Created By: Xzenu on November 5, 2010 Last Edited By: Xzenu on July 4, 2011
Troped

Original Position Fallacy

Name Space:
Main
Page Type:
Trope
Rolling Updates * Needs More Examples
  • Redirect: Original Position Gambit
  • Laconic: In a system that benefit some at the expense of others, it's easier to make people accept the system if you make them believe that they will end up on the benefiting side.

Mrs. Asimov: How pleasant it would be if only we lived a hundred years ago when it was easy to get servants.
Isaac Asimov: It would be horrible... We'd be the servants.

When making up one's mind about a social system (laws, taboos, customs, whatever), Bob is likely to be biased by where he expect himself to be placed in this system.

Of course, Bob's daydreams are likely to turn into nightmares as he get to know what it's really like on the other side and he already made a moral commitment to principles that are now to his disadvantage. Our Bob would have been wise to think in the same way as John Rawl's though-experiment about the "original position (more about that on the analysis page). But now it's too late for that. Bob has already painted himself into a corner. If someone actively manipulated him to get there, this can be called an Original Position Gambit.

A character doing the Original Position Fallacy may start out as a Hell Seeker and/or end up as a Boomerang Bigot. If someone pulled the gambit version on him, it was probably a Magnificent Bastard skilled in Gambit Speedchess.


Analysis page

The philosopher John Rawls argued that complete fairness can only come from hypothetical people in the "original position", in which they don't know who they will be in the real world. People with total memory loss about who they are, or dead people who are about to be reincarnated.

Let these people sort out the issues of class, race, and gender. A poor person will be inclined to be for free schools and extensive social security, while a rich person will be inclined to refuse to pay such taxes since he can fend for himself and his own children anyway. But what about a person who doesn't know if he's rich or poor? That person would be more neutral and have a greater chance to form an unbiased opinion. And while such a person coesn't exist, we can consider what kind of opinion they would have if they did exist. While a Science Fiction story might actually give a character such a useful amnesia, more mundane usages of the principle are far more common - and usually far less Author Tracty.

So, Bob is not unbiased, although he might believe he is. In either case, his bias can be turned against him! And thus, he might open up for someone to pull and Original Position Gambit on him, or even be deluded enough to pull one on himself. A villain pulling a full-scale Original Position Gambit will exploit his bias to the fullest, making him make value judgements and accept their rules based on his current position and then make him stand for his statements when he is in a very different position - one that they planned for him all along.


Examples

Anime and Manga
  • Father's conspiracy in Fullmetal Alchemist (both in Xerxes and at present, with the exception of one single individual.) They think they're getting eternal lifespans, they're really getting to contribute THEIR lifespan.

Comic Books
  • In Chick Tracts, one of the most common types of Straw Loser is the guy who isn't afraid of hell. One variant of this is that he believe that hell exist and that it is a horrible place for the damned, but also believes that he'll be one of Satan's demons reigning in hell. Of course, his fate invariably turns out to be much crueler. (Two two other main variants are those who don't believe that hell exist and those who think that it's not a bad place.)

Literature
  • In one of the stories of Ooka Tadasuke, a famous Japanese judge of the Eighteenth Century, he has to divide a father's inheritance between two twin sons. One is known as greedy and selfish, the other is known as having helped the father and for being honorable. No one can tell which son is which. Ooka picks one son at random and tells him to divide the estate. The son starts giving himself all the money and property; and gives his brother merely the good will of the neighbors. The crowd thinks Ooka made a huge mistake until Ooka announces that he told the son to divide the estate, but that only Ooka has the power to award the items. Ooka gives the money to the honorable son and tells the greedy son that he needs the good will of the neighbors the most.
  • In the first novel of the Slave World series, the protagonist is horrified with how naively her colleagues embrace the Alternate Timeline world they have found. The scientists joins the society, believing that they will get to be part of the aristocracy and thus accept the social order where the aristogracy have absolute power over everyone else. And yes, they do end up enslaved.
    • Zigzagged in the third novel, as Sarah seem to be falling in the same trap as her predecessors. She's actually setting herself up for permanent enslavement, although her plan is to belong to the woman she loves... Who then give her the basic "thanks but no thanks" and auction her off to a random aristocrat... a young lady to grow to become the true love of her life.
  • Debated in the book SS-GB. SS Standartenfuhrer Oskar Huth states that when he figured out that the Nazi party was going to be in power, he decided that the only position that was acceptable to him was in the ruling class. Strength determined your status in Nazi life and he was going to be on top, regardless of the cost.
  • Invoked in one of Isaac Asimov's essays, quoting a dialogue at a social function. See page quote above.

