohesion.wordpress.com/2015/01/22/second-mover-advantage-on-provocation-and-restraint-in-hip-hop-battles/

[2] See, for example:

https://edgeinducedcohesion.wordpress.com/2015/06/06/tears-of-the-sun/

https://edgeinducedcohesion.wordpress.com/2015/04/17/we-all-die-trying-to-get-it-right/

https://edgeinducedcohesion.wordpress.com/2012/08/25/i-am-no-better-than-my-fathers/

[3] See, for example:

https://edgeinducedcohesion.wordpress.com/2014/07/24/det-bedste-er-ikke-for-godt-a-lego-story/

https://edgeinducedcohesion.wordpress.com/2016/06/20/book-review-the-united-states-of-lego/

https://edgeinducedcohesion.wordpress.com/2016/04/12/double-wide-single-minded/

[4] See, for example:

https://edgeinducedcohesion.wordpress.com/2015/07/22/a-lannister-always-pays-his-debts/

https://edgeinducedcohesion.wordpress.com/2011/11/13/do-you-keep-the-receipts-for-the-friends-that-you-buy/

About nathanalbright

I'm a person with diverse interests who loves to read. If you want to know something about me, just ask.
This entry was posted in Christianity, History, Music History, Musings and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to If I Had No Loot

  1. Pingback: Why Aren’t They In The Rock & Roll Hall Of Fame: Tony! Toni! Tonè! | Edge Induced Cohesion

  2. Pingback: 25 Or 6 To 4 | Edge Induced Cohesion

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