Many individuals who have a good heredity are rendered unfitted for rational behavior by other equally grave defects. These defects are due to bad conditions during the pregnancy or during the birth and development of the child. It is probable that 25 per cent of the cases of idiocy are due to stoppages or disturbances in the development of the brain which occur in the course of the fetal life, at the moment of birth or in early childhood.
In childhood and youth, any disorders which occur in the formation of the endocrine glands and the nervous system inevitably react on the consciousness. In the high valleys of the Alps, as in those of the Himalayas, absence of iodine prevents the development of the thyroid gland. As a result, the children become myxedematous cretins.
The balance of the nervous system, the acuteness and harmony of the mind largely depend on the nature of the chemical substances contained in the nourishment during the formative period of the brain and the glands. Lack of vitamins and mineral salts, insufficiency and bad quality of protein substances are probably the cause of certain intellectual and moral deficiencies.
It is obvious that the nervous system, the organs and the mind of children fed on coffee, white bread, sugar, jam and even alcohol cannot but be defective. Just as the lack of balance of phosphorus and calcium leaves the mark of rickets on the bones, so wrong diet in childhood leaves permanent traces on body and mind.
There are also physiological and mental habits which leave indelible marks on the personality. In modern society we naturally form the habit of disliking any kind of discomfort and a repugnance to any moral and physical effort except that demanded by sport. We also acquire the habit of intellectual superficiality, moral irresponsibility and verbosity. Our appetites are undisciplined; our diet is overabundant, insufficient or ill-balanced; we sleep too much or too little; we are prone to sexual excesses or perversion. A young Frenchman of good social family is usually characterized by vanity, lack of intelligence, egoism and a strange inability to grasp reality. His intelligence is narrow, sharp and abstract: he only applies it to the concrete when it is a question of his personal interest.
Men take no account of the significance of the events which are shattering civilization. They are shut up in themselves like convicts in a jail and their chances of escaping the cataclysm are extremely slight There do exist, however, especially among older people, more alert, open-minded and educated types. In particular there are those who have an inkling of the truth, who can distinguish good from evil but who can make a stand for neither. Like those angels, neither faithful nor rebellious, whom Dante met in the first circle of hell, they remain neutral. They are, in fact, morally atrophied and as such belong to the class of submenu