Tabletop Games
  • In Book Of The Dead, a book for World of Darkness (mostly Sineater and Mage), all the underworld realms presented are designed so the gamemaster can play them this way. It's outright encouraged in general, and one of the realms is designed so it's hard to NOT play it this way. This realm is called Oppia, and is a place of abundant soul-energy in the form of delicious food. The rulers are very generous and hospitable, and their ruls seem simple enough. Sure the system runs on enslavement of souls, but those idiots are bad guests who broke the rules. Seems easy enough to accept... until you realize how very easy it actually is to break the rules. Including by accident.
  • In Dungeons & Dragons, this is a common ploy of the Lawful Evil alignment, inviting people to join a system that benefit the strong at the expense of the weak. The regular adherent is an Asshole Victim who overestimated his strength and is really unhappy with finding himself as one of the despised and exploited weaklings.
  • In the Mutant Chronicles book Ilian, there are two short-stories on this theme. Humans who joined the cult of Ilian because they wanted to become the exploiters rather then the exploited. And of course, their futures are so bright, since Ilian will smile upon them forever... until they fail or get backstabbed by each other, that is. Suckers.
  • Warhammer 40K (and Warhammer): Many people who join Chaos cults do so in the hopes of attracting their chosen god's favor. Unfortunately for them, said gods are just as likely to ignore them, give them what they want or subject them to horrible (or benign) mutations.

Theater
  • In Shakespeares Henry V, a trio of nobles are secretly plotting against Henry when H brings another traitor in front of them, asking whether he should execute or show mercy. All three say he should execute, at which time Henry reveals that he knows about their treachery and sends them off to be executed.
Community Feedback Replies: 35
  • November 5, 2010
    NativeJovian
    ...do you have any examples? I get the Rawls bit, but I'm not sure how it applies to the trope. "Alice using Bob's biases to make something seem more appealing to him" seems like People Sit On Chairs.
  • November 5, 2010
    Xzenu
    Added the first three examples.

  • January 19, 2011
    Xzenu
    Hmm, surely there must be more works where someone use this technique?
  • February 14, 2011
    Ergoogre
    Liked the way you wrote this, but this seems like a form of Inherent In The System to me.
  • February 21, 2011
    Xzenu
    Not directly related to Inherent In The System. The link ins indirect, goes through The Lucifer Effect.

  • February 22, 2011
    EricDVH
    Father's conspiracy in Fullmetal Alchemist (both in Xerxes and at present, with the exception of one single individual.) They think they're getting eternal lifespans, they're really getting to contribute THEIR lifespan.
  • February 22, 2011
    Euodiachloris
    Hmmm -- I like the idea... but it may need reworking a little. As a trope, this would be linked with Magnificent Bastard, Chessmaster and the Xanatos tropes? Another possible example that springs to mind is Johan's use of the top-brass of the various Right-Wing factions in the Anime/ Manga Monster. They think they're getting the ultimate Hitler who'll lead them to victory, instead, they get a Complete Monster of a totally different stripe who really doesn't mind using and then killing them. Actually, Johan uses Roberto in pretty much the same way by playing on his mis-aimed hero-worship... Then there are the captains of industry he tries to roast in the Munich University Library... OK - he uses everybody this way. Bookwise/ Filmwise: Sauron springs to mind - namely from the Silmarillion when he plays Numenor for all it's worth and brings about it's downfall using the King's Faction's greed. I think that would work as an example in this case. However, he also does a similar thing within the scope of the Lord of the Rings. He helps Dwarves, Elves and Men by boosting their research into the creation of these wonderfully powerful ring-tools that will aide them all in creating a wonderful world... then chains them with the One Ring behind their backs. Again, a book: the Wheel of Time. This is Mordeth-Padain Fain's favorite way of dealing with anybody - including himself/ves. King Balwen Mayel of Aridhol thinks he's getting an advisor who will help him start to turn back the advance of the Shadow and the inevitable erosion of the Nations during the Trolloc Wars. What he gets is a one-way ticket to madness and murder with his capital city turning into an evil Genus Loci with a pet Eldritch Abomination stalking its streets. Oh, and the death of his Nation, to boot. Then there is what happens with Padain Fain-side and the Ta'veren themselves several centuries later: all think they'll just have to skip over the city's border with saddle-packs of gold for the by-now-fairly-Abominable-himself Mordeth - but, there's a unstated catch. The boys escape just in time (almost: Mat doesn't, quite, as he gives in to greed and takes a certain knife with him) - but, Pandain Fain becomes merged with Mordeth when he tries to take him over. It didn't quite go according to plan, however. The Fain-Mordeth mix then goes on to do basically the same types of things to these main characters; Pedron Niall, Elaida a'Roihan and Toram Riatin. Other major characters get a slight touch, and many minor characters also get both types of treatment. I'll have to sleep on it, but I think I can come up with more.
  • February 22, 2011
    Euodiachloris
    Urgh - before I hit the sack - I'm pretty sure there must be a Vetinari (pick a book, any book) and Xanatos example or 3 hiding. Somebody chase 'em up? Carrot could possible count for a good example to contrast the usual evil ones.
  • April 3, 2011
    Fanra
    In the book SS-GB, SS Standartenfuhrer Oskar Huth states that when he figured out that the Nazi party was going to be in power, he decided that the only position that was acceptable to him was in the ruling class. Strength determined your status in Nazi life and he was going to be on top, regardless of the cost.
  • April 5, 2011
    arromdee
    Possible page quote:

    Mrs. Asimov: How pleasant it would be if only we lived a hundred years ago when it was easy to get servants.
    Isaac Asimov: It would be horrible... We'd be the servants.
  • April 5, 2011
    neoYTPism
    Seconded @ arromdee
  • April 6, 2011
    Frank75
    Looks like a Fantastic Aesop to me.
  • April 6, 2011
    Xzenu
    Good page quote! Anyone got a speciffic source for it? Was it in the foreword of one of his novels or something? We can use it without source too, but having one would be preferable... And might also make a good example. :-)
  • April 6, 2011
    Xzenu
    @Frank75, it can indeed be, or result in, An Aesop sometimes. Fantastic or orherwise.
  • April 6, 2011
    arromdee
    It was my .signature on Usenet once. I believe he was talking to his wife. I Googled it and most of the references are to my signature. The ones that weren't say it was at a "social function" which doesn't help, and don't say who he was talking to. It is apparently from one of his F&SF essays (not that that narrows it down much); it definitely wasn't from a piece of fiction.

  • April 6, 2011
    Cidolfas
    I find the description incredibly confusing... still not quite sure what this is about. Needs heavy pruning and rewriting to make it understandable.
  • April 6, 2011
    Xzenu
    Added quote and revamped description.
  • April 6, 2011
    Fanra
    "Whenever I hear anyone arguing for slavery, I feel a strong impulse to see it tried on him personally."

  • April 6, 2011
    randomsurfer
    This is used by some in the Birther movement to attempt to prove that Barack Obama is ineligible to be President.
  • April 7, 2011
    Xzenu
    Hmm, how does that argument go? Let me guess... They claim that white men are somehow unbiased, while women and non-whites are "special interests"? Meh, the4y ought to understand that white men are a minority group, just like all other groups. A privileged minority, but still a minority. Even if we do NOT narrow it down to middle-aged Christian white-collar white men.
  • April 7, 2011
    Xzenu
    Hmm. The Lincoln quote is awesome. Was about to add it to the main page, since having two quotes is NP IMHO. But then I realized that they are both about slavery/servitude, so together they would give an impression thyat the trope is limited to that issue. Still a great addition, it means that this trope is going to have a quotes page.
  • April 7, 2011
    Chabal2
    Warhammer 40 K (and Warhammer): Many people who join Chaos cults do so in the hopes of attracting their chosen god's favor. Unfortunately for them, said gods are just as likely to ignore them, give them what they want or subject them to horrible (or benign) mutations.
  • April 7, 2011
    Frank75
    @Xzenu: Did you actually read Fantastic Aesop?
  • April 7, 2011
    randomsurfer
    @Xzenu: the argument generally goes, in absence of any law defining what "natural born citizen" is we should use what the Founding Fathers probably meant by it; which means - in the birthers' opinion - a person both of whose parents were citizens. There is a small amount of validity via the Naturalization Act of 1790, later repealed, which stipulated that Natural Born Citizenship-ness did not apply to people born outside the US whose fathers were never residents of the US. (Mom being a US citizen didn't count.)

    But upon further review of the writeup it probably doesn't fit this trope; I was thinking of a different definition of "original position" than the trope uses.
  • April 8, 2011
    FalconPain
    Odd Troper Tale here: I don't watch nearly as many action movies as I used to. One of the biggest contributing factors is that when I try to identify with the characters in the story, I find I'm most similar to the people that end up being killed by the villains.
  • April 8, 2011
    Cidolfas
    OK... dude, unless you're dealing with an incredibly far-reaching or complicated trope, three paragraphs should be the most you need to describe it. You've got eight, not counting the "compare with" line. Quit trying to bring in philosophers and multiple examples and just describe the basic idea.

