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Original Position Fallacy

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"When I hear anyone arguing for slavery, I feel a strong impulse to see it tried on him personally."

A situation in which Bob is in favor of some action, revolution, or social system because he assumes that he will be in the group that benefits from it (or fails to realize that he will be in the group that will suffer). Almost inevitably, Bob will be proven wrong, with the double whammy of knowing he supported the measure that caused his suffering when he thought it would happen to somebody else.


Imagine that Bob attends a banquet for 200 people at the mayor's house. When he arrives, he is informed that they made an error when ordering the food — there is enough steak for the first 100 guests, but everyone else will have to make do with vegetables. Bob, looking around and seeing the room less than half full, says he thinks this is fair. Only afterward does he see the second dining room, filled up with people who arrived earlier, and realize that he isn't going to be in the group that gets a full dinner.

Poor Bob. He would have been wiser to remember the thought experiment from which this trope takes its name: John Rawls' "original position", which says that the only fair laws are those passed from a hypothetical position of ignorance of how you would stand in the new situation. After all, when you don't know whether you'll be on the good or bad side of a change, you'll want to set things up so that the largest possible number of people will benefit. If Bob had remembered this, he might have suggested giving out half portions of steak so that everyone could have some meat. Unfortunately, he assumed a whole steak was already in his possession, and was far too greedy to share, and consequently ended up getting none at all.


The main upshot of this trope is to show that blind self-interest is a bad thing — Bob shouldn't have been so quick to give "someone else" a steak-less dinner while blithely assuming his meal would be fine. If he is fortunate, it will turn out to be All Just a Dream, and Bob will have a second chance to approach the topic — probably with a bit more humility this time. But in many cases it's too late for regrets: Bob has his vegetables, and now he must eat them. (Some uses of this trope begin in Act 2, where Bob is now in the thick of a miserable situation and laments that he used to want this to happen.)

Of course, it is also possible that the mayor — who did know the outcome and could assign the menu options — steered Bob into making a choice that was worse for him, perhaps to damn him by his own words. Call it an "Original Position Gambit" if you will. This trope is also one of the places where Off the Table doesn't shift sympathy away from the person who refuses to re-extend the offer. ("Oh, Bob wants to make a more generous division now? Too bad.")


A character whose thinking falls into the Original Position Fallacy may start out as a Hell Seeker, end up as a Boomerang Bigot, Dirty Coward, or any combination thereof. If someone pulled the gambit version on him, it was probably a Magnificent Bastard skilled in Gambit Speed Chess. May also result in a Karmic Transformation; sometimes forms the 'twist' of a Karmic Twist Ending. Contrast Who Will Bell the Cat?, where attempts to make a change that would benefit most at the cost of a few are stalled by the fact that no one wants to be "the few." When this fallacy is weaponized, the result is usually a The Window or the Stairs situation.

The Inverted Trope is of course The Golden Rule: Only do things to others that you can agree would be fair if done to you.


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    Anime & Manga 
  • In Fullmetal Alchemist, both the Emperor of Xerxes and the military leadership of Amestris fall victim to this. They both conspire with Father, the original Homunculus, to commit mass human sacrifice in order to achieve immortality; none of them realize that their immortality will consist of having their souls transmuted into a Philosopher's Stone.
  • Naruto: Danzo was all in favor of instructing his ninjas to sacrifice themselves if need be, in part because his own high rank made his chances of doing so himself extremely low. In a rare variation of this trope, he was aware of this hypocrisy and hated himself for it.
  • In Death Note, Light Yagami spends much of the series as The Social Darwinist, believing that anyone he kills with the Death Note was evil, incompetent, or for the greater good and deserved to die. When it comes time for his own death, however, he is the only character who does not die peacefully, refusing to accept his end. In the manga, at least, he screams and pleads with anyone to try to extend his own life once Ryuk writes Light's name into his own Death Note. In other versions, once he's been identified as the wielder of the Death Note, Light makes a run for it. That is, Light considers anyone who dies in his scheme to have deserved their deaths, until he gets caught in it.
  • Cross Ange: Humans exile Norma (humans who cannot use Mana and negate Mana that comes into contact with them) to an island in the middle of nowhere to act as Slave Mooks to protect their Crapsaccharine World, making them Un-person. Princess Angelise of the Mitsurugi Empire considers this entirely appropriate... until it turns out in the first episode that she's a Norma herself and her royal parents had covered it up. The fallacy is pointed out to her face in episode three.

