Parsons Says Conformity Essential To Realizing 'Higher Freedom'

Writers and sociologists who have denounced increasing conformity in American society received some quiet criticism yesterday afternoon from Talcott Parsons, professor of Sociology.

Complex social organization--which requires a good deal of conformity of individuals--is a prerequisite of the "higher levels of freedom" most people value, Parsons maintained. Consequently, a gam in these "higher" freedoms involves a sacrifice of some other, "lower" freedoms, such as freedom to do what one pleases regardless of the needs of society.

The individual must make certain sacrifices. He becomes dependent on shifts in the market, the money he accepts for his goods "Is merely an expectation": he has no guarantee that it will be worth as much when he tries to buy something with it.

Complex forms of organization exact another price: the requirement that everyone abide by the rules of the game, Parsons said.

"For example, I doubt that even the most hardened non-conformist thinks I thought to be able to make any noise or any marks on paper I please, and say this is my individual way of expressing deep and profound thoughts."

Assembly Lines

The desirable effects of organization often justify the conformity it requires, Parsons said. For example, the vastly increased efficiency of assembly-line production provides reason for pressuring individuals to cooperate.

Parsons noted that in modern society technical specialization deprives people of a considerable amount of freedom. "It creates dependency--we have to respect technical competence because important desirable effects depend on it." But in return for abandoning our freedom (for example, to treat our own diseases) we obtain some other freedoms, such as the freedom of action which comes from being healthier, he said.

Parsons gave his lecture at the weekly Hillel Round Table discussion in PBH.