John McAfee's suicide in a Spanish prison gives us another opportunity to ponder the interconnections of family life, psychology, and creativity:
Mr. McAfee grew up in Roanoke, Va., the son of a road surveyor and a bank teller in an unhappy marriage. He said in press reports that his father was a severe alcoholic who beat him and his mother, and who fatally shot himself when Mr. McAfee was 15.
“Every day I wake up with him,” Mr. McAfee told a reporter for Wired magazine in 2012. “Every relationship I have, he’s by my side; every mistrust, he is the negotiator of that mistrust.”
McAfee Associates, the software company he founded, was once a household name in computer security. He started it in 1987 in his small house in Santa Clara, Calif., in response to the news of a Pakistani computer virus called Brain, thought to be the first to attack personal computers. Mr. McAfee said that, at the time, it reminded him of the way his father would suddenly attack him.
Once the company grew past the startup phase, McAfee no longer felt comfortable there, so he sold out for $80 million. Most of which he proceeded to lose in a series of bad investments. Then he got involved in promoting cryptocurrency – in ways the SEC and the IRS say were illegal, which is why he was arrested – and got shabbier and sleazier until nobody was surprised by the way he died.
How much of our progress, our art, our creativity do we owe to people like John McAfee? How much does our civilization depend on a legion of sad, crazy artists, inventors, scientists, and more? How much of the energy that drives life forward comes from the darkness, from places most of us would rather not look into or even know about?