And that's good. One of the things that makes America so special, the jewel in the crown of Western Civilization, is that we can find fault with ourselves. We criticize, hector, debate, protest our ideas, our civil institutions, our employers, our governments - remember, our republic has literally thousands of governments, if you count from the local to the federal - and ourselves. Not all criticisms are fair or accurate, and some are just plain silly. But when an idea is valid we adopt and nurture it. We discard bad ideas and bad habits as a matter of reflex, making us the most adaptable people in the history of the world. Which is not to say we couldn't be quicker to throw some of the clunkier bits of the welfare state into history's dustbin.
This impulse toward self-correction doesn't necessarily, or even primarily, take a political form. Capitalism, the circulatory system of the West, constantly rewards improvement. The scientific method, which has been part of our culture for more than a century, systematically roots out flaws and seeks new insights. Our religious heritage, perhaps most of all, emphasizes the need for constantly trying to live a better and more decent life.
Regardless, whether it is in the private or public realms, the important thing to remember is that what defines Western Civilization is not the parade of horribles we get from the table-thumpers of the academic world and the media. Racism, greed, sexism, bigotry, slavery: These are universals in human history and still exist today around the world. No, the triumph of the West, and America in particular, is the constant, relentless effort to improve what Francis Bacon called man's estate.
If we were even remotely as bad as our critics overseas believe us to be, all of the mavericks, troublemakers and whistleblowers wouldn't be mavericks, troublemakers and whistleblowers. They would either be silent or they'd be in unmarked graves.
For every politician who takes a bribe, every journalist who plagiarizes, every husband who hits his wife, every child who cheats, there are multitudes who do none of these things, not because they are saints or heroes, but simply because they are human beings raised in this good and decent land. Yes, I am proud of and thankful for the real heroes risking and sacrificing everything in Iraq. But on this Thanksgiving, let's also be thankful and proud that the thing these heroes are defending is so gloriously worth it.