Staying in with A.C.B Wilson on The Wheels of Society Publication Day

I’m very grateful to publicist Grace Pilkington for putting me in touch with A.C.B Wilson so that Tony is staying in with me to chat about his brand new book. I have a feeling it’s going to be an unusual read.

Staying in with Tony Wilson

Welcome to Linda’s Book Bag Tony. Thank you for agreeing to stay in with me. Tell me, which of your books have you brought along to share this evening and why have you chosen it? 

I’ve chosen The Wheels of Society: Its Assembly, Performance and Emotion.

Why? It’s an idea which may help us to stop polluting and warming up the earth, and destroying wild-life habitats. Of course these are huge questions. The only way forward I suggest, has to be to go right back to first principles; to how human society actually does work. These principles are the subject of my book.

And I understand today is publication day Tony so congratulations. What can we expect from an evening in with The Wheels of Society: Its Assembly, Performance and Emotion?

It’s full of stuff which we already know about ourselves but which has never been put together in this way. So even if it’s excitingly controversial at times it uses arguments which are already familiar. My assembly and performance thinking is entirely original.

Oh. Tell me more.

Here it is in brief: Assembly and performance thinking starts by making a clear distinction between the way we selfish individuals are able to assemble into a cooperating group, and the systems by which these groups perform. It then focuses on this performance in all animal cooperation; good examples include honey-bees and wolves. This performance conforms to a universal ‘rule of three’. Briefly; ‘plan it as a group, do it as a group, review it as a group, and repeat’. Performance carries out the purpose for which the group was assembled in the first place.

I have a feeling this concept might be more important now than ever Tony.

This way of thinking works for all social creatures, from ants to humans. It even applies to certain cooperating microbes; thus enhancing its scientific credentials. It may be new but actually it is quite simple. It is essentially an extension of Darwin’s natural selection.

The accepted thinking has always been that humans are in a superior category. Hubris is a brain-fogging disease of the corporate mind. Stretching way back into pre-history; our self-importance has been built up into a colossal mound of fairy-stories and intellectual detritus. The argument here is that hubris is what has prevented us from recognising the relatively simple mechanisms of all animal social behaviour; not just our own; thoughtless, destructive and dangerous as it so often is.

Oh yes! We humans do have that arrogance that rarely considers our real impact on the world. Hopefully that view is changing slightly.

Professional sociologists will notice the claim I am making here; that thinking in terms of assembly and performance provides a truly scientific approach to the workings of society. This is the elusive holy grail they have been searching for ever since 1650 when Isaac Newton used gravity to explain the workings of the solar system. If human society can at last be brought under the scientific microscope we might be able to avoid the frightening consequences of our corporate greed.

I hope you’re right Tony.

So Linda, while this book isn’t sexy or full of laughs it is jam-packed full of writing to enthral the thoughtful reader.

The Wheels of Society: Its Assembly, Performance and Emotion sounds absolutely fascinating.

What else have you brought along and why have you brought it?

Well, it says on the cover of the book that I “paint, write and make beer”. My excellent editor David Elliott wrote those words but it’s true, and I find painting a terrific way to blast away writers‘ block.

So I’ve brought along three fresh watercolours, I did them in the last fortnight. The point here is to keep another activity on the go to ward off the ghastly block.

Those are wonderful Tony. I love the fluidity of style you employ. 

And there’s something more here which I can’t quote put my finger on, and don’t actually want to. It’s about the very tip of the brush on canvas, the very point of the nib on paper, and the Keyboard finger-tip touch. It’s what happens the moment of the act. There are poetic treasures inside us all but often they can only be released at the tip and moment of the act. When stuck I often say to myself; “Just get on with it Anthony; you never know what’s in there till you let it out.”

What a brilliant philosophy.

I’ve also brought along today’s photo of my brewing cupboard because though I only brew twice a year I just happen to be halfway through this brew; this very day.

Next time you’ll have to bring some of the product with you too! Thanks so much for staying in with me today, Tony, to tell me about The Wheels of Society: Its Assembly, Performance and Emotion. I’ve really enjoyed hearing about it.

The Wheels of Society: Its Assembly, Performance and Emotion

Written with verve and a mordant wit, The Wheels of Society is a vivid, cogent, ground-breaking proposal for us to re-think ourselves in order to steer civilisation back to safety.

As a species we seem to cling on to the power and influence of ‘the old normal’. Forests and valleys are decimated so that businessmen can be in Manchester 30 minutes faster; thousands of airline seats are sold for the price of a free-range chicken so that hundreds of short-haul planes can devastate the atmosphere and enable drunken escapades in Barcelona rather than Soho; the rich get even richer and the poor get Covid 19. Bankers conspire in the fraudulent abuse of people’s savings, yet can keep their loot, saved by governments supposed to protect their citizens but who fail to hold a single perpetrator to account.

Is this how we are supposed to be?

The biology of society becomes visible when hubris is side-stepped. First, natural selfishness must be overcome before individuals can assemble altruistically into a working group – a rather wonderful achievement. Our cooperating groups, which make up the hierarchy of society, are living things in their own right. Then, once assembled, the group must perform trial-and-error cycles to do life’s vital functions. Wilson’s ‘assembly-and-performance thinking’ combines these two mechanisms into a simple scientific theory of society which applies, with variations, to all cooperating creatures – not just to humans.

The Wheels of Society: Its Assembly, Performance and Emotion is published today, 4th February 2021, by Quartet Books and is available for purchase here. and directly from the publisher here.

About Tony Wilson

Tony Wilson was born in Dublin in 1931 and studied economics at Trinity College before qualifying as a chartered accountant. After six years in Paris with Price Waterhouse he went to England working as financial controller in the Avon Rubber Company, GKN, and British Oxygen.

Tony lives near Bath where he paints, writes and makes beer. He has had five one-man exhibitions and has shown in the RA Summer Exhibition.

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