    I kind of get what's going on here, but first: Terrible, awful name. It sounds like someone changed their mind then changed it back, and "gambit" is used totally different from its normal usage on the wiki. Something more colloquial would be better. Guess What Youre On The Losing Side?
  • June 14, 2011
    Fanra
    I kind of get what's going on here, but first: Terrible, awful name. It sounds like someone changed their mind then changed it back, and "gambit" is used totally different from its normal usage on the wiki. Something more colloquial would be better. Guess What Youre On The Losing Side?

    But they aren't always on the losing side. The point was that their values are based on the position. So if a rich person makes clear that the reason they are against helping the poor is because they aren't poor, that fits this. They don't have be made poor for this to work. It is true that most stories make them poor just to make a point, but it is not necessary.

    • In one of the stories of Ooka Tadasuke, a famous Japanese judge of the Eighteenth Century, he has to divide a father's inheritance between two twin sons. One is known as greedy and selfish, the other is known as having helped the father and for being honorable. No one can tell which son is which. Ooka picks one son at random and tells him to divide the estate. The son starts giving himself all the money and property; and gives his brother merely the good will of the neighbors. The crowd thinks Ooka made a huge mistake until Ooka announces that he told the son to divide the estate, but that only Ooka has the power to award the items. Ooka gives the money to the honorable son and tells the greedy son that he needs the good will of the neighbors the most.
  • June 15, 2011
    jaytee
    First of all, I don't think that "gambit" is a good way to describe this trope. Gambit implies some kind of risk, and the way it's used on the wiki also implies that it's a multi-part plan (as Cidolfas pointed out). This fulfills neither requirement. It's more like Argument From Position.

    Second, I like the Asmimov quote more, but the Lincoln quote seems way more relevant.

    Third, cut the description down by about half. It's way too long and spends most of its time giving only the information necessary to understand the name. The discussion of its tropiness doesn't even begin until paragraph 4.
  • June 15, 2011
    jaytee
    And come to think of it, this is more like the opposite of "original position," right? I would cut out all mention of Rawls and original position.
  • June 17, 2011
    FuzzyBoots
    An occasional usage is someone asking how a criminal should be punished and then applying it to the person answering. I want to say there are prominent example involving a ruler asking a traitor "How should a traitor be punished?" but right now, the closest I'm getting is the serial killer in Cornered who (in disguise) asks people in a convenience store how the serial killer should be dealt with when caught and then proceeds to kill them in that exact manner.
  • June 18, 2011
    randomsurfer
    ^That comes up in Henry V. A trio of nobles are secretly plotting against Henry when H brings another traitor in front of them, asking whether he should execute or show mercy. All three say he should execute, at which time Henry reveals that he knows about their treachery and sends them off to be executed.
  • June 19, 2011
    Fanra
    Real Life: U.S. Congressman Duke Cunningham. Cunningham criticized President Clinton for appointing judges who were "soft on crime". "We must get tough on drug dealers," he said, adding that "those who peddle destruction on our children must pay dearly." He favored stiff drug penalties and voted for the death penalty for major drug dealers.

    Four months later, his son Todd was arrested for helping to transport 400 pounds of marijuana. Todd Cunningham pleaded guilty to possession and conspiracy to sell marijuana. At his son's sentencing hearing, Cunningham fought back tears as he begged the judge for leniency. Cunningham's press secretary responded to accusations of double standards with: "The sentence Todd got had nothing to do with who Duke is. Duke has always been tough on drugs and remains tough on drugs."

    Actually, thinking about it, this might be more Hypocrite then this trope. Duke was likely even afterwards to insist that his son was "different" and wasn't really a drug dealer, while still insisting on harsh penalties for others.
  • June 19, 2011
    LobsterMagnus
    Would be a meta-example why Retraux and large chunks of Historical Fiction (e.g. Steam Punk) is so appealing? After all, in Real Life, you'd have had to be upper class in order to get a Pimped Out Dress.
  • July 3, 2011
    neoYTPism
    That seems more like a real-life example, in referring to real-life audiences @ Lobster Magnus
  • July 4, 2011
    Xzenu
    • Moving the philosophy stuff to the analysis namespace.
    • Renaming the main trope from gambit to fallacy, since many examples are not in the form of a gambit. The gambit version is now an Internal Subtrope.
http://tvtropes.org/pmwiki/discussion.php?id=ybugk59c0spjx5hb1qhkq93x