Committees are, as we all know, an integral part of democracy, a gathering of people who, unable to agree individually on a given question, are determined to produce some sort of collective answer, even if it takes all summer. Which it very often does. It also tends to be a gathering of people who have only read the minutes of the last meeting coming along in the bus and do not know what, if anything, has ''arisen'' out of them.
Perhaps it is because we have so rarely done our homework that even the most dovelike of us suddenly produce forceful resolutions and arguments so as to look as though we knew about the issues raised.
We cannot look as though we had done anything about them, because we very rarely have: Indeed, a large part of every committee meeting is spent approving decisions already taken and letters already dispatched by the secretary, a dedicated being who has often been running the whole shebang for years while paying lip service to the traditions. This marvelous person knows that a dictatorship, preferably benevolent, would get things done better, and in half the time, the only useful function of a committee being to enable the one or two people who actually do the work to refer difficult ''customers'' to its judgments.
The knowledge, however, that we are 90 percent useless seems to make us more determined to urge our democratic rights, or at any rate make the person in the chair ask us what we think. If we have not been thinking about the matter in hand, our minds having wandered off on tangents, we can still contribute to the meeting by saying, in a slightly querulous tone, ''Surely the Finance Committee should be dealing with this?'' or even a resolute ''I thoroughly agree with the last speaker.'' The thing is to seem to be participating, and even, if possible, to have a point of view.
Some committee members appear to imagine that just by being seated at a table and doodling on the blotter they are proving that democracy is the best form of government, but the majority of us, however unpolitically minded, like to assert ourselves. Not often asked our opinion on matters about which we know little, the flattery of it goes to our heads, and much to our amazement we hold forth at length in a thoroughly prejudiced manner, occasionally rapping the table with a pencil. This gives the effect of total commitment. As does, incidentally, the passing of notes to other committee members. These notes ranging from ''What has happened to Clause 4?'' to ''Can you lunch Friday?'' give an excellent impression of lively concern.
Thus do things get done. It is, as the King of Siam said, a puzzlement.