I really hate the phrase “You’re anthropomorphizing that animal!”
Having empathy for a non-human animal is not the same as anthropomorphizing it. They experience. They are individuals with biology and uniqueness and cognition of their own, even if it’s different from ours. Emotions are part of an incredibly complex neurology that had to have existed in other animals before our full development.
Our whole gauge for what is aware and what is not is actually incredibly flawed and based on the idea that we (meaning humans) were granted some kind of special higher intelligence from an invisible superbeing* rather than a complex biological and evolutionary process that formed us based on and in cohabitation with other forms of life. We are more like them than we think we are and they are more like us than we think they are. I am an animal. You are an animal. My dog is an animal. Elephants are animals. Sponges are animals.
And that isn’t intended to devalue human experience!!! Like if anything it just makes it broader and more amazing than a humanocentric perspective could ever be. We are animals with unique interactions with each other and our world, but you don’t make those things more special by refusing to acknowledge things like the fact that, say, great apes have a social structure that is also interesting and complex, or by saying that other social animals also experience love. That doesn’t devalue those things. That doesn’t devalue those things. It just makes it all even more amazing!!!
I also maintain that I am allowed to care more for my dogs than for a stranger I don’t know.
I think it is also going to be necessary for us to understand that our world (including our social constructs - good and bad) are based on our conscious interpretations of our innate biology/neurology/psychology, and that gives us the tools we need for addressing and dealing with those issues in a way that purely social discussions don’t. This is why people who are going into the sciences need more extensive training in the humanities discourses and people in the humanities discourses need more extensive training in the sciences.
*it is worth noting that I acknowledge the possible existence of a higher intelligence, and that there is something interesting and unique about the way humans interact with our world (and that so far we are the only animals capable of examining our world to the degree we do), but we have to acknowledge that it’s not “animals” and then “us”. We are a part of that evolutionary chain. And even though we are living in an increasingly secular society that, for the most part, does not buy the 7-days-creationist-garden-of-Eden bit and acknowledges evolution, there’s a part of our culture that’s still unwilling to and uncomfortable about embracing the fact that we are part of a broad biological framework, because our culture has raised us to believe so strongly that being an animal means that you are without value (it’s why you have organizations like PETA that are theoretically for animal rights actually being one of the worst violators - because they have followed the logic of “if everything is an animal - that means nothing has value” which is shitty and flawed and results in a deeply sociopathic system). It’s an aspect of our identities, a shared experience, that will need to be embraced.
I’m not saying that other animals experience the world in the exact same way we do, or that those rights are always going to be expressed the same way. There are very complicated discourses about that (to be fair, like I said earlier, even mainstream animal rights groups don’t seem capable of grasping this concept). Basically, our whole perception of our own intelligence needs to be put in context.