    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 believes that hell exists 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. (The two other main variants are those who don't believe that hell exists and those who think that it's not such a bad place.)
  • Watchmen by Alan Moore tackles this with his superheroes Rorscharch and the Comedian.
    • Both of them are Sociopathic Heroes who take on positions of Straw Nihilist and The Antinihilist respectively. They keep telling people that Silly Rabbit, Idealism Is for Kids!, that they alone know "the truth" about the absurdity and harshness of the world. Then they come face to face with someone who internalizes their sayings and decides to do something about it, and their facade of cynicism totally cracks.
    • Rorschach earlier espoused support of Harry Truman using the atomic bombs to end World War II, saying it was a terrible act that saved millions. When he comes across Ozymandias who uses a similar justification to unleash an attack on New York City (as a Genghis Gambit to end the Cold War and avert an incipient nuclear war), he denounces this action and states that he will expose the truth instead, only for him to be killed by Dr. Manhattan, one more body added to the pile sacrificed for the greater good. It's implied that this is sort of Suicide by Cop due to Rorshach being unable to reconcile the outcome of Ozymandias's actions with his own Black and White Morality.
  • Judge Dredd: The worldwide nuclear war behind most of the setting's problems was started by the American president, certain as he was that the US's radiation shields would prevent fallout from affecting them. He was disbelievingly disabused of this notion after the nukes started flying.
  • One EC Comics horror story features the Devil noticing that hell isn't much of a scary place anymore, so he abducts and hires a human corporate consultant to whip the place into shape. After a few months, the demons are sadistic torturers and hell is once again filled with the screams of the damned, so the Devil sends the consultant back to Earth with a chest full of jewels right where he'd taken him... that is, a few seconds before he was about to get run over by a bus. The consultant's soul is judged and sent to hell... where his former students are very eager to show off their progress.

    Film — Live-Action 
  • The "I was a celebrity in a past life" variant is discussed in Bull Durham.
    Annie: I think probably with my love of four-legged creatures and hooves and everything, that in another lifetime I was probably Catherine the Great, or Francis of Assisi. I'm not sure which one. What do you think?
    Crash: How come in former lifetimes, everybody is someone famous? (beat, then they both bust out laughing) I mean, how come nobody ever says they were Joe Schmoe?
    Annie: Because it doesn't work that way, you fool!
  • In HE Double Hockey Sticks, a hockey player obsessed with winning the Stanley Cup makes a Deal with the Devil so that his team wins the cup. Yay, right? Nope. The demon's boss then has him traded to the worst team in the NHL. So now, not only will he not get the trophy, he's also sold his soul for nothing. Luckily, said demon has a change of heart and points out the Loophole Abuse - if another team wins the cup, the contract is null and void, so the player has to beat his team of losers into shape in order to win the cup and regain his soul.
  • Defied Trope in Avengers: Infinity War. Thanos knows his plan to kill half the universe to prevent an Overpopulation Crisis could kill him as well and has no objection to it. When Dr. Strange asks how he’ll judge who lives and who dies, Thanos bluntly responds that he won’t; the deaths will be entirely random, completely disregarding any potential biases like ethnicity, personal relation, or class. When he succeeds at the end, the deaths that ensue are indeed random.

  • A common joke involving Mama's Baby, Papa's Maybe runs thus: On his deathbed, a man remarks to his wife that he has one son who is large and strong, a second who is quick and clever, and a third who is a moron. He begs her to answer honestly — is the third son truly his? She reassures him that he is, and the man dies in peace. "Thank God he didn't ask about the other two," she then mutters.

