Original Position Fallacy

(permanent link) added: 2010-11-05 07:08:47 sponsor: Xzenu (last reply: 2011-07-04 02:53:39)

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  • 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.


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.)

  • 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.

  • 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.
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