Are there "cutoff points" for various forms of intolerance?

This. It’s entirely reasonable to look back at our past as a species and say “Geez, we were some real assholes.” Geez, the Egyptians were assholes. Geez, Athenian democracy was kinda asshole. Geez, the Roman Empire was a bunch of assholes. Geez, the Mongols? Fucking assholes. Geez, life was solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, short, and full of assholes.

We were assholes. We’re still assholes, but hopefully less so: isn’t that how we define civilization?

Orwell, Jefferson, Lincoln, Clinton…all products of their time, and their times were all kinda assholish. I am a product of my time, and however much I believe in and support the dignity and worth of all people, I’m kind of an asshole. Particularly to future generations.

I think that means giving a lot of historical figures a pass on things that we currently judge to be assholish.
But that’s no help to the issue at hand, sorry. Where the tipping point actually lies, I have no idea. I don’t really blame Orson Scott Card for his assholery; I do truly believe he is a product of his time and place. I am able to appreciate (some of) his work on its own merits, and I certainly don’t excuse his asshole beliefs. I do think he should be less of an asshole…but I don’t think he’s a cultural outlier yet.

I blame him. I totally blame him. He doesn’t have the broad distaste or theological rejection of homosexuality that most Mormons have because that’s how they were raised. He fucking hates them. You can read his columns to see very quickly that he spends a lot of time crafting and polishing his hatred of them. He’s very distinct from Orwell in this. Orwell didn’t dedicate a significant portion of his output to hating homosexuals–AFAIK there’s just some throwaway lines indicating that he didn’t differ from his contemporaries. Card is a very active hater, and decades from now it’ll be non-trivial portion of the corpus that defines his work. And once you see that part of it, and read the rest of his work and see the weird emotional relationships and connect those to his hatred of homosexuality, and see how one informs the other… Yeah, Card is exactly the sort of person I describe above who’s intolerance isn’t “besides” his other work. It’s core to it, and future-me sees no reason to excuse it as “an acceptable bigotry” even if future-me enjoys Ender’s Game despite its problematic aspects.

Let me put a slightly different question to the OP: say we reject cutoff points, and insist on judging past figures by contemporary standards. What does that mean for Orwell or Lincoln? If we condemn them for beliefs that we find wrongheaded and noxious today, how does that change your feelings about them or your approach to them as historical figures?

My first impression is that even using the word “homophobia” to decribe someone like Orwell strikes me as somewhat anachronistic.

My understanding is that Lincoln’s beliefs about blacks and their potential for equality and peaceful coexistence with whites was something that evolved and changed over his lifetime, thanks in part to his actually getting to know some black people personally.

I wonder how much Orwell’s attitude toward homosexuality was influenced by the sorts of homosexual behavior he actually saw personally (e.g. at English public school).

If I had grown up in the same society Orwell or Lincoln did, and had the same information, I doubt that my own beliefs and attitudes would be any more modern and enlightened than theirs.

How much of our own “tolerance” or enlightened attitudes toward things like race and sexuality is thanks to our having information that wasn’t readily available to these people in the past?

I’d say a lot. In the case of Orwell’s supposed homophobia, it’s important to remember that during his time, people were mostly in the dark with regard to what “caused” homosexuality and how society should deal with it. This, in turn, was the result of sexuality still being a social taboo in terms of public discussion. Thus, the “enlightened” view in the 1940s considered homosexualty to be a mental illness and to be treated as such. Today, discussion of sexual issues is considerably more open and we know enough about homosexuality to not classify it as a mental illness.

As the saying goes, that is his crime, it is also his punishment.

For people who are intolerant of gays or blacks or women, just like everyone around them, well, that’s how they were raised.

But for people who fucking hate certain groups, well, there’s a reason besides “everyone else is doing it”. Plantation owners and patricians didn’t fucking hate blacks, they lived intimately with them. It’s poor white people who fucking hated blacks.

So you have Fred Phelps, who fucking hates gays. But that’s not the point, the point of his protests is to isolate his cult/family from mainstream fundamentalist Christian sects, that’s why he switched from protesting gays to protesting dead soldiers. If everyone hates your family, where are they going to go? The only alternatives are remaining a part of the group, or ostracism from your family and the only people you’ve ever known.

Or you have Orson Scott Card. This is a different case. He hates gays because they have allowed themselves something he has had to deny himself. The motivation isn’t exactly opaque if you’ve read his books.