  • In one of the stories of Ooka Tadasuke, a famous Japanese judge of the 18th century, he has to divide a father's estate between 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 using tokens representing the various assets. The chosen 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 neighbors' good will more.
  • Happens quite a lot in fairy tales. The usual scenario is that at the wedding of the long-suffering female protagonist, the king will ask whoever tormented her what the proper punishment should be for a series of crimes (these crimes inevitably being the ones they did to her). The evil characters, failing to see the trap, callously suggest something horrible (e.g. "They should be put into red hot iron shoes and forced to dance until dead"), which is promptly done to them.
    • The Goose Girl in Grimm’s fairy tales ends this way, involving being dragged up and down the street in a barrel filled with nails.
    • Giambattista Basile's The Myrtle ends with six jealous murderesses Buried Alive, just as they suggested should be done to anyone who dared harm the prince's lovely bride (she came Back from the Dead).
  • In the first novel of the Slave World series, the heroine is horrified with how naively her colleagues embrace the Alternate Timeline world they have found. The scientists join the society, believing that they will get to be part of the aristocracy and thus accept the social order where the aristocrats have absolute power over everyone else. And yes, they do end up enslaved.
    • Zigzagged in the third novel, as Sarah seems 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 gives her the basic "thanks but no thanks" and auctions her off to a random aristocrat... a young lady who grows to become the true love of her life.
  • Isaac Asimov was acutely aware of this phenomenon, both when selectively pining for the Good Old Days and when imagining the societies of the future.
    • A dinner conversation with his wife about the time "when it was easy to get servants", in which Asimov claimed that they themselves would be the servants, was later incorporated into one of Asimov's essays as an example.
    • The short story "The Winnowing" describes a global food shortage which the World Food Council intends to remedy by poisoning the most famine-struck areas — all of them comfortably distant from their own homes — with a biological agent that would kill 70% of the population at random. Their high-minded platitudes about "the finger of God" selecting the victims evaporate when the scientist they coerced into assisting reveals that he added the agent to the sandwiches they've just eaten.
  • Discussed in Colonel Butler's Wolf by Anthony Price. Butler compares himself to one of his more liberal-minded colleagues, noting that the colleague assumes he'd have been one of the masters in the old days but prefers modern society anyway, while Butler himself thinks the old ways were better even though he knows perfectly well he'd have been one of the servants.
  • In a short story by Robert Sheckley, in an anthology compiled by Isaac Asimov, a young man, obsessed with sex, finds a magical text that will allow him to assume the job of feeding griffins, aware that griffins' favorite food is young virgins (thinking he might have some fun with offering a girl the obvious way out). It turns out that the young man is actually a virgin, and that he is not serving food for the griffin, he is the food.
  • The Freedom Maze by Delia Sherman tackles this head-on. Sophie — a girl from 1960 — gets to travel back in time to 1860 and visit her ancestors' plantation. She assumes they'll recognize her as part of the family. They do, but her tan skin, frizzy hair, and lack of 19th-century manners mean they figure her mother must have been black, and so she winds up as a slave by the one-drop rule.
  • Averted Trope in Atlas Shrugged. The population of Galt's Gulch consists entirely of people who were either wealthy in the outside world, or aspired to be. Clearly, a functioning society requires menial laborers, and some people will be at the bottom of the heap. But, unlike the Bioshock example below, everyone's presented as very happy with this system. CEOs who end up as underlings claim to be completely satisfied, as long as their boss is more skilled and qualified than they are.
  • Robertson Davies once wrote a short story (collected in the anthology High Spirits) in which a group of Toronto academics, after being bored to tears listening to a newly minted literature graduate student gush about how cool it would be to go live in the past, proceeded to summon the minds of their ancestors to inhabit their present bodies. And it turns out none of them had a particularly interesting past.
  • A short sci-fi story had a garbage collector being convinced all his life that there's something wrong with the world and his position in it. One day he's visited by a being who says there's been a mistake and he actually belongs in an Alternate Universe, a Medieval European Fantasy world of brave knights, beautiful princesses, and heroic deeds. The garbageman eagerly agrees to go there instead, where it turns out his job is to clean the manure out of the castle stables, and his home is a pile of straw in the corner.
  • In one of the books of Guardians of Ga'Hoole, the main character Nyroc is born to Nyra, head of the "Pure Ones", an organization of owls made up of the family Tytonidae (the barn owls) whose goal is to eliminate the Guardians of Ga'hoole and purify the owl kingdoms. One of Nyroc's friends is Phillip, a memeber of species of Tytonidae called greater sooty owls. When he and his father were starving, they decided to join the organization as new recruits in hopes of a better life. Unfortunately, as Phillip discovers, not only are the Pure Ones racist towards other owls, but discriminate among their own kind based on feather color, with the white Tyto albas at the top of the hierarchy. Phillip (or Dustytuft as the other owls called him) ended up on the lower ranks of the social ladder, just above lesser sooty owls, forced to do the most menial and worst of jobs.
  • There is a fairy tale where a Lazy Bum hears about an island of one-eyed men, so he decides to go there, kidnap one, and make a living from The Freakshow. He didn't even consider the fact that two-eyed man is quite the freak show for the one-eyed...
  • Shirley Jackson's townspeople in "The Lottery" are perfectly fine with the annual Lottery of Doom that will end in a Human Sacrifice (it's traditional!). Only the victim protests, and even then only when it becomes clear that her life is at stake.
  • Discworld:
    • Inverted for (pre-Ridcully) wizards and Assassins, who view their respective hierarchies as stifling and extremely unfair, but are very happy with it once they become high rankers themselves. Those who don't achieve high ranks... let's just say their complaints are unlikely to matter.
    • In The Last Continent, the Chair of Indefinte Studies darkly mutters that in "the old days" they used to kill wizards like Ridcully. The Dean points out that they also used to kill wizards like them. Of course, this is also a bit inaccurate. Ridcully was originally recruited as a useful hick who could take the job and not make waves but be easily assassinated if he was a problem. Turns out that, as a country wizard, he's in alarmingly good shape and a crack shot with a crossbow.
  • In the Thursday Next novel One of Our Thursdays Is Missing, Thursday is trapped in the Oral Tradition aboard the ship Ethical Dilemma, which is the setting of an ethics lecture about the morality of killing or torturing one person to save a larger group. Thursday chooses to give the lecturer an aneurysm in order to save the ship.
  • One Judge Dee story has the judge attend a play, in which two brothers are complaining about their inheritance, each claiming they got shafted while waving the paper that lists their share. The judge of the play tells the brothers to exchange lists.
  • Harry Potter:
    • Many people who joined the Death Eaters were merely in it For the Evulz, or the chance to get ahead in wizarding society, or because Voldemort's victory seemed certain (and many were half-bloods masquerading as pureblood). Some found out that his evil was far beyond the bullying and Muggle-baiting they were used to, some tried to claim they'd been mind-controlled the entire time, and others still found themselves too deeply compromised to do anything but keep serving him.
    • The goblins welcomed Voldemort's upheaval of the wizarding world at first, thinking it the end of wizardkind's casual contempt on nonhuman magic beings. Instead, they seemed to have been reduced to menial work (quoth Griphook, who escaped: "I am no house-elf."). You'd think going with an organization that prides itself on purity of wizarding lineage would have set off more warning bells.
  • In C. S. Lewis's commentary on the Psalms, Lewis points out that the Psalmists asking God to strike down the wicked rarely think that they themselves could be wicked (though, of course, in other Psalms the tone is more humble), and that in real life, some people's reaction to discovering a system to be unjust and exploitative is to work towards being on top of the heap so they can take advantage of it.
  • In the Nemesis Series, man-hating female mage Graywytch casts a spell to kill off all men, defined for the purposes of the spell as having a Y chromosome. She nearly dies herself, which Danny (a trans-girl and target of Graywytch’s transphobic tendencies) theorizes that she's actually intersex, i.e. genetically XY male with androgen insensitivity. Though Graywytch refuses to accept this explanation, insisting she accidentally Cast From Hitpoints instead. It's never explicitly confirmed which is true, but the book seems to lean to Danny's explanation.

