I would like to know if there is a word/idiom to describe a certain phenomenon (maybe social inclination is a better word). I think it's kind of an anti-intellectualism, but anti-intellectualism doesn't cut it perfectly because it's not really "anti" intellectualism. It just doesn't use rational thinking and relies on folk knowledge, words of important figures (often by adding a lot of meaning to its original meaning by... zen-like thinking?), customs etc.

Best concrete example I can think of is the cultural revolution in China, when Mao instructed the people to "learn from the peasants". As I understand, peasants or life as a peasant was glorified during this time and that's basically the reasoning.

Other examples I can think of are from Japan (I am Japanese). The Japanese love the word "effort." When school children learn English, many teachers have them read the English text "a hundred times" and claim that this is useful to understand the text. Similarly, some (thankfully not many) even have the school children memorize the English text book word by word. Sometimes they even use this specific method:

  1. Start from the beginning.
  2. If you make a mistake anywhere while reciting it, start over from the BEGINNING.

The reasoning here is that "effort is important, so doing this would help."

There are probably more extreme examples in North Korea. I don't know any examples outside Asia, but my guess is that there are. So I'd prefer a word that isn't specific to Asia, if possible.

To clarify, I'm asking a word/idiom to describe the underlying phenomenon that leads to specific social behaviors like encouraging "Rote learning" (thanks Bogdan). So, rote learning is one of the manifestations of this "thing" I'm asking.

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    @Bodgan: Thanks, that'll exactly describe my example. I was asking though about the underlying.. mentality? -- that lets teachers to think that rote learning is the way to go. Commented Jul 23, 2011 at 1:33
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    I don't think there's any irrationality at work here; it's just a culture that is used to rote learning and values it higher than the other kind of learning. Rote learning also has its place and use; it's just less useful these days (the last three or four centuries, say :p), but it's not inherently irrational. Commented Jul 23, 2011 at 8:53
  • I think this questions is more about psychology and sociology than it is about vocabulary. I could possibly come up with a word or phrase that might describe this underlying mindset, but then we could have a nice argument about whether that concept was really at the root of this mindset.
    – Adam Rice
    Commented Sep 3, 2011 at 22:08

5 Answers 5


I don't think reasoning is what your question is asking about. What you're talking about is a type of learning (which @Bogdan Latainu cites in his comment).

To describe what this kind of education produces is reflected in the verb to parrot. From NOAD:

parrot verb ( parrots, parroting , parroted ) [ with obj. ]
repeat mechanically: encouraging students to parrot back information | they parroted slogans without appreciating their significance.
synonyms repeat (mindlessly), repeat mechanically, echo.


Now that you've added more to your question, the word you're looking for might be groupthink. Again, consulting NOAD:

groupthink |ˈgro͞opˌTHiNGk| noun the practice of thinking or making decisions as a group in a way that discourages creativity or individual responsibility: there's always a danger of groupthink when two leaders are so alike.

See also the Wikipedia article on groupthink, from which this is an extract:

Groupthink is a psychological phenomenon that occurs within groups of people. Group members try to minimize conflict and reach a consensus decision without critical evaluation of alternative ideas or viewpoints.

... The primary socially negative cost of groupthink is the loss of individual creativity, uniqueness, and independent thinking.

  • I guess the thing I meant to ask was "The thing that lets people to believe this kind of learning is good". Commented Jul 23, 2011 at 1:38
  • @Enno Shioji: I saw your edit and added my own. 頑張ってください。;-)
    – Robusto
    Commented Jul 23, 2011 at 1:40
  • Thanks! This is definitely going to be useful to describe this thing. :) Commented Jul 23, 2011 at 1:43
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    @Enno Shioji: "The thing that lets people to believe this kind of learning is good" is just culture. :-) (And tradition, whatever — that's what shared beliefs are called.) Commented Jul 23, 2011 at 8:55

Many kinds of irrational reasoning are a result of one or more cognitive biases. Quite often, it may turn out to be difficult to assign just one bias. In the examples you mentioned, the fallacies seem to have originated from belief bias and then compounded by groupthink, as Robusto mentioned, or by reification fallacy or by argumentum ad populum.

These lists of cognitive biases and fallacies cover many phenomena.

Having said that, if I were trying to communicate this concept to someone, I'd stay away from jargon, and just refer the cause of the error as belief bias and the fallacy as folk-wisdom fallacy. I think the listener would get it straightaway.

  • Having read it twice, I still can't make out exactly what "type of argument" (or indeed, "method of teaching") OP is trying to name here. You seem to have covered most possible "argument" senses. The "teaching" stuff seems unrelated; he's probably getting at parrot-fashion there, but really that's another Question entirely. Commented Jul 23, 2011 at 14:11
  • Hmm... I focused on just the bit about "doesn't use rational thinking and relies on folk knowledge, words of important figures (often, by reading unintended meanings into zen sayings [my words]), customs etc.". I thought the bit about rote-learning was just an incidental example.
    – prash
    Commented Jul 23, 2011 at 14:34
  • I'm not that keen on Questions that net down to "What is the word for..." unless the thing sought to be named is very precisely defined by OP. And, ideally, admits of a single answer that all visitors can reasonably be expected to agree on. This one isn't and doesn't, so whilst I haven't actually voted to close, I did downvote the Question itself. It's mainly an invitation to debate subclasses of 'persuasive argument techniques'. Commented Jul 23, 2011 at 14:55
  • I understand your sentiment. I too felt this had less to do with EL&U, and more to do with rhetoric fallacies.
    – prash
    Commented Jul 23, 2011 at 16:12

Something like superstitious, plebeian, or bourgeois may work.

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    This answer would be improved with links to definitions and an explanation of why you think these words would be good choices.
    – Kit Z. Fox
    Commented Jul 23, 2011 at 2:32

The word I would use is "myth." That is something that is basically untrue, but a lot of intellect is wasted on convincing oneself and others that it is true. And it is usually based on "folk knowledge." The Chinese Cultural Revolution was based on the myth of the wisdom of the peasantry. At times, Japan has cultivated the myth of Yamato, or whatever, that led that country into certain situations.


Words I would choose for this would be unscientific, pseudo-scientific, or Luddite.

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