Ian McLeod's Confusticated World
Brought to you in part by: The Tesla Polyphase-Generator
(I wrote this a couple weeks ago, but never got around to posting it. Yay, now I don't have to write something tonight!)
A couple weeks ago, I was reading several websites about my favorite children's book: Mike Mulligan and His Steam Shovel. What inspired this search was a horrible image someone made of the cover. The image ruined my childhood, but made me laugh, so it's awesome.
Mike Mulligan Tears S*** Up
LOOK AT THAT ******* STEAMSHOVEL
THIS IS GOING TO BE AWESOME
Anyway, I read some lunatic soccer-mom review of the original book and she was fussing because Mike Mulligan smoked a pipe, and of course her effeminate-to-be son didn't need such a manly role-model. God, woman, Mike's Irish. We smoke and drink. Also, we tear s*** up, remember that.
You know, it's okay that you don't like or approve of smoking. It's okay for you to teach your children not to smoke. It's wise, in fact. But don't whine that your son asked about a pipe in a story-book, and don't whine that your child asks why people smoke, and don't think ill of people who do so. You may find it unpleasant, nasty, and self-destructive. It may be, to you. Not to me.
I smoke because it calms me better than the pills the docs tried to give me for my anxiety and depression years ago. I smoke because it keeps me alert on the road. I smoke because it helps my crappy memory. It makes me feel better. It's helped me meet interesting people, foster conversation with strangers, make friends. My life would be far different right now if I hadn't smoked, and I don't know that it would be in a good way. I'd never have met that old homeless man in Baltimore who shared much wisdom I'll never forget.
Mike Mulligan smokes a pipe because it was done at the time. Pipe smoke is almost universally considered pleasant versus the other forms. Pipes identify someone who is careful, thoughtful, meticulous, relaxed, comfortable; often someone good or kind. It takes effort to smoke a pipe, to keep it lit, to enjoy it. It's as much a sign of character as polished shoes. It's a small detail which shows Mike Mulligan's own good qualities. Mrs. Burton probably didn't even realize it consciously, it just fits.
It fits in the same way the dad in Powerpuff Girls had a pipe. Or Ward Cleaver.
The story is, likely unconsciously, symbolic of the superiority of individualism (which puts others first) over collectivism (which makes demands of others, vis a vis "Society"). This concept is shown by the "obsolete" Steam Shovel and the "newer, better, shinier" Diesel shovels. Mike's one man swimming against the stream, doing the right thing, making his way in the world doing what he loves. Mike Mulligan is Davy Crockett telling Congress "You all can go to hell: I'm going to Texas." He's Number 6. He's you, me, and anyone else who says "I'm me, dammit," not out of self-centered foolishness or narcissism, but because it's right to buck the trend of "gimme" superficiality and be an enlightened, thoughtful, productive, self-interested individual. It is out of self-interest that we can best work in the interests of others. Haven't you ever heard, "if you don't love yourself, you can't really love anyone else?" It's true. Mike worked in his own self-interest, and did something that benefited many people in the town. And he smoked a pipe.
Even Jesus operated under a sense of enlightened self-interest. After all, He did love us so much He wanted to spend eternity with us.
Are there flaws to Steam values? Yes. But at least they're values. Like Mike, I'm an anachronism. Now, if you'll excuse me, I have a basement to dig.