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Thursday, December 8, 2011

Number 311: Tony Hoagland "Bad Intelligence"

Bad Intelligence

is the reason the Chinese orphanage was bombed
It wasn't a stray piece of lint on a bombsight,
or the spastic movement of a twenty-year-old jet pilot
leaning forward to inspect a zit in a cockpit mirror.

No — someone had pulled the wrong map from the top-secret file cabinet,
had given the map to someone else in office Z-13,
who had circled the wrong building with lavender ink,
and passed it on,

and when the smoke rose from the successfully-demolished target
and the other kinds of fallout began,
the error had already been given a name by the damage-control guys,
which the radio announcers were murmuring over the airways,
and it was: Bad Intelligence.

Hearing it on the radio, driving to work,
I think, Yes, Bad Intelligence: that's what has guided me most of my life.
Like the lesson I got from my mother: Anticipate betrayal:
measure out your love in teaspoons, so you will never lose
more than you can easily afford.

Or the other one, about how a worried expression on your face
proves you are a Thoughtful Person;
Or the one about despising weakness.

Bad Intelligence. Bad intelligence
is why Candace always dated guys with snake tattoos.
Why the homeless woman said, "God will take care of us."
Bad intelligence is what tells the fat man in his kitchen
there might not be anything to eat tomorrow.

It's not that we are stupid,
but that we go on doing stupid things because we learned
never to believe the simple answer
never to rearrange the words in the sentence.

We're like the beautiful bodies of humankind, as drawn by William Blake:
muscle-bound in chains, gorgeous but imprisoned,
sealed in the caverns of the you-know-what — Bad Intelligence.

So it goes creeping through the tunnels of the blood
And it covers our lives like mold on bread, like fog
which seeps out through a crack in the human head.

Telling you never to apologize,
telling you to count your wounds
and nurse your evil in the dark —

I too followed the instructions I received from ghosts.
I bombed people with my love or hate,
then claimed it was an accident.
But then it was too late. Bad intelligence:
choices made someplace far away.
Words heard through earphones and repeated.
And little people far below
getting ready to suffer.

-- Tony Hoagland

Hap Notes: There's a lot going on in this poem stemming from "bad intelligence" that military euphemism for "unapologetic mistake." Hoagland starts out with the "accidental" bombing of civilians in an orphanage in China. This mistake leads him to think about other things that seem correct and are thought by reasonable adults and, yet, are sadly wrong.

In our everyday lives "bad intelligence"often rules. In our culture, we often see compassion as weakness, physical beauty as "good," sincerity as stupidity, smiling as somewhat facile and often false and happiness as monetary gain. All very stupid points of view or, as the damage control guys in the military call it, "bad intelligence."

You are an unending fountain of love and forgiveness if you want to be. Smiling feels good, looking "serious" in this world is actually pretty silly, and there is enough stuff in the world for everyone to have more than enough. Approval is something you only need from yourself- not your friends or your parents or the culture. It is this bad intelligence that holds us all back from fully experiencing life.

One supposes that there were reasonable things weaved into the bad intelligence that surrounds our lives. Running with scissors is unadvisable at best. It's a good idea to lock your car when you leave it. There are people who steal things, hurt others and are careless. But it seems we live our lives in fear- fear of theft, fear of violence, fear of loss, fear of hurt, fear of failure, fear of rejection, fear of loneliness. Most of this fear is based on bad intelligence– the bad intelligence that informed our parents and our grandparents and so on.

Where did we ever get the idea that the strong were tough and the compassionate were weak when the truth is that it is exactly the opposite. It takes more courage to be decent and thoughtful than it takes to be a brute. It takes more strength to be loving than to be guarded and suspicious. Pema Chodron calls the compassionate, "warriors." We need more warriors of love and kindness and less of those paper tigers who claim to be tough. Those tough-guy warriors are really just unhappy kids filled with bad intelligence.

Here is where we have talked about Hoagland before:

and here:

The masthead is a detail from William Blake's Visions of the Daughters of Albion.

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