I have seen some pretty impressive firework shows in my life. In particular, I have been blown away by the craft and ingenuity on display at Disney World as music, fireworks, and narrative combine to tell incredible aerial tales.
But I don’t think I’ve ever enjoyed watched fireworks more than while living in Utah. When standing at a high vantage point, one can see the simultaneous firework displays of scores of towns across the valley. And because of relatively lax laws regarding aerial fireworks, private individuals are also simultaneously launching high quality fireworks.
Individually, each of these displays cannot compare to the magic of a high quality professional display. But the collective power of the sky filled with a cacophony of colors and sounds is far greater than the power of any individual display. And because the fireworks are launched by a variety of individuals, the show lasts for much longer than a single professional one would.
There are other advantages to the dispersed model of firework shows. For one thing it is impossible for what happened in San Diego in 2012 to occur in Utah: In San Diego, all of the fireworks that were part of the big spectacular were accidentally set off at once resulting in a single bright but colorless explosion. In Utah, fireworks can be found in homes across the valley, and so even if the main show in a town fails there would still be beautiful fireworks.
As I thought about it, I realized that the beautiful fireworks in Utah stand as a poignant metaphor and reminder of the power and promise of freedom. In this country, we are left to exercise our God given talents and to pursue happiness according to our own understanding of that term.
The result of a free society where individuals are left to find their own direction in life will often be cacophonous. Sometimes, as with fires or injuries caused by amateur shows run amok, there will be dramatic failures along the way. Freedom is not error free or painless. Some will be able to afford to put on a more spectacular show. Some will care a lot about fireworks and some will be indifferent to them. But overall, the results of a free society will be far more spectacular in the aggregate than a collectively organized society could ever produce.
As I thought about the San Diego firework fail, I thought about the failure of collectivism across the world (the collapse of the Soviet Union, food riots in Venezuela etc.). And I was also reminded of King Mosiah’s warning to his people of “what great destruction” a single wicked king or leader can cause. On the other hand, in a free society there is a robust surplus of energy and activity. When one company or person fails, there is always another ready to step into the void.
On this Fourth of July, I am grateful for the underlying principles of our nation which declared that all man are born equal and are given by God rights which cannot be taken away by the State. As I reflect on the grand experiment of our constitution, I am grateful for those brave patriots willing to risk their lives for their belief in a free government based on the consent of the governed. These values make America great. They are also rooted in eternal gospel truths. And as we look up at the colorful sky, we can remember those truths which were once believed to be self-evidence but which have unfortunately been forgotten in our day.