    Live-Action TV 
  • Lampshaded in The West Wing. After a motion to strengthen the Estate Tax / Death Tax is defeated in congress, President Bartlett muses that the problem with The American Dream is that it makes everyone worry about how they'll protect their assets once they become rich.
  • In the Doctor Who episode "Day of the Doctor": The Doctor (three of them, actually — the War Doctor, Ten, and Eleven, to be exact) activate a memory-erasure device on the heads of UNIT and the shape-shifting Zygons to negotiate a peace treaty to make everyone forget who's a human and who's an alien, forcing them to consider this trope's effects, since the head of UNIT activated a bomb that would set off a nuclear warhead, resulting in the destruction of them and the Zygons, along with the collection of dangerous alien artifacts and all of London.
  • In an episode of Saved by the Bell, Zack winds up learning a lesson this way. He's allowed to choose the teams for an athletic competition, so he puts all the jock-types on one team, assuming he'll be the captain of that team, and all the nerd-types on the other. The teacher then appoints him as the captain of the nerd team, saying something to the effect of "Yes, I let you pick the teams, but I pick the captains."
  • Blackadder: An offscreen version in the first season, where Edmund must convince a dying nobleman to leave his lands to the Crown rather than the Church (which, according to the Church, will send him to hell). Edmund points out that heaven is exceedingly boring, while hell is filled with the kind of people who appreciated the finer things in life, such as pillage, adultery and torture. The nobleman enthusiastically declares he wants to go to hell and bequeaths his lands to the Crown, with no word on whether he ended up among the torturers or the tortured.
  • Discussed in The Handmaid's Tale. When the Mexican ambassador makes a state visit to Gilead in one episode, she notes that before the revolution Serena Joy Waterford wrote many books defending Gilead's brand of far-right extremist Christianity. Gilead, of course, forbade women's education and literacy on religious grounds, which means there's no one to read Serena Joy's books anymore and Serena Joy herself is mostly stuck at home bored out of her skull. She initially dismisses this, but it eats at her and leads to her having a nasty falling-out with her husband that carries into season 2.

