There are many who enjoy fireworks and think they are a legitimate practice for various festivals, dates and events. Here are the most common ones we have come across:
- “It’s only one day a year”
It’s never one day. Besides New Year’s Eve and New Year’s Day, there is Diwali, Christmas Eve, Chinese New Year, Human Rights Day, Freedom Day, Day of Goodwill, and Guy Fawkes. And because people have no regard for the law in South Africa, much less consideration for others, it’s never just the day specified by authorities on which fireworks are used; invariably it is several days before and after. This adds up to a lot of anxiety and pain for other people who effectively have an unhappy Christmas, New Years or any of the other days in which humans supposedly celebrate ‘goodwill to all’. The irony is obvious to anyone but those who take delight in things going ‘bang’ and ‘whoosh’ and having ‘pretty lights’.
But it is an irrational defence anyway. Would it be okay to physically or verbally abuse someone just once a year? How about rape? Would one rape a year be acceptable? Could we legitimise theft, murder, fraud or any other crime if it was just once a year? If not, then why do we think a practice that takes away the peace of others, violently invades their lives, traumatises animals, humans and pollutes the environment is somehow legitimised because it ‘only happens once a year’?
- “Cars and industry also cause pollution”
This is an appeal to hypocrisy, an informal fallacy of logic. If one opposes fireworks, and drives a car, then one is being hypocritical. It’s really a red herring because it attempts to shift the focus from the person doing something destructive to their accuser (“You too”). It’s irrational because even if the accuser IS hypocritical, that does not change the effects of the action criticised. One cannot prove that a practice is acceptable on the basis of the character of the person doing it.
It’s also a poor argument because one is equating a necessity – transport, something that has many benefits to society – with a completely unnecessary and frivolous celebration that has many other undesirable effects. We are willing to put up with transport’s undesirable effects because of its benefits. It’s debatable whether the unnecessary noise, pollution, and social inconsideration of fireworks have any benefits at all. One should not regard personal gratification at the expense of others as a ‘benefit’.
- “You should take precautions to protect your animals”
On the one hand, this is good advice. After all, if the society in which you live is populated by sociopaths who care more about their own gratification than the needs of their community, it’s a good idea to do whatever is necessary to protect your family, however it is configured. This usually includes advice to ‘put pets indoors’ or to sedate them. People who think this is legitimate know little about animals or fireworks. Putting animals indoors does not stop them from hearing the fireworks, (It’s the noise that scares them, stupid!) especially the ‘Bombs’ that can be heard for kilometres.
It’s also irrational to expect the victim to make special arrangements so that those who abuse fireworks can continue to do so. This is an attempt to reverse the blame, and it is the argument of a sociopath.
There is another argument used by those who use fireworks to deflect from their own actions to those of their accuser: “Don’t complain about your animals if you eat meat”. One cannot legitimise one’s own actions by showing that your accuser is hypocritical. The two actions have nothing to do with each other. Two wrongs do not make a right; we cannot justify abuse because someone else is also doing the same thing or something worse. The action itself rises or falls on its own merits.
- “Fireworks have always been a tradition and cultural item in our religion”
It should be obvious, to anyone who is thinking, where the flaw is in this argument. Firstly, the fact that fireworks became a traditional and cultural item since the invention of fireworks in China, raise the question: how was Diwali celebrated before the very recent (100 years ago) invention of fireworks? The answer, of course, is through the use of clay lamps and oil, the liturgical basis of the festival.
This argument also implies that the existence of a tradition over a long period of time legitimises it. That this is clearly invalid may be illustrated by considering the long periods during which women did not have the vote; only white people had rights and others were slaves; these too were ‘traditions’ but they were clearly immoral and were set aside by a changing culture. A culture that remains mired in the past cannot progress.
There are many Hindus who do not use fireworks and prefer the more peaceful (and historically legitimate) use of clay lamps. The use of fireworks is a relatively recent innovation and it is employed by adherents who seem not to understand the essence of the festival.
“Diwali is a celebration of the victory of good over evil, represented by light over darkness, hence the “Festival of Lights” “ ~ Hindu writing to The Witness
“Diwali, the festival of lights, is the most celebrated of all Hindu festivals let us revere this day as a holy day and not a noisy day.” ~ another Hindu writing to The Witness
It’s difficult to see how the use of dangerous and invasively noisy fireworks, that are destructive to the environment, disturb the elderly and PTSD sufferers, and terrify animals, can be interpreted as ‘good’ in any way, shape or form. It is inconsistent with ahimsa, a fundamental principle of Hinduism:
- “Thunder also scares animals, shall we outlaw that as well?”
This argument equates thunder with fireworks. They are not the same phenomenon, the only thing they have in common is that they are ‘noise’. Animals know about approaching storms long before we do, due to their superior hearing and possibly sensitivity to changes in barometric pressure. So they will always be prepared. Thunderstorms are also over in a relatively short time; most storms last less than 20 minutes. Fireworks have been known to go on for hours.
