John McAfee. Photo by Robert King
If there is one thing society can learn from the soap opera now engulfing tech zillionaire John McAfee, it is that rectal shelving is the best way to take the psychoactive drug MDPV, marketed and known colloquially as bath salts. “Measure your dose,” McAfee wrote on a psychonaut forum two years ago, under his Stuffmonger handle. “Apply a small amount of saliva to the middle finger, press it against the dose, insert. Doesn't really hurt as much as it sounds. We're in an arena (drugs/libido), that I navigate as well as anyone on the planet here. If you take my advice about this (may sound gross to some), you will be well rewarded.”
It was the sort of vain boast to which he was prone. But it wasn't too far from the truth, either. More than 99.9 percent of anyone now living, John McAfee seemed to have spent every waking hour Carpe-ing the bloody Diem.
Here was a man who did sex yoga. Who practiced the ridiculously fatal sport of aerotrekking. Who ranged the world gathering sycophants around him, investing in power yachts, designer chemical labs, bodyguards and shotguns, and above all else, making his life a holy shrine to his penis, and his life's work the putting of that penis into as many young ladies as would have it. His holy grail, according to reports from close friends reported by Gizmodo, was "drugs that induce sexual behaviour in women". He lived for pleasure. For the most simple, hedonic view of pleasure, and – if you squinted your eyes a bit – you could probably have seen him as a kind of deranged folk hero.
But now someone is dead, and it's a lot harder to see the joke.
Last Saturday, at his home in Belize, police found the body of McAfee's neighbour, Gregory Faull, with a gunshot wound to the back of the head. Since then, the father of anti-virus software has been on the run, supplying half-hourly updates on his condition to Wired Magazine. Yes, Wired Magazine. Silicon Valley habits die hard.
He told them he'd dyed his hair in an attempt to disguise himself. He said he hid from the cops who were searching his house by burying himself in the sand, with a cardboard box to cover his head. He asserted, naturally enough for a man with a personal interest in the paranoia-blizzard that is MDPV, that this was all part of a conspiracy to destroy him. And, as if further proof were needed that here was a man balanced on the very lip of sanity, he compared himself to Julian Assange.
Back before the guy who owns Tumblr was born, McAfee was the king of virus protection. An engineer at Lockheed in the late 80s, he'd wasted a lot of time trying to fix viruses, then stumbled on the idea of a programme that zaps them automatically. By 1992 he had taken the McAfee company public, and scooped $100 million for himself. By 1994, he'd been forced out after telling everyone that the Michelangelo Virus was going to smash up the world's computers on 6 March, 1992. It didn't. He looked stupid. But he also looked rich. Incredibly rich. Now, with the business he'd invented wrested from his control, McAfee was effectively retired at the age of 47. What was a man of drive and vision going to do with the rest of his life?
The answer, it turned out, was "go increasingly insane", and it's an answer that has appealed to generations of the impossibly wealthy and over-imaginative before him.
Once, McAfee had been a teenage hippy. Indeed, he'd followed the same Delhi to Nepal searchers' trail that Steve Jobs had walked in the months before he decided to invent Apple. If Jobs turned out to be tech's Beatles post-Maharishi, McAfee now has shades of Charlie Manson. Like Manson, he'd taken all of that spiritual focus and used it to truly expand his mind: i.e. to break free from all the shackles of society. In his world, there would be no pious bourgeois morality. There would be only drugs, sexual intercourse, extremes of personal power and large collections of both dogs and shotguns.
The house that aerotrekking and bath salts enthusiast John McAfee used to live in
Sure, we all say that if we joined the super-rich we'd use it to enrich humanity. Build an orphanage. Go on the obligatory "round the world tour". But we all know what we'd do in our heart of hearts: we'd use it to enslave bitches. We'd create a fortified complex in a semi-rogue state. We'd build, as McAfee did, a sex-obsessed yoga ashram in which we were surrounded by waifs and strays who were all financially dependent on us. We'd gladly pay the $150 taxi fares from San Pedro to our compound for the constant stream of fresh women there to join in our bath salts-fuelled polyamorous parties. We could even, as McAfee seems to have done, donated a million dollar yacht to the Belize coastguard in the hope that it would deflect from the curious chemicals we'd been brewing in our lab.
The tragedy of McAfee is Midas-shaped. Had he been working for Taco Bell instead of Lockheed, today McAfee would probably be schmo-ing his way to work like anyone else. Instead, society suddenly gave someone with the emotional IQ of a potato a hundred million bucks. And then proceeded to act slightly alarmed and a little bit appalled when, 20 years down the line, that turned out to be a less than brilliant decision.
It's a sad story. But he's hardly alone in the new economy. For 20 years now, we've been fed a steady stream of swashbuckling startup wizards who conjured the first quillion on the back of an envelope. When these people flake away from the companies they founded and find themselves cast adrift with infinite chequebooks, expect weird things to happen. Expect the Zuckerprick to get to cardboard-boxes-over-his-shoes by age 35. And then? And then he'll still have a potential 50 years to live. Imagine what a corporate Caligula the hundred-billion dollar man could turn himself into by the time he hits McAfee's age.
Silicon Valley was once built on a sort of naïve optimism that "the good guys" were going to be running the next generation's technology. Google's mission statement famously included the words "Don't Be Evil". Yet for all the ways in which warm vibes have tempered big tech, there are no guarantees, no checks and balances to keep that in place. It's August 1969, and software's peace and love era has expanded some minds, but blown others. Ten bucks says the dudes from MySpace are a decade from turning the gun on themselves as two underage prostitutes beg for their lives in a Bangkok hotel room.
Follow Gavin on Twitter: @hurtgavinhaynes
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