The creator of the first commercial anti-virus software was one of a kind
John McAfee, who died yesterday, was one of the oddest men of our times.
You might have thought Elon Musk was the most eccentric man in tech, with his fondness for memes, crypto-currencies and flamethrowers. Elon Musk was Joe Average compared to McAfee. The creator of the first commercial anti-virus software was one of a kind.
Did he have his neighbour in Belize killed for poisoning his dogs? A court ordered him to pay $25m over Gregory Faull’s apparent wrongful death. How many drugs was he on? He seems to have turned himself into a walking, talking laboratory. Was there any substance to his many tweets about having sex with whales? (“Whale fucking. No joke. Each year, on Feb 1st, in the Molokai Channel, a few men compete in the world’s only whale fucking contest…I competed once. Almost got my ribs crushed.)
Given all this madness, it seems anticlimactic that McAfee was set to be extradited to the US on charges of tax evasion. Then again, that was the charge that brought down Al Capone.
Officially, McAfee is reported to have committed suicide. Understandably, rumours are flying. McAfee himself had said, “Know that if I hang myself, a la Epstein, it will be no fault of mine.” His wife said before his death that the US government was “determined to have John die in prison to make an example of him for speaking out against the corruption within their government agencies.”
Now, that is not proof that he did not kill himself. As a man who lustily enjoyed his well-earned outlaw reputation it might have been an appealingly mysterious end. But who knows? He doubtless had a lot of enemies. One only hopes his death will be investigated in detail and not disappear into a world of speculation and memes.
As well as being a shameless hedonist, McAfee had a libertarian bent. In 2016 and 2020 he sought nomination as the Libertarian Party candidate in the US. In his last tweet McAfee wrote:
In a democracy, power is given not taken.
But it is still power.
Love, compassion, caring have no use for it. But it is fuel for greed, hostility, jealousy…
All power corrupts.
Take care which powers you allow a democracy to wield.
— John McAfee (@officialmcafee) June 18, 2021
“Take care which powers you allow a democracy to wield”… Or a tech company. In a recent post about being fired and hired by Apple, the writer Antonio García Martínez wrote:
You would not want to have too many John McAfees around, especially if one of them happened to be your neighbour. He did whatever the hell he wanted, whatever boundaries he happened to break, and that is all fun and games until someone breaks ours.
But in a world where tech moguls come to us as nice, calm and normal people, even while suppressing our speech and rewiring out thought and behaviour, there was something compelling about an actual wild man who did not want to be a part of that austere club. He was a lifelong rebel who did not have it in himself to turn into a tyrant.