Rolf Harris



Like many other people, especially in Australia and the UK, I was shocked and unbelieving when allegations started being made about sexual abuse by Rolf Harris.  In 2014 he was found guilty in a British court and is now serving a 6-year prison sentence. Now I read that he is to be charged with seven more counts of indecent assault, allegedly committed between 1971 and 2004.

I don’t condone any kind of sexual activity that is not 100% consensual. Nor do I believe that serious crimes should be subject to a statute of limitations. But I would point out two things that I don’t think have been taken fully into account in the Court of Public Opinion:

  • Back in the 1960s and 70s there was a broader understanding of what was normal and acceptable behaviour between men and women. A sly pat on the bum was not considered an assault and a suggestive remark was not harassment. And celebrities were cut a lot of slack: there weren’t so many of them in those days, so it didn’t matter so much.
  • Whatever crimes Rolf Harris may have committed, they do not extinguish his extraordinary achievements as an artist, song-writer and performer. I see nothing contradictory in condemning his morals while celebrating his talent.

As soon as Rolf was sentenced there was a sudden disappearance of his paintings from the walls of public buildings and of his recordings from the airwaves. To my mind this connotes either vindictiveness or cowardice or both.  I say ‘cowardice’ because many people, I think, feared seeming to be insufficiently outraged.  It reminds me – on a different scale – of show trials in the USSR and Nazi Germany, and the enthusiastic display of support for the verdicts by people who feared they might be next.

Why Do Bad Things Happen to Good People?


My friend Peter asked me this a week or two ago.  Peter is a Jehovah’s Witness and our house is in his territory.  He knows I’m an atheist and the chances of converting me are close to those of global warming being reversed, but we both enjoy 10 minutes of mental sparring on the doorstep once a month.

Actually, what he asked was, “Do you ever wonder why bad things happen to good people?”  I said “No” and he changed the subject.

But after he had gone I thought about it.  Why should anyone expect the incidence of good or bad things to be correlated in any way with the moral quality of the people to whom they happen?  Has there ever been any evidence for this, even evidence of the most circumstantial nature?

On the other hand there is pretty good evidence for the following propositions:

  1. The universe behaves in accordance with a set of fixed physical laws.
  2. Within those laws, there is plenty of scope for random events.
  3. Conforming with the laws, customs and values of one’s own community is likely to result in better outcomes than flouting them (eg not spending time in jail or being ignited by an angry mob).

I suppose the third of these propositions goes a little way towards validating Peter’s question, but I don’t think that’s what he had in mind.