Social engagement to redress the banality of evil and the limitations of the social contract to protect habitat


  • Janet McIntyre-Mills Flinders University, University of South Africa and University of Indonesia


values, multispecies representation, accountability, re-generation, living systems


Existential risk’ continues to escalate and the crime of ‘ecocide’ is not yet recognised as part of international law even though it poses a new form of ‘genocide’. Politically fragmentation and populism have become the new order driven by capitalism, anthropocentrism, speciesism, nationalism and racism. The case is made that liberalism has progressed too far in undermining collective (cosmopolitan) responsibility. The result is a form of state control and governance that is more closely linked with the nation state and the market than with protecting habitat or the needs of all those who fall outside the mantel of the social contract, such as young people, asylum seekers, the disabled and other sentient beings. The frontiers of justice need to be extended to protect living systems. The concept ‘species’ is a central concern in relation to the issue of categorization, membership, displacement and decision-making (in terms of state sovereignty, territory, colonization and its implications for human, animal and plant life). As urbanisation encroaches on the wild spaces and displaces other forms of life, relationships that are Anthropocentric need to be re-framed to enable re-generation and sustainable living that is non-Anthropocentric. 


Key considerations are whether new forms of   engagement could encourage people to think carefully through their options, rather than making rash decisions:

  • Does discursive democracy and more engagement inevitably lead to populist decisions, polarization or narcissism?  The need for democracy to re-engage with critical thinking is vital.
  • Is it possible for groups to be held responsible in the same way that an individual can be held responsible? Arendt argues that collective responsibility is upheld when each individual engages critically with their everyday decisions. 
  • Could balancing individual and collective needs  be achieved through new processes and structures to help transform values and to address ‘the banality of evil’?  Some researchers argue it is indeed possible to engage in large groups that foster collective decision making for the common good. 


This paper makes the case that critical engagement could be assisted through enabling people to think through the implications of their everyday choices and that this could help to foster an ‘ecological mindset’ to protect living systems. Balancing individual rights and collective responsibility for this generation of life and the next requires governance to protect the common good. This requires considering the consequences of decisions by considering  the multispecies rights of living beings (Kirksey  and Helmreich 2010, Raikhel, 2010,  Rose, 2015). The minimum requirement is re-balancing society to ensure that rights of the minority do not override the interests of the majority of living systems in this generation and the next. This requires a collective effort to re-create social and economic processes and structures to protect habitat.


The  three patterns of engagement  that could  foster the human stewardship of habitat are: 1. Recognition of  the  interdependency of living systems, 2.  Making (ongoing) policy adjustments in context. In policy terms this requires new forms of organizational relationships that redress power imbalances that result in social, economic and environmental injustice and ‘existential risk’. 3. Appreciation of cycles for re-generation in designs that sustain living systems are needed. This requires rural-urban balance to protect habitat for domestic, farm and wild life,based on the  requisite variety for multiple species and their diverse habitats. The barriers  to achieving these three pattern goals include power imbalances within and across  species which requires an intersectional understanding of the way in which  species membership, gender, race, culture and abilities shape the power dynamics that underpin social and environmental injustice.


A way forward is perhaps to focus on  what matters within and across many species, namely  a safe,  inclusive environment, water to drink, food to eat, being able to keep cool or warm enough to sustain life and a sense of fulfilled purpose. This is upheld by the proposed new law on ecocide that ‘protects all inhabitants of a territory’.

Author Biography

Janet McIntyre-Mills, Flinders University, University of South Africa and University of Indonesia

Adjunct Associate Professor, Flinders University

Honourary Professor, University of South Africa

Adjunct Professor, University of Indonesia



How to Cite

McIntyre-Mills, J. (2020). Social engagement to redress the banality of evil and the limitations of the social contract to protect habitat. Proceedings of the 63rd Annual Meeting of the ISSS - 2019 Corvallis, OR, USA, 63(1). Retrieved from