    Myths & Religion 
  • In The Bible:
    • In the Book of Esther, King Ahasuerus asks his advisor Haman what a good reward would be for someone who had done the king a great service. Haman assumes it's for him and suggests an elaborate display, with the honored person riding the king's horse, wearing the king's robe, and being led by a noble shouting "See what is done for the man the king wishes to honor!" Ahasuerus thinks it's a great idea — and then tells him to go do just that for Mordecai, Haman's hated rival who had foiled an assassination plot but was never rewarded properly. And it just gets worse for Haman after that.
    • The prophet Nathan invokes this to guilt-trip King David after learning that David had Uriah killed and took Uriah's wife Bathsheba for himself. Nathan tells a story about a rich man with many sheep, whose neighbor is a poor man with only one lamb, and the rich man steals his neighbor's lamb and slaughters it for his dinner. David angrily says that such a man deserves to be put to death. Nathan replies "You are such a man!" David isn't killed, but he is horrified at what he's done and immediately sets about trying to repent.

    Newspaper Comics 
  • Calvin and Hobbes
    • In one strip Calvin complains to Hobbes that the ends should justify the means: you shouldn't get in trouble if you get what you want. Hobbes promptly pushes Calvin into a mud puddle, saying that Calvin was in his way but now he's not, so the ends justify the means. An irate Calvin shouts that he only meant for him, not for everybody.
    • Another strip has Calvin decide to become a fatalist. That way, if bad things happen he's not responsible for them. Cue Hobbes tripping him into the mud puddle again.
      Hobbes: Too bad you were fated to do that.
      Calvin: THAT WASN'T FATE!
  • There's one Non Sequitur arc wherein Danae visits an alternate reality where every person on earth had one wish come true. She and her alternate come across an Acceptable Target politician, and the alternate Danae explains that he'd wished that slavery would become legal again. Danae then asks "And what about the guy who owns him?" The alternate says that he made the same wish.

    Tabletop Games 
  • In Book of the Dead, a book for the New World of Darkness (mostly Geist: The Sin-Eaters and Mage: The Awakening), 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 rules 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.
  • 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. It's mentioned in Fiendish Codex II that this is why Lawful Evil characters often make deals with devils — they expect to swiftly take positions of power and prestige in the diabolic hierarchy after their deaths.
      "No tyrant looks upon a wretched lemure and thinks that this will be their afterlife."
    • In the Dark Sun setting's history, the Companions helped the insane Absolute Xenophobe Rajaat execute his genocide of all the "impure" sapient races of Athas, right up until they realized that he wasn't actually human and counted humans among the impure races. Cue a collective Oh, Crap! and hasty ploy to seal his evil in a can.
  • 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 40,000 and Warhammer Fantasy Battles:
    • 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 (and/or benign) mutations.
    • In 40K, the fall of the Eldar was brought about by the psychic Space Elves' continuous hedonism creating a new Chaos god/dess in the Warp. Some pleasure cults actually did their best to accelerate this process, believing they'd be rewarded with an eternity of new sensations. The Dark Eldar are now an entire race of Klingon Promotion-enforcing combat sadomasochists who need to hide in the Webway lest Slaanesh (the hermaphroditic embodiment of excess known as She Who Thirsts) devour their souls, and can emerge into realspace only long enough to conduct quick raids for slaves.
  • In BattleTech, Brett Andrews, Khan of Clan Steel Viper, was elected ilKhan of the Clans and declared his intent to purge them of the "taint" of the Inner Sphere. This led to the Wars of Reaving, which saw the destruction of many of the Clans and several others being forced to flee to the Inner Sphere. Finally, he declared that all the tainted Clans had been destroyed, only for Khan Stanislov N’Buta of Clan Star Adder to remind him that there was one Clan that had been tainted by its time in the Inner Sphere left: Clan Steel Viper. Andrews challenged him to an unarmed duel, then killed him with a laser pistol, violating both the prohibition of carrying weapons into the Clan Council and the honor of the duel, which the other assembled Khans used as evidence that N'Buta was right. The Steel Vipers promptly became the final Clan to be destroyed for being tainted by the Inner Sphere.

  • In William Shakespeare's Henry V, a trio of nobles are secretly plotting against Henry when Henry brings another traitor in front of them, asking whether he should execute him or show mercy. All three say he should execute him, at which time Henry reveals that he knows about their treachery and sends them all off to be executed.

