I conducted a survey with 32 respondents via Mechanical Turk about which word for “longtermism” Germans prefer. Most think that the English word works fine and should not necessarily be translated. However, the word “Zukunftsschutz” (future protection) gets the highest ranking, even higher than “Longtermism” itself. As the word has a very positive connotation in German, it might work well for outreach purposes. However, since existing media articles already use “Longtermism”, I suppose publishing the translated content with the same framing.
I am currently working part-time on translating more key longtermist content to German. Since this may shape the debate on the topic for many years, I want to do this carefully and be open to adapting it to the German culture and language. After all, the target group of the content is Germans that have not yet heard of longtermism.
I ran this competition for the best German translation of “longtermism”. Thank you to everyone who participated!
I ended up with more useful words than I had hoped. I thus picked the most promising ones and surveyed the German public’s preferences.
The words I used were:
- Longtermismus (just a Germanification of the word)
- Langzeitismus (a rather literary German translation)
- Zukunftismus “futurism” (though futurism translate to Futurismus so it does not have that connotation)
- Zukunftsschutz “future protection”
- Langzeitdenken/ Langfristdenken “long-term thinking” Sorry, I confused the two words in the survey, though I think they are reasonably close to still make the results interpretable
- Ganzzeitdenken “inclusive time thinking” “whole-time thinking” “thinking about all time”
There was some discussion on the term Zukunftsethik (“future ethics”) though I decided not to include it as it sounds more like a field than an ideology.
Consider skipping this part.
The survey was conducted on Mechanical Turk. Respondents were paid 2€ for spending ~ 5-10 minutes. The only requirement was having Germany as a location. This means respondents were not necessarily native Germans, but I have no data on this. (I could not include Austria and Switzerland though I would be surprised to see different results there.) Besides that, I collected no data on age, gender, education, etc.
Before launching the final version, a small version was tested to see whether the platform worked well and whether the answers were reasonable.
The final survey had 35 respondents.
I presented the core idea of longtermism and then asked participants to summarize it.
Afterward, the first set of questions followed, presenting each German word in random order in the context of a constant German sentence, e.g. "Zukunftismus" ist die Einstellung, dass der Schutz künftiger Generationen stärker priorisiert werden soll.
Another set of questions put the same words in another order in the context of a member of the movement, e.g. Clara, überzeugte "Langzeitdenkerin", macht sich dafür stark, deutlich mehr Geld in die Pandemieprävention zu investieren.
The words used were: Longtermism, Longtermismus, Zukunftismus, Langzeitismus, Zukunftsschutz, Langfristdenken, Ganzzeitdenken
I realized I had mixed up the word Langfristdenken and used Langzeitdenkerin as the corresponding word.
Participants were asked to rate each word on a scale from 1 to 6.
In the end, participants were asked if they thought not translating the word at all would be better on a scale from 0 to 6.
Finally, I asked if they knew about Effective Altruism, though this question was not stated well and I suspect some participants did not understand this was a distinct idea.
Results & Discussion
Summaries of the core ideas differed significantly in quality. Three answers were obviously careless so these were excluded from the survey.
Interestingly, quite some people interpreted the ideas as aimed at environmentalism, pointing out that we should save our planet and fight emissions. This supports an observation I (and others) have made elsewhere that people commonly first associate longtermism with fighting climate change.
The charts present the average rating after asking how much people like the respective name (1: “nicht so gut” = not very well; 5: “sehr gut” = very well)
The line represents the standard deviation.
No significance analysis was conducted. (If anybody has the time to do this, I’m very happy to add this to the analysis.)
Question set 1: Wie gut gefallen Dir folgende Namen für die Bewegung? (How much do you like this name for the movement?)
"X" ist die Einstellung, dass der Schutz künftiger Generationen stärker priorisiert werden soll. (“X” is the attitude/view that the protection of coming generations should be prioritized more.)
Participants do on average not like Langzeitismus and Langfristdenken (score < 3.5) They like all the other words. (Score > 3.5)
Zukunftsschutz gets the highest rating (4.4) though not very far ahead of Longtermism (4.0) and the others.
Question set 2: Wie gut passt der Begriff in diesem Kontext? (How well does the term work in this context?)
Clara, überzeugte "Langzeitistin", macht sich dafür stark, deutlich mehr Geld in die Pandemieprävention zu investieren. (Clara, a convinced “X”, advocates for spending more money toward pandemic prevention)
Participants think Ganzzeitdenkerin and Zukunftistin are not a good fit (score < 3.5) They think all the others are good fits.
Again, Zukunftsschützerin (4.6) gets the highest score, now with a considerable difference. Longtermistin (3.9) only get’s a slightly higher score than Langzeitdenkerin (3.8) and Langzeitistin (3.7).
I think this is because Zukunftsschützerin sounds like something an activist would call herself much more than the others and similar words such as Naturschützerin (Nature activist/ protector) or Klimaschützerin (climate activist/ protector) are commonly used in German.
(note: I confused the words Langfristdenken and Langzeitdenkerin but combined them in this score; I used Longtermistin as corresponding to both, Longtermism and Longtermismus)
Again, Zukunftsschutz (9.0) has the highest rating, followed by Longtermism (7.9).
Final Question: Should there be a German name?
Question: Denkst Du es wäre besser der Bewegung gar keinen deutschen Namen zu geben und stattdessen den englischen Namen "Longtermism" zu übernehmen? (Do you think it would be better to not give the movement a German name and use the English “Longtermism” instead?) (1: “eindeutig nein” = clearly no; 6: “clearly yes”)
Average: 3.97 (3.5 would have been neutral)
Standard deviation: 1.49
Respondents seem to be slightly in favor of keeping the English name.
Note: This is not consistent with them also reporting the German word Zukunftsschutz working better than Longtermism.
Most Germans seem to agree with the English word longtermism and think that it would be slightly better not to make up a new German name.
Surprisingly they also think “Zukunftsschutz” is an even better fit.
I am unsure about how to proceed and would love to hear your opinion in the comments.
Personally, I think we could do very successful outreach with “Zukunftsschutz” especially since many people in Germany are already concerned for future generations due to climate change and the word is close to “Klimaschutz”. However, the word “Longtermism” has already been picked up by popular German media such as Zeit and Spiegel. So renaming it may be hard.
I propose using the English term in my translation project and the official German EA pages for now as we want people to come across it when they look for German content on the word and not only the critical review in Spiegel.
However, I encourage outreach projects with a “Zukunftsschutz” framing in the future. I would for example love to see someone dedicate a German Website/blog to the topic. (I’d be super happy to see more German original EA content in general!)
For now, I’ve acquired www.zukunftsschutz.de and I’m happy to give it to anyone interested in filling it with content!
Bonus question: Do you agree with the presented concept?
1: stimme gar nicht zu (don’t agree at all), 6: stimme voll zu (fully agree)
(note: data without exclusions)
Most respondents agree with longtermism! Maybe we are not yet doomed.
Winner of the competition
Moritz Hagemann wins 50€ for first proposing the word “Zukunftsschutz”. Thank you to everyone else who participated!
Should you look for different framings of longtermism in other languages?
Probably. A survey like the one I conducted is low effort (100 €, 5 hours of work) and may bring interesting results. Especially if there is no media coverage of the topic yet, I think looking for a word that fits in your language’s context could make it much easier to spread the ideas!
How to get involved
If you have created German content or are interested in doing so, please join the #german-content channel in the EA Germany Slack or get in touch with me.