Fireworks happen with no warning and also sound, to an animal, very much like a forest or veld fire, causing a ‘fight or flight’ state which can lead to panic behaviour. Fireworks are also more intense and can cause major trauma that can cause heart attacks, as in several cases we know about.
But this argument is ridiculous anyway; shall we allow people to shock others with electricity because ‘lightning is a natural phenomenon’? Shall we allow people to drown others because flash floods “also” result in drownings?
- “The police have far more important things to attend to”
It should be obvious that this is irrational, but I will spell out why. It seems pointless to have laws if the police are not going to bother with some laws because they are ‘too busy’. We call this the fallacy of relative privation and it’s irrational because if we only regard the most pressing matters as important, then we ignore many ills in society that cause a lot of pain and deprivation. It’s the argument that nothing matters if it’s not literally the worst thing happening.
Taken in a health context, we should ignore all diseases except heart disease, since that is the biggest killer? Even if we only took the top 5 diseases, we would still be excluding a whole bunch of maladies and in effect discriminating against people with those diseases.
The police cannot discriminate. Their job is to uphold the law. ALL law. Otherwise, why have laws? If the police are too busy to attend to fireworks issues, then that is a good argument for banning the import and possession of fireworks completely. Then there would be no fireworks in the country, and the police would be free to focus on important issues…
- “We have a right to enjoy our culture”.
True. But it is not an inalienable right. In other words, you cannot do whatever you like in expression of culture or religion. The SA Constitution states very clearly that such expression ‘may not be exercised in a manner inconsistent with any provision of the Bill of Rights.’ Given the right to “an environment that is not harmful to our health or well-being” and the right to “not to be deprived of freedom arbitrarily or without just cause” as well as the right “to be free from all forms of violence from either public or private source”, it should be obvious that fireworks are inconsistent with many provisions of the Bill of Rights.
Those who express a culture of quiet and peaceful harmony with the environment, other people and animals are being prevented from enjoying their culture. The invasive nature of fireworks noise and its effect on PTSD sufferers, the elderly, small children, shift workers and the high levels of anxiety suffered by their family while the fireworks are being used, as well as the effects on companion animals and their owners, makes ‘enjoyment’ of these festivals and traditions impossible.
To compare the deprivation of not being allowed to use fireworks to the physical and mental anguish of those who suffer at the hands of fireworks users is absurd. We should not be siding with the selfish and inconsiderate people who turn residential areas into something resembling a war-zone.
Fireworks have many undesirable effects, including:
- Freedom and security of the person who is invaded by noise that is impossible to escape: The practice of using percussive fireworks in a residential area is inconsistent with any individual living in that area’s common law right to peace and quiet, and the invasiveness of the noise constitutes a violent invasion of that person’s peace. When noise from fireworks invades people’s homes, it deprives them of freedoms. The first freedom taken away is the freedom to have peace and quiet in one’s own home. The second is the freedom to engage in activities such as reading or listening to music or watching tv, all of which are interrupted or made impossible by the noise.
- Damage to the environment: The short-term environmental impacts of fireworks include debris, smoke, noise, and light. Most of the components of a firework device will burn up in the atmosphere, but some portions of the casing and residue typically are carried by the winds and fall back to earth. Debris also can result from duds or misfires. Debris from fireworks launched off an ocean, river, or lake coast can impact water quality or litter sensitive habitat areas if not properly cleaned up following the show. The chemicals contained in fireworks also pollute the air. The use of fireworks contributes to the production of smog, acid rain, water pollution, and noise pollution. The carbon dioxide that is released by fireworks may also contribute to Global Warming.
- The noise and light pollution accompanying fireworks shows can negatively impact wildlife.
- Fireworks also have the potential to cause fires.
- Fireworks terrify animals and given their proximity to companion animals in residential areas, are often life-threatening because the animals are panicked and suffer extreme levels of anxiety.
- Fireworks emissions carry health risks, including respiratory problems, hearing loss, high blood pressure, high anxiety and sleep disturbances.
- Sudden and loud noises can trigger episodes for PTSD sufferers.
- Elderly people are disturbed by fireworks as are small children
- Fireworks are an enormous waste of money, given that the trade-off is the poor/sickly people that could have been helped with the money.
- 70% of fireworks are manufactured by children and adults in unhealthy and dangerous working conditions.
The benefits to society? ONE: Entertainment. At the expense of others.
It should be obvious from the above that the downsides of fireworks far outweigh the benefits. They bring more ‘ills’ to society than ‘goods’. Fireworks are indefensible.
Yet Government seems committed to supporting this antisocial, irresponsible, and tiny-minded practice?
Derek du Toit
Fireworks Banning Initiative