Backyard_Fireworks - Scott Akermanvia Flickr (CC BY 2.0)

Fireworks Illustrate the Difference between Society and Individualism

Fireworks are an enjoyable visual spectacle. Ever since French King Louis XIV made fireworks an integral part of his court festivals, they have been a staple of celebrations. The Fourth of July in the United States, Guy Fawkes Day in England, and New Years Eve nearly everywhere, are marked by fireworks.

On those nights, many cities arrange a display of fireworks for the public. The spectacular fireworks shows are expensive and take professional skill and experience to coordinate. The adage of “don’t try this at home” applied big time to fireworks because they are dangerous.

Louis XIV set off fireworks as part of his ostentatious displays of wealth. Today, some people, mostly males, insist on setting off their own fireworks. Unlike Louis XIV, these people can’t afford the really good fireworks, so they settle for cheap bottle rockets, and of course cherry bombs. Some males get off on making noise of various kinds, as anyone can attest who has ever been to a bar. One way these males can make noise is to go into their backyard and set off the loudest firework they can find.

The noise begins a few days before the holiday. The evening calm is shattered by explosions; first a few, increasing as the days go by, culminating in a a dark orgy at midnight on the holiday, turning normally peaceful neighborhoods into what sounds like a war zone.

The noise disturbs people, pets, and birds. Some animals are literally scared to death. People aren’t allowed to enjoy the peace and quiet of their own homes. Those who have PTSD related to gun violence are particularly affected. These are just the facts, not that the people disturbing their neighborhoods care.

The Individual versus Others

As anyone who has read my philosophical articles knows, I am a big proponent of the individual. Each of us has a unique self, composed of our experience and thoughts, which deserves to be honored. Each of us has the right to express ourselves.

The Libertarians tell us that individuals have a right to do what they want, and no one has the right to prevent them. This, of course, is nonsense. The rational and ethical attitude toward individual rights is summed up with the adage that the right to swing your arms ends at another person’s nose.

A person setting off fireworks is expressing themselves, definitely, but their right to do what they want in this instance is limited by the effects on others. The person blowing up small bombs in their backyard is swinging their arms in a way that hits other people’s noses. They may say they have the right to do what they want, but what right do they have to disturb others? Fireworks are just one example. The question equally works for loud mufflers and smoking, to name just two common behaviors.

We should add that this dynamic works the other direction, in that the right to take offense at others’ actions is also limited. You have a right to your own space not being disturbed, but not to the extent that you get to excessively dictate to others what they are allowed to do. Where that ethical line can be drawn between the rights of people is difficult to discern. What constitutes excessive demands on others? We cannot make absolute rules, only have an ongoing dialogue based on a general principle of mutual recognition of others and their rights.

The Personal Cost of Selfishness

Okay, so let’s say you don’t care about those other people who are disturbed by your amateur fireworks show. Maybe you feel such concern shows weakness, and you are going to set off your little bombs to show how big and powerful you are. Well, you may just reap what you sow.

The U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) staff’s analysis of data on non-occupational, fireworks-related deaths and injuries during
calendar year 2022, there were a minimum of 11 deaths and 10,200 injuries treated in hospitals. (Source) Not all of those 10,200 plus 11 people were Libertarians, though 65 percent were males, which suggests this bravado is fed by attempts to overcome male insecurity.

There’s something about fireworks that brings out the stupid in some males.

San Antonio man dies after setting off firework on top of his head
The rocket exploded from the bottom of the tube, opening up the man’s

The Bottom Line

Many places ban fireworks attempting to protect the public from such injuries. An increasing number of cities are ceasing their public fireworks displays because of the effects on people and animals. This issue is one of the many issues about how we can best balance individual rights. Contrary to the Libertarian fantasy, we are individuals embedded in a society and our actions do affect other individuals, who have no less and no more rights than us. With freedom comes responsibility. Only a selfish jerk would feel otherwise.


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