    Video Games 
  • Bioshock:
    • Invoked in the first game in one of the Apocalyptic Logs; the speaker says that when intelligent, hard-working, and powerful individuals from the surface are invited to come to Rapture and help build a world of pure capitalistic freedom, they accept because they think they'll be captains of industry like they would be on the surface. They then find out that, even in a capitalist heaven, "someone needs to clean the toilets". It seems that nobody, not even Andrew Ryan, fully realised that if you have an entire city comprised solely of the human race's elite, those who could be great leaders when surrounded by normal people to do the menial work, won't be special any more when everyone is just as clever and driven as they are. Apparently, this unwelcome discovery contributed heavily to the people's rapid disillusionment with Rapture, and Ryan realising that there were people who could compete with him as equals helped spur an already self-centred narcissist past the Moral Event Horizon to stay on top.
    • This is also discussed in the second game where you find out the backstory of the railroad that connects the various parts of the city. Ryan and his supporters invested heavily in the railroad, but it was quickly upstaged by the invention of the bathysphere and the railroad went bankrupt. Ryan's followers never considered that their own investments could go sour and were confronted by the fact that they were about to find themselves broke and on the bottom of the economic and social system of Rapture. Faced with losing his power base, Ryan forced a bank bailout for the railroad, which saved the investors' fortunes but destroyed the savings of everyone else. Rapture's economy went into a downward spiral, which resulted in the civil war that wrecked the city.
    • While not as prevalent, the fallacy is also reflected in Bioshock Infinite regarding Comstock's flying paradise for the American People. Fink realized that none of the white, wealthy, religious patrons who'd flock to Comstock's city as "God's Kingdom" would be eager to do manual labor or menial tasks to maintain the 'heavenly' city, so he brought in "Cherubs for every chore", i.e. a massive foreign labor force that would eventually revolt and become the Vox Populi. This didn't end well for anybody.
  • Dragon Quest VI: One optional area in the dreamworld is a "Groundhog Day" Loop of a king who decided to deal with the threat of the Archfiend by summoning an even bigger demon to kill it. The idea that they wouldn't remain in control past the first five seconds of the ritual didn't occur to them at all. If you actually fight and defeat this demon quickly enough, it turns out the plan wasn't as stupid as it seems: the demon cheerfully destroys the Big Bad in a humiliating Curb-Stomp Battle without taking any damage.
  • Most representatives of the Chaos alignment in Shin Megami Tensei support the creation of a world where Might Makes Right because they believe they're strong enough to end up on top in such a world. Many don't take it well when the protagonist defeats them in battle, thus proving themselves stronger.


    Web Original 
  • A thread on's forum concluded that of various fictional worlds, Star Trek's United Federation of Planets is probably the best one to live in, on grounds that, since you're far more likely to be some random average guy than one of the heroes of The 'Verse, the Federation's standard of living has a lot to recommend it.
  • Lampooned in a widely-shared tweet by Adrian Bott:
    'I never thought leopards would eat MY face,' sobs woman who voted for the Leopards Eating People's Faces Party.
  • Played With in this article for The Onion, where a man expresses his desire to see all Mexicans deported from the United States, despite his love of Mexican food and being on good terms with all of the Mexicans that he knows.
    "But the rest of you, the ones I don't know personally, I won't miss you at all."

    Western Animation 

  • The Dragon Prince: When King Harrow was crowned, he told his wife about a dream he had where Lady Justice came to him and offered him a gift. He took her blindfold, and she explained how he should try to imagine he was not born with the wealth or position he has, or even the culture or skin color. Later in the episode he tries to make good on this promise by offering supplies to a nearby kingdom suffering a famine—they don't have much to spare, so the same amount of people will starve, but half of them will be from his kingdom instead of all from his ally. However, he stumbles a bit when his court wizard offers him an alternative; kill a powerful magical creature and use its heart to bring fertility to the land. His wife points out that they don't even know if the creature is intelligent. They ultimately go through with it and it works, but it kicks off a Cycle of Revenge that results in Harrow's wife dead, the queens of the allied kingdom dead, himself dead years later, and brings the land within inches of war.

    Real Life 
  • This is what's behind the "cut and choose" method of sharing treats. Typically, when two children are sharing a cookie or cupcake or something like that, one child divides the treat into two portions, but the other child gets to pick which portion he/she wants, making it wise for the first child to cut it as evenly as possible.
  • The kinds of people who think living in a post-apocalyptic world would be "cool" tend to use this fallacy. They assume that, in a world with no law, order, or government, they could do whatever they want and would thrive. But they fail to realize that the whole "do whatever you want" thing wouldn't just apply to themselves, it would apply to everyone else. Many think that "raiding a store" would be sufficient enough to let them live comfortably, ignoring that pretty much everyone else would be trying to raid the stores too — and without farms or other agricultural infrastructure, sooner or later the stores will just run out.

    This also presumes that they will survive to be part of the post-apocalypse in the first place. Every doomsday-prepper presumes they won't get killed during a nuclear war, a Zombie Apocalypse, a meteor shower, an alien or demonic invasion... etc. Those who yearn for the Rapture also assume that they will be one of those taken to Heaven (especially if their confession mentions having limited seats). Many disaster movies don't clearly portray what you can comfortably presume are >90% human casualties.
  • Eugenics proponents generally assume that the populations which have favorable genes are theirs and the populations which need to die off are not their own (nor anyone they know). Similarly, those who prophesy a Malthusian catastrophe unless the human population level drops (through war, pandemic, or the like) tend to assume that "those other people" will be the ones to kick off and leave room for everyone else.
  • For a variant, conspiracy theorists tend to think like this, but in the present tense. They assume that whatever chemical has been fed into the water supply, or whatever radio waves are dumbing down the populace, that they are somehow immune and therefore able to perceive the truth, and are not one of the "sheeple" that they so deride.
  • Kevin Drum once wrote on his belief that hardcore libertarianism is built on this trope.
    Drum: It's a fantasy where the strongest and most self-reliant folks end up at the top of the heap, and a fair number of men share the fantasy that they are these folks. They believe they've been held back by rules and regulations designed to help the weak, and in a libertarian culture their talents would be obvious and they'd naturally rise to positions of power and influence.

    Most of them are wrong, of course. In a truly libertarian culture, nearly all of them would be squashed like ants — mostly by the same people who are squashing them now. But the fantasy lives on regardless.
  • For that matter, any political leaning that requires either people being inherently better than others or will presumably reward those who are legitimately better will be championed by people who assume they will be the ones on top, regardless of whether or not they would actually be.
  • When people ask one another, for fun, "If you could live in any historical time period, what would it be," the question contains the assumption that the answer does not include being a humble peasant, who would usually live the extremely mundane life of some Joe Schmoe (even if it was not without its joys).
  • Indian and Chinese parents who decide in favor of the abortion of female fetuses, and try for a boy, believing that they will, in twenty years or so, be the ones who get to be paid money for their son's hand in marriage, and obtain a daughter-in-law who will work for them. What they often fail to consider is that everyone else has the same idea, leading to a scarcity of women, that might lead to their son not being able to marry at all — the National Population and Family Planning Commission of China estimated that by 2020 there will be 30 million more men than women in the country. The governments can see where this is going and try to counteract it, but the individual people not so much. In China's case the one-child policy that had been in effect for 35 years exacerbated the problem as parents wanted the only child they were allowed to have to be a boy.
  • People who like to use the phrase "You Can't Make an Omelette... without breaking a few eggs" rarely volunteer themselves to be the "eggs" to be "broken", or even consider the possibility.
  • Ayn Rand would reassure her followers who feared they were the "parasites" she railed against by telling them that because they had superior taste in reading material, they were among the "perfect producers" who would inherit the world.
  • Every politician — especially those of "family values" — who support a discriminatory policy based on 'morality', and are then caught by the public being immoral.
    • Heck, politicians who advocate discriminatory polices in general. Such policies are great... for the people they don't discriminate against, or discriminate in favor of.
  • This theory is behind the quote attributed to John Steinbeck, "Socialism never took root in America because the poor see themselves not as an exploited proletariat, but as temporarily embarrassed millionaires". That is, though they are currently poor, they think they'll be among the tiny number of poor people to become extremely rich somehow, and so are against things intended to help the poor that could be bad for the rich.
  • Communists will often cite how much better society would be if they were allowed to destroy the privileged of the world and spread their assets among the lower class. Few ever consider if they or people they know would be among those brought down or eliminated. A great example would be the many middle-class or even upper-class people who supported the Bolsheviks, only to find that they were now considered part of the elite.
    • Many Stalinists argue that the purges were necessary and even claim the fact that innocent people were falsely accused and murdered is entirely acceptable because the Soviet Union couldn't afford to find the truth. When asked if they would support a regime that intends to kill them, they nearly uniformly say no.
    • There are lots of rich people who identify with left parties and genuinely support higher income taxes. However, almost none of them support so called "hoard taxes" that tax people for accumulating and not spending obscene amounts of money. In other words, people who have already made it big are willing to take a hit on future income, but will flip out the second someone talks about taxing their past income the same way they plan to tax others in the future.
  • People arguing Not In My Back Yard usually fall into a similar trap to the original position fallacy. For example when someone wants to put up an unsightly wind farm near a residential community, not one arguing NIMBY will say wind power is bad, just that it somehow becomes bad when it inconveniences them and not someone else.
  • Many people support expelling immigrants in their home countries, assuming that they will get the leftover jobs. Unfortunately, not all companies are under pressure to hire natives, and many can quite easily outsource work to other countries or replace their lost workers with machinery. Not to mention that a lot of immigrants a) do jobs few people would want to do or b) are business owners and employ others, arguably increasing the total number of jobs.
    • In much of the Americas and especially the United States, the population consists of a very small minority of pure-blooded natives and the entire rest of the population are descended from immigrants. But everyone assumes nobody will expel their ancestral group and just remove whatever flavor of immigrants are hated at the moment.
  • Many anonymous Trolls defend their offensive behavior online (not to be confused with voicing unpopular but valid opinions) by claiming they're entitled to free speech. They're quick to react in horror when other people find out who they really are and exercise their right to free speech to expose them to the public.
    • On the flip side, people who support mass doxxing and reduction of online privacy in general never consider that their online activities might be exposed and used against them or at least not that they will be viewed as objectionable.
  • Conversely, those who support ill-defined "reasonable" restrictions on free speech to curb unpopular viewpoints rarely take into account that popular opinion is constantly shifting and changing. They may find it acceptable to restrict offensive humor, but what if the definition of "offensive" grows broad enough to cover their own brand of humor? Once the precedent has been set that speech can be controlled or punished, what is to protect such people should their own ideas or beliefs eventually run afoul of the law?
  • This is one of the reasons of religious individuals who oppose establishing a state religion in their country. Once the precedent is set that the government can favor a specific religion, what if it ends up not being yours?
  • One of the reasons to advocate for tolerance in general is that one day your religion (or lack thereof), viewpoint, race, or way off life might be either the majority or at least look like it's on the up and up. Then demographics change a little and a few people do some unpleasant things in the name of your side. Suddenly public opinion is against you, and if you weren't advocating tolerance of others, chances are nobody will show any mercy toward you.
    • Or you become part of the group you hate. For example, there are plenty of people who have been prejudiced against the disabled, only to later become one them.
  • General audiences love the idea of a brutally honest Jerkass with a point taking down people's arguments and worldview with biting wit and ruthless long as the people they are taking down don't represent them. As soon as said Jerkass brings up uncomfortable truths about them rather than their enemies or another party, they begin demanding civility and understanding, regardless of whether or not they did so for other targets of said Jerkass.
  • TERFs (Trans-Exclusionary Radical Feminists) are a subset of a subset of feminists, who oppose transgender rights and claim that trans women are really men trying to infiltrate women's safe spaces. They tend to ignore the existence of trans men, but when they do acknowledge them, they claim that trans men are actually "poor, helpless women who are suffering from raging cases of internalized misogyny/lesbophobia due to patriarchal oppression." As such, they support politicians who oppose transgender rights, but ignore the fact that the overwhelming majority of politicians who do so are ultra-conservative fundamentalist Christians who also oppose women's rights issues like access to abortion or anti-discrimination laws, on top of opposition to gay rights (which is doubly ironic since a notable portion of TERFs are also lesbian women).
  • Women who've joined groups characterized by heavy misogyny, like the Islamic State or the Alt-Right, have been surprised to find that they're suddenly expected to Stay in the Kitchen and churn out the babies.
  • Really most Boomerang Bigots fall under this trope. Most think they have somehow risen above the "flaws inherent to their kind," until evidence arises that plenty of others have too or they haven't. Often both. They also tend to believe any laws that would disadvantage their kind wouldn't apply to them or will not be used against them until it is.
  • Most people who advocate using violence to solve problems (especially the lethal kind) think they're the ones in a position of strength. They often aren't.
  • This is a common point made by both sides in the debate over how society in general, or specific institutions, should handle accusations of various crimes, especially hard-to-prove things like sexual assault. Proponents of swift punishment for accused wrongdoers often overlook that they too might be accused, while those who favor a more gradual and deliberate process often fail to picture themselves as a victim waiting for slow justice.
  • Freidrich Spee was an early opponent of the use of torture, but only after running into this trope. During an encounter with a Duke of Brunswick, Germany, Spee confidently claimed that torture was effective in getting confessions from witches and that only those implicated by tortured witches had anything to worry about. The Duke led Spee to a dungeon, where he had a tortured woman indict him as a witch. Spee was so shaken by this encounter that he spent much of life writing against torture.
  • As noted in the page quote, slavery apologists who argue that slavery really isn't that bad or is actually a good thing will almost never be willing to switch places with a slave.

Alternative Title(s): Original